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A Conversation with Simon Hanselmann

June marked the publication of One More Year, Simon Hanselmann‘s third major book and the final installment in a trio of the collected adventures of his Megg and Mogg characters. I’ve watched and read Simon over the last 5 years and thought it might be a good time to chat about his life in comics thus far. We spoke by Skype, Conrad Groth transcribed our ramblings, and I edited and condensed the whole shebang. -DN

Nadel: How old are you now?

Thirty-five. Old, getting older.

You had a lot of time under the radar to work.

Yeah, just didn’t put anything online.

Because I remember back in 2013 or 2012, Sammy was saying, “Oh, yeah, that guy sent me his comic five or six years ago.” You’d been at it a while.

Oh, I started self-publishing when I was eight. All through high school and college, it was all I ever wanted to do. Dropped out out high school, just kept making zines. Made fucking hundreds of them. Bit late to computers, didn’t send off stuff. I was always like, “Ah, I’m shit.” I’m glad I didn’t send stuff off, it’s embarrassing. My old work’s terrible. My current work is terrible. If I was still making this and no one knew of me, I wouldn’t be sending it to publishers. I’d still feel bad about it, probably. 

So when did you sort of tune in? When did you get complete fascinated? So you were reading The Comics Journal in Australia…?

Yeah, I used to read that and Comics Comics. I was always reading all that shit. I miss Comics Comics. Anyhow, I suddenly came online with hundreds of pages of work and was espousing all these opinions and doing weird strips about people.

Well, what gave you the courage to even do that? Because that’s ballsy, it’s intense.

Well, Megg and Mogg took off and I was feeling all popular about it. And then Frank Santoro asked me to do the Truth Zone thing for Comics Workbook. It was his impetus, really. He got it rolling. He said, “Would you want to do some comics reviews in comics form with your wolfman character?” And then I said, “OK,” and then just went nuts and was doing a strip a day for like three months. Every day. I can’t believe I did that, still had a new one every day. Yeah, I just got into it, it just blossomed and bloomed. I thought it would be done after six or seven days, but it turned into a thing and kept going and got deeper then started to play with itself. You were a character in it. [Laughs] In the canon, you live next door to Megg and Mogg. You were in a new episode recently that got scrapped. I think it was a deleted scene somewhere. I can’t remember why. You wore a Hugh Hefner robe and had a pipe. Yeah, Dan next door. Everything’s an accident. Like I say with Megg and Mogg initially, it was like Flubber. It was just an accident. I was drawing a lot of witches, I’ve got these roommate anecdotes so I’ll take a break from my pretentious graphic novel I’m working on and do these. 

Was that Girl Mountain?

Yeah, shitty Girl Mountain. No one’s seen it. I brought it out for a friend a couple of weeks ago. And Jacq’s never even read it. She was looking at it, and she was like, “Ugh.” And I was like, “Yeah, ugh.” I’m glad no one saw that. I learned what not to do. I’m going to do a collected edition of the Truth Zone stuff, an expanded edition. 2D Cloud is gonna do it. Blaise Larmee is gonna do the art direction. It couldn’t be better than that. 

The serpent is eating its tail. But it strikes me that you were doing Truth Zone from Australia, and you hadn’t met any of the people involved. So it was all coming from the internet, essentially.

Yeah, cyber-stalking, dirt-digging. Going through the digital trash. I remember people saying at the time, “How do you know this? You’re so far away, but you seem quite on with it.” But yeah, it’s just digging around on people’s social media. People give a lot about themselves away. It was quite easy.

Yeah, but it’s funny that you were doing that and then you wound up in it. I mean, you’re living in Seattle with Jacq [Cohen] and at Fantagraphics. It became true.

Yeah, I was saying that I quit Truth Zone and I can’t do it anymore a few years ago, because I was too in. I knew too much stuff, I’d seen behind the curtain. So I thought I’d better stop doing it, or I’ll get in trouble. But then I did start doing it again. I sell lots of them to Russian teenagers, who are one of my largest social media groups. And I’m like, “They’re not going to get any of this, this comic will read so nonsensically.” But they love it. Yeah, Russia I sell a lot of books. They do a festival there, and in 2015 I sold like 300 books in one sitting. That’s a lot of books! 

That’s a ton of books.

I mean, I think they’re like three Rubles or something, which is very cheap—it’s like $2 for a hardback, going for volume over quality. I’ve got another Russian edition coming out, and they love me on VK, the pirate-heavy Russian Facebook. I’ve got a dedicated VK page.

