Wednesday , September 30 2020

Hate Annual #3

The note at the top of Hate Annual #3 (Fantagraphics) asserts that this latest entry from the mind & pen of Peter Bagge is the “Special Boring Mundane, Middle-Aged, Middle-Class Issue.” I’d take issue with the boring & mundane part, but the rest seems right on the money.
Always neat to see a new collection of Bagge cartoons, even if most of ’em are culled from websites where they made their debut appearances. (“Murray Wilson: Rock ‘n’ Roll Dad” was an Icebox animation series done in collaboration w./ comedian & Simpsons writer Dana Gould; the extended Chet & Bunny Leeway strip originally appeared on Bagge’s own website.) Of the small group of cartoonists to come out of the East Coast Punk zine scene, Bagge has proven to be the most durable and for good reason: the cranky libertarian satirist has an eye for pointed detail, a big foot style that is appealingly over-the-top & dynamic yet accessible, and – oh yeah – he can be pretty darn funny, too.
After producing smaller issues of Hate on a regular basis, Bagge has been putting out these Annuals more sporadically. This may’ve ruined his long story continuities – the earlier Hate gave us a extended string of Buddy Bradley tales quite remarkable in their capacity for blending wacky Gen X antics w./ unflinching looks at youthful self-destruction – but it’s afforded him the opportunity to expand his writing talents. The first two Annuals contained illustrated articles by Bagge (a hard-nosed look at Alan Keyes, an appreciation of the Beach Boys & more) that were craftily idiosyncratic.
Annual Three doesn’t have the room for such pieces: the Leeway continuity no doubt took up the space. The longest piece in the story, it chronicles the adventures of Chet & Bunny, a modestly boho middle-class couple who get swept up in dot.com insanity. Copyrighted 2000, the eighteen-page series of one-page strips chronicles our duo’s increasing descent into Internet obsessiveness & e-business foolery. On the latter front, these strips already seem a bit dated (the fact that the Dot.com Boom was pie-in-the-sky has since become conventional wisdom), but the pages depicting Chet’s first attempts at developing a family web page still ring true – as do the moments when the generally affable married couple compete for control of both the site and their computer.
Opener, “The Domestication of Lisa Leavenworth-Bradley,” is a brief but well-aimed check-in on the married life of 90’s hero Buddy Bradley, the Jersey slacker who we’ve seen “mature” from punk doper into struggling business & family man over the years. Married to borderline personality Lisa, father of a child who is only referred to as The Baby, Buddy actually seems a picture of relative contentment – until his wife (who has caught the HGTV decorating bug) – starts pressuring him to get a bigger place so she can totally redecorate it. Lisa, who has shown plenty of self-destructively manic behavior in the past, appears to be directing most of her crazy behavior toward channeling Martha Stewart. But when she hears that Buddy’s mother is considering moving out of the family home to go to Florida, her more extreme behaviors start to re-emerge. Learning that Buddy’s sister Babs may be getting the house instead, she sends her an anonymous email claiming that the house has been built on a toxic dump.
Though presented in domestic sitcom terms (the title is the clue), the Buddy Bradley tale has darker undercurrents. “Just when I though you outgrew your old crazy ways, you go out and pull a stunt like this,” Buddy moans as he confronts his wife, and we’re meant to get the idea that if Lisa isn’t given something else to do, she’s likely to spin off into even worse stunts. Basically, the strip is about living with the mentally ill, though Bagge relies on our knowing enough about the characters’ pasts to get this point. Many newer readers are just as likely to take the tale on its “mundane middle-class” terms.
Two other strips are much less complicated. “Dildobert Joins the Al-Qaeda” is a parody done in collaboration w./ Angry Youth artist Johnny Ryan. It’s a studiously “offensive” piece that re-imagines Scott Adams’ core characters as members of a terror cell. But the sum effect of it is ultimately rather mild. (Bet if Ted Rall had composed a panel that featured Dildobert & his animal chums all jerking off to footage of the WTC attack, we’d already be buried in outraged Internet postings, though.) The “Murray Wilson” strips are libelously hilarious if you’re a nerdy Beach Boys fan (as am I), though I preferred ’em as animations.
Bagge ends this issue w./ a back cover lamenting the devolution of his youth culture (describing the rote moves of mid-90’s “alternative rock,” for instance, he notes, “I became immune to it’s [sic] relentlessly whiny, cynical lyrics. Its [sic] no wonder ‘grunge’ was quickly supplanted by Hanson and the Spice Girls!”) It reads like something Crumb would produce – if that lovable underground crank were twenty years younger – and it ends on a particularly droll note: the “middle-age” Bagge reading one of his Weirdo pieces and noting about his 90’s strips, “When I re-read them today I’m amazed someone didn’t put me out my misery!”
But, Peter, we need good comics that’ll make misery funny. Long may Hate fester. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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