The challenge of writing fiction evoking the consuming technological machinations of our time is the swiftness, and fickleness, of the subject. Today’s Facebook becomes yesterday’s MySpace, or worse, Friendster, faster than anyone can write, draw and publish. And so, though Peter Bagge’s first all-original graphic novel seeks to plumb the evolving meanings of identity in a truly au courant manner, it arrives, alas, as something of a period piece, more 2007 than 2010. This is because Bagge’s situated much of his action in his version of the virtual world Second Life (here called Second World) which, for a minute, was a really big next thing.
Unlike many of his contemporaries in the wave of comics artists who came to prominence in the early nineties, Bagge’s work has always been especially of-the-moment. His comic-book family “The Bradleys” and its later spinoff “Hate,” seemed to convey the emergence of Gen-X “alternative” culture better than anyone, helping make his work and his—like him, Seattle-based—publisher at the time, Fantagraphics, as seminal to the era as the neighboring Sub Pop Records and its bands Nirvana and Soundgarden were. That they were released as periodicals, as comic books, helped reinforce the powerful sense of immediacy.
Flash forward to today, and “Other Lives,” hits bookstores—both physical and virtual—as a fully formed graphic novel, complete with a colorful hard cover, a substantial price and a big mainstream publisher (Vertigo). The characters—journalist Vader Ryderbeck, his girlfriend Ivy and a couple of wayward college friends, Woodrow and Javier—are basically the same kind of richly rendered social renegades that pervaded the tales of Buddy Bradley a decade ago. Their story, a series of riffs on the ramifications of identity reinvention made possible and even encouraged by the internet, and especially the question of when it goes too far, is told with Bagge’s casual, precise sense of the everyday comedy of life. Even as the tale gets darker, with cyber-terrorism, cyber-philandering and online gambling stirring the pot, as it starts becoming clear that lines are being crossed that never did in the serial-confined nature of Bagge’s earlier work (life has to go on in perpetuity in the comics, you know), he keeps it light with subplots involving the equally foreboding (for Vader) ramifications of a promise to marry. Ultimately, things reach a resolution both melodramatic and true to its tale, even if we yearn to see these characters carry on to fill another book.
Ultimately, Bagge’s ability to create compelling misfits and engross us in their day-to-day existence means that, though “Other Lives” is born slightly out of time, it has the promise to withstand and even transcend it. (Brian Hieggelke)
By Peter Bagge
Vertigo, 135 pages, $24.99