The cover of the Russian edition of Megg, Mogg & Owl

Why Russian teenagers? How did that even happen?

I don’t know. My publisher over there publishes SpidermanAdventure Time, a few other random things, mainstream stuff. They liked Megg and Mogg, and they published it, and it did really well. I went over to Russian Comic-Con, there was a big giant Megg lit up behind me, and a fight broke out at one of my signings, so I had to be rushed off to the airport. And this gentleman was so angry, punches were flying, all this screaming in Russian, I’m just like, “Oh my God,” just trying to sign a book for some girl before I get rushed off to the airport. Oh, they were auctioning off a tank outside Moscow Comic-Con. And they had all these dancing girls in military outfits but with thongs, twerking to Russian techno. And like [in Russian accent] “Ah, we give away tank.” And I was in the smoking cage with all these shirtless Russian Game of Thrones cosplayers. It was magical.

But yeah, I dunno, I’ve gotta stop doing the Truth Zone stuff. I feel like an idiot. I’ve written a whole other third one called Orientation, and there’s some stuff in there that Jacq was like, “You can’t do that, that’s too inside baseball.” And I was like, “Ahh, but I really want to.” And yeah, some of it’s a bit offensive. I was channeling my inner Johnny Ryan, and just kind of like, “­­Fuck it, I’m just gonna say what I want and do what I want. It’s fine.”

Yeah, but the different between what Johnny would do is he would just make fun of a caricature of somebody.

Yeah, and all the younger kids hate The Comics Journal and all these old things, they hate it.

I know.

In the ’90s when I used to love all of that Comics Journal shit. All the trouble and piss-taking. But everyone’s positive now. And that’s not a bad thing, these young communities and positivity. That’s fine.

Is it? Is it fine?

I mean, I like squalid, horrible work, so with Megg and Mogg that’s what I produce. It’s the old chestnut of “I want to produce the work that I want to see.” So I make mean, squalid, horrible comics that reflect my lifestyle and my upbringing. The Truth Zone stuff is just the jerky side of comics. The first one, Landscape, I subtitled A Safe Space for Assholes. It’s a safe space to just be a prick and just shit talk people. [Laughs] It’s not all my opinions. I get in trouble on Twitter. But I try not to engage with the internet too much. If I’m gonna make snarky comments, I do it in comics form. Then I make money off it, and it’s like an artistic statement. And I feel like it’s better somehow.

What did you think about the Berliac situation? 

Oh, man, I thought that might come up. That was a clusterfuck.

It was very interesting.

He’s a friend of mine. I had to point out to some people that were like, “Oh, this white guy, and it’s being marketed as white guy does manga.” And it’s like, “No one said that, [Tom] Devlin didn’t say anything about it being a white guy doing manga, Berliac’s name is Ciro Hernandez, he’s from Argentina. Very quickly, the cultural appropriation thing went away, because that was stupid.

It still hung around a bit, which I thought was ridiculous.

Some of the main vocal critics had kanji in their Twitter handles.  It think it’s funny that the book as well, the actual book, Sadboi, is about a queer immigrant.  I saw people Tweeting, “He should be reading work by POC authors and queer people.” But this is a queer, immigrant story! Berliac’s main problem was that he shit the bed by not apologizing in a tactful manner. He had the blowup with Sarrah Horrocks years ago, handled it very poorly. People hated him for that. His Instagram was called Dank Comics Memes, and they were very funny, very cruel memes. I’m the guy that does Truth Zone—I loved it. I thought it was great. But he used the N word. So he got in a lot of trouble for using the N word in that. So a lot of people had written him off over the years. And he didn’t fucking apologize. He should’ve said sorry to Sarah, and he didn’t and inflamed the fans and got dropped. I think he caused himself… But it’s weird for me to watch. I’m friends with Sarah Horrocks, I’m friends with Ciro – Berliac, and I didn’t want to step in. I’m promoting a book! I didn’t want to step in like, “He’s a buddy of mine!” I’m a cross-dresser, I didn’t have any problem with the tract he wrote. I think it’s trading in loaded terms, but it was kind of funny in its way. And I don’t think we should fucking write him off. But the only thing I dipped in was pointing out to someone that look, he’s not a white guy. This is pissing me off that everyone’s saying he’s a white guy—he’s from fucking Argentina! Ciro Hernadez, he’s not a white guy. My agent took him on after it, and she was trying to get…

Afterwards?

