Peter Bagge has carved something of a reputation for himself, satirising the middle-classes with skill and wit. But he often treads into darker areas, where few contemporary satirists dare to tread.
Other Lives continues this trend, following four dysfunctional characters as they feebly attempt to live their pathetic and miserable lives. Vader is an award-winning journalist who can’t escape from a guilty secret he’s hiding in his past, no matter how many times he tries to reinvent himself. Ivy is his girlfriend, who is just as keen to change him, by cutting down his drinking and getting him to marry her.
Woodrow is an old college friend of Vader’s and something of an irritating nerd. Woodrow’s own marriage is over, though he hasn’t told anyone yet. Instead he spends his time alone testing his poker system online or exploring Second World – an online virtual world clearly intended to resemble Second Life. Woodrow draws Ivy into Second World where they have an ‘innocent’ virtual affair and even get married, all behind Vader’s back.
The last character is Otis, another college friend of Vader and Woodrow’s, whose paranoia of the threat of terrorist attacks has lead to a range of split personalities he throws up to protect himself.
The four lives entwine as they all try to work out who they are and what they want from life. What seem at first like stereotypes quickly develop into fully rounded characters, as Bagge fleshes out their personalities, just as much as he pokes fun at their oddities.
There’s a dark undertone to the book though – while brimming with humour, it has a disturbing side to it that will leave you breathless and awe-struck. This is exactly the kind of edginess that you won’t find in this kind of a drama in any other entertainment medium. Bagge’s work brings an underground style and ethos into the mainstream, and I applaud him for his daring. If you thought characters in TV shows like The Office were difficult and uncomfortable, wait till you read this.
Artistically you can either love or hate Bagge’s style. The exaggerated simplicity of his rubber-boned caricatures disguises the complexity of the story behind the relative crudeness of the illustration. But while this starts as apparent piss-take, the tragedy of the play as it unfolds soon lifts Bagge’s art far beyond the expectations his illustrative style might imply.
So while there’s plenty of dark humour and teasing of stereotypes here, there’s an underlying current of human tragedy that swells up beneath, turning the book into an unparalleled human drama, albeit on a small scale. Bagge is clearly a comic talent to treasure at the moment, especially if you like your comedy to point its finger at middle-class hypocrisy, and to be tinged with drama and sadness.