Rich Kreiner’s Yearlong Best of the Year: Hate Annual #8 by Peter Bagge

Posted by on May 25th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Fantagraphics; 32 pp.; $4.95; Color w/ some B&W (978-1606993736)

Peter Bagge’s very first Hate Annual back in 2001 had an eight-page Buddy Bradley story, another seven-pager introducing the character Lovey and three pages of comics in which Johnny Ryan didn’t “get” the first Matrix movie. It also included an assortment of illustrated blog articles by Bagge on the Infomercial Oscars (four pages with many drawings), the Experience Music Project (four pages, not as much art) and Presidential candidate Alan Keyes (six pages, which no amount of art could help), all of which were done for the SUCK website, plus four more pages on the band The Hollies (with mostly photos) for mpop3. Even without doing the math, that was the last annual of the title I bought.

Which also meant it was the last I’d see of Buddy Bradley until this, the all-comics Hate Annual #8. Turns out I’ve missed the character more than I thought but I missed Bagge’s righteous and often scathing social comedy-cum-satire even more.

With Buddy, Bagge sharpens his portrait of an aging slacker settling into the scuffling life as a family man of lower-middle-class means along with all the advantages that station offers in this country. Regardless of how much went on while I was away (Buddy’s got an eye-patch now!), the clarity of his circumstance is rendered instantly comprehensible with an elegant succinctness. Credit goes to Bagge’s trenchant if wholly natural dialogue and his discriminating attention to revealing detail. (Buddy’s son is incessantly watching The Incredibles and you know the uniformly filled shelves in the living room contain not books but VHS packages … not even DVDs).

In this installment, Buddy’s wife Lisa takes center stage, discovering her “Creative Outlet” along with a wife she meets through a parent-teacher conference. Hilarity will ensue, of the inimitable, irreplaceable Bagge vintage uncorked with caustic, mordant glee.

Part of the bite of Bagge’s black comedy arises from his ability to collide with admirable impact two conventionally immiscible elements. At bottom there’s fidelity (if not precisely realism) in portraying his characters, their lifestyle and the situations in which they become embroiled. Through word and picture, Bagge captures the essence of the modern schmo with an enviable persuasiveness. This sociological authenticity is contrasted with an extremely fluid and flexible (however finely honed) visual style, an artistry of grotesques that was born holding its own in the pages of Weirdo. With these next-gen Bradleys, Bagge keeps alive the once-alien excitement of the earliest invading manga, where relatively straightforward narrative could give way to monstrous physical exaggerations and graphic displays at any emotional moment. Here Bagge’s vivid caricatures animate the most routine of actions, effectively suggesting how cozily, in this life, the mundane cohabits with the outrageous.

Bagge extends his world-wariness, bemusement and cynicism though the short comics of the Annual, particularly in the one-page science biographies done originally for Discoverer Magazine. These cover such worthies as Joseph Priestly, “Phlogiston’s Last Champion,” Robert Brown, discoverer of Brownian Motion, and ornery Dmitry Mendeleyev, originator of the Periodic Table of Elements. But Bagge is at his absolute, unstinting best with the study conducted by Major Walter Reed in which he demonstrated that Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitoes and not by contact with infected persons or contaminated objects. This was proven, in part, by test subjects who for three weeks wore pajamas soiled with the blood, vomit and excrement of fever suffers yet developed no symptoms of the disease. After the medical breakthrough, a surviving patient suggests that the military should name a hospital after Reed and the Major thinks “If they do, I hope it never becomes as disgusting as this place.” That’s what I’ve missed most, that outing of the woeful in order to air, skewer and — just possibly — ward off more of the same, if not worse still, in the future.

All images ©2010 Peter Bagge

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