Yes, afterwards. She defended him on Facebook. A lot of Europeans were like, “It’s fine, why is Michael DeForge so angry?” They were confused. And it showed this divide between the U.S. and Europe.

I was gonna say, the Europeans are far more tolerant of what we might perceive as transgressive opinions.

It’s very progressive in America, a very progressive culture. But I try to stay out of it here. I’m an immigrant here, I don’t want to get in trouble on the internet, I don’t want to go around bashing Trump. The internet’s weird. I’m just making mean comics.

But the internet made you.

It did, which is weird. I’m not a webcomics guy. I grew up poor as hell without a computer, all my computers have been free for the last seven years. And I can sort of operate them. I don’t use Photoshop, I kind of hate computers. Blecch. The whole world’s gone mad, it’s all topsy-turvy.

 [Laughs] Is it?

A little bit. Just moving here, it’s a weird time to move to America for me. Aside from my barrage of personal problems with my mother and my dying friend. Just moving to this country, and it’s just fucked up.

So the comics life you engage in now and have been for the last three, four years has ratcheted up. That life and the amount of festivals and the amount of stuff and the amount of people on Twitter, it’s sort of ratcheted up exponentially in the last couple of years.

It seems like it.

You’re embedded in the contemporary comics circuit in a way that’s pretty unusual in how many of these things you go to and how involved you are in whatever this cultural of comics is, as somebody who’s not only selling well but also reporting on it. Is it a worthwhile culture for you?

I guess. I’m getting sick of it a bit. I mean, all the travel… like in 2015 I did like 10 countries in a year, and it just burnt me out. This year, I said just American festivals, but I’m still kind of sick of them. I just went to CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo), it was my first time. It cost like 500 bucks to fly there, and I sold like $300 worth of zines, so it’s kind of like, “Eh, why am I here?” I saw Noah Van Sciver last week, and I saw Ron Rege two weeks before that, I hung out with [Gary] Panter before that. I’ve seen everyone. Afterwards, I just want to go to the hotel rooms and sleep, but you’ve got to go to the parties. I just want to get work done. But yeah, it’s weird being so embedded, coming from Tazmania. Getting married to my publicist. I go into the [Fantagraphics] office and hang out a bit, but not that much.

It’s all a fucking blur. It’s Game of Thrones out there in the comics world. It’s fucked up.

[Laughs] But it’s not. I mean, the stakes are so low. 

Well, it is. But when you’re flying around the world everywhere, and everyone’s sucking up to you and you go to these TV people… I got really detached, I guess, in 2015, 2016. I was traveling a lot, I suddenly had a ton of money, I started blowing money on ridiculous things and dressing like a douchebag. And just given my own world, I could do whatever the fuck I wanted. I still don’t have to stress about anything, I just get up and draw these comics and do whatever the fuck I want. It’s a beautiful freedom. I’m very divorced from reality. Less so now, because I’m married and I do real adult things with Jacq, and I go to bed at a reasonable hour. But 2015, I was just off the fucking rails. Grant [Gronewald] and I were losing our shit. It felt very rockstar or something.  I was doing my comics weddings and all dragged up, but I’ve started dragging up less at festivals. If it’s hot, I’m like, “I’m not wearing heels and a wig the whole festival. Fuck it!” And people started to expect it, that started to piss me off. But I’ve gotta start doing some crazier shit. I’m less crazy now in Seattle. Jacq’s gotten home and stuff, we’ll feed the rabbits and have dinner and probably watch TV while I draw a bit more. I mean, before, Grant and I were climbing cranes and nearly dying and just drunk all the time, vomiting everywhere and spitting in restaurants. I’m not doing the 30-hour manic stints anymore. But still cranking it out.

A page from One More Year.

Yeah, you’d gone from isolation to whatever this spotlight is, and it was disorienting. So who have you looked to for a model for how to survive in this thing? Because there are different modes. 

I guess Charles Burns and [Dan] Clowes. I’ll talk to them about art sale stuff and try to get advice about how they’ve done it. And I talk to Pete Bagge about TV shit. He’s been through all that option shit. It’s a crapshoot, it’s a gamble. So it’s nice to talk to all the gents that have been through all that shit. Then I’ve got my wacky young friends and stuff, but everyone’s doing stuff in a different way now. I feel like I’m just a meat-and-potatoes guy, kinda doing it like my heroes from the ’90s. grew up reading Hate and stuff, Megg and Mogg’s just Hate, but slightly more modernized, slightly if any, it’s just the same thing. The same sex, just more drugs.

