Marvel was born when a comics company named ‘Timely’ was hitting the skids. A team of writers and artists including Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko decided to just go for it, and put out mad stuff that was unlike anything people had seen before. What they came up with were titles like Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk - characters that had real things going on in their lives that readers could relate to (and, obviously, the added bonus of superpowers).
At the end of the nineties Marvel were in a lot of trouble. They had no money and readers were abandoning their titles in droves so they decided to pull the trick they had got away with when the company was first started.
They had nothing to lose so they recruited a bunch of artists and writers who would never normally write about superheroes, and gave them free reign to do as they pleased with their characters.
One of these artists was Peter Bagge and his Marvel comic ‘The Megalomaniacal Spiderman’ was released in 2002. In his story Peter Parker gets sick of the whole ‘saving the world’ biz and packs it all in to become the CEO of Spiderman Inc. If you look really hard you must be able to get an actual copy of the comic somewhere, but for now you can download it from http://rapidshare.com/files/17376457/2002-06_-_startling_stories_-_the_megalomanical_spiderman__peter_bagge_.cbr.
So the Spidey comic did well and a plan was hatched that Bagge would write stories about each of Marvel’s key players.
He had completed ‘The Incorrigible Hulk’, when the first Spiderman film came out and suddenly Marvel was big business again. Overnight the characters became valuable commodities and the company was bought out. The new owners didn’t want to take any chances and were quick to sever any links with anyone who could screw with the brand, and this included Bagge. His Hulk comic was completed and Bagge was paid in full, but to this day it remains locked away in some secret vault somewhere. Marvel won’t rule out publishing it, so hopefully one day it will be set free. Fingers crossed.
In 2003 DC Comics put out Bagge’s next project, ‘Sweatshop’.
It’s about the team who put out a daily syndicated strip. There’s the “genius” behind the strip, who lately has become more concerned with thinking up wacky catchphrases than actually doing anything useful, and his band of writers, artists and designers.
Sweatshop deals with subjects like comic conventions, cheesy gags and troublesome family members. In my opinion it’s some of Bagge’s best and funniest work and I strongly recommend you try and hunt it down.
Because of time constraints, many of the stories were only written by Bagge, with others including Bill Wray and Johnny Ryan on art duties.
I recently read Sweatshop and I think it's great. I got the impression that it was quite personal for you, that you were bringing out some personal annoyances. Is this true? was it a cathartic experience?
Ha! Well, it wasn't nearly as gut-spillingly cathartic as some of the work of my youth, but I certainly enjoyed working on it, and yes, I did use it to air some of my pet peeves.
In issue 2 one of the artists, Carrie, puts out with a successful comic of her own. The comic is optioned for TV and she finds herself stuck in the development hell it seems you've spent a lot of time in. That must have been fun to write.
That entire series was fun to write! But yes, that story not only closely reflected my own experiences but the experiences of people I know who were even less prepared for the ways of Hollywood than I was.
I've read numbers 1-6 of Sweatshop. Are there any more? Will there be?
No, DC pulled the rug out from under that project after only 2 issues were in print (and selling fairly decently as well, I'm told). Because of the lead time, we were already working on issue 6, so they released the first 6 issues before killing it. It made me wonder why they agreed to publish it in the first place!
It's not exactly what people think of when they think of DC, how did it come about?
It was a pet project of one of their staff editors, named Joey Cavilieri. He had recently edited a book collection called Bizarro that was a surprise hit, so they threw him a bone by letting him do something like Sweatshop. At least that's how I recall it coming about.
In your opinion how is the comics scene at the moment?
There seems to be more alternative comics and cartoonists than ever, which is good. It's also great that bookstores are so open to selling graphic novels these days, though I personally mourn the death of the traditional comic book format.
I must add, though, that the future of comics (as well as everything else) will be on the internet. For better or worse!
Do you think the internet will ever completely take over from physical comics? I think that would be a shame. I like having physical comics and books.
Not completely, since like you most people will always want physical copies of their favourite works. But as is the case with music and film, the internet will eventually be HOW we discover and keep up with new comic work, and comic books (as well as ALL books) will be published "on demand", where if you conclude you want a hard copy of something you'll order it online, Cafe Press style. Both comic and book stores and their distribution system will cease to exist as we know it, as will the publishing industry in general.
This is actually a good thing, as far as the environment and costs to the consumer are concerned.
You've said before that no current alternative comics really grab you. Is this still the case or have you made any hot new discoveries?
I'm always coming across newer younger artists whose work I like. I just haven't experienced the "shock of the New" and been floored by anyone in quite a while. It may simply be that I'm hopelessly jaded at this point. Who knows!
Peter Bagge’s next project ‘Apocalypse Nerd’ tells the story of Perry and Gordo, two normal chaps who happen to be on a camping trip as Seattle is nuked. They have no choice but to get on with it and try their very hardest not to die.
For a few years Bagge contributed satirical strips to ‘Reason’ magazine on subjects from Christian rock to homelessness, via fascism and libertarians. There’s an archive of these at: http://www.reason.com/staff/show/137.html
He had a foray into animation with the excellent ‘Murry Wilson - Rock ‘n’ Roll Dad’, a series of short episodes chronicling the life and times of Murry, the constantly choleric father of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Episode one is here: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=GDNM7dy2Wj
And so to the future…
Are there any projects in the pipeline?
I'm doing a graphic novel for DC/Vertigo called ‘Second Lives’. It's very time consuming! I also just started doing a monthly strip for ‘Discover’ Magazine, and a book collection of all the strips I've done for ‘Reason’ Magazine will be out sometime this year. It's called ‘Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me’.
Tell me about this graphic novel, it sounds interesting.
It's called ‘Second Lives’, though it is partially inspired by the online community Second Life. It's about 4 people who's imaginary and/or virtual lives start to dominate their real lives, and also clash with each other's real and imaginary lives. It's a hoot! No release date is set - I'm guessing late '09.
And the Discover magazine strip - will it be the same sort of thing as your Reason strips? Discover seems to have a science slant while Reason had a political slant. Will the strips reflect this?
They're just one page strips, where we pick a scientist from the past and tell a joke or story that also reveals not only his or her achievements but also any personality quirks they make have had. A tall order, actually! And like my Reason strips, they involve a LOT of research. I hate homework!