On college campuses, in offices, in nice suburban homes, "Hate" is becoming popular among America's youth and young adults.
No, it's not a new gangsta rap song, death metal band or some nefarious right-wing group. "Hate" is an adult comic book chronicling the uncertain lives of a group of Seattle twentysomethings, the reluctant heirs to a world ravaged by junk bonds, the Reagan-Bush years, AIDS, crack and MTV.
They spend their days in dead-end jobs (if they work at all), knocking back Ballard Bitters (a popular Seattle beer), complaining about their lives and loves, and always dreaming of and scheming for something better, which remains teasingly beyond their grasp.
The serio-comic exploits of Buddy Bradley and his gang of paranoids, manic-depressives, potheads and fashion slaves, all trying to negotiate the ragged terrain of early adulthood, have struck a deep chord with their real-life counterparts. The quarterly is fast becoming one of the most popular alternative comics ever.
"What I used as a source of inspiration was everything that happened to me or to friends of mine during my early years of being out on my own, from my late teens to my early 20s," says "Hate" creator Peter Bagge, 36, who lives in Seattle.
"All that confirms to me is that people in their 20s never change," he says. "To me, its appeal is nostalgic. I'm still making fun of myself, since Buddy is a semi-autobiographical character, but I'm grateful for the fact that the so-called twentysomethings respond to it so well."
For some, the familiarity of the characters settles uncomfortably beneath the skin. Sean Gaskini, 23, who lives in Boston with two roommates, often sees himself in the pages of "Hate."
"I definitely relate," he says. "The problems with relationships and money, all that stuff in the book is cold reality for me and my friends."
The comic has become so popular that Colossal Pictures, the San Francisco-based company responsible for MTV's "Liquid Television" (the show that introduced the world to Beavis and Butt-head), is talking to Mr. Bagge about producing a full-length, animated movie for the big screen.
"Both this company and I want to do a movie so we wouldn't have to follow any guidelines even to get it on cable TV. They've been able to list right off the bat certain things that wouldn't fly on TV, things that are more in a politically correct vein," Mr. Bagge says.
He continues: "No characters could be shown smoking, you can't guzzle an alcoholic beverage. All of my characters do those things, and they seem like awfully absurd things to have to
compromise, so we'll see how it goes."
"Hate," which derived its name as a "reaction, maybe an $H overreaction" to Mr. Bagge's earlier comic book, "Neat Stuff," was created in 1990 and is published by Fantagraphics in Seattle. It sells about 25,000 copies, compared to less than 10,000 for most alternative comics.
Mr. Bagge classifies his comic as "cynical and nihilistic." Its anti-hero is Buddy Bradley, whom Mr. Bagge describes as a "bitter ne'er-do-well."
A transplant from New Jersey, Buddy gets by as best he can with a series of odd jobs. Buddy is "fairly intelligent," Mr. Bagge says, "but he doesn't use his intelligence to any constructive end."
"A lot of readers relate to Buddy for that reason," Mr. Bagge says. "Everyone has these real high hopes, and as time goes by they find themselves compromising because they don't have what it takes or they don't have the stomach to make the sacrifices or compromises to get ahead."
Buddy's "friends" -- and the term should be applied loosely -- include Leonard, still known as "Stinky" from his days of infrequent contactwith soap and water. He's the wiseacre of the lot, the kind of person, Mr. Bagge says, "you keep at arm's length, because if you get involved with them, they'll bring you down."
Buddy's love life alternates between Lisa, a manic-depressive who spends her days plopped in front of the television, and Valerie, who pushes Buddy to fulfill his potential.
The comic's only black character is George. Supported by a father he despises, George spends most of his time locked away in his room, reading and writing science fiction stories. He is repressed and paranoid.
"I made him black because there are a handful of guys I knew who fit that description who were also black. For whatever nTC reasons, they were very alienated from the black culture. They just didn't fit in," Mr. Bagge says. "I knew a number of guys like George when I was in art school."
With an equal number of male and female readers, Mr. Bagge receives hundreds of fan letters each month, many of which begin, "I'm ashamed to say it, but your characters remind me of myself."
"I think people read 'Hate' because, while there might be a surface gag to my work, there's always something running beneath the surface, something a little unsettling or something people would reflect on later," he says.