FEATURES

“Disgusting Creatures”: The Simon Hanselmann Interview

Megg is a witch. Her vices include drugs and depression. Mogg is her familiar, a black cat. He doesn’t respect her boundaries, I don’t think. Their friend Owl is an anthropomorphized owl. Megg and Mogg tend to find him as boring as an anthropomorphized owl named Owl might be expected to be. They spend a lot of time with Werewolf Jones, whom they don’t really like. Just before Christmas 2017, he will break into and trash their apartment, masturbate into Megg’s bed, then die of a drug overdose at a mutual friend’s house. The comics of Simon Hanselmann have only four moving parts, but man, the places those parts can take you.

Hanselmann’s Tumblr, Girl Mountain, is a textbook example of that platform’s reach, provided you’ve got something other people want to look at. Turns out tons of people in the alternative-comics world worldwide want to look at a strange stoner dramedy drawn by a Ben Jones-influenced Australian. Hanselmann’s comics-as-criticism series Truth Zone, which appears on Frank Santoro’s Comics Workbook Tumblr, stars Megg, Mogg, Owl, and Werewolf Jones as well, and positions them (and by extension Hanselmann) as the no-bullshit friends with the same interests in obscure alt/art/underground comics as you – quite a feat, given his location a world away from most of the figures covered in the comics.

But it’s the range of these characters’ emotional register, and the beauty of Hanselmann’s renderings of same, that make his work sting and stick. These characters struggle, and fail, to come to grips with their depression, drug use, sexuality, poverty, lack of work, lack of ambition, and their complex and often negative feelings about each other. Watching these themes emerge from a funny-animal gag strip with weed jokes is a bit like seeing the Locas saga spring forth from the brow of Jaime Hernandez’s old sci-fi stuff.

Hanselmann is hugely prolific – in addition to his M&M comics, new ones of which are posted almost daily, he’s sitting on the soon-to-be-published 1,000-page graphic novel that gives his Tumblr its title, and he’s almost unendurably active in the alternative comics scene in Melbourne. Talking to him, which I did over email earlier this month, has a similar stand-in-front-of-the-firehose feel. Hanselmann has a lot on his mind, including a fundamental, wrestled-over aspect of his identity he’s never publicly divulged before. I’m exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to talk to him about it all, and for his trust that this is the right forum in which to do it.


Simon, for all I know you’re just a Tumblr and some glamorous photos. Tell me a bit about yourself.

I turned 31 last December, four days before Christmas. I spent it in a hot tub, drinking champagne, gazing out across the ocean. I was born in Tasmania. Tasmania is a small island/sovereign state at the bottom of Australia. It is densely haunted by convicts’ ghosts — highest rate of ghosts per square kilometer in the world. I was born in Launceston, the second largest population center in Tasmania. A real shit hole. Highest crime rate per capita in Australia. I detest it.

Hobart [the capital city] has a wonderfully dark experimental music scene and has produced a reasonably high number of reasonably talented cartoonists over the past twenty or so years. Hobart is a little like Reykjavik in size and perhaps even prettier. There is a trendy new art museum there now and it’s getting some hot press. I will never move back. “Shout outs” to Andrew Harper, Lord Mayor of Hobart, and Linzee Rnold, Jazz Weirdo.

My mother was a heroin addict. My father was a biker. I was raised by just my mother. We were “poor”– government housing, benefits, Gummo, etc. — but my Mum shoplifted a lot and I had a lot of toys and shit. Lots of books. Despite the circumstances she did a really fucking amazing job. She provided a pretty safe home environment. A lot of my friends weren’t so lucky.

I was a strange, awkward nerd, I guess. Obsessed with secondhand bookshops and comics, weird clothes, I was self-publishing booklets at age eight. I recently read through some of my old school books and I kind of seemed like a jerk. I did not take to high school and dropped out.

I began having therapy for depression and various other anxiety “stuff.” I smoked a lot of pot and drank alone a lot and drew a ton of comics, dreamt of “getting published” and “making it in the States.” I moved out of home when I was 20 and met cool people and made comics with them and played in shitty noise bands. Had adventures. Accumulated anecdotes.

I finally escaped across the sea to mainland Australia in early 2008 and lived in my friend HTML Flowers’ mother’s garden shed for a year before meeting my current partner and following her to London for two years while she studied. I properly “traveled” for the first time in my life, had adventures, made new friends, accumulated anecdotes.

Currently I am based in Melbourne in a leafy suburb. I have a bedroom studio and a hammock. I don’t have a job. I did for a while but things happened and I’m back in therapy. My days are predominately spent writing and drawing comics and having panic attacks. I’m convinced I have Aspergers at the moment, I’ve been reading about it a lot and it’s sounding very familiar. It would explain a lot of my behavior over my life. But yeah… I think I’m probably just generically fucked up. Or low spectrum. I can be very gregarious sometimes.

The first thing I ever wrote about Megg and Mogg was something to the effect of “Man, this is really good — sure looks like Paper Rad, though!” I see it less now, but at the time I suppose it was the way Mogg’s design looks like Ben Jones’s riff on Garfield — that whole “essence of cartoon cat” thing.

