The Comic Book Club: Dark Horse Presents and Hate Annual

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DOUGLAS: I admire the fact that Peter Bagge has never quite given up on doing Hate. His series about the vaguely miserable domestic life of Buddy Bradley, as he’s grown from a youthful slacker to a fortyish junkyard owner and dad, used to be quarterly back in the ’90s (well, it was more like thrice-annual, but still). For roughly the past decade, he’s been checking in with the cast about once a year, and having them age in something like real time. Up until now, though, the Hate Annuals have just had short stories about Buddy and Lisa and their family, and been filled out with whatever else Bagge’s been working on: reporting, satire, spot illustrations, whatever. The new Hate Annual #9–which apparently made it to some American comics stores this week, but not others–is almost entirely taken up by a single (two-part) story, and it’s my favorite thing Bagge’s done in a long time. That’s partly because Hate is the one major Bagge project where he’s clearly got some affection for his characters: he’s a smart, angry misanthrope, but having a sort-of-sympathetic handful of characters at the center of the series keeps his harsh satire grounded.

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I liked his graphic novel Other Lives last year, too–a satire about online identity–but a year later I can’t remember much about any of its characters. Buddy and Lisa and Jay, on the other hand, are all characters I’m happy to see again, although I always forget a few details about them since the last time I saw them. As usual, I found myself wondering when exactly Buddy lost an eye, and looked it up again; the answer is that he didn’t–he’s just been wearing an eyepatch and sailor hat as an affectation for a few years, because he’s kind of nuts and tends to cling to ideas long after they’ve stopped being useful to him.

This issue is a particular kind of story Bagge’s returned to repeatedly over the years, ever since his Neat Stuff era: the “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” scenario, played for laughs. It’s a very funny story about a really unhappy, screwed-up family–without giving anything away, Lisa’s climactic interaction with her mother is both something that would sound shockingly depressing if it were described on its own and the comedic peak of this issue. Also, Bagge’s been working the same look for this series for a couple of decades now–three tiers on almost every page, panels crammed full of dialogue, that crazy super-distorted cartooning style where everybody’s limbs are just skinny curves–but it’s prima facie funny, and he’s fantastically adept at keeping things visually interesting, which is a good trick for stories that basically consist of people sitting around and chatting.

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EVAN: I haven’t checked in with Hate in ages, having last read one of the big collections that came out a few years ago. So the big surprise for me was how much change Bagge has put Buddy through. I remember hearing he got married, but seeing the shaggy-haired slacker icon as a balding dad and small businessman was shocking but really poignant. Buddy’s calmed down, even if the world is still crazy around him. What I’ve always liked about Bagge’s art is how much genuine emotion he can get out of that super-distorted style. The angst being portrayed through wrinkly lips and bugged-out eyes may be played for laughs, but you still feel for the characters. I actually found parts of Lisa’s family’s dysfunction to be really sad, and loved the random things Harold blurted out, too. Touches like those make it so that reading Hate Annual #9 isn’t just working through a sequence of comedic bits. You feel like you’re walking through parts of a character’s life, even if it’s filled with absurdly dark humor.

GRAEME: I’ll be the cynic for whom this didn’t really work, then. It’s not that the main story in this is bad, it’s just that it felt oddly false and insincere for me. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, or an age thing? It felt dated and weirdly conservative in a “Yeah, we were slackers but look at these freaky swingers doing drugs oh my God” way, which… may be appropriate for Buddy and Lisa as characters, but felt awkward and uncomfortable to me, for some reason. Putting that alongside the selection of painfully unfunny cartoons at the back–those are Bagge’s cartoons from Reason magazine, right?–and the whole thing felt like a comic personification of the old joke about rebels becoming more buttoned up than their parents when they get old. It really just didn’t work for me, sadly.

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