Megg and Mogg is interesting, because it’s so many sitcom beats. It’s gridded out, as the great Frank Santoro would say. It’s on the grid, Simon.

Megg and Mogg’s just a sitcom on paper. It started out as a gag side thing, and I was like, “Yeah, it’s just like How I Met Your Mother but with drugs and based on old flatmates.”

On just a cartooning level, what’s the challenge in it for you, day to day?

I mean, it comes second, the cartooning in a way. 

Cartooning comes second in Megg and Mogg?

Well, yes. Definitely. 

What do you mean?

The drawing’s just in service of the story. I feel like I could just write them and stuff. I like writing the stories and pasting them out and thumb-nailing them out, and then it’s boring to sit down and do all this drawing. I mean, I enjoy painting and I do my landscapes and stuff. That turns out nice. I feel like a terrible artist. I’m very self-critical.I think I just enjoy finishing things. Just racing through to finish a project and just trying to win in a way and just get a lot of stuff done. It’s just this burning, like I have to get stuff done! I work all day, it’s all I think about. I feel guilty when I’m not working. So I enjoy it, but I dunno. It’s weird with Megg and Mogg, I just keep doing the same fucking thing. I did this sci-fi thing for the Lagon guys in their recent book. I did a bad job on this sci-fi strip. I feel like I did the worst thing in the book, it was a failure on so many levels. And to get back to Megg and Mogg was so comforting. I enjoy the repetition. I guess I have an OCD thing with just cranking shit out, and if I can crank the same thing out…I mean, so much of comics is so mechanical. If you do it like I do it, it’s so mechanical and methodical. So to just keep it simple, with the same thing. I am going to change up Megg and Mogg soon. I’ve been threatening for years to do this Megg’s Coven thing, a big mature Megg and Mogg arc where it evolves and deals with all my family history and mines that for funny stories and horror. But I’m finally doing that, I’ve capped it. The new book that we’re promoting right now, One More Year, the third in the trilogy, that’s it. I’ve got to pull the trigger, and now I have to do this Megg’s Coven thing. Which is gonna be weird, and I don’t know what’ll happen after that. I’ve thought about it into the future, but I guess I’ll run out of steam at one point. But for now I have this massive big new arc planned. It’ll be like 400 pages and take me forever to do. And I’m legitimately excited for it. I’ve been saving up this horrible, squalid material for a long time. It’s gonna be a real fucking doozy, hopefully.

So these three books are it? For the collected Megg and Mogg?

The first book, Megahex, said, “To be continued in Megg’s Coven.” And that still stands. The next two books that came out [Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam and One More Year] were basically expansion campaigns. They’re set during Megahex, and they serve to expand the characters. Basically, Megg’s Coven is gonna be hugely emotionally taxing for me to draw, and I’m really scared it’s gonna fuck my mother up.

Will she see it?

Yeah, I send her all my shit, and she does read it these days. And a friend of hers seems to read my interviews and tells my mother stuff. And sometimes it gets misinterpreted. My mother’s scared. She knows I’m doing this story about her, so it’s kinda gonna be dicey and awkward and warts and all, and it’s gonna really upset her. 

But you feel like you have to do it?

I have to do it, yeah. I want to do this newer, better version of Megg and Mogg, and try to take it forward as an artist or whatever. And they’re good stories, it’s horrible, great stuff. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t use it. It’ll be four volumes, I’d say. I’m gonna do them big Euro size. four separate volumes, about 120 pages each. Try to get one a year done, that’s the plan.

And that’ll be Fanta?

Yeah, I imagine. I’ve been offered other deals and big, juicy advances. But I’ve seen other cartoonists go off and do that, and they always come back, they always crawl back to Fanta. So I’m not going to fuck with that. And I love Fanta, and I married into the company. They do good by me, it’s good stuff.

Do you ever look at it all like it could go away in a second?

No, not really. Because I’m cranking work out like a maniac. I’ve got so much shit planned. I just put a zine out yesterday.

You don’t worry about getting…

Berliac-ed?