I was literally this morning looking at some recent work and thinking “do people still think I’m a fucking Paper Rad rip-off? they better not.” Paper Rad and Fort Thunder blew my mind when I first discovered them. Mostly the drawing styles. I grew up on the same pop-culture shit they grew up on and was also taking a lot of drugs. I went nuts for it. I love how Ben Jones draws; it’s cartoon perfection. So yeah, it totally influenced my drawing style — and thousands of others. I’ve had to work hard the past 10 years trying to deviate from it. I still get way too “CF” at times. I really have to watch that. It sucks that the people who’s styles I’m drawn to and can’t help emulate are my own age. It’s perfectly acceptable to rip off old men or dead guys.

It has irritated me when people say it, but I accept it. It’s totally fucking obvious that I love that shit and think those guys are totally awesome drawers. But: Read my stuff and I think it’s kinda different to anything that’s ever come out of Fort Thunder. From 2004-2010 I was working on a fucking 244-page “teen drama,” and Megg and Mogg is mean as fuck. It’s not a nice comic and the friendships are totally abusive. My stuff is more Todd Solondz, Peter Bagge, The Simpsons. And mostly, my stuff is about me, the people I have known and the experiences I’ve had. The Hobart Scene. Social horror. I’m excited to get Ben and CF’s new books in my mailbox any day now but honestly, I’m currently more excited by my own work. I’m trying to build something consistent, long-lasting, and I’m trying to make these characters as real as possible. I want them to grow as people. That’s a little different to Powr Mastrs and Problem Solverz.

tumblr_m5bzjz4sx61ru22woo2_1280

Until literally two days ago I had no idea that Megg, Mogg, and Owl are at least loosely based on similarly named witch, cat, and owl characters from a series of children’s books. Wikipedia tells me that in an animated version, Avril Lavigne voiced Meg and David fucking Thewlis voiced Owl, which is fantastic. Were you reading these as a kid? Why’d they hit you hard enough to want to do what you’ve been doing with them?

Meg, Mog & Owl, I’ve discovered, are not very well known in America. It’s British, from the Seventies. Huge in Australia. I adored them when I was learning to read. I recall drawing some comics in a mock Jan Pienkowski style in my teens.

My Megg, Mogg & Owl were kind of an accident. I drew a one-off thing of a witch and cat for a gallery show in 2008 and just kind of liked them and wanted to draw more. I was in the middle of my stupid graphic novel and needed an outlet for fun, quick stuff. I added “Owl” in as a roommate and it just kind of exploded and became my main focus. I love these characters. Sometimes I forget that those old kid’s books even exist. And there really are zero similarities beyond the names and the “classic grouping” of a witch and her familiars.

I do worry about the legal side of it sometimes. Are those extra “G”s enough? The fact that the characters are completely lacking in any similarities? Is that enough? I was stoned and I mashed together my life and a blurred, beloved memory from my childhood. Is that a crime?

Somebody wrote me up into that wiki entry about eight months ago, dubbed the comic a “pastiche.” I edited it out of the entry, paranoid it would ruin my book deal negotiations with a cease and desist order. I ended up signing a deal and they don’t seem to think it’s an issue. I guess as long as the title on the cover isn’t Megg, Mogg, & Owl there shouldn’t be a problem. It’s “art.” It’ll say: “for adults.” TW: many, many things.

Last year I did actually write a script to pitch to Cartoon Network with all the names changed. “Steven” kind of works for Owl but I could never nail the others. I really really don’t want to have to change the names. Not at this point. It would be so fucking weird.

Dammit, I want a TV show. Actual serious goal: Get a TV series picked up at some point in the future. It doesn’t seem impossible at all. Oddly realistic. Just work hard. Attention producers: live action. Lindsay Lohan as “Megg,” cat puppet voiced by Nick Bakay, Eddie Murphy in an Owl suit. Special guest Robert Downey Jr. as “Werewolf Jones.” Half bong jokes, half pit of despair and depression.

Well, there is a strong stoner-comedy aspect to the strip, and I think that’s what hit with people at first. Were you concerned about shifting the tone of the thing to what it is now?

No, I didn’t give a shit. It’s still regularly funny amidst the pain and pathos and it’s always been very dark under the surface. I like that it’s changing. Hopefully it’ll stay fresh for readers as it evolves. The characters are thinking and growing. I’m sitting on around 200 pages of fully paced out thumbnails. A lot goes down. There’s some pretty breezy stuff coming up, and also some stuff that’s immensely personal and very depressing.

I do consider my audience. I want my work to be very clear and I know that it’s “entertainment” as much as it is art. I want to entertain people. Predominately, though: It’s MY thing. It’s MY art therapy.

tumblr_mfjhndDuJp1ru22woo1_1280

Because it can get really dark. Like, really dark. “Megg’s Depression” is an obvious example, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for “Xmas 2017,” aka the Death of Werewolf Jones. Had you intended to make these characters a vehicle for that kind of material? I know that was the idea for Maggie in Jaime’s Love & Rockets stuff — a character he could do anything with.

Not initially, no. Around 2010, two years and around 80 pages into it, is when I decided I wanted it to get a little less silly and “prankish.” I’d decided that I wasn’t completely satisfied with my teen-drama thing and that I’d take a break from it and inject some more of my depressing, horrible material into Megg and Mogg. I was [originally] going to go really dark kind of out of nowhere, but I’m very slowly rolling it out. The “Megg’s Coven” serial that I’m working on irregularly is going to get pretty damn dark eventually. It’s all about my mother and my grandmother and our generations of brokenness. Our recent fuck ups. It’s basically straight-up autobiography. If I put this shit on paper I can make it seem less confusing and horrific in my reality.

