Simon Hanselmann has been making an impression with readers for a few years now, thanks to his comics about Megg and Mogg, a young witch and her cat, which he releases on his own website, and on vice.com. Many of the comics are about stoner humor, sex and fart jokes featuring irresponsible young characters, but there's much more to his work than that. As melancholy as it is funny, Hanselmann is as interested in getting the reader to think as he is at getting a visceral reaction. He doesn't just draw the funny or sexy moments -- he lets the characters and the readers enjoy and laugh, but then he shows the fallout from some of the characters' actions, depicting them as them scared and desperate, pathetic and troubled. Hanselmann's skill at depicting this range of emotions and exploring those consequences is what makes his work so fascinating and so worth rereading.
A critical darling for people who follow comics online, CBR News spoke with him about his new "Megahex" collection. With one third of it brand new material, the hope is it will expose Hanselmann to a bigger audience. No cartoonist since Peter Bagge has been able to be as funny and depict this emotional range quite so effectively.
CBR News: Where did Megg and Mogg and their adventures start?
Simon Hanselmann: I started drawing Megg and Mogg stuff in 2008, just after I moved to London. Weirdly, the artist of the British children's series that my shit is stonedly based onÂ lived in the same area. I had no knowledge of that factÂ at the time.
Did you always see them as characters you could write about for a long period of time, or did that change as you drew them?
When I started doing Megg andÂ Mogg material, I had no idea that it would blow up. Several times over the years I thought I was done with it, but I kept on thinking up new material. Now, I have like five years worth of stuff written for them. They've taken on a life of their own.
You seem to enjoy drawing short comics, even if they feature continuing characters. What is it about short comics that appeals to you?
I think of Megg and Mogg as one big art piece. All the pieces join together like a puzzle to make one story. I already drew my big 244 pageÂ graphic novel years ago and totally hate it. It makes more sense to do things in shorter chapter bursts. Although I do have some longer stuff planned.
You've made a lot of comics with these characters, but what's included in "Megahex?"
"Megahex" collects all the old mini comics I made from 2009 to 2011, plus 69 pages of new material that I made just for the book. I tried to work hard on the sequencing so it reads like a graphic novel. Apparently, I was reasonably successful in pulling that off, so I'm told.
There's a lot of stoner comedy and, not to say that's never serious, but the book changes with "Silver Sequin Mini-Skirt" and other stories that take the book in a darker, more serious direction. Were you worried about the tone shifting like that?
I was slightly concerned that certain journalists might dismiss the book before it really gets started. You have to slog through quite a few juvenile pranks before shit gets more serious. But yeah, I wasn't really worried. I try not to overthink it and just do what I wanna do.
"Megg's Depression" was a great story. I wanted to ask about the imagery you used in the piece, because it managed to be both beautiful and hideous.
The depression episode is just based on a painting idea I had and then I fleshed it out into a comic instead. I was surprised by how popular that one was. But yeah, it's a pretty simple visual analogy. Thick blackness and vomitus relationships. I drew it all in a day.
In the acid trip scene, you really experimented stylistically. Was that fun? Were you struggling to find the right way to depict it?
Yeah. I had fun with the acid episode, it wasn't a struggle. It was fun getting some friends to draw guest panels. I was happy to get my buddy Michael Hawkins in there -- we grew up in Tasmania together, and he's one of my favorite cartoonists in the world.Â I was disappointed in the end though,Â because I ran out of time and had to cut the puppet sequences and my plan to dress up as Megg and hire a real cat to model as Mogg. I guess I'll do some puppet stuff for "Vice" down the road or something.
A puppet Mogg interacting with people or other puppets would be awesome.
Yeah, I really gotta makeÂ that puppet photo comic. My French publisher, Misma, actually made a really cool promo video with a beautiful puppet Mogg in it. I think they might be making another one, and I'll play Megg in it.
Adult Swim wrote to me a few weeks ago, but I think I fucked it up by telling them I'd have to retain all rights to the characters. There's no way I'm selling off control of this shit. I have way too many plans. I love the autonomy in comics so much.
Why did you decide to title the book "Megahex?"
That's what all the old minis were called. I tried to think of a better title, but couldn't. I don't know, it sounds kind of punkish and it has Megg's name in it -- almost. Plus, it makes the book sound exciting and magical, even though it's mostly about depression and social horror. That amuses me.
