If you'll allow me to be pointlessly nostalgic for a minute, there was a large chunk of time throughout the 90's where, in any given year, you were pretty much guaranteed to be able to see a few new books from Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, the Hernandez Brothers and Jim Wooding. Out of that crew only the Hernandez Brothers are still doing comics on a consistent basis, with Dan Clowes "going Hollywood", Jim Woodring pretty much vanishing completely outside of the occasional anthology piece (according to the Fantagraphics site anyway, I haven't seen anything new from the man in years) and Peter Bagge being content to put out the occasional annual of Hate. Except, it turns out, for these strips. These were done for Reason, a libertarian magazine that has gone a bit nuts over the past year with the Obama birtherism and some other odds and ends, but (full disclosure), they're still closer to my political persuasion than any of the major parties, or at least they are after working closely with electoral politics for the last 5 years. It was, frankly, a nostalgic blast of fresh air to be able to read a graphic novel of Peter's again, even if this is a series of unconnected pieces instead of a coherent narrative. This covers strips he did from 2001-2009 and doesn't really make clear if this is a "best of" collection or a definitive listing of all of his strips from that period. There are also all mostly autobiographical from Peter talking to the people involved in his theme of the strip, which is a marked change from Hate. Subjects in here include a brief definition of libertarianism, the meandering anti-war protests (and Peter's later guilt at making fun of them), the right to own a bazooka, swingers, the war on fornication, the nonsense that makes up modern art, Christian rock, malls, legalized gambling, monorails, taxpayer funded sports arenas, the general suckiness of Amtrak, the ridiculous war on pot (and the war on drugs in general), bums, his search for an honest Republican, his report from a libertarian presidential debate, and the general nonsense that we believe. This doesn't include any of the many single page strips, as you should get some surprises with this book, right? The one minor complaint is that a book of strips from 2001-2009 should be legally obligated to have at least a half dozen strips breaking down why W. Bush was such an unbelievable fuck-up, but Peter only goes so far as to call the man stupid a few times in other strips. Still, it's hard to criticize somebody for NOT doing a strip about something when he was usually given topics to cover, and I still don't know if they just left out the Bush strips in the ongoing cultural effort to forget that the man ever existed. Anybody who read Hate back in the day already knows to pick this up just because it's Peter, and for you kids today who never read Hate, this is a good place to start with the guy. $17
Note: Most of the individual Hate issues appear at the Fantagraphics home page, but I'm not going to list all of them here. Why not? Dude, there's more than 30 of them! Do you think I'm insane? You can find them on your own. I took you this far, you lazy bastard… By the way. read an interview with the man about how much it "fucking sucks" to make a comic over at The Onion.
- Hey Buddy!
- Buddy the Dreamer
- Fun With Buddy and Lisa
- Buddy Go Home!
- Buddy's Got Three Moms!
- Buddy Bites the Bullet
- Junior and Other Losers
- Studs Kirby: The Voice of America
- The Bradleys
Finally, my big chance to read all the Hate stuff in a row. Is it as groundbreaking as everybody seems to think it is? How about just being one of the best series ever? After reading the first of the collected Hate volumes, I have to say… not really.
That's doesn't mean that this series is bad or hard to read in any way. And, to be fair, it's a little presumptuous of me to say that all the hype is unwarranted after reading only one book. If my opinion changes on that point during my reading, believe me, you'll be the first to know. I have no problem admitting that I'm wrong on something, and this will be no exception. But I'm judging this series by what the first book has to offer, and it's only mediocre. Tales in this book: introduction to Buddy, getting to know his roommate George Hamilton III, dealing with his girlfriend, tolerating a visit from his brother Butch, and Buddy dealing with his girlfriend's trendy friends. An enjoyable book, but he hadn't really found his rhythm here yet. Which is hard to figure, because he had been doing great work for years before this came out in Neat Stuff and Weirdo. He had never really dealt with continuing characters before though… no, Buddy's family is in Neat Stuff a lot. I don't know, OK? It was strange to see Lisa and Valerie develop after knowing what they all go through in the course of the series though.
This is officially impossible to review. I feel like I'm reviewing the first five pages of a novel. And I still don't know how I should be reviewing this: looking it as the groundbreaking series that changed comics forever, or by trying to ignore the historical impact this series had on everything and just trying to take it on its own. From now on, I think, I'm going to try to just take it as it is, not for what it did for the rest of comics. As for the historical side, and I'm only going to address this now, I still don't see how this comic could be the main one that a lot of people tried to emulate. It's a good series, even a much better than good series, but it's not the "bees knees", as the kids say. Or at least as they used to say about 60 years ago. Anyway, bottom line, don't buy this book until you read some of the other ones that are much better. Which ones are much better? Keep reading these reviews, you'll see…
OK, maybe I rushed to judgment when I shouldn't have. This still isn't the best of these books (I remember liking the last three quite a bit), but it is a lot better than I remember it. I don't know what my problem with it was back in the day. I guess I had to believe that every comic out there was breaking some boundary, otherwise it wasn't worthwhile. I've known for years now though that it can be enough for a comic to just have a great story.