I was surprised that people reacted so strongly to me killing WW Jones last Christmas. It proved to me that people cared about the characters and that I was doing something right. I thought it was an interesting death, too, although I’m sure it’s been done before. 2017: Werewolf Jones dies in a horrible fashion having utterly disgraced himself. Now we all get to watch him every week in Truth Zone and in the other comics and know how it ends for him. He doesn’t change. He ruins himself. I feel very self-destructive sometimes, and that comic is a reminder to myself to change before it’s too late. I’ve been emailing recently with Geneviève Castrée about stuff like this. We have some similarities in our upbringings. Susceptible totally made me cry, and was fucking amazing. She’s a role model. I need to do what she’s done. I need to stop poisoning myself and hold on to my health while I have it.

Even when Megg & Mogg is a stoner comedy, it’s the kind of stoner comedy that doesn’t shy away from the more sordid aspects of being a stoner — wandering around trying to find drugs, a sort of muted emotional palette when the friends interact.

I’ve lived in drug world. I know it. If anything, Megg & Mogg is too flippant and glamorous. Nothing lasts forever though. They’ll find out soon.

And there’s a good deal of sex, too, which was equally surprising to me. I mean, Megg is an attractive character design, and you’ve done pin-ups with her before, but in some gag strips and in some serious ones alike — the strip where Mogg gives Megg a rimjob despite her disinterest comes to mind — you’re diving pretty deep into that subject. I wonder if this was more or less difficult to do than, say, frankly depicting depression, or how the other characters don’t truly like Werewolf Jones.

Yeah, Megg was in Lingerie Witches in early 2012. She needed the money and was desperate. It was not a wonderful experience for her but I don’t think it caused her any lasting feelings of shame. She fucking owned that issue. (And she was blazed out of her skull and barely recalls the shoot.)

I find sex very interesting, terrifying and bizarre. It’s warped and odd, even within the mainstream. it’s superfluous outside of breeding but has basically become a sport, an obsession. An activity, with toys. My teen drama was to be dripping in sex also. Obviously, I guess, being a “teen drama.”

Things just kind of happen with my work… I often feel I could be putting more effort into my writing. “Megg’s Depression” was originally just a sketch for a painting of some substance oozing out of the walls because I thought it would look “cool,” then one day I looked at it and had the idea to make it a sequence. I was unsure of how literal to be with the title. I went for super literal.

The rimming strip is purely political. Weakness. Negotiation. Self-sacrifice. Shame. An absence of romance. Again, it just kind of happened, I took a small event in time and teased it out and tried to create a “moment.” A weird, confusing moment. It’s one of my personal favorites. I thought it was a successful piece.

I find M, M, & O very easy, versatile characters to write for. Sex will come up again. It’s totally unavoidable. Everyday it’s there. Knocking. Pointless, slimy, and knocking.

Then there’s the comics criticism element, in the Truth Zone strips you do for Frank Santoro’s Comics Workbook. Is it fair to say this was where the strip took off, or is that just because I move among comic-nerd circles? Do you consider it “legit” criticism, or are you just trying to be funny?

I’d already been contacted by someone at a “major publisher” (within alternative comics circles) at the time I started TZ, but it certainly didn’t hurt having that extra outlet. I’m sure it’s contributed large portion of “followers” to my “main blog.” The Origin of Truth Zone: Frank: “Hey, Simon, I’m starting this thing on Tumblr. I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing… Maybe you could do some review gag panels or something with your wolfman character?” Me: “Okay. Sounds good.”

It’s definitely real criticism… but also not. I try to be really clever and really stupid simultaneously. There have to be “jokes” in there. It does tend to rely on gushing style homages and bong smoking. Sometimes they’re just love letters. Occasionally there is some real venom though. I really let The Australian Comics Journal have it last year, Bayer and Ausilio got taken down a few weeks ago for that whole “stop-cartoonists/beating-up-girls” thing… I don’t know, I am quite new to the whole “global scene” thing and I do try to be careful not to totally piss people off. I’m still learning all the intricate secret cliques and allegiances. For now I make subtle, veiled threats. It’s fun bouncing the characters off of each other, they all have different personalities and can be utilized in different ways to voice certain opinions. I wrote two episodes earlier today and was getting really into it, dancing about the room, workshopping the dialogue out loud, swearing like a sailor.

I’m planning a series of Australian TZs. A special “Australia Week” that’ll be fucking brutal. Very critical and insulting. Perhaps too critical… I’m pretty sure most people in the wider Australian scene think I’m a total prick. I’m merciless in my criticism of Australian comics. Cruelly honest. I very much incorporate elements of the hip-hop and fashion worlds in the way I conduct myself within the local scene. Beefs and aesthetic snobbery.

Mostly TZ is fun though. I really enjoy it. It’s interesting to see what works and what doesn’t. I worry it’s way too insular sometimes, but I remind myself that CW is billed as “for makers of comics.” If you make comics seriously you really should already know what’s going on in the scene. And I like to be cryptic sometimes too, and write in references only the person it’s about will get. I dig around in people’s online garbage for scoops.

