I grabbed a random Hate book off the bookshelf on a recent boring Sunday night, and I’ve been getting back into Bagge in a big way ever since. Not just all the Hate comics, (I keep forgetting what happens to Stinky, and it still shocks me every fucking time), but things like the so-grim-it’s-hilarious Apocalypse Nerd, or the I-can’t-believe-he-got-away-with-this-at-DC Sweatshop, or his most recent book – Reset – which could be none more Bagge, or the still-funny early work in Neat Stuff.
Years ago, I fell in love with Bagge’s comics like all good 17-year-olds should, and I still adore them. That goofy exaggerated style he nailed down in the late eighties is still endlessly enjoyable, his stories are always funny, and there is usually a point to all that grotesqueness.
So it’s actually a little embarrassing to admit that I somehow missed out on the first seven Hate Annuals, and have only just caught up this week (thanks to pal Nik). I think I was just waiting for an inevitable collection, but I got the last couple off the shelves at the local comic shop, and they were so immensely enjoyable that I’ve now had to catch up with the rest. (There is still no sign of a collection of his stuff, as far as I can tell, even when the back-ups in the Annuals, including Batboy and some very local concerns, have been put into proper books.)
Bagge has actually done so many comics over the past decade and a half, that he is almost – shamefully – taken for granted. While new books by the likes of Clowes or Ware are almost an Event, a new mini series from Bagge might get a couple of reviews, most of which will point out that it’s more of the same. (I just did it too, three paragraphs ago.)
The fact that more people don’t take Bagge’s comics seriously might be because the artist himself doesn’t seem to take them terribly seriously. While there are certainly hidden depths in the Hate Annuals, and some horribly familiar exposures of the Human Condition, it’s those jokes that still stand out the most, and it’s always fun with somebody lips the hell out.
And, even after all these years of the same jokes, it’s still funny as fuck – in the first Annual, Buddy gets into an argument with a crusty old seadog, and while he’s hurtling insults, he’s really thinking: “I WANT HIS HAT!”, and that made me laugh out loud in public and look like an idiot, but I didn’t care. (Especially when it all pays off years later when he starts wearing an eyepatch and some nautical headgear of his own.)
I mean, Jesus, look at this:
No lie: every time I see that cover, I still laugh out loud.
Because that’s an exaggerated portrait of a man who has grown older, but hasn’t really grown up, and he’s okay with that. He’s still recognisably the same Buddy Bradley he was back in Neat Stuff, and it’s no surprise that he’s turning into a fine crusty old man, just like his crusty old man was.
And that’s the truth behind these jokes, that gives Bagge’s Hate comics those hidden depths. Our lives never turn out as we expect them to, and that’s okay, and you just have to go with it.
By the time he gets to the most recent Hate Annuals, Buddy Bradley has settled down with Lisa, has a son who is a bit weird – but not really any weirder than most kids – and it making some okay money. He still knows some of his old loser pals, but he’s left most of them behind, sick of all the bullshit of youth, and almost eager to become that angry old man on the porch.
And once you reach that sort of stage with your mates, you don’t have to see them all the time. It’s still nice to see how Buddy is doing, every couple of years in a Hate (semi-)Annual. We don’t have to hang out every weekend any more, but it’s worth catching up over a quiet beer sometime.