One Of The Great Cartoonists Of The ’90s Hits The “Reset” Button
I sometimes wonder if Pete Bagge isn’t a victim of his own success. It’s really not his fault that he was able to capture the legitimate flavor of the early-to-mid-1990s ” slacker” zeitgesit so well. A person sometimes just can’t help it if they’re too good at what they do.
Granted, Bagge, who’s now (weird as this sounds to say) in his mid-50s wasn’t a part of “Generation X” himself, but he was right there at its, for lack of a better term, “Ground Zero” in Seattle (believe it or not, any younger folks who may be reading this, there was a time when Austin was not the “hipster” capital of the United States), and his keen eye for capturing (and lovingly exaggerating) authenticity was given a good workout in the pages of his seminal comics series Hate, where he chronicled the less-than-adventures of “star” character Buddy Bradley and his fellow go-nowhere wastoids with unerring accuracy and “damn, that really hits close to home” humor.
Paging through back issues of Hate now, I’m struck by the idea that this may just be the only surviving cultural remnant of what the “slacker” or “grunge” years were really like — forget the ’90s nostalgia being peddled on MTV/VH1/insert name of other cable network of your choice here — it wasn’t all un-tucked flannel shirts, manic-depressive girlfriends or boyfriends, “quickie” sexual relations with their inevitable resultant STDs , coffee, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.
Sure, there was plenty of that, but that’s not what the whole “scene” was really about — it was about dead-end jobs that you quit when you got too bored, or bitching about not having a job while being too lazy to get up and find one; it was about sitting through one interminable sound check after another getting loaded on cheap beer while waiting for a band that was bound to suck to come on stage; it was about being behind on your rent and utilities; and most especially it was about the ennui and boredom that sets in while you prolong, for as long as possible, your entry into a world of adult responsibilities that you know is gonna be complete bullshit but that, for all the talk of how “alternative” everything you’re interested and believe in is, you don’t have any actual alternative to.
I was a part “Generation X” myself and I don’t recall, for instance, having one single “Who would you rather fuck, Ginger Or Mary Ann?” conversation with any of my friends. Bagge got that about us. We were both everything and nothing like how the media portrayed us.
So yeah — when you say the name “Peter Bagge,” people are always bound to think of Hate and Buddy Bradley first thing. It’s his cross to bear, I guess, but it’s not at all a bad thing to be remembered for , since it really was an instance of “catching lightning in a bottle” comic book greatness.
Still, it’s not like he just quit cartooning after Hate went to once-a-year status and Buddy entered into the “less-reluctant-as-time-goes-by husband and father” phase of his life. He’s continued to do interesting, important, even innovative comics work since then — even if most of his 1990s audience has moved on from their passing interest in the medium — the latest example of which, Reset, has recently been collected in a slim and relatively affordable ($14.95, but who pays full retail?) hardcover from Dark Horse Comics, who also published it in its initial four-part, single-issue iteration.
There’s no doubt that this series represents something of a departure for Bagge, who flirted a bit with Phillip K. Dick-esque science fiction “questions of identity” themes in his 2009 Vertigo graphic novel Other Lives, but now delves into that territory a bit more deeply with this tale of Guy Krause, a washed-up, formerly-big-time Hollywood comedian who has hit rock bottom after a series of tabloid scandals and a drunk driving conviction, and now finds himself selling his time to a shadowy. quasi-governmental scientific research outfit that has developed a machine that allows him to virtually “relive” his life, correct any mistakes he may have made at crucial points, and experience what the results would have been like had he chosen differently.
It’s all sounds a bit closer to, say, A Clockwork Orange than anything we might have expected from a guy who spent years chronicling the exploits of “grunge rock” losers, isn’t it? And while Bagge’s art style hasn’t changed too terribly much over the years apart from some refinement around its rougher edges, it suits this new, more thematically ambitious material fairly well, while still intrinsically conveying a sense of absurdist humor throughout. This kind of story might be “old hat” to long-time SF readers, but Bagge’s solid dialogue and “cartoony” illustrations still manage to drive home the weirdness of the situation nevertheless.
Also of note is the fact that Bagge seems more concerned with exploring the effects these “sessions” have on his character’s daily existence than with spending too much time poking around in his virtual-reality “dreamscape.” Whether it’s making — or passing on — various decisions that may or may not jump-start his ruined career again, or finally getting up the guts to ask out the girl he had a crush on back in high school, Guy’s actual reality begins to be shaped and changed by the time he’s spent immersed in his false one, and those results are far more interesting than seeing him play James Bond for a few panels in fantasy-land.
Look, I won’t kid you — Reset is hardly groundbreaking, one-of-a-kind stuff, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable story, expertly drawn, that provides a nice showcase example of what a skilled and intelligent cartoonist can achieve when he decides to step out of his usual “comfort zone” a bit. It would be nice to see more artists who were willing to push themselves, creatively speaking, in this fashion, and if the results of most of their efforts were even half this good , we as readers would find ourselves with a much more challenging and rewarding comics “marketplace” than we have right now.
I still enjoy flipping through my old copies of Hate a few times a year, and I probably always will, but ya know, I think I can see myself giving Reset another look on occasion as time goes on, as well.