Here is a Truth Zone exclusive list for TCJ of some of the best current makers of “art comics” in Australia: HTML Flowers, Michael Hawkins, Lasha Tuschewski, Evie Cahir, Marc Pearson, Sam Wallman, Katie Parrish, Dave Mahler, M P Fikaris, Leigh Rigozzi. These people are all superstars with impeccable taste. Melbourne is alive with good, weird comics culture right now, it’s diverse and queer and exciting. The new young wave of 2009 is beginning to reach a certain level of storytelling maturity and understanding of pacing, plus they have interesting lives and stories. There’s a few names on that list that I think will definitely “succeed” within the “global scene” in the next few years. TRUTH ZONE.

tumblr_mencf1rFiv1rzbt9wo1_1280

The quotes may give the game away, but I’m wondering if you think it’s important for that international connection to be made, or whether you’d be content to let the Australian comics world mature within its own hemisphere, as it were.

With the internet everything is linked up now. Tumblr is just a big zine faire that never shuts down. I think it’s definitely important that we link into the global scene. There’s no industry here and it’s hugely difficult getting our small press books over to far-away lands. I’m so glad I’ve got people over in the States printing up my stuff for me and taking care of all the distro. I recommend it, it makes things a lot easier. And we’ve matured enough, we have some quality offerings now. We’re ready. It’s boring staring at the walls. We’ve been silently ignored for too long.

You’ve made that link yourself, in a really big way. You’ve been accepted into the North American alternative comics “scene” in a big way for an international artist. Are you a Tumblr success story?

I am a “Tumblr success story.” It totally fucking worked. I am the Kitty Pryde (the rapper) of comics. Just over a year ago I slapped up a few hundred pages and it just kind of exploded. Within like two months I was negotiating with fucking CENSORED [ED: censored by Hanselmann, not us] and getting invited by Frank to be on Comics Workbook. Goddamn Frederator contacted me asking to pitch shows to them. Dan Nadel answers my emails now. People send me books. It’s pretty weird. Tumblr is certainly, IMO, the best tool right now for getting your comics out there. Last week I taught a class on comics and basically just handed out a list of good Tumblrs and said: “Start a Tumblr. Follow these Tumblrs. You will learn about comics.”

I’m glad I toiled in obscurity for 30 years and had the benefit of developing in privacy. I’d reached a certain adequate level of not-totally-shit and took people by surprise. And I try to remain consistent. I’m glad nobody has seen me at my worst.

I’ve made so many friends, and with people who I genuinely respect and find utterly inspiring and brilliant. It’s wonderful. It feels like home. I outgrew the Australian scene years ago and was frustrated by its fishbowl nature. It’s nice to be out in the ocean. I want to make it better here though, smash the fishbowl. Tumblr is the key right now, but people have to work. Only people who bleed passion and have something to say will make it. If you make work of a certain level of quality and volume people will not be able to ignore you.

Some of my sadness is gone. There were times when it all felt desperately hopeless. I work myself very, very hard. Tonight, again, I’ve not slept. Busy doing this interview, collating exhibition catalogues, writing, designing, scanning, monitoring websites. It’s thrilling to work so hard at something and to actually have it finally come to fruition. Thank you, Tumblr.


Talk to me about your teen drama, Girl Mountain.

It’s a “small town drama,” a combination of autobiography, dreams I’d had, and bad poetry. It’s a fucking mess. It follows Micah Maolomuire, a “tense, sweaty virgin” on his path to adulthood. There’s a myriad of supporting characters. Micah’s mother (junkie) and uncle (creep), his friends who he doesn’t really like (creeps), a girl he’s stupidly in love with (pot dealer), and a girl who has that disease where you can’t feel pain or hot or cold (CIPA). There’s a bunch of stuff about magic and space travel in it. It was planned as a 1,000 page thing over four volumes. I finished the first one, which is 244 pages. It is glacially paced. Nothing happens in the first 244 pages except for some vague connections between the characters. Once completed it would span seven years in the character’s lives. I still really want to do the ending of it. The ending’s the best part.

It’s older work for you. Have you been happy with it while revisiting it?

Some of the pages date back to 2005, so it almost seems like the work of a stranger. It’s not awful by any means but there are a lot of things I would do differently if I were to start it now—not that I would. The subject matter doesn’t totally do it for me anymore. I’m hoping it’s not a mistake putting it online. Perhaps Chris Ware will be inspired and put Floyd Farland up on his blog. I want people to read it as “old work.” It’s an educational tour through a ton of mistakes. Or it’s really good? Maybe people will really like it and I’ll have to pick it up again and serialize it in tighter bursts.

You mentioned that Megg and Mogg started out as a diversion from that story. Does it feel that way now, or do you find your concerns and desires with the two projects wound up dovetailing?

Yeah, there’s a lot of similarities between the two, mostly the “drug parent” components. M&M tackles it in a different way though, from a different viewpoint and a slightly different situation. Basically, Girl Mountain is me as a twenty-something looking back on my teens, M&M is me as a thirty-something processing my twenties.

I love how versatile M&M are in comparison to the characters in Girl Mountain, who are rigid and stuck in their trajectories. M&M, through the shorter strips, are fluid and able to do almost anything. It could literally go anywhere over the next five years. Just like life.

It was a really stupid idea to start a 1,000 page graphic novel when I was 23. DeForge has the right idea.

tumblr_mgxttegyLv1ru22woo1_1280

What tools do you use? What are you drawing with and coloring with? It seems to vary quite a bit, but is that just a matter of technique?