And this book has no trouble pulling that off. This is mostly all about Stinky's band and Buddy trying to manage them, with the constant Buddy/Valerie/Lisa drama playing out in the background. Solid stuff all the way around and I can't wait to move onto the next book. This does bring up a pretty important question though. When reading all the volumes of a series in a row, is it always best to start with #1 and move on from there, even if the series improves significantly from one book to the next? The volume I have also has The Bradleys in it after these first two books. Sure, I should have read it before I started all these, but I seldom plan that far ahead. Now what though? Would the last couple of books in this series have been as good if I didn't have the previous material to refer to? Would reading The Bradleys right now make everything else that much better, no matter what the quality of that book was (and I seem to remember it liking the most of the three in this volume when I read it for the first time)? Or should I wait until I read the whole series and then go back to this story? I've already decided on what I'm going to do, but I wonder what the popular opinion is out there. Do you recommend to friends that they read the first volumes of a series first if some of the later ones are significantly better? I know I always tell people to buy Love and Rockets #2 before #1.
Oh yeah, the actual book. Sorry about that tangent there, but I am curious to see what most people do in that situation. The strongest stuff in this book was the relationship stuff, messed up as it is. Seeing George on a date was classic, and having Lisa be the date was just a fantastic story decision. I never liked Stinky much for some reason, and that continues with this book. He's fairly one-dimensional in Hate, and it seems like there was more to him in Bagge's earlier work (which I'll figure out soon enough, I guess). Valerie gets fleshed out quite a bit with the visit to her parents, then is left out of most of the rest of the book. That was one of my original problems with this series: not as much character development as I would have liked. I can see how ridiculous that is now that the whole series is complete, but I always felt like I was having to assume too much when I was reading the early stuff. This is the book that I'd probably pick to start with if you haven't read any Hate at all. There are bits and pieces in the first book that you'll miss, sure, but it's nothing that you can't figure out with this book. And it's stuff that you'll probably be a lot happier to see once you see how good it gets later on…
This series keeps getting better and better. This one shows a lot more of Stinky and the general mess that is the relationship between Buddy and Lisa. This volume actually almost makes them seem like a normal couple, whatever that is. Valerie is thrown back in the picture, and the whole thing ends with them leaving on a trip to see Buddy's family, so any desire that anybody had to see how the family is doing should be satisfied in the next volume.
Have I mentioned yet how horribly wrong I was about this series not being incredible? I can see how it would have been one of the better selling titles put out by Fantagraphics because it does seem to be accessible to a wide variety of people, but that doesn't make it any less good. This guy's a master of comedic imagery. Buddy getting punched is just hilarious, mostly due to the incredibly exaggerated reaction. And just how does Stinky get all the women, anyway? The ones that know him well hate him, but he has no problem picking up the random girl… oh wait, I have a few friends like that too. Highlights: In Search of the Enigmatic George Cecil Hamilton the Third (after George prints up a scathing review of Buddy's personality in his zine), The Old Flame (when Buddy sees Valerie again and goes to a dinner party without telling Lisa), and My Pad (Revisited). Nothing in the book beats My Pad (Revisited) for sheer mayhem and high-larity. Easily my favorite story of the book, and that's saying a lot because this one is my favorite of the bunch so far. Having the last story in the book be my favorite is probably a good sign too because it leads right into the next one, so things can only get better from here. There, have I rambled on about this book long enough yet? Can you get off my back so I can read the next one? Thank you. Have I mentioned yet that you should buy these? You could probably give a stack of these to somebody who doesn't even read comics as a birthday present or something and change their life around, at least a little bit.
Buddy moves back in with his parents with Lisa. Hilarity, as you can probably figure out, ensues. I'm running out of words of praise for these beauties. I think part of my problem before is that these are deceptively conventional. I only saw the obvious things when I read through this a few years ago, like the obnoxious 20 something complaining about everything in the world, instead of seeing just what they're saying and how they're saying it. Also in this volume: Buddy opens up his own business and spends a day babysitting his sister's kids. Look, I'm going to cut this one short. Anybody who's already read this far in the series isn't going to need any convincing to get Volume 4, and anybody who hates this series with a burning passion isn't going to read anything in this volume that changes their mind. It's the same old Hate, which is something that has rarely been equaled, as far as I know. Oh, I should mention that this volume is also in color, which brings a lot more than I thought it would to the book. I would have said that it didn't need it (hell, 99% of the stuff I read doesn't have it and I think it's the best stuff around), but it really added a whole new dimension. I might not even have noticed it was a big deal here but the last few (short) stories in the book are in black in white and it just seems so much shittier than the color stuff. Who knew that that thing on top of Stinky's head was yellow? And I don't know how Bagge could have even drawn that monster truck if it would have been in black and white. Maybe that's what'll convince people to start reading it with this book: it's in color and he moves back in with his parents, so it's kind of like a new beginning in two different ways. Are you buying it yet?
