Interview with cartoonist Peter Bagge

[Video Link] Reason's Nick Gillespie talks to cartoonist Peter Bagge for Reason TV. He created great comic books: Neat Stuff and Hate, and was also the editor of Robert's Crumb's Weirdo for a while.

Peter Bagge is the preeminent libertarian cartoonist. An intelligent, anti-authoritarian streak runs throughout his canon, especially in his hit comic book from the 1990s, HATE, a hilarious and politically incorrect series focusing on the semi-autobiographical slacker-misanthrope Buddy Bradley. Bagge frequently contributes his own brand of "cartoon journalism" to the pages of Reason magazine where he also serves as a Contributing Editor.

Bagge discusses how he came to define his libertarian political worldview at a young age, and laments his frustration at being an artist who's political views are frequently mischaracterized as 'right wing' by other artists, simply for failing to be in lock-step with the rest of the predominantly progressive-left art world. He also discusses a recent Reason assignment which took him within the walls of a women's prison, and how the experience led him to question his own preconceived notions about the drug war and involuntary incarceration for drug users. His funny, outrageous and often introspective anthology of Reason cartoon journalism, Everybody is Stupid Except Me (And Other Astute Observations) is available from Fantagraphics.


  1. I like Bagge’s artwork okay, and while I’m generally more open to libertarian philosophy than the average BB fan, the one Reason cartoon I read by him (linked below) seemed like little more than a not-all-that-witty rant against people in general, masquerading as a complaint against subsidized transportation. Not fair to judge him on one piece, I guess.

    1. Have you ridden the Coast Starlight? I mean, I like it, I’d prefer to ride it again (we’ve taken it to visit our kids grandmother) (granted, 6h on the train vs 4 in the car, one train a day, and on time is not their strong point), but it’s SLOW, on a good day, and on a bad day (at least once a month) it doesn’t pick you up until after we should have been there (I recommended the website for information).

      1. Yeah, I’ve ridden the Coast Starlight, and the California Corridor lots of times. Amtrak is not something you rely on to arrive at a meeting on time, unless you give yourself a several hour safety cushion. I like train travel a lot, so I guess I’m willing to overlook the McTrain experience you get from Amtrak…

  2. Thanks, I listened to the interview, and I found it a particularly illustrative example of the shallow, myopic narcissism of Libertarian thought.

    1. Yeah, the myopia and narcissism in the video really kick in around 45 seconds in. No, wait, it’s at the 3 minute mark. No, wait, where is it?

  3. Bagge remains a beacon in a world clouded by recent lazy left wing “manifestos” and empty right wing dogmatic moralizing.

    I was honestly surprised to see this posting on Boing Boing. 

    1. He’s been posted about a number of times here, and so have articles and videos from “Reason”.

      Personally, I think Libertarianism is actually worse than simple right wing conservatism.

  4. I always wondered why I didn’t care too much for Bagge’s comics back in the day when they were coming out and before I knew what a libertarian was. The art was a fun homage to Mad and Big Daddy Roth but the relentless complaining was not really funny to me. I can see a profound reason why.

  5. Bagge’s a real libertarian in that he also believes in liberty for other people (good or bad). Most people calling themselves that just mean ‘for me’. Particularly republican party refugees. They can’t comprehend the difference. Of course then there’s the people on the other side who can’t conceive of the difference either.

    1. Honest question–What do you think Bagge would say in response to this brief video, of Elizabeth Warren, especially the point about how nobody in this country got rich on his own?

      1. I’m honestly not sure.  It seems totally disconnected from the sort of things he focuses on, which are more personal stories, even in ‘Everyone is Stupid (But Me)’. I don’t recall any rants one way or the other on taxation or services. He’s not sympathetic to the rich in the comics – they come off as badly as anyone else. Apocalypse Nerd certainly shows a bleak picture of what he thinks would happen if there were no government at all – it’s probably his most depressing book.

        1. Well, let me help you then. 

          My understanding of Libertarianism is that it sees talented, profit-seeking individuals as fettered by social demands that they devote some of themselves, especially their money, to others. If people get wealthy, then taxing them is supposedly wrong because it takes away some of what they supposedly earned, supposedly on their own. This “free choice” that you and others Libs valorize includes the choice not to pay taxes, no? (If not, then just what do you mean by “free choice”?)

