The Action Suits: Fun Flies
A friend made me realise recently that I don’t know shit about comic art anymore. It’s been years since I actually read a comic book. I LOOK at art now and I can analyse colours and shapes and design principles but its been a while since I actually indentified with a comic as heavily as I did with Peter Bagges’ HATE back in the grubby 90′s.
It was the first big, proper comic I read that seemed to bridge the gap between Marvel/DC and the D.I.Y. auto-biographical, nerdy/druggy fringe comic – zines that I read back then. I moved on to Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware and (debatably) better ‘looking’ comics but aesthetics weren’t really the reason to read HATE for me (although, in hindsight, the artwork is fantastic – it’s a glue sniffing, beer swilling ARCHIE – arms flailing, eyes bulging, spit flying – super exaggerated bends and ripples all over characters’ bodies, oversized heads, eyes, hands and feet).
The reason, back then, for me was that I identified with it – I could quite easily (at least, in my own mind) have been boozer Buddy Bradley with weird arse pals, mental girlfriends and terrible personal hygiene – cruising above a sea of wannabe rock stars, pretentious art students and distant parents with a flick of a fringe and a toke on a fag. The satire of Buddy’s Seattle scene was bang on (consequently nailing a million other ‘scenes’ around the western world) and it was hilarious to boot.
Bagge’s name is often distinguished from other mid 90′s comic artists because of the humour and lack of pretension in his art – it’s more comic book/MAD magazine than contemporary design but these covers for Bagge’s band The Action Suits (he plays the drums and sings) are kind of a commercial nadir for that North American punk-rock, stoner (I’m trying really hard not to say grunge) comic style in the mid 90′s (I’m sure many came before and many after, discovered and undiscovered).
Bagge has said that his style developed from a long line of patronage to 60′s MAD/WEIRD magazine artists like “Don Martin, Al Jaffee, Paul Coker Jr. and Sergio Aragones” and his drawings have been compared to the grotesque caricatures of Basil Wolverton and Robert Crumb.
So maybe he didn’t invent funny eyeballs, wobbly lines and ‘slackers’ but that recognisable hand drawn font and the highly stylised, super-emotive characterisation are certainly hallmarks of all his work and damned if he could draw a picture you didn’t know was his.
The ‘Cancer Father’ and ‘Visualise Ballard’ covers are excellent examples of Bagges’ approach to character, colour, composition and layout. For some reason the minute I see his drawings I still get transported to that period in the 90′s when wankers in bad goatees and flannel everywhere were trying desperately to prove to eager A&R guys how ‘authentic’ and riddled with pain they were. I think Buddy Bradley even managed a band at one stage, (except they were the real deal, naturally).
Nirvana be damned tho’ – Bagge even whipped this cover up for the un-suicidal George Thorogood and compiled his own album of rock/pop from his adolescence (below right) , writing essays on each artist and providing the cover art. Slacker my ass.