Man, talk about action packed. Buddy's Dad, the fate of the Buddy/Lisa relationship, Bab's ex playing at least a minor role… It's almost like he knew the series was almost over, which I guess he did, what with him being the writer and all. This one is the best of the bunch, and I've been trying to tell you all that they're been getting progressively better each time. I'm almost tempted to go back and read the first one again and give it another chance, even though I just read it a week ago and I'm pretty secure in my opinion. This one is all color too, and it just seems to increase all the little details about a million times. I never really noticed the background before this.
I'm going to use a little quote here from The New York Press, and I hope they don't mind because they're obviously just much better critics than I am and are able to sum things up so much more neatly (to show how stupid I am, I wanted to use "succinctly" there but am too stupid to know how to spell it): "Smart and sardonic, but in no way exclusionary or too ironic for its own good". That was a big part of my problem back in the day, I think: I was looking for something that nobody else could get, and was way to busy to appreciate the things that were just good clean fun. It's a good thing I got over that too or I never would have read Preacher, but that's another story entirely. The back of pretty much all of these books say that they're the best underground comic of the 90's and, while there are a few people who would argue that (myself being one of them), it's certainly up there. I think that either Eightball or Love and Rockets could be ranked higher, but once you get up to levels like that it's really just a question of semantics, and as long as they're all great it really doesn't matter which one is slightly greater.
Here's a lesson for you youngsters who think, like me, that it's sometimes a better idea to read the series as it's put out in graphic novel form and not when it's done in comic form. Once you read all the big books, it's done. I guess it is for the people who read the comic too, but there have at least been a special or two put out since this series ended. All I want right now is to be able to read more of this wonderful series and there's nothing left to be had, except for the specials that I missed. Reading this all in a row is the way to go, that much is obvious.
So what happened in the actual book? Well, everything got wrapped up in a nice little bundle. Or a messy giant bundle, but pretty much everything was wrapped up to some extent. Stinky was taken care of (literally, but I'm not telling you anything that you can't tell from looking at the cover), Buddy and Lisa saw the light, Ma Bradley is happy again, George and Valerie both seem happy with their lot in life, even Babs seems to have things worked out. Combine that with the best ending of any comics series ever (and any fan of Sam Henderson knows exactly what I mean), and you have the best book of the series to end the whole damned thing. Which is horribly frustrating, because I don't know if he has any plans to do a major series from here on out. He had a regular strip on suck.com (which you can probably still find in the archives) and in theory had a cartoon somewhere online, but I never saw it.Probably the best part of this book, though, is the four page sequence where a girl from the Starbucks next door comes over and flirts with him, turning his bachelor world upside down. It's beautifully done and perfectly captures the confusion of trying to figure out exactly what the hell women are talking about when you're single (in my world, at least).
As I'm done with this series, I feel obligated to say something. This is a series that everybody should read at some point, especially if you're anywhere near the 20-something age group that is represented so flawlessly here. Maybe you can find some of these at a library or something if you're totally broke, I don't know. Some comic stores supposedly have deals set up where they'll give you your money back for something like this that they believe in if you buy it and don't like it. I started re-reading this series thinking that it was mediocre and I wasn't going to like it that much, and ended up tearing through the whole thing much faster than I had intended. Going from giving it a 6 (on a scale from 1-10, and I really hate ratings systems so I'm not going to do this very often) to a 10 merely through re-reading it should say something about the quality of the work. I don't know if I would have thought more of it at the time if I had been reading it issue by issue, but history has allowed me to correct that mistake by reading them all in a row. I must have at least thought something of them subconsciously if I insisted on getting all the books when they were coming out.
Ah, a look at where the famous Buddy Bradley came from. I have a problem with the ending, not because of what happens but because… what the hell happens in between the end of this and the start of the first Hate collection? You spend all that time getting people to care about what happens to your characters, then you just make all the bad stuff go away to start the new series. Still, it's a minor point, and it's entirely possible that I'm just missing a piece of the puzzle somewhere and I'm getting annoyed for no good reason. This book on it's own is a vastly entertaining piece of work, and that's probably how I should take it.
It's tough to pick a favorite part though. Bab's Diary was incredible, as was the Christmas story, and the Mom being a phone operator and dealing with the family in general. Granted, Bagge gained a lot of maturity when he focused on Buddy and everything he went through, but I miss the days when the whole family was around and causing havoc. He goes back to them a few times during Hate, so it's not like they're lost completely. Just seeing how Babs and Butch turn out in that series is enough to make this essential reading. Try to reconcile the Butch you know from Hate with the one in this series who believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. This is another one of that rare bunch of series that I think could be appreciated by everyone, and I think that was shown in the phenomenal sales numbers he had with Fantagraphics. Well, phenomenal for small press comics, anyway.
To anybody who's thinking of reading Hate over again, I'd recommend highly that you find this book and read it first, if you haven't already. I'm still confused as to why Stinky's such a big deal, as he was barely in this book too. And whatever happened to Tom, Buddy's friend? I guess it doesn't matter, it just goes to show what a great job he does with characters in his work. So let's see, the recipe for Hate: read this book, then move onto book two of the collected stuff (the first book is OK, but it's not like you're going to be missing an important part of the story as he pretty much skips over a couple of years) and go from there. If you're dying for more Bagge stuff after that, read the first book and any of the older stuff that's still in print.