          Warren’s discussion of the social contract recognizes that people can’t get rich on their own, because they rely on others in many ways to do so. And if they make a lot of money, because they’ve agreed to use others under the social contract, they should be required to pay an appropriate amount of taxes back–because they’ve in effect signed a (social) contract.So it seems to me that if Bagge is a Lib, then he’d disagree with Warren’s point. And that he’d be wrong in doing so.

          1. Urrrgh.  You’re not helping. You’re being incredibly lazy. I realize primate tribe dynamics demand you’re for us or against us, and you’re trying to help by warning us to fall in party line, but please just consider that not everything has to be a binary choice.

            You can have a general outlook without agreeing with people in the same general camp or even caring about some things they think are super important.  I don’t make an assumption on where someone ‘must’ stand on the Israel/Palestine thing just because they’re a Democrat, or where a Republican stands on big corporations. It’s a lot more complex than that. Nor do most people really care or even want to care about Rwandan genocide, or it’d be a much bigger issue than it is.

            Bagge just doesn’t seem all that interested in the subject of where taxes come from. He may have an opinion, but it doesn’t seem to show up in his work. He’s much more interested in how they’re misspent on gigantic wastes like the Iraq War or Amtrak – those are frequent topics.

          2. Yes he seems to pick and choose what kinds of government waste pisses him off, Amtrak is worse than the unbelievably subsidized air and highway systems.  An Amtrak delay (or any annoyance that happens in any situation in everyday life) is nightmare to a *special* person like himself, and something that NEVER happens on flights………………..

          3. Hi Millie

            From your posting, I think your understanding of Libertarian thought may be a bit eschewed?

            I really recommend “The Declaration Of Independents” by Matt Welch and Nick Gillespe. It’s a very solid (and entertaining) read on how Libertarianism can help fix our currently broken political system.


          4. Yes. you are correct. I always do that and I don’t know why…. All apologies.

            I’ll restate… I think your understanding of Libertarianism may be a bit misinformed?

            It is a great book though. Well worth a look, if you’re interested.

      1. You doubt what, that he believes in choice for other people? In addition to his large misanthropic streak, there’s also a very strong anti-authoritarian theme, which yes, he applies to other people. Even when there’s a large chance they’ll make the ‘wrong’ choice and screw themselves up (most of ‘Hate’ goes this way) he doesn’t suggest they should be forced to do anything else.  You might blanch at the thought of letting people screw themselves up, but that’s another issue.

        Or is this just unable to conceive of the difference between Tea Party/Koch-libertarian and ‘I’m not hurting anyone, just leave me the f@$# alone with your corporate/government rape or badly considered paternalism’-libertarian?

        I definitely don’t always agree with Bagge. Nor do I think he’s a very interesting speaker, though I like his comics. But I’m cool with that. And he’s cool with that too.

  6. So, I gather we just don’t accept libertarianism as anything other than right-wing now?

    1. That is correct. It’s basically anti-government, pro-Ayn Rand, but diverging with the right wing on religion and drug legalization. The Ayn Rand quote, “What is good for me is right” summarizes the ethos quite well.

  7. He makes great cartoons. His biases are noticeable, but they don’t stop him from collecting observations and inking them into his panels. which is a lot more than I can say about many a pundit. As to which biases he has, as in which shibboleths he cares to recite in front of a camera, meh. I stopped listening 45 seconds in. 

  8. Warrens point is absurd. She is forgetting that the rich, along with the rest of us, have already paid into the infrastructures that enabled them to succeed. It’s called taxes. They, in fact, pay more of them.

    The Middle Class in the US has not had Tax increases in many, many years. The poor( unlike the targeted “rich”) are not asked to “sacrifice” for our $3.7 trillion budget. So if the giant Obama government is so moral and patriotic, well why not ask everyone to participate?

    Because this is not about fairness. It’s really about a deep seated need by progressives to exert their form of “morality” care of the Federal government.

    Sorry. Here’s the reality, and it’s very simple. What progressives want to do is take money from some—by force—and spend it on others.

    1. The Middle Class in the US has not had Tax increases in many, many years. The poor( unlike the targeted “rich”) are not asked to “sacrifice”

      Gee, I wonder why that is?  Could it be that they have nothing to “sacrifice”? 

      Also, we’ve been told that less taxes would mean greater prosperity, funny that you inadvertently showed that notion is a complete farce.

