Peter Bagge: Funny Guy, Tragic SituationA comics interview article by: Alison Stevenson
Much to her delight, Alison Stevenson recently got to interview the legend himself, Peter Bagge. The man who gave us classics such as Hate, Neat Stuff, and Apocalypse Nerd is coming out with a new series for Dark Horse titled Reset. Bagge and Alison exchanged some emails and got to talk about his new project, along with a few other things (couldn't help touching a tad bit on politics). Reset #1 is set to hit stores on April 18, 2012. You can pre-order the first issue through TFAW.com.
Alison Stevenson for Comics Bulletin: So, Reset is essentially about a middle-aged, washed-up comedian who gets the opportunity to relive his life. What's this character's name and is he based on anyone in particular -- famous or otherwise?
Peter Bagge: I named him Guy Krause -- as generic and ethnically ambiguous a name as I could think of. Well, "Krause" is a German name, but how many German stand-up comics can one think of? And that was the point. I didn't want anyone to associate him with any actual person.
He's basically a former C- or D-lister who was starting to get regular roles in Hollywood movies when his life and career took a hit. I also left it vague what kind of comic he was as well. A "smart" hipster? A lowbrow crowd pleaser? We never find out because it doesn't matter, as far as this story is concerned.
CB: Alright, sounds pretty interesting. As a comedian myself, I'm also curious as to why you chose to give him this line of work. Is there something to be said about comedy as a profession in all this?
Bagge: I chose that profession for the same reason the characters in my story chose him to take part in their experiment: they needed someone they could gather a lot of info on, i.e, a celebrity of some sort. Plus, a comic by nature reveals a lot of himself or herself in their work. I also was going for the "sad clown" element here -- a professional funny guy who's stuck in a tragic situation.
CB: I know from your previous character creations (Buddy Bradley and Studs Kirby being my personal favorites) that there is a poignant bitterness, or cynicism to them. Is this comic actor similar in that sense? Are you using him to critique anything in particular like, say, the entertainment industry?
Bagge: Yes to all of the above, though none of that was the main point of the story.
CB: Alright, well this sort of brings me to wanting to talk politics with you, only because I've read in other interviews that your political views are often misunderstood by the media. Is this an accurate assessment? Perhaps you can describe to us exactly what your philosophy is.
Bagge: I'm a libertarian, which is a political philosophy with a very simple dictionary definition. Yet many people fixate on the aspects of libertarianism they disagree with, and that becomes what defines it to them -- and defines me to them, by extension. That's always the source of the distortions and misunderstandings I think you're referring to.
CB: Okay, so is Reset political in this sense, or are you trying to avoid people thinking that?
Bagge: There are certain aspects to the story that reflect my politics, though it's not central to the story at all.
CB: Can you describe how politics have affected your work throughout your career? Do you feel uncomfortable over the importance people place in your political views?
Bagge: The only overtly political work I've done is for Reason magazine. My political views aren't at all essential to my fictional work, though. I'm not aware of it causing me any problems. Not that I'm aware of, anyway! So no, I'm not uncomfortable with it.
CB: Alright, let's get back to Reset then. How do things get complicated for Guy? Can you reveal any of the things he's been through, or some reasons why his life ends up the way it is?
Bagge: He's actually the only character in the story who isn't conflicted about why he's taking part in this project. He needs the money. And yes, he's full of regrets, but that's no secret either. It's why he was asked. However, all the characters around him are very much at cross-purposes with each other, and none of them know exactly what they're doing either. Guy is held captive by a bunch of two-faced incompetents, basically. Needless to say, this is the main source of the complications!
CB: Okay I see. I have to say I'm really digging this concept. It makes me wonder if I would do something similar if I had the chance. If you could "redo" any incident in your life would you want to?
Bagge: I actually couldn't name one particular incident, which is good, since I never was responsible for a horrific tragedy (knock wood)! But I, of course, fantasize about reliving my life knowing what I know now, which is what first inspired my story. Ironically, it's when I sat down and started writing out such a scenario that I quickly realized that to do so would only create new problems and situations. It's the no-win reality to this common fantasy!
CB: Good point. Well I can't leave the conversation without asking this. Who are you inspired by artistically?
Bagge: As a kid: the Sunday funnies, especially Peanuts. Later Mad, National Lampoon, and eventually underground comics -- especially the work of R. Crumb. I've also been very inspired by many of my generational peers, particularly Dan Clowes and the Hernandez Brothers.
CB: All wonderful artists! Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions.
Alison Stevenson is a stand-up comedian and writer living in Oakland, CA. If you want to check out her performances or read her other writings, then visit her at nodancing.tumblr.com!