At the end of the book, you say that the story is to be continued in "Megg's Coven" What can we expect? Where do you want to take the characters and the strip?
"Megg's Coven" will see Owl striking out on his own whilst Megg has to go back to her hometown and deal with her mother's worsening addictions. Werewolf Jones and Mogg will fall further down the drugs' rabbit hole. Everybody will question what they're doing. Werewolf Jones will die of an overdose. It'll be very "Requiem for a Dream-ish."Â
You posted the comic online a while back which depicts Werewolf Jones' death in the year 2015 and even more then Megg's depression, it was a really powerful comic. It's something that could be jarring, but did you always think of these characters with an arc and a story?
The arcs came later. Early on, it was all just goofy fun. Around 2011 is when I started thinking about it more and planning for the future. Now, I've got easily 5 years worth of stuff to finish.
As part of that you mentioned that you think of all the Megg and Mogg comics as one big project -- are you always thinking about how they fit together and the timeline of the stories?
Yeah, there's a slightly complicated chronology taking form. A lot of shit goes on before and after the ending of "Megahex." There'll be some jumping around in time at some point soon. And the werewolf jones death stuff will be in my next big project, "Megg's Coven." I'd like to get that out by 2017 and have it synch up.
I know you were working on another comic, "Girl Mountain," which is the name of your tumblr. What's the relationship between that project and the Megg and Mogg comics?
There's no real relationship there. "Girl Mountain" is just an abandoned youthful indiscretion, and also the name of my solo music project. I got stuck with the name. But, yeah, I might pick apart the old girl mountain stuff for material for Megg and Mogg.
So you've abandoned "Girl Mountain?" In past interviews, you've talked about doing more. You've moved on?
Yeah, "Girl Mountain" is officially totally over. All 244 completed pages are hidden in my studio and will never be released. It was just a valuable learning experience, and I'll pick it apart for ideas for other stuff. It's not even that terrible or anything -- it's just not what I wanted it to be.
How big a story is Megg and Mogg, and do you see an end to it?
Megg and Mogg could conceivably go on forever. At the very least, the next five years. I love writing for them, though I imagine I'll be playing with them InÂ some form until I'm dead in the ground.
What else are you working on, or is it just Megg and Mogg comics right now?
I have some other stuff on the boil that is non-Megg and Mogg. An adaptation of an old sci-fi novella that I got 50 pages into in 2011 but abandoned. I really want to have another go at that. There's a weird thing I want to do with "The Simpsons," too. I want to make more mini comics, but Megg and Mogg is my main priority for the foreseeable future.
This isn't a question, but I was watching TV, and there was a commercial for Cinnamon Toast Crunch and all I could think about was that scene -- anyone who reads the book knows the one I'm talking about. I'm not sure if that entertains you or horrifies you.
My plan was to ruin cinnamon for everybody forever, yes!
As people who follow comics know, you staged a wedding at SPX. Where exactly did this idea come from?
I thought it would be romantic and funny and a good PR stunt, which it totally was. I think we pulled it off okay. People were super-confused and entertained by it. Extra special thanks to wedding planner and dress lasherÂ extraordinaire Jacq Cohen. Also everybody in the wedding party, especially "power couple" Julia and Sean for the backstage dress lashing. Oh, and Gary Groth for actually agreeing to make out with me for a full 20 seconds. There was a lot of tongue.
I know that you're on a huge US tour which started at SPX. What has your experience of America been like? Any favorite moments so far?
America has been very good thus far -- everybody's super cool. Everybody's who's come to my signings have been absolute sweethearts (I love signings). It was pretty awesome getting to go to Gary Panter's studio with Robin and Brandon from Inkstuds. Dinner with Francoise and Art was ridiculous. I hung out with Charles Burns a lot, and he's literally the nicest man in the world. I wish he'd come to karaoke with us, though.
Yeah, it's been craaaaazy. Touring the "Mad Magazine" offices was cool, I never thought I'd get to handle giant Jack Davis originals. "The New Yorker" offices were great, too. It's been non-stop. I feel very privileged to have been invited to so many places.
I am writing this on aÂ greyhound. We almost missed our connection and lost our luggage, but Patrick saved us with seconds to spare. Michael and Patrick and I are getting on prettyÂ well. No fist fights yet.