Restless: Hate Annual 8

Posted by on July 3rd, 2010 at 5:11 AM

Rob reviews HATE ANNUAL 8, by Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics).

After years of steady updates in the life of his alter ego, Buddy Bradley, Peter Bagge has returned only sporadically to his most famous character.  HATE is now pretty much a dumping ground for his freelance work; how compelling that work is has generally depended on the assignment.  The most recent issue is probably the strongest ANNUAL to date, 36 pages of concentrated hilarity, including the longest Buddy Bradley story in quite some time.  Just as impressive are his one-page strips about scientists from Discover Magazine, an offshoot of sorts to his amazing “Founding Fathers Funnies” from his APOCALYPSE NERD series.

The lead story finds Buddy’s crazy wife Lisa getting bored and looking for a new outlet.  She winds up hanging out with some “cool” parents at a PTA meeting and decides to form a band with a woman she meets.  This being Lisa, she can’t help but write deadly-serious songs about her toilet paper-cozy that get roundly shot down by her new friend.  After weeks of practice, they get a gig that at first seems a little too good to be true–because it is.  In classic Bagge fashion, Lisa manages to meet the insanity of any situation she faces by adding an extra level of her own craziness.  When she realizes she’s at a strip club, she goes from being horrified to realizing that she can make some quick money, resulting in a fight and other ridiculous drama.

I’m happy to report that Bagge’s satirical pen is every bit as biting as it was in his HATE glory days.  The reason why this story is so funny is because Bagge nails down tiny details that flesh out his story and ground it with a degree of verisimilitude.  Their son (always referred to as “Harold”) is obsessed with watching the same video over and over again.  There’s a PTA parent obsessed with color-coding each child’s belongings.  The strip club and its denizens fairly stink of desperation..  Through it all, Buddy and Lisa have a remarkably smooth rapport, each understanding the other’s particular brand of crazy and accepting it fully.  Lisa may be crazy, but she’s also blunt about knowing what she wants and honest with herself.  I think Bagge took an extra joy in skewering “band drama”, something he hadn’t tackled since the early days of HATE.

The stories about scientists all share that common thread of restlessness, frequently bursting on through to ridiculously rude behavior.  The strip about Mendeleyev (the creator of the periodic table of the elements) encapsulates his ideas and reveals his towering ego at the same time, something that Bagge gleefully pricks while still clearly being impressed with their achievements.  In particular, Bagge is interested in exploring the personalities of men whose work represented a paradigm shift that was actively resisted by other scientists, and how much ego it took to buck the system.  Bagge wasn’t necessarily even interested in telling stories about how these men fought for a truth that later won out; indeed, the strangely-affecting story of Joseph Priestly, “Phlogiston’s Last Champion” showed that a maverick scientist is just as likely to be trapped by their own ideas in the face of evidence as a more conventional scientist.

Bagge’s really found a fascinating new niche with his historical fiction.  They read exactly like any other Bagge story: exaggerated art, highly expressionistic characters, and a certain wise-ass tone in all dialogue.  At the same time, the level of effort Bagge put into researching each subject was clear from the level of detail Bagge injected into each strip, once again thrusting the reader into the world of each man and making them comfortable there with key facts and visual cues.  At the same time, Bagge cuts to the chase in each strip and figures the reader can figure out what’s going on quickly while setting up the eventual gag.  Bagge is a master of economy of line, premise and punchlines, using sudden and sometimes spastic expressions from his figures to convey a lot of information in a small amount of space.  If Bagge was a little burned out after years of doing HATE, he’s clearly picked up a second wind here, proving that his genius has always been much more than simply being able to tap into the cultural zeitgeist.

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