Thursday, September 01, 2016

Founding Fathers Funnies by Peter Bagge

It is definitely not fair to say "Peter Bagge is a libertarian, and so of course he's obsessed with the Founding Fathers." Not fair at all. But Bagge is well-known in comics as a libertarian, and here's a whole book full of silly gags about the guys who wrote the Constitution, so....I don't know how else to put it.

Founding Fathers Funnies collects strips that appeared under that title as backups in Bagge's sour mid-aughts comic Apocalypse Nerd, plus a few from Dark Horse Presents, and some unknown number of new strips. And they're both actual history and deeply Bagge strips, which makes for an interesting combination.

History tends to hagiography, and particularly so with revered people like the Founders. There's a non-stop parade of big fat biographies of Adams and Washington and Jefferson and so forth, wrestling with their issues and making them out to be Major Serious People doing Major Serious Things. But in a Bagge world, everyone is angry and self-serving and casually cruel and forgetful and ready to make a mean verbal or practical joke.

So here an Adams comeback makes people fall backwards in the most cartoony way possible and a rubber-armed John Paul Jones carves his way through British soldiers whose eyes turn to Xs as he kills them. The history is real, but the style is the farthest thing from reverent possible. And that's all a very good thing: we need to pull our heroes down from their pedestals regularly, to look at them from all sides and see who they really were.

Franklin comes out the best here, unsurprisingly: he was the most modern and cosmopolitan of the Founders, as well as the least political and the most focused on his own wealth and pleasure. But Adams is probably the most fun: a grumpy pseudo-Puritan always getting himself into feuds and whose logic takes him to surprising conclusions that he doesn't always want to live up to. In other words: a normal smart human being. It's a joy to see Bagge tease the human moments out of what are too often bronze idols..and it's very funny, too.

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