Yeah, Berliac-ed, or just…

Well, I watch my mouth a bit more than Berliac. I mean, I’m sure it’ll plateau. Like this third book has been getting a bit less promotion. That’s natural, it’s the third book, people are less excited, it’s the same old garbage. When Megg’s Coven comes around, that’ll be more exciting. That’s a new, fresh thing, it’ll be all new material. That’ll be buzz-worthy. 

You’re incredibly conscious of all the machinery around you.

You have to be. I’m naturally interested in it, that’s part of it. That’s what successful people say. You’ve got to be a hard worker, you’ve got to be a bit lucky, and you’ve got to be switched on, business-wise. It’s a part of it.

When did that switch on for you?

I think from very early. When I was self-publishing in high school, I didn’t send things out as much as I should’ve. I remember in 2007 I sent stuff to Sammy [Harkham] and stuff to USS Catastrophe and I got in the Vice comics issues, and I was like, “Wow, it’s happened. It’s all happening, here we go!” But then I moved house like five times in a year and had a bunch of break ups and failed projects, but then I found something that hooked. Megg and Mogg’s my pop song, my ear worm. People liked it, and it stuck. I’ve got to milk it for all it’s worth while I’m still enjoying it. I’m aware that it could all plateau or all go away, but I’m fairly confident that if I keep working hard and keep trying to better myself, I’ll keep a consistent level.

A page from One More Year.

What does bettering yourself mean?

Making better work, work that I’m happier with. Just better writing, better drawing, getting better. No crazy political aspirations, just making good work. It’s fucking entertainment. It’s a little aside from life, it’s something to read on the train. I’m not going for big, lofty, life-changing shit. Just telling a little dramatic comedy story. But I really wanna nail this Megg’s Coven thing, I’m just trying to plan it and write it all out now. There’s an arc to it, and a lot of shit that goes down.

And it’s the story of your childhood, essentially?

Well, no, more current, really. My childhood was all right. My mother was a junkie and stuff, but she kept her shit together. She worked a lot, and kept a clean house. It’s now that she’s started to fall apart. The last few weeks, she’s in and out of hospitals, she’s been kicked off this Suboxone program, so she’s detoxing alone in her house. And she’s the sole carer of my schizophrenic grandmother. It gets really dark and bleak down there. I’m probably gonna go back soon, but she doesn’t want me to. And we don’t get on in person. Like the last Christmas we had together was so dysfunctional. But I love her, and I have a lot of respect for her. Very strong woman, but she’s a terrible drug addict, and it gets her in trouble.

Do you have siblings?

No, I’m the only child, so I have to put up with all this shit. It’s quite testy and trying, and I send her a lot of cash and stuff. I’m a poor kid made good, sending cash to momma. It’s all about the last 10 years, really. There’ll be some flashbacks to college years for Megg, like my/Megg’s college years, when my mother was starting to deal and all these junkies were hanging around the house. Crazy characters. Megg and Mogg will eventually be about change and just trying to be a better person. And addiction and the system. I’ve had to threaten to sue Drug and Alcohol in Tasmania and get my mother into rehab and deal with these systems, and it’s fucked. Like how Grant writes about the hospital system with his zine series. I’m gonna be writing about rehabilitation systems, but in a funny way. It’s still gonna have a lot of cock jokes and bong rips for all the kids that love that stuff. When I say it’s all autobiographical, I worry people will be like, “He does that level of debaucherous things?”

A terrible man.

Yeah, a real reprobate. A garbage person. I do see people online calling me a piece of shit and a garbage person. 

And why is that?

Because Megg and Mogg is kind of horrible, you know. I tackle the big issues sometimes. [Laughs] I think if more people read that Portrait comic, people would be angry. It’s dicey stuff. People like getting mad about stuff and arguing about things, and they are talk pieces, I feel like this is going to get people talking. When I was making it, I knew, “This is going to piss people off.” Anyway, the next one’s gonna focus more on me, the next Truth Zone. There’s a lot of dicey stuff. It’s mostly stuff about me when I first got famous or whatever in comics and acted like a huge asshole and did a lot of stupid things. So I’ll turn the focus inward.

Cover of Portrait.


2 Responses to A Conversation with Simon Hanselmann

  1. Lucius Wisniewski says:

    “Portrait” is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. I particularly loved the strips “Change”, “Never”, “The Birthday Reporter” and “Fan Art”. The Chester Brown Patreon joke killed me. Also, the redacted parts of “Coat-Tailers” drove me nuts. Thanks for the interview.

  2. javier says:

    Since when can Argentinians not be white? Have you guys ever been to Argentina?

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