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Simon Hanselmann’s New Comic Book Puts the “ill” in Illustration

Comic artist Simon Hanselmann discusses his upcoming book Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam And Other Stories that will be published in April 2016.

Simon Hanselmann is, in his own words, “a mentally ill creep who draws little sequential pictures of witches and cats for an actual living.” With a red wig and splash of drawn-on freckles across his face, Hanselmann is a world-renowned 35-year-old genderqueer Australian cartoonist and New York Times best-selling author.

These days, Hanselmann currently lives in Seattle, Washington and contributes illustrations to publications like Pitchfork and The Believer. You might recognize his work from a weekly webcomic on Vice called Megg, Mogg, & Owl that follows the (mis)adventures of a witch, a cat and their roommate.

Hanselmann’s comics continue to follow the three central characters Megg, Mogg and Owl in his latest collection, a book titled Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam And Other Stories. Cover to cover, it’s hilarious, depressing, sometimes gross, and often deeply touching. It will be released on April 20, 2016, pun intended.

The stories navigate the difficulties of being an “aging 20-something,” which includes, but isn’t restricted to mental illness, substance abuse, sex, relationships, lethargy, apathy, and at times, severe nihilism.

While Hanselmann’s characters are often seen dealing in extremes—they get very high, very drunk, and sometimes just can’t find a bathroom when they really need it—Megg and Mogg always remain deeply human. Their situations might be exaggerated, but everyone can relate to their feelings. These characters just handle it in absurdly skewed ways.

Hanselmann is incredibly adept at finding the humour in bad therapy, the romance in sharing saliva, or the emotion in a cat insecure about his penis size and his relationship.

We were lucky enough to get an advanced copy of Hanselmann’s upcoming book Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam And Other Stories and caught up with him to discuss unemployment as an arts grant, being inspired by Dr. Phil and why he’s more elegant than a Christian men’s right activist.

Format: What sparked your interest in art?

Simon Hanselmann: Living on a tiny island at the bottom of the world and loneliness. There was no internet so you make your own internet on paper.

Format: Who was the first artist you discovered that made you want to do it yourself?

Hanselmann: I’ve been self-publishing my comics since the 80’s, when I was 8 years old. So uh…Jim Davis? Richard Scarry? I’ve been doing this shit forever. You just have to do it yourself, you can’t sit around waiting for other people.

My mother used to scrape the shit out of the army barracks urinals then work an 18-hour shift at an arcade then drive two hours on no sleep and start making 1000 chicken sandwiches for the oil riggers.

You gotta work hard to survive. My mother is the one who taught me how to work hard and get shit done. Fuck artists.

Format: Your bio in Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam mentions your previous jobs as a “fry cook and a scrubber of bird shit.” Do you draw on your previous work experiences in your comics a lot?

Hanselmann: Yeah, I’ve worked a lot of shit jobs. Very fleetingly each time though. Predominantly I’ve survived the majority of my adult life on the generous Australian government’s "dole” (free fortnightly money for unemployable oddballs. Essentially an arts grant. Free time. I used mine wisely). Mostly Megg & Mogg strays away from any depictions of working or productivity of any kind.

Format: How did you start creating comics, and how have you turned it into a career?

Hanselmann: I’ve just made them and never stopped making them. I used to just sell zines at noise shows but then I put content on the internet and people started writing to me, wanting to publish my work. It’s that easy.

Format: What comics have influenced your own work the most?

Hanselmann: Hate by Peter Bagge. Fort Thunder. But mostly television. The Simpsons. How I Met Your Mother. Family Feud. Dr. Phil.

Format: Where did you get the inspiration for your characters? Are they related to the Meg & Mog stories by Jan Pienkowski in the 1970’s?

Hanselmann: I didn’t think about it at all. I was just drawing witches and then one of the witches was “Megg” and there was a “Mogg” and then they lived in a house with “owl.” I was stoned in London. It was an accident. Snowballs.

Format: There’s a lot of drugs and booze in Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam. How do substances enter into your creative process?

Hanselmann: Drawing comics for up to 18 hours a day and sometimes for full 30 hour stretches can be very boring. It helps to get fucked up. Intoxicants (I’ve heard) can also aid in temporarily distracting an individual from intensely depressing outside stimuli such as suicidal parents or dead friends. And they’re delicious. Have you ever been drunk? It’s awesome. Sometimes you can get arrested though…

Format: How does being genderqueer affect the way you write gender?

Hanselmann: I have no idea. That’s for the critics to tell me. If I had to venture a guess: slightly more elegantly than a Christian men’s rights activist would?

Format: You’re originally from Tasmania in Australia, and now you live in Seattle, Washington. How has geography affected your comics?

Hanselmann: I’m still just sitting in a dark room, under a lamp, staring and scratching at a piece of paper. All my studios are set up the same. When I’m in the studio I could be anywhere. I’m in space. Nothing else exists.

Format: Now that your book is ready to be published, what’s next for you?

Hanselmann: I’ll be dragging my carcass around festivals in the US and Canada over the next few months to promote Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam. Megg and Mogg has been translated to 13 languages and counting so I guess I’ll end up in Europe again at some point this year. I’m planning my next major book release already, just finished a new mini comic, making some clothing, going to do a stint of webcomics again.

There’s a million things on the list. Seattle is expensive. Need to keep my hands moving.

Pre-order your copy of Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam And Other Stories via Fantagraphics.

Visit Simon Hanselmann’s website here.

Images courtesy of Fantagraphics Books Header image by Chris Diaz via The Saturday Paper

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