I use cheap shit, generally. Stuff from the newsagent. Cheap mechanical pencils, UNI PINS, whatever is the cheapest watercolors. Except for Windsor & Newton neutral tint. I’ll pay anything for that stuff. I actually use a lot of food coloring; all of my pinks and yellows are food color. I use Art-Tec Como Sketch paper; it’s super cheap and I find it way better at accepting my watercolors than the fancy stuff. I have three brushes that I’ve been using for the past five years. I draw on a $10 Ikea coffee table. For Truth Zone I use some watercolor pencils that I bought from the actual Cumberland pencil factory in the British Lake’s District, “The Birthplace of Pencils.”

I like the idea of being able to produce my work so fucking cheaply, it basically costs nothing, just my time. My technique is just: think of idea / pace out in grids / pencil version / ink it (or just leave pencil) / color it or something / repeat. More, more, more. “Comics is a cheap television studio for poor kids.”

What are you working on now? What have you got coming out soon?

Right now I’m finishing up an art show in Madrid at Watdafac. Heather Benjamin just showed there a few months back, so it’s gotta be cool. It’s a bunch of new paintings and drawings by me and my best friend HTML Flowers. We can’t afford to fly over but we’ll Skype in. One lucky attendee will win “seven minutes in heaven” with us! It’s our first international art show without anyone else getting in the way! Exciting! I hope we sell stuff! I need dental surgery.

After that I’m focusing on Life Zone, a brand new 60-page color M&M book that Space Face is releasing this Fall. It’s a comedy one, not totally depressing…but pretty depressing. It’s got four stories, including a 26-page epic in which Owl forces Megg and Mogg to get jobs, and there’s also a high school flashback which I’m pretty excited about. I wrote the scripts late last year and have been letting them breathe and refining them. I’ve been laughing at my own jokes in it a lot. M&M is my actual favorite comic! It’s perfect for me due to it being my own staunch opinion of what makes a good comedy series.

I’ll also be working with Fulgencio Pimentel on a Spanish M&M collection! I think it’s okay to announce that. French M&M is basically locked down too. Megg and Mogg are invading Europe! Plug: MISMA! M&M are in the new Dopututto MAX, in French! They were in the last one, too. It won an award at Angoulême).

There’s plans for a Truth Zone collection, details to emerge. The strip will continue to run weekly as long as Frank will have me.

Soon I’ll be releasing Girl Mountain Book One in chapters on a very classy web comics site. My name will fall in between DeForge and Harkham. Proof I’m not jaded yet: This makes me want to faint. Finally people will be able to read all 244 pages of it! I’m interested to see what people make of it… I started it when I was 23 and finished it when I was 29.

The big one: First half of 2014, 200 page full color M&M collection from CENSORED. I signed the contracts late last year and am waiting for the announcement to be made. It’s a difficult secret to keep. It’s going to be a gigantic collection of all the best “classic” M&Ms plus 70 pages of all new material just for the book. All the scripts are written, except for the acid episode. That one has puppets and me dressed as Megg with a cat actor and guest “visions.” You should see Jonny Negron’s panel, it’s fucking beautiful. I can’t believe nobody’s seen it yet! I hate secrets but I’m doing my best!

But yeah, blah blah blah, additional secret vanity project, the usual serials in The Lifted Brow and Dailies, am trying to avoid anthologies for at least a few months while I finish up all this longer stuff.

In a recent conversation, you mentioned to me that you were having a hard time hitting deadlines because of, among other things, gender confusion. I’ve noticed that you’re wearing women’s clothes and make-up in many of the photos of you that show up from various events. I was wondering if you’d like to speak about this area of your life, particularly because your treatment of Megg as a woman, and the unique indignities to which she is subjected because of her gender, has been such a pleasant surprise for me as a reader.

I’m honestly surprised that more people don’t ask me about this, I guess there’s a awkwardness sometimes. Fuck it, yeah. Here’s your Barbara Walters moment: I’m a “cross-dresser”/”transvestite,” whatever you want to call it. All the lines are so blurry these days and there’s very inadequate research/understanding of the “phenomenon.”

I can’t believe I’m officially “coming out” on The Comics Journal. LOL.

Am I “trans”? I honestly can’t tell you…Somebody asked me this anonymously on Tumblr a few weeks back and I had no idea how to answer. It kind of just freaked me out a little inside, made my brain spin. I don’t think I am but I don’t know. I have a weird fear of my own body and medical procedures. I have huge freakouts sometimes over my body, like standing in the shower feeling my flesh squashed between my bones and the porcelain. I hate being a soft, breakable animal. I’m so fucking gross.

All my life I’ve been utterly confused about my sexuality and my gender. I’ve always kind of wished I was a girl. My mother is a total homophobe and my hometown is a testosterone nightmare—it’s not been easy processing it. I detest mainstream society for its total fucking bullshit. I hate that I can’t leave the house dressed how I want to dress without getting stared at like crazy and potentially beaten to death. It scares the shit out of me. I’m nervous just being out on the streets as a skinny hipster-looking guy. I see biological women walking around alone at night and wonder how they can do it. I loathe 99% of “men.” Disgusting creatures.

I’m basically “straight” and therefore have difficulties in relationships. I’ve always tried to be honest and up front, but girls seem naturally freaked out by their boyfriend always wanting to dress as a girl. Straight girls are attracted to guys, and generally not guys presenting as women. There’s been some bad times where things have gone really rotten and both parties have been very confused. Very often I feel useless to anybody in a relationship. What the fuck am I? How is this supposed to work? My life’s felt like one long scene in an Ed Wood movie. My horrible wooden acting, my fraudulent facade and half truths…

I flipped out a little when I turned 30. I became very angry that I’d had to keep this secret from all but a small handful of close friends. It was fucking killing me. It shouldn’t be so difficult, it shouldn’t feel so shameful, it’s unfair. I decided I had to slowly start coming out. WHERE ARE ALL THE ROLE MODELS FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME? Shamed into hiding. Made to loathe themselves. It’s not fair. I GUESS I’LL DO IT MYSELF.