      Libertarian wonders why the poor don’t pay more. I guess this what we call “Reason”. Ungh.

    2. “What progressives want to do is take money from some—by force—and spend it on others everyone.”

      Welcome the the grown-up world. By the way, the tax system, taking into account federal, state and local taxes is not very progressive. The top 40% of income earners pay just a few percentage points more in taxes, the bottom 60% of income earners pay a few percentage points less.

  9. If anybody wants to listen to an actually *funny* account of Amtrak travel, that’s not ruined by creepy, libertarian, fanatical junk, check out Tom Scharpling’s account on The Best Show:

  10. Wow, before reading the comments, Bagge seemed like a sensible non-conformist.  Now I think he’s either the Devil, or deluded.  Fighting the urge to say screw all y’all.

  11. @ Navin
    “Also, we’ve been told that less taxes would mean greater prosperity, funny that you inadvertently showed that notion is a complete farce.”

    They would. I’m guessing that you’re choosing to ignore my point? You’re making an assumption (and introducing another topic) that because the middle class has not had to endure a further tax burden that they are not still over taxed. They most assuredly are.

    But my point, and what makes me openly chortle at the likes of Warren, is that Obama’s (and progressives) “principaled” attacks on high wage earners is just a moral card trick.  

    Says Obama:”If the rich don’t pay..then the logic—the math—says everybody else has to do a whole lot more; we’ve got to put the entire burden on the middle class and the poor.”

    But in no way do the middle class (and most obviously, the poor,) pay more taxes than the rich. So, there is no shared sacrifice. If you want the rich to pay more than the 80% to 90% that they already cough up, well bully for you, just don’t pretend it’s done in the name of the poor.

    Sorry, but the progressive  “math” adds up pretty clearly: The larger the government, the more moral the society. 

    This is what Waren is really saying, and I don’t know about you, but when morality is mixed with a legislative impulse, well, that’s when I get nervous.

  12. It’s quite a bit like watching the well heeled republican boards once you switch the talking points.

  13. I have always enjoyed Bagge’s work and don’t find it overly idelogical.  It seems to respect the chaos that is in both the natural and the artificial world we have created.  I don’t know why libertarians deem it necessary to have a one-fits-all solution that when it comes up against something like corporate regulation or taxation it falls apart in fantasy and delusion.

  14. I’ve followed Bagge’s work since he published Neat Stuff (the predecessor to Hate) with Fantagraphics, and still occasionally enjoy his work (Apocalypse Nerd was good, in a really grim sort of way), but his Reason work has him seriously out of his league; if you ever want to see someone deploy the most over-the-top dirty fucking hippie straw men, read Bagge’s political work.

  15. The problem with Libertarians is that they worship the Free Market system, with its’ cycles of booms & busts.  Keynes showed one of the things government should do is step in when the market goes off the rails & start pumping money back into the economy.   Obama was willing to bail out his funders from Wall Street, but only approved half measures when it came to stopping rising unemployment.  Now the US is stuck in what Paul Krugman calls a liquidity trap.  The only way out is More Stimulus.  Lots more.  Otherwise, we get to experience a Lost Decade like Japan has experienced since the 90’s.

  16. So Bagge is supposedly a “non-conformist” but he roboticallly repeats the right wing party line talking points, that are espoused by everybody  from the Koch brother puppeteers all the way down the line, that the US is “bankrupt”.
    Despite his stupid repetition of the false cliche, the US government is not “bankrupt” (look up the definition). The US is currently running a deficit, which is normal Keynesian economics and is also currently being practiced by pretty much every other government on Earth. But the US has the economic productivity and taxing power to pay off its’ debts easily, simply by returning tax rates to the levels that were in force before Republican tax cuts for the rich.
    A country with a national debt is no more “bankrupt” than a family with a mortgage. As long as the payments are made (which will happen unless Tea Party gets control) a debt has nothing to do with bankruptcy.
    Anyone who lives in mining country can see how libertarianism falls apart. Absent government regulation, mining companies make a huge toxic mess, pay themselves lots of money, declare bankruptcy, and walk away from land that stays poisoned for generations. Sure this does not happen in the libertarian utopia, but the in the real world it happens everywhere. So the corporation has its’ “freedom” to poison the land and make billions, and the citizen has the “freedom” to drink toxic water and breathe toxic air.
    A great kind of “freedom” if you are one of the Koch brothers, but not so great for the rest of us.

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