Thee Simon Hanselmann Experience


Do you remember when you first encountered the work of Simon Hanselmann? Online somewhere? Maybe back a couple years ago at the comic book store? Either way, if you've been recently perusing the graphic novel section of the world's consciousness you've most likely run into Megg & Mogg, Owl, Werewolf Jones and sons. And Simon.

Remember when you were into a show and one season was good and the other season kind of sucked? Like season two of The Wire? What a let down. They fixed it, but still. Anyways, the new season of Megg & Mogg is out and it doesn't suck. The intensity of seeing the gang for the first time is there again the second time. The follow up to a successful season one is always tough, and Simon makes it look easy. The drawing, the jokes, the color. The cover. Preserving the format of Megahex and also the shuffling of drawing styles. All that together makes an extremely satisfying experience.

And it's that experience I enjoy as a fan. Sure, it's the the jokes, how funny the gags are, and how the "on-model-ness" of the episode stays consistent like a deadpan straight man against the absurdity of the situations/jokes/gags, but it's the handmade packaging of it all that really gets me. The staggering warmth of the detail is what I enjoy processing as I read this new slate of episodes. The drawing is clean and open—free of unnecessary detail—however the detail in the color is astonishing. The backgrounds and objects in the middle ground; the sets that the characters walk around in are just so expertly weaved into the stories that often I just get lost walking around in there myself. And that's the experience.

Simon's handmade watercolor application creates a whole other channel to engage the stories. It could be the color of Megg's tears or the luscious trees in the distance of many scenes. Simon renders the sidewalk concrete and where the gutter meets the asphalt with the same loving care as he paints Mogg's fur. The color actually glows and looks great on the paper in this collection. The endpapers glow. It's just nice when a book's design, color choices, and printing all come together and work. I loved the Megahex format and Simon stuck with the template but tweaked it ever so slightly for the better. The colors pop a bit more this time around and have the right amplification needed to best transmit Simon's warm and inviting color palette.

The episodes on this collection take place during Megahex (according to the title page), and like the first Fantagraphics collection, the styles subtly change. I think it was smart to shuffle the on-model-ness of the episodes. What it does, I think, is give Simon the freedom to alter the style or approach as the episodes progress and the series expands. Time is less linear and more simultaneous. It's like an early episode of The Simpsons---when you see the early character designs you don't necessarily think it is happening at the beginning of Simpsons history. So regardless of when an episode in the Megahex and now Amsterdam collections were made, they all sort of jigsaw together into a refreshing smoothie on a summer day. And even if one episode sort of informs the following episode in terms of linear time, the ordering of the episodes in the new collection echoes my memory of the other episodes and feels expansive and so there's room for surreal character displays that aren't set there to drive the plot. The style sifts are not jarring and in fact help set each episode apart.

Simon's curation of the episodes is quite a different experience than how one might encounter the work online or in a newspaper, which is how the episode St.Owl's Bay was originally published. Attentive fans of the series will surely note that there's a death in the family coming down the pike. So Simon's created a sort of "event horizon" to hurdle towards. This really changes how I read and reread the episodes, especially in this collection. It feels less sitcom-y in that the series won't go on forever unchanged and, for me, imbues the work with a tinge of heartbreak amidst the humor and absurdity. I find it quite moving, actually. I care about these characters and it's in no small part because of how the episodes are being curated and presented. Bravo.

I'll be back next week with an interview with Simon. Make sure to catch thee Simon Hanselmann Experience at Fantagraphics on April 23rd.