I’m also sick of the overarching masculinity and bullshit in the media (and comics). Have you ever tried watching television from the viewpoint of a female? It’s horrifying.

I started making an effort to present as female in press shots. I like seeing myself “all dolled up” in amongst a bunch of beer swilling dude-bros, presenting a totally different public image. it’s interesting and thrilling.

Is Dan Clowes a cross-dresser? I’ve long held a suspicion that he is “one of us.” That bit in “Gynecology” where Epps buys the underwear during the Christmas Sale to avoid suspicion—perhaps just really good writing… most likely the case. What about the time he talked about a latex fetish during an interview? Or what about the “about the author” picture of him by one of the Hernandez Brothers—I think it was Gilbert—where he’s standing at a turntable, decked out in suspenders and heels? That didn’t really come off to me as some crude “joke.” Seems like classic hint-dropping. Dan, PM me, we can maybe go to a club next time I’m in Cali. Do you like RuPaul’s Drag Race as much as I do?

But yeah. Fuck. I’m trying really hard but it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. It’s just getting harder and more confusing. Some days I shut down, my brain pulsing against my skull. It’s unbearable. My partner and I have been together nearly five years and she’s wonderfully supportive, but we still struggle with certain aspects of the “condition. I hope she isn’t made to feel uncomfortable by me revealing this so publicly… All of our closest friends know. And I’m fucking sick and tired of repressing it. This is something I kind of have to do. I really hope her conservative parents don’t ever Google my interviews or anything.

I hope my mother does read this, although she never will. I don’t know if I could ever bring myself to tell her. I’m scarred by the time she told me she was soooooo glad I wasn’t gay because it really freaked her out.

In regards to Megg, I try to write her as realistically as possible but I’m still guilty of sexualizing her. I’m still a man, indoctrinated by the media and my small town to sexualize women. I used to think I “got” women and “understood” them, but I don’t and I never truly will. My cross dressing is basically just buying into all the bullshit and presenting some fake, media version of what a woman is supposed to be. Sometimes I really disgust myself. I try my hardest, though, with Megg. I run a lot of things by my girlfriend and she’ll give me ideas. Megg is half me, half her.

Fun story to end on: Six or so weeks ago, my girlfriend and two of our friends got all fancied up and went into the city to see Sharon Needles, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Four, perform. It was thrilling to be out in the city in drag for the first time ever. No awkward looks in a drag club. It was a wonderful performance, especially the part where Sharon (consensually) sucked Alaska’s dick on stage mid-song. Bravo!

Anyhow, after the show I managed to craftily sneak backstage and rubbed shoulder pads with Australia’s drag elite. I felt underdressed, but pretty hot. I met some wonderful people and everyone was very friendly. Long story short: my girlfriend and I ended up in the toilets with Sharon herself (!) and her management smoking joints. It was very exclusive and surreal. Sharon kept on calling me “Karen.” That’s my drag name now: KAREN MOUNTAIN—HANDED DOWN BY DRAG ROYALTY.

PS: Thanks to all my friends who were cool when I went in drag to the ST Owl’s Bay Launch a few weeks back. I was surprised by the lack of interrogation. I love you all. Extra special thanks to Lashna & Marc for riding into the city on the train with me, I literally couldn’t have done it without you. Most love of all to Jess for supporting me when things are difficult.

tumblr_m8fi47l63c1ru22woo1_1280

FILED UNDER:

57 Responses to “Disgusting Creatures”: The Simon Hanselmann Interview

  1. Graham S says:

    This is a great interview. REALLY looking forward to seeing Girl Mountain on What Things Do.

  2. Box Brown says:

    Simon is the greatest.

  3. diegououo says:

    beautiful beautiful interview.

  4. J Wright says:

    I want to give Simon a hug.

    America’s mainstream culture is rancid garbage and makes so many of it’s nation’s citizens feel terrified to simply be themselves. It’s so easy to just say, “Just be yourself!” But what about the people who are afraid they’ll be spat on, beat on, or murdered for it? I get side-eye for being a man & cooking, cleaning, etc. I can’t imagine the level of constant stress that Simon has to bear.

    Whatever, be well and I hope you can find peace and happiness, Simon.

  5. Pingback: “Disgusting Creatures”: The Simon Hanselmann interview « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins

  6. DCM says:

    coulda cried. wonderful interview! so much love and support!

  7. Rob Clough says:

    Wonderful interview. Great job, Sean and Simon.

  8. Bob Nelson says:

    Yeah Simon you’re the shit! Really nice interview.
    And i’m very much looking foward to all the stuff coming up! Specially the book and Girl Mountain!

  9. Andrei Buters says:

    Here’s a link to Dave Mahler’s comics: http://davidmahlercomics.tumblr.com/

  10. notlaila says:

    What a fantastic & lovely interview! Simon/Karen is the superbest and I’m so eager to see the new work that’s scheduled for publication. Thank you for this.

