By Peter Bagge
Dark Horse – 6 saddle-stitched @ $2.99
WE’VE MISSED YOU, Peter Bagge.
It’s been nearly ten years since the last issue of the ongoing Hate series, and Apocalypse Nerd represents Bagge’s longest work as both writer and artist since then. It’s also my favorite post-Hate Bagge.
I can’t imagine Apocalypse Nerd’s story coming from anyone else; the mix of humor, politics, depravity, clashing personalities and Pacific Northwest references is distinctly Bagge’s. The series begins with Microsoft programmer Perry and his buddy, Gordo, returning from a camping trip outside Seattle only to find everyone else is going the other way, fleeing the city. Turns out Kim Jong Il has nuked Seattle and Portland, so the two return to the woods to try to survive in what they imagine to be a destroyed world.
Bagge is a master at depicting characters who supposedly like each other, but hide antipathy just under the surface, so a scenario trapping two characters as different as Perry and Gordo together in a cabin is natural material for him. The dialogue between the two is very funny, as Perry alternates between wanting to go home and attempting suicide, while Gordo takes the opportunity to live out a “survivalist fantasy,” talking about almost nothing but hunting.
Of course, interpersonal struggles are only one level on which the story plays out. As you might expect of a series dealing with attacks on the country, there’s a strong post-9/11 feel to the series––certainly the government has been telling us since then to expect the apocalypse any day now. The survivalist mentality got a boost after the attacks, with people preparing survival kits and militias like the Minute Men reinvigorated by the opportunity to link border security to terrorism (actually, some sort of militia is all the series lacks; it’s a satirical target I’m surprised Bagge left out). And who really knew that much about Kim Jong Il before President Bush’s infamous “Axis of Evil” speech?
Bagge doesn’t reference any of this directly, but most of it is clearly satirized in the reactions of different people to Seattle’s destruction and the mini-societies that Perry and Gordo encounter throughout the series. There are lots of funny moments provided by a bunch of computer nerds’ attempts at utopia, a women’s camp going it alone, and others. All of them inevitably fail in spectacular fashion as barbarism repeatedly wins out. It’s that kind of series.
Along with the laughs is a very pronounced dark streak. The first death takes place on page 9 of issue 1 and by the end of the issue Perry has to face the reality of killing his food up close and personal. By the end of the series, all of the characters have sunk to unexpected levels of depravity just to survive. The Walking Dead––with its honorable leads––this is not!
The art is standard modern-day Bagge, more streamlined than his older work and a little cleaner than some of his more recent gag strips, though it gets grungier as the series goes on and the characters become more unkempt. Bagge’s got the look of the Northwest down perfectly and has a very efficient shorthand in the form of lots of trees with mountains in the background. The character designs are distinct and funny. Perry looks appropriately pitiable throughout, and no one draws a character flying into irrational rage as well as Bagge.
Apocalypse Nerd is the first multipage art I’ve seen from Bagge with computer greytones, and it works pretty well. Too much crosshatching along with the stubble everyone develops and the dirt covering them would probably look too busy. The only problem I have with it is how often the background tone consists of a gradient with white in the center, so the action always has a weird glow behind it. The art is fairly consistent, considering how long the gap between issues was. The shape of Perry’s head, nose and glasses change a bit between the first and second issues, but it settles down after that.
Also included in the last third of each issue is “Founding Fathers Funnies,” dealing with the political issues of the 1770s-1800s. The look is more traditional Bagge, with lots of texture and crosshatching, as well as a color strip on each back cover. Bagge covers a lot of ground, including political maneuvering between the Founders, as well as short biographies of a few, like John Laurens (who I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of) and Thomas Paine. The strips are written in modern language, which is a funny effect and makes them more accessible. One fascinating detail is how much the Founders simply hate each other and are constantly plotting against one another, a very different picture than is traditionally painted. It’s very funny stuff. Check out a sample from Dark Horse Presents.
The two features make each issue of Apocalypse Nerd a satisfying package and contrast each other nicely, one detailing the breakdown of society and the other the founding of that society. I highly recommend the collection coming out next year, and hope that it includes the “Founding Fathers Funnies” or that that gets its own collection.