  11. Frank Santoro says:

    XOXO heart heart Simon

  12. Fulgencio Pimentel says:

    I was just writing when a friend called to tell me about this.
    Tomorrow is the day, I’ll write in a short while and let you know. But this interview.
    You’re a wonderful creature, Simon. I enjoyed the answers from top to bottom. Never mind you made some outing on us too :DD We had to do it anyway soon.
    Ok. I’m in love with your stuff and your very self. Keep on this path.
    <3<3<3<3<3<3

  13. These are some of the best comics being made in the world right now, I really think so.

  14. Bryan Richards says:

    Easily the best comics coming out today. Great interview and I can’t wait for this book.

  15. Gabriel Simon says:

    This is amazing. The whole interview just makes me want to write more and more comics. U da best Simon <3

  16. Annie Koyama says:

    Well done! Nice to see Simon/Karen getting their due. Can’t wait for the books!

  17. Myhre says:

    The best TCJ interview I’ve read in a long time!

    (Not to do down the other TCJ interviews.)

    The Inkstuds interview was terrific, as well. Simon Hanselmann is a very interesting person.

  18. Jose-Luis says:

    Just a note saying you and your comics rock! And I love RuPaul’s Drage Race. I saw that clip with Sharon and Alaska and it’s sooo cool you were there!

  19. Jean-Paul says:

    Wow, Simon Hanselmann’s even more ace than I thought! The whole crossdressing section of the interview was one of those “BUT THOSE ARE MY THOUGHTS, TOO” moments and it’s pretty fucking cool to share them with what seems a rad person. SOLIDARITY.

  20. Anna says:

    Good Stuff! And I feel you Simon, sometimes i feel like a boy but i also feel like I am 100% girl? Confusing, but i don’t know…. Love your comics!!

  21. Pingback: Tea With Chris: Highest Ghost Rate Per Capita | Back to the World

  22. Mendoza says:

    “as the no-bullshit friends with the same interests in obscure alt/art/underground comics as you – quite a feat, given his location a world away from most of the figures covered in the comics”
    what does this even mean? have you even heard of the internet?

  23. Seedy Flakes says:

    SHANTE, YOU STAY

  24. Simon/Karen, I love your work and I loved reading this. It’s so fucking brave of you to get out there and be yourself/do what you want. Your work is crazy honest and hilarious and brutal. It’s a lot of work and difficulty, but you can be out there, dressing and presenting how you want. Fuck the haters. <3<3<3

  25. E-J says:

    Gots goosebumps x

  26. Brian says:

    Well done, all around. Simon, I’ve got Much Love and support for you no matter what you wear or how you self-identify. I hope that coming out relieves some of your stress and anxiety, as it’s done for me. You are right to be your own favorite artist in comics right now, and you are mine as well. Rock the fuck on.

  27. hmf says:

    This was the best. Thanks Simon x

  28. ant says:

    Jan Pienkowski, of course! How the hell did I never make that connection, I used to have loads of those Meg & Mog books as a kid, they’re fucking great.

  29. Pingback: Comics A.M. | ‘Walking Dead’ slips, manga rises in May | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  30. What an interesting interview! As a tranny sometime-cartoonist myself, there was a lot I could relate to here. I must admit, I’d made the exact same observations about Clowes. I never commented on them because I didn’t feel right conjecturing about somebody else’s gender identity like that, especially when as far as I know Clowes has never addressed it publicly… But I suspect that some degree of transgenderism is pretty common among cartoonists. On the mainstream side, you have decades of stories where male superheroes are turned into girls, and on the art comics side you have lots of male cartoonists basing their stories on these cute female avatars. They’ll usually argue that girls are just more fun to draw than men, but that doesn’t quite click right for me. I think the identification runs deeper. I’ve found a lot of weird commonalities among many cartoonists (a whole lot of them dropped out of college, for instance) but the gender thing in particular is really striking.

  31. I’m transgender, and like the first year of transitioniong–was pretty much exactly the insane terror described in that last part of the interview. It is extremely fucked up that you can be so ostricized or violently beaten to death, for doing something that is in the end really only about your own story–your own self. For the most part I try to screen my friends in terms of how close I let them in, and am very careful about new friends–because my headfuck now is even though I’m really open about my gender story and how I got here, the worst is when people don’t know, and then find out, and you are already emotionally invested in their company–so they kind of have you over this weird freak barrel just because of how weird and messed up society is. It is also really difficult to get jobs. I think to some extent being a transsexual is more accepted socially than if you are crossdressing, even with shows like Ru Paul sort of mainstreaming drag. The notion most people have of any kind of crossing of the gender line is that you are doing it to molest children or something. This is mostly because people just don’t think they know many people who are transgender.

    So shit like this is painful, unnecessarily so. BUT, I think being open and not trying to be in the closet or stealth about it is important because the only way to end the stigmization and violence is for people to understand we’re just boring people, just like everyone else. We all are kind of after the same things.

    Awesome interview. I think pretty much all of Simon’s interviews have been incredible. The inkstuds one was also fantastic. Also I really enjoy the comics, so that is a plus too I think.

  32. joe ollmann says:

    Great interview. The thing with these comics is there’s something immediately likeable in the drawings. Funny, sad and disturbing. Simon, you make great comics! thanks. Boy/girl, whatevs, people should do their thing, always good to hear open discussion about it. thanks.

  33. Lewisrice says:

    Australian mainstream culture is so fucked up. Such obsession over football and gender stereotypes. So many meat heads. Good work for challenging it, Simon. You’re amazing!

  34. Phil Stalin says:

    I would urge readers to look a bit deeper into contemporary Australian Comics…. Whilst Simon is undoubtably doing some great stuff, his ‘exclusive’ list of the hottest local talent in antipodean sequential art is by no means informed or exhaustative…

    • HarveyD says:

      Very much this. His list is just a selection of his mates. There is a whole bunch of great Australian comics talent out there.

      Can’t wait to see his ‘brutal’ Australian Truth Zone week.

    • you’ve got me curious. who am i uninformed about? please enlighten me.

      • tooth says:

        Hanselmann got excited and name-dropped Heather Benjamin too but give (neutral pronoun) a break (neutral pronoun)’s new.

  35. Wow I’m blown away by Simon’s bravery in this interview, coming out for everyone to see. It’s so fabulous, I’m filled with so much love and respect for Simon right now <3<3<3

    I hate patriarchy for making it so hard for Simon and so many others struggling with gender identity.

  36. Jaimi says:

    Wow wow wow what an awesome interview! I just discovered Simon’s work recently and it was like a gut punch. Visceral, wild, cruel, wonderful. Keep on keepin’ on, Simon!

  37. Uland says:

    Yeah, cause like before towns and media, men didn’t “sexualize” women. Or maybe all of Western culture is a conspiracy to keep confused, damaged people from being happy.That must be it.

    • Jean-Paul says:

      Western culture is pretty much set up to keep anyone that’s not a white, cisgendered male from being happy, yeah.

      • Uland says:

        Total nonsense. Western culture is the only culture in which concepts like “cisgender” aren’t laughed out of the room. Might be part of why Western Culture is dying out, come to think of it.

      • michael L says:

        hello. as the above article contains a rather emotive and personal interview, it would be cool to keep this a loving, supportive thread. please take your weird macho cynicism to another comics crit site :^) <3

      • Uland says:

        You dont get to determine how others should react to something, sorry Michael.

        It’s incredible to me how people so casually demand ideological purity, like of course if you disagree about any of this you’re pretty much a monster. Like I’m supposed to naturally agree that what I read was “emotive” (is that really the word you’re looking for?) and disagreeing with a statement, no matter how ridiculous it is, is like, you know, 3 steps away from gay bashing.
        You people are insane.

      • michael L says:

        emotive: able to arouse intense feeling

        im not convicting u of a hatecrime, i just think that it was weird of you to jump into this thread with cavalier sarcasm w/r/t patriarchy, given the tone and subject of the piece. obviously you can disagree with the political assessments, but it seems tasteless to annotate a very personal interview with your broad, derisive ideological assertions

        no one thinks youre “a monster,” and no one is “demanding ideological purity” @_@; its just like, have some empathy (or at least etiquette)

    • Hansi says:

      “Or maybe all of Western culture is a conspiracy to keep confused, damaged people from being happy.”

      Isn’t that exactly the worldview you espoused for several years on the Comics Journal message board?

  38. Karl Ruben says:

    This was engaging, funny, inspiring, beautiful. I teared up at the end. Hanselmann is an amazing cartoonist, and this is an amazing interview, Sean.

  39. Charlie says:

    Clowes is my favourite cartoonist, whatever interviews I find of his I read multiple times, but I don’t ever recall him saying he has a ‘latex fetish’ or anything like that. Do you have a source for that or might you have misread? Clowes seems to have some level of interest in at least the visuals of sexual fetish outfits, just from what you see in his work, but I’ve never seen him indicate any greater interest than that. My picture of Clowes, which of course could be completely wrong, is that outside of his comics he’s a pretty straight-laced person, you might even say ‘dull.’

    The Gilbert Hernandez picture was included in a big Clowes intereview in a 1992 issue of TCJ, with Clowes on the cover. I don’t know if it was printed elsewhere. The same issue also had a comic from Altergott depicting Clowes as an ‘in your face’ asshole with ‘FUCK YOU’ tattooed on the inside of his lips. Both I took to be just poking fun at Clowes as a mild-mannered personality.

  40. Briany Najar says:

    “I added “Owl” in as a roommate [...]”

    ?
    There is an owl in Meg and Mog.
    It hoots at Midnight, which wakes up Meg, and then all 3 have breakfast together.
    Anyway, whatevs – Megg, Mogg and Owl is excellent and gets better every time I see another bit of it.

  41. I have a question regarding, this:

    “Last week I taught a class on comics and basically just handed out a list of good Tumblrs and said: “Start a Tumblr. Follow these Tumblrs. You will learn about comics.”

    I’m glad I toiled in obscurity for 30 years and had the benefit of developing in privacy. I’d reached a certain adequate level of not-totally-shit and took people by surprise. And I try to remain consistent. I’m glad nobody has seen me at my worst.”

    I’m not trying to be smart (I’m just interested since i also teach making comics) but this seems a bit contradictive (is that the right word?). My main question: is there a drawback in showing your work as it is developing or not?

  42. Stratu says:

    Listen here, Candybar. Why didn’t you mention Neale Blanden, eh?

    Quite an oversight!

    Otherwise, congrabulations!

  43. Pingback: schlockmagazine.net » POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION – THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR HAVING GOOD WEATHER

  44. Pingback: SDCC Exclusive | Fantagraphics to publish ‘Megahex’ by Simon Hanselmann | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  45. Pingback: Life Zone – Simon Hanselmann | Paragone.ch

  46. Pingback: The Orange Won’t Peel – Printed | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources