Not many cartoonists can boast being married to their art -- sporting a full wedding dress to boost! But Simon Hanselmann is definitely one of a kind: revolving around a small cast of characters, his prolific work manages to be both utterly politically incorrect and deeply endearing. To quote Lou Reed: Take a walk on the wild side.
Xavier Guilbert : So, you’re Australian…
Simon Hanselmann : Yes.
Xavier Guilbert : Is there an Australian comic culture ?
Simon Hanselmann : There is a lot of comic book artists in Australia. Yeah, there’s a strong comic book culture in Australia, there always has been, but we’re kind of isolated, no one really know we’re there. There’s no big publishers in Australia, but there’s a lot of ‘zines and small press. But I made it out, you know, my stuff is in thirteen languages now, a lot of friends of mine are slowly starting to get American book deals, and you know, getting their shit out there. And we had a lot of comics in Australia growing up : I used to read Astérix and Tintin and Mad Magazine, and like, superheroes and alternative stuff. We kind of had — we had everything. Good access, in a pre-Internet world — there was access to a lot of stuff. But it still is — it’s a bit shit there.
Xavier Guilbert : Why did you turn to comics ? What did appeal to you in there ?
Simon Hanselmann : Well, I started drawing comics when I was five years old, and then started self-publishing when I was eight years old, so it’s just something that I’ve always done. I grew up in a really small, horrible town ; my mother was a drug addict and a bar worker, so she was just always off, you know, working in biker bars… So I was left to my own devices and just read a lot of comics and watched a lot of TV… and drew a lot of comics. I don’t know where I got the idea to start self-publishing at eight years old, I just — there was a photocopier, a Xerox machine at the corner store, and I just, yeah, fac-simile my drawings and sell books at school. And then eventually got in trouble for it and dropped out of high school and I was just : well fuck this, I wanna draw comics, I don’t need to do any more school.
Xavier Guilbert : I have the impression you’ve never stopped creating since. You are rather prolific, self-publishing in a wide range of formats. Would you say that’s some sort of compulsive approach, or is it just the way you are ?
Simon Hanselmann : (laugh) Yeah, it’s just the way I am, it’s definitely an obsession. It’s all I’ve ever done, it’s all that makes me happy, just drawing endlessly. And with the ‘zines and stuff, I probably make more money out of my self-published ‘zines than I do out of my books — like, my proper book deals. You only get like, you know, 8 % or 10 % of the profits when you have your book deal. While with ‘zines, you just get all the money, so… If you can make a name for yourself on the Internet and get people to buy your ‘zines directly from you, you’ve got it made. Yeah, it’s just a complete obsession. I just finished my next American edition, and I just worked non-stop for three months, like sixteen hours a day. I’ve got a bunch of sores on my butt from sitting in the same spot, just endlessly. It was a bit shitty for my wife, who had to put up with me, just constantly working… But that’s the way to do it, how to be prolific : you know, you don’t go to parties, you tell your friends just, you know, “piss off, I’m not gonna go to the café with you, I’m just gonna sit here and draw all day.” You get into a rhythm, you know. I draw for like thirty hours straight, sometimes, just non-stop. You get like, this automatic kind of drawing, the lines just come out so easily. I feel like if I go to sleep, that ruins things, because I wake up in the morning and it’s like being born. I’m also “gnnahh, gnnaahh”… So if I just keep going, it’s just very smooth and fluid, so… fuck sleep, fuck friends.
Xavier Guilbert : Is it important to get into this kind of state, this altered state, that comes from the drugs or from exhaustion ? Especially regarding creativity, and bringing forth new ideas ?
Simon Hanselmann : Well, I always got ideas, I got many many backlogs of ideas, but… See, I’m gonna smoke a lot of pot, and that like gets me in the zone… just blocks everything out. I draw with the television on, usually. A lot of people would draw to music, but I’ve always like had TV playing. It keeps my mind sort of active, like listening to voices and stories and just go for it… get in the zone.
And then, I think the weed works for me — I don’t think it works for a lot of people, but it just keeps me from wanting to leave the house, and it makes things more beautiful. If you draw for sixteen hours a day, every day, it’s so fucking boring. You know, it’s not that fun — I don’t really enjoy drawing. I enjoy writing, I enjoy creating, but the actual drawing is grueling and horrible. So you’re a little bit stoned, or a little bit drunk, and… yeah, it makes the time pass. And when you’re mixing up colors and you’re kinda high, it’s beautiful ! the interplay of the water and the watercolors — it’s beautiful.
Xavier Guilbert : You have a tumblr named Girl Mountain, which also happens to be the title of a considerable project of yours, that is supposed to number 1000 pages. So my question is : if drawing is so grueling, where do you find the energy to march on ? It seems to me there’s some sort of contradiction there…
Simon Hanselmann : I think I’m just mentally ill (laugh). There is something wrong with me. But the Girl Mountain thing, I started that when I was 21 — you know, I had been drawing comics already for like 16 years, so I was very young, and : “yeah, I’m gonna do this 1000-page graphic novel, and it’s gonna be the best thing ever.” And after six years and 250 pages of it, I stopped doing it. I realized it was shit, I’d made a lot of mistakes with it… I’ve never published it and I never will. It was a learning experience, it was a young, youthful indiscretion.
Xavier Guilbert : I think you did publish about ten pages on the tumblr.
Simon Hanselmann : Yes.
Xavier Guilbert : And in the Comics Journal interview back in 2013, you did announce that the first volume would be published online, but that never happened.
Simon Hanselmann : Yeah, a few times, I was — I think that as recently as like six months ago, I was gonna serialize it on Vice.com, but then I changed my mind. I feel like I’m never gonna finish it, so if I put the first quarter of it out in the world, there’s no ending for it, there’s no closure. So it’s just hidden away, and no one will ever see it. (pause) Yeah, it’s terrible.
Xavier Guilbert : You’re talking about a learning experience that ran across 250 pages, and on the other hand you’ve got this tumblr where there’s this immediate publishing, and where you put out things that are either pages from Megg, Mogg and Owl, or things that are more sketches or intentions or photos. Which all feels like a more direct approach, in the sense of : it’s done, let’s put it out. Did something change after Girl Mountain, or is it just a question of self-confidence ?
Simon Hanselmann : You know, I’m still learning, I still feel like a terrible cartoonist. A few months ago, I had a big artistic crisis, and just thought all the Megg, Mogg and Owl was shit and just like garbage. But you know now I am back to thinking like “it’s okay, it’s fun”. But I think that’s death for an artist when you say : “yeah, this is awesome, I’m the best, you know, this is perfect.” You always need to grow and change and try to be better.
I should point out, I don’t use tumblr anymore, really. Tumblr’s garbage now, it really is — tumblr’s dead. I use Instagram, that’s much better, everyone migrated to Instagram. I feel guilty that I don’t update my tumblr much anymore. But you know, it was a good tool, and Instagram now is a good tool for just, like you said, throwing out sketches and different shit. I like to try and post something everyday, if I can, just to keep people interested. A long time ago, American cartoonist Sammy Harkham told me just this : you’ve gotta take every interview, keep on getting shit out there, keep in the public eye, because otherwise people will just forget about you (laugh). So there’s that paranoia in me that just has to keep producing, I have to keep putting this out. And I make a living from this now, I used to scrap birdshit out of aircraft hangars and work at McDonald’s — I don’t want to do that anymore, I’m very selfish and I just wanna draw comics all day. I wanna do what I wanna do, and the rest of the world can just fuck off (laugh). So, you know. You just have to keep pushing it, you can’t be lazy. If you wanna be successful, you can’t be lazy. This applies to anything, just like being an electrician, or being in the Navy or whatever. If you wanna have success, you have to work hard, you can’t fuck around.
Xavier Guilbert : I was very interested by the “Artist’s trash” picture you posted, because on one hand, it is rather amazing to be bold enough to put out something like that and make people pay for it, but on the other hand it also evokes that quote from Kurt Schwitters (from the Dada movement) who said : “Alles was ein Künstler spuckt ist Künst” [or “everything the artists spews is art”]. So there is this idea that art is not something you make, but something you live. From what you show on your tumblr and what you publish, there is also this aspect in your work.
Simon Hanselmann : Yeah. You know, trash is worth something. It’s lot of sketches, thumbnails — they sold really quickly, they sold out in like two minutes. I sort of teased it on Instagram, that we’re selling these, and I think that yeah, they sold in like two minutes, just gone. There were 25 of them, at $40 each, so — it was like $1000, that’s my rent for the month. I did feel very cheeky, because it’s garbage, like — it’s like pencil shavings, and just like… trash, truly just trash. But yeah, it’s monetized, people will pay for this. I think they are beautiful packages, like, there’s a lot of stuff in there, it’s worth more than $40, really. But listen, this is the art world, you know. It’s attaching value to meaningless things, like shitty bits of paper (laugh). I mean, if you can play that game, you know – awesome !
Xavier Guilbert : Still talking about drawing, I get the impression that at some point you established for yourself some sort of narrative grammar. Be it the cast of characters of which we’ll come back to later, but also on the layout structure. You’ve used other layouts in the past, but you seem to have settled on a 3 x 5 grid, which is something of a standard in your work. Is it about finding a way to deal with the difficulty of drawing you were talking about earlier, or is it just because it’s convenient and it works, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it ?
Simon Hanselmann : I’m all about pacing. Like to me, comics is just about the story, and just readability. You want to read it, to be out there very quickly and easily identify. That’s why I use color as well, as I think it just — there’s something in the brain that can just process things quicker. Like you see the green in Megg’s face, the yellow of Owl’s beak, and the brain instantly knows what that is. So I just — yeah, I’m all about pacing. I just want it to be smooth, and fluid. I think the twelve grid, the 3 x 4 is my “classic” grid. I used to use an eight grid… Yeah, I use the fifteen quite often. Under duress, when I was doing the weekly thing for Vice — I mean, I tried to make it twelve panels, but sometimes I’d need an extra three, so I’d grudgingly do the fifteen grid, which is not my favorite grid.
But yeah, I don’t like comics that are like the passing of the day. I can’t read Chris Ware’s comics anymore — they’re just too complicated, I get lost. He’s trying to tell a story, but it’s like a board game, it’s like : “where the fuck do I go ? I’m lost !” And it takes you out of the story. So I’ve experimented crazy panels and weird layout but — it’s not for me. I’m just a “gridsman”, and I’m believing in the grid, the magic of the grid. Hmm.
Xavier Guilbert : Would you say that is also because of the content ? In the sense that considering the fact that Megg, Mogg and Owl’s stories can go in unexpected directions, you have to keep some kind of structure to the narration…
Simon Hanselmann : Well, definitely, yeah. Like I said, Chris Ware, I can’t read that thing anymore, it’s too difficult. See, I just want to read fast, I want — I think comics should read like real life. Like I don’t fill up my speech bubbles with lots of writing, I try to keep it short, so it moves, it breathes, it feels like real life. That’s what I’m going for, I don’t know if I’m completely successful, but that’s the goal. And people say that it — I mean, there’s always a monotony in Megg and Mogg’s life : they’re always on the couch, they’re always doing the same thing, doing drugs, just doing the same thing, so it’s kinda like prison bars. You know ? They’re just stuck in this grid, just this endless continuing grid. I didn’t intend that, but someone, some reviewer said that, and well, I’ll take that.
Xavier Guilbert : But you don’t see it as prison bars yourself ?
Simon Hanselmann : I do, sometimes, I do feel like I’m in jail sometimes. It’s a good jail, but… you know, prison can be good, there’s this structure, you go out in the yard, you exercise, you have three square meals a day, you make license plates, you do laundry… You know, some people love prison : structure !
But you know, yeah, I mean, I work so much, so constantly, and sometimes I do feel trapped, and I do wanna do something else. Like you know, I play music sometimes, I used to do sculptural stuff, I used to do puppet shows… I’ve done a lot of things. But the comics is the thing I found success with, and… and yes, it’s insanity, I just have to keep going and keep… I get a rush when I finish something, so it’s just always working towards that rush, like : “I’m finished !” Then you just start something again straight away, and… and lock me up, officer, throw away the key. I hope I don’t get, you know, in trouble in the showers…
Xavier Guilbert : Since you’re publishing in Vice on a regular basis, isn’t that a way to put yourself in some sort of prison, with the pressure of putting out pages on a given date ?
Simon Hanselmann : Yeah, well, I quit Vice again like six months ago. I only went back because my art dealer committed suicide and he owned me $10,000 at the time. So I was like : well, fuck, what am I gonna do ? So I went back to Vice. I don’t enjoy that weekly deadline, ’cause then I can’t get anything else done. It’s just all week, trying to get that strip done, it just eclipses everything else. So I don’t wanna go back to Vice. I mean, if I get really broke then I might, but — I mean, currently I’m just working on a gallery show, and some ‘zines, and just sort of like trying to take it a little bit easy before I start this big, new, 400-page Megg & Mogg book, which I don’t really know what form it will take. I can’t just — I’d like to just work on it on my own time, maybe like five years, and then put the whole big thick book out, but like I was saying earlier, I can’t disappear. I can’t — you know, I need to keep shit coming out to stay relevant. So maybe I’ll do it as a floppy. Maybe I’ll do it as a webcomic, I don’t know. All these formats — pfff ! But mostly I just like books. I mean, you know people call me a webcomics person, but I’m not, I’ve been making ‘zines since I was eight years old, I’m all about books, I’m all about the printed page. But dear God I don’t want to go to Vice again. If I was gonna do any web comic I’d go and do it for Adult Swim, they’ve started putting comics on their website, and they pay a lot more. They’re stupid, they don’t realize that they can undercharge cartoonists. ‘Cause Vice doesn’t really pay that much (laugh). For the work, I mean, you’re putting in like thirty hours and you get $200, that’s just pathetic ! (laugh) It’s such a horrible waste of time, comics… (laugh) When you count up the hours of work you put in to the financial remuneration, it’s just depressing. (pause) Yeah, it’s a very sad craft.
Xavier Guilbert : We were talking about the “grid” that was aiming for some sort of efficiency. You’re also working with a rather limited gallery of characters. There’s the trio Megg, Mogg and Owl, then there’s Werewolf Jones and there are a few other characters gravitating around this core. Three characters getting bored in their living room, watching TV, wondering what they are going to do, if there’s some weed to smoke or something to eat. And then, the stories branch out into all sorts of surprising directions…
Simon Hanselmann : Yeah, I find they’re very versatile characters. I think I could do a science-fiction story with them, which I’ve actually considered. I haven’t done that yet. I find them really easy to write for. It’s all autobiographical, it’s all based on my life and my friends’, and things that have happened. So I’m still collecting experiences… and now I’m just trying to make it real and realistic. It’s just modern life, on the page, kind of. So yeah, they should be limited, but I don’t find them limited. I did do this, like, science-fiction story with like human characters a couple of months ago, where Megg, Mogg and Owl look like something completely different and I hated it. I couldn’t stand it, and I was just so excited to get back to Megg and Mogg. I just — it’s just as easy for me, but not in a cheating kind of way, you know. It’s comfortable. I can write these characters, I know these characters, I love these characters. We’ll see how far I can take them. I plan on doing this — I want them to grow up in real time, I want them to, like — just like life. You learn things, you change, you evolve. And that’s what I want them to do. The next big book I’ve been working on is — it’s after Owl has moved out of the house and he’s on his own, and Megg has to go and do stuff with her mother, horribly drug-addicted mother, and Werewolf Jones dies of a heroin overdose, and… everything changes, you know, they’re growing up, their whole life is messed up, they have to change. I don’t know what’s gonna happen after that, really, like if they do clean up and become normal, productive citizens, I guess it will be over. But life is always full of horror and strife and problems. Just because you get older doesn’t mean everything is easy or you’re figured everything out completely, there’s always gonna be challenges. So you will see what happens to them over the next twenty years. They’ll probably just all die (laugh). Werewolf Jones does die.
Xavier Guilbert : Preparing for this interview, I’ve been struck by the dynamic of the trio, who share the same house. And it reminded me of the Freudian trio of Ego (who would be Megg), Id (Mogg, animal and undeniably the most sexual of the three) and Superego with Owl, who tries to be relatively clean and tries to get things working, but who always ends up being carried away by the other two. Considering how the comic is also ripe with autobiographical elements, I was wondering if that made sense for you.
Simon Hanselmann : Yeah, definitely, it’s pretty good. I do think of them as different parts of my personality. Like Megg’s the feminine, depressed side ; Mogg is definitely the sexual, kind of deviant side ; Owl is the uptight side that tries to fit in with society, and “I’m gonna have a real job, I’m gonna be a normal person !”… and Werewolf Jones is just the fucked-up, you know, debaucherous, horrible horrible side of me. Like I said, it’s almost autobiographical, I’ve done most of these things or had most of these things done to me, so… (laugh) Yeah, the Freudian breakdown is quite apt. Again, it’s why it’s so easy to write for me, because all of these characters are me, they’re different parts of my brain, and they do battle inside my brain. And I just put it all out on paper.
Xavier Guilbert : As you were saying, you use these characters to tackle very different stories. This mock-Japanese cover is something I found on your tumblr that shows how these characters can exist in radically different styles — I don’t know if there are more pages than what you’ve posted online…
Simon Hanselmann : That’s not me ! That was a girl in Tokyo, it’s a bootleg.
Xavier Guilbert : Even the cover was a bootleg ? I remember another cover in a similar style…
Simon Hanselmann : I think — yes, I think that was a poster that she’d made at the time of this book. I just found this online, it was like four in the morning, I’d been drawing all day, I was really stoned, I laid down in bed, and instead of looking at the Internet I started googling myself, because I’m, you know, an egomaniac, so you know, “what are people saying about me ?” And I just found this, and it blew my mind. And she had no intention telling me about this. It’s called doujinshi, the Japanese fan comics. Comiket, in Tokyo, they sell them. She had not intention of telling me, and got quite upset when I found out about it, she was really nervous and like : “Oh no !” And I was like : “I don’t care !” I got a friend to translate and talk to her and said : “you know, I don’t mind, I love this, if you could send me a few copies that would be lovely.” And then I told her that I’d like to bootleg it and make my own, like, English version of this, and then again she freaked out. But yeah, I’ve got the files now, I’ve got the PDF, I’m gonna do my own version of this… which I feel kind of awkward about, because it is based on my characters, but it is still very much her work. So if I sell a bunch of ‘zines and make a bunch of money, I feel kind of… but then should I give her some of that money ? but no, really, ’cause she made a ton of money out of this, selling these at Comiket, and was never gonna tell me about it, so… I figured : fair game ! (laugh) I’m gonna make a ton of those and sell them everywhere. I love that thing, I like that more than my Megg and Mogg, I think it’s better than the Australian Megg and Mogg (laugh). It was like the best thing that happened to be last year.
Someone in the audience : We saw a Japanese version of Megg — do you read any manga ?
Simon Hanselmann : I read a bit of manga — I was very late to it, I never really… I think I was too old for it, like I think — I was born in 1981, so I grew up with you know, Donald Duck, Asterix, Mad Magazine, so I think it’s a younger person’s game, the manga, but I toured accross America with Michael DeForge, a Canadian cartoonist, a few years ago, and he took me to Anime Castle, a manga store, recommended some manga, and I tried to get into to. You know, I like like Garo, like Seiichi Hayashi and — and Tagame’s here, the bara, bondage guy ? Yeah, I like more sort of alternative manga, the weird, sort of 70s shit. Yeah, I learn. I try, but it’s not something I really, really love. I’m stuck at like, you know, Dan Clowes, Charles Burns, sort of Peter Bagge, kindof, but — that’s my shit. But I try, yeah. It looks pretty, a lot of it. I mean, that cover for One More Year, I ripped that off. The overall kind of design, is ripped off a Japanese graphic designer, who was I think born in 1920 and then died in the 1990s, it was an apparently really famous Japanese graphic designer, so. Pfff. [talking to the person in the audience] Do you like manga ? Very much ?
Someone in the audience : Not so much.
Simon Hanselmann : Not so much ? Why do you ask me then ? Could you tell that I ripped off a Japanese graphic designer, and you’re trying to call me out on that ? Like “look, I know who that is, I’m gonna call this bastard out !” Thanks a lot for making me look like a douchebag. (laughs) No, no, I’m joking. Yeah, I try with the manga. What else do I like ? I don’t know. (a pause) Garfield, that’s my favorite manga.
Xavier Guilbert : This, for sure, is from you… it’s Truth Zone, something that you’ve been doing for Frank Santoro’s Comics Workbook. We find again Megg, Mogg and Owl, and even Werewolf Jones, and they interact with names from US comics history, like Stan Lee, with a strong private joke aspect. It definitely shows the versatility of these characters, which constitute a true narrative platform for you.
Simon Hanselmann : Well, yeah, it’s just Truth Zone. It’s a criticism comic. Frank Santoro, who runs Comics Workbook, asked me : “would you like to do a few, like, reviews in comics form ? kind of like a bit of criticism ?” And I said “yeah, okay”, then I just did hundreds of pages of this ridiculous Truth Zone thing where they talk about books, and have like Stan Lee, the Marvel guys, in there, like rimming a Spider-man doll… Stan Lee was on Loveline in America, like, you call him, like “hey, I’ve got a romance problem, can you help me ?” And Stan Lee was a guest, and he had all these questions about rimming, like “anal-lingus”, like licking bumholes — and it was really awkward for Stan Lee, he had to try and talk about this, and… So that was what this comics was about.
Yeah, they are very versatile, they can just sit there and talk about comics, and I can expose my values and my opinions through them. I stopped doing that for a couple of years, but I started doing it again. I got kinda angry about certain facets of the comics scene… I’m a prick, you know ? You know, the sort of very opinionated jerk, like I feel very strongly about certain types of comics and the way things should be done. You know, I hate a lot of comics — so I’ve started doing it again. It’s much meaner now, you know. I’ve got a new one that I’m about to work on. I’ve been calling it ‘the carreer-ender’, I think people will be so pissed off and think I’m such a bastard… but yeah, you know, I like Truth Zone, I miss doing that. I stopped doing that because it just didn’t pay, I started doing the Vice thing, which paid. And unfortunately I had to stop doing Truth Zone, because it was no longer, you know… but yeah, I love Truth Zone.
Xavier Guilbert : I included the cover to Lingerie Witches, because you explained somewhere that Megg had accepted to pose for this as she needed the money. So it really seems that these characters have a life of their own, and even when they move beyond their usual territory, there’s a justification for you. As if they existed even when you stop drawing them.
Simon Hanselmann : Yeah, definitely, I’m constantly like writing ideas down. You know, they’re always evolving. Werewolf Jones’ children were introduced last year in the comic — I know what happens to them when they’re like teenagers and older. I plan very far ahead with these characters, I’m always thinking about them. They do feel real, and that’s why it’s so easy to write for me, because I love them. I try and do other things, I just can’t do it. But yeah, Lingerie Witches was, like a pornographic magazine. I had the idea that Megg, kind of at some point, would have done some sort of softcore pornography for money, when she needed drug money. So I set about making a big pornographic magazine — she was only on one page, but yeah, I just wanted that magazine to exist. I shrink-wrapped it, I was working at a bookstore at the time, I snuck in on the week-end and shrink-wrapped all the magazines, so it did just look like a real pornographic witch magazine. I wanted to like sneak around shops and like put them on shelves next to pornographic magazines, but — they were very expensive to print, they were big and full color. So they were like nine dollars per copy to produce, and I was very broke at the time, and I needed to buy drugs, so — what you’re gonna do ? (laugh) Yeah, yeah, there’s just like twenty of these in existence, they’re very rare.
Someone in the audience : What kind of colors do you use ?
Simon Hanselmann : I literally harness the power of rainbows in a magic wand, and just wave it over the page. No, no, no, I don’t use Photoshop or anything, I hate computers. I grew up very poor, and I never had a computer until like, 2012 or something ? A friend gave me one. You know : “you poor bastard, take this computer.” I use watercolors, like Windsor & Newton Cotman, it’s like a cheap, poor person imprint ; and food coloring. Years ago, I used to do a lot of poster work, illustrating band posters, and I’d hand-color them. And I was out of yellow watercolor, which is like the shittiest of watercolors, for some reason you can’t find a good yellow watercolor. So I went into the cupboard, and there was food coloring for cakes, for icing. And I used that, and I realized, just like “wow, this stuff is so smooth.” It’s durable — like I’ve got pages from like fifteen years ago that still look really bright and really crisp. So I stumbled onto it. All of my pinks and yellows and blues derive from the food coloring. It’s brilliant stuff — but just one particular brand : Queen. I used some American food coloring, it was waxy, it sucked in all the other colors, it was garbage, so you know… yeah, I recommend Queen Food Colouring. I kinda wanna get a sponsorship deal from them, because I think they could sell more : you know, “it’s not just for making cakes, it’s also for making comics.” And they could put me like on the bottle, yeah ! “Drag-queen Simon Hanselmann says ‘use Queen Food Colouring’ !” So I think that yeah, I really need to get a publicist or someone or my agent to do that. If you could write to the food coloring people… And yeah, fuck Photoshop and fuck Wacom tablets ! fuck digital ! It’s bullshit ! It’s cheating ! My work is very honest. What you see on the page is what exists in real life.
Someone in the audience : I wanted to know if there was going to be another Werewolf Jones and Sons ?
Simon Hanselmann : Ah-ha. You’re talking about the spin-off comic, Werewolf Jones and Sons. Erm, there was gonna be a second issue, we… HTML Flowers, my friend and writing partner, he came to Seattle for a month or so last year, and we drew most of it, but we just never released it. So he has about 20 pages of stuff sitting around and my material I colored and put on Vice, so that — yeah, that material ended up in the new French book, in the Amsterdam one. That’s in there, so you’ve read half of it already, if you’ve read that book. But HTML Flowers’ strips are really funny, I kinda want to redraw them.
Someone in the audience : Yeah, the first one was really funny.
Simon Hanselmann : There’s a new episode where they go to a beauty pageant, and… Werewolf Jones enters his sons, and it’s like a little miss, kinda beauty pageant, and then I think it’s Jackson, the older, taller son gets an erection and gets busted. And he’s like to the other one : “Diesel, why didn’t you get an erection ?” and that’s when you find out that Diesel is actually gay. He’s like : “’cause I’m gay, Dad,” and Werewolf Jones is really accepting of it. He’s like : “wow ! I love that you know who you are, you’re ten years old, you know you’re gay, I respect that so much…” Diesel is the favorite child, Jackson is just like — a garbage child. Werewolf Jones loves Diesel. And I’m excited about doing that episode, like, you know — this positive, gay child. We might put it out at some point, but probably not really, I don’t know. We live in different countries now, Flowers and I, so. We’ll see. Yeah. We’ve written a lot of scripts. When we were pitching TV stuff, we wrote a lot of like, new episodes with those characters, and they’ll almost probably become comics. I don’t wanna do the TV show. I keep getting these TV networks, like : “we wanna do Megg & Mogg as a TV show, you need to move to Hollywood, and you know, work with fifty people and ruin all your ideas…” Oh no. Comics are the best, because you just do it on your own. Just cool autonomy. This is you, and a paper, and you can do whatever you can. But I don’t think the TV industry is for me. But still, we generated a lot of good ideas about young gay werewolves.
Xavier Guilbert : I heard there’s a series of books for children with a very close name — Meg and Mog, and which might have been the inspiration for these characters.
Simon Hanselmann : It was, sort of… Yeah, Meg & Mog, with just one “g” — mine had two “g”s, for legal reasons (laugh). I grew up reading them, it’s from the seventies, it’s a British children’s book series. They look very different to my Megg and Mogg. I was obsessed with those books as a kid, and… I was drawing a lot of witches. Like when I first started Megg & Mogg, I was living in London, and for no reason, drawing lot of witches. And I just decided I wanted to take a break from Girl Mountain and do this kind of sitcom, roommate comedy, witch-cat kind of thing. So I naturally, like : “oh, Meg and Mog !” and I just used those names. And it was supposed to be one comic, I never intended that I’d be drawing it for nine years, I didn’t ever think that it’d be a New York Times bestseller and be in thirteen languages. So I’m very worried about being sued, by… Penguin-Random House published the Meg and Mog children’s books, so… Yeah, I mean, fuck, they have good lawyers so they could really come at me. But they haven’t, and I’ve done illustration work for Penguin-Random House, so they must be — they’re aware of me. They must know what I’m doing, like these books are fucking everywhere. So I guess it’s okay. I think the second American book, which was Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam, and I put the names on the cover, and then my lawyer said, like : “big mistake ! don’t put the names on the cover.” If the book is just called, you know, “Megahex”, or “Magical Ecstasy Trip”, or “Melancholia” — fine. But if I’m advertising “Megg & Mogg”, that’s bad. I’ve had these TV people trying to like, produce this as a show, so I guess they don’t a shit about it as well. I pitched it years ago and I changed all the names : like Megg was Megan, Mogg was Michael, Owl was Steven… Werewolf Jones is fine, I mean, he’s just a… Actually, Werewolf Jones is ripped off from my friend Dan, as well, from Hobart. Years ago he was gonna make an animated show called Werewolf Jones, and he never did it. So like, you know, ten years later, I was like “oh, I wanna do this werewolf character — oh, call him Werewolf Jones !” And then Dan has some mental problems, he’s bipolar, and a few times he’s gotten kinda weird about it and kinda angry, but then other times he’s like : “oh, I love it, it’s great.” So basically I just steal from everybody, I have no original ideas at all. I don’t have an original bone in my body (laugh). But I mean, what’s that saying ? “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” So… boom, great artist ! stealing… sexy thief ! But you know, I still maintain — like when people call it a reboot, like with the kids’ books Meg & Mog, and they say : “it’s like a gritty reboot !” I say : “no, it’s not, it’s all about my life, it has really nothing to do with the kids books.” If I had from the start called these characters Megan and Michael and Steven, no one would say anything, no one would put it together and say “oh, then it’s based on those children’s books !” So you know, I just fucked myself early on. Yeah, and I hope I won’t get sued (laugh). I can’t do anything else : this is all I’ve got (laugh).
Xavier Guilbert : Among the recurring things that are present in Megg & Mogg, besides, obviously, drugs, there’s a lot of interest for bodily secretions and dejections. Your characters can sweat profusely, they urinate, they ejaculate, they abundantly vomit too… so…
Simon Hanselmann : Yeah, I think a lot of people see that as just like trashy, toilet humor, but to me it’s just about the horror of daily existence. Just that we’re trapped in these bodies, and just hating that you have to shit and urinate and these disgusting things. I mean, I’m so glad we have toilets in these days and age, like you know, just functional toilets : you press a button, and the shit flows away ! I mean, shitting like in a chamber pot ? in like, the Renaissance, it would have been horrible ! Just everyone would have stank… I mean, the sexual revolution happened once we had showers, like, pretty showers. “Ew, you stink ! I don’t wanna go down on you, you stink !” See, it’s just — the horror of shit, like, you know, eww… So yeah, it’s not really, you know — I do enjoy penis and shit jokes as well, but, mostly, I think, it’s just the horror, the daily horror. I wanted to be a robot when I was a kid, like I hate being in this fucking body, it disgusts me, I… my mouth disgusts me, my blood, my flesh, it’s horrible, it’s rotting — rotting stink mass ! Because the main part of this is unconscious. So I used to hate being trapped in this vessel, I really wish I could be in a silver robot body, that I could easily fix with just a spanner or something, tougher. Less… less weak, so weak. I hate that feeling. People dying everywhere, of cancer… it’s terrifying, it’s horrible. Waking up every day is just like a fucking nightmare. But we distract ourselves with comics and loved ones, and you know, things to get by. You know sometimes it’s hard to… That’s why I have this history of depression : it’s hard sometimes to, you know, deal with this… man. So you know, it’s not just pee jokes, it’s not just a pissing joke, it’s very deep.
Xavier Guilbert : Indeed, there are all this less-than-savory aspects, but at the same time the characters seem to enjoy and even claim for themselves the transgressive aspect of it. I’m thinking of these pages in which Megg and Mogg are waiting for the subway, and Megg has an impervious urge to defecate, and she does that here and there. They get on the train right after, and Mogg tells her : “Man !… That was fucking incredible ! Oh my god I’m so in love with you !” So it’s more than the simple horror of the basest functioning of our bodies, there’s also something liberating in it, of heightened existence…
Simon Hanselmann : That’s deep stuff…
Xavier Guilbert : You started it.
Simon Hanselmann : The episode you’re talking about, my wife and I were just watching YouTube videos, and we came around a surveillance footage of this very classy business woman, very dressed up in a nice business suit. And she’s sat down at the train station, and just shat off the side of the seat, and then wiped herself twice — which we thought was just so classy. The way she executed it, this train shit, and wiped herself — not just one wipe, but two wipes. Very classy. I was so impressed with that I had to draw this comic, and then it all just turned into like, okay, Mogg could be impressed by it, he’s just so in love with Megg, like “you’re just so classy, that was so beautiful.” So it’s turning a very squalid, horrible thing like shitting in a train station into something very beautiful, very romantic. Yeah, mouah !
Xavier Guilbert : You were talking about the body, and how painful it can be to be prisoner in one’s own body — so that brings us to the fact that very often, in Festivals, you dress up. And I was wondering how much the use of these costumes were a way of putting forward a kind of public persona, that allowed you to express yourself more easily — when at the same time hiding that body you hate so much. When did that choice of dressing up like this came to you ? I remember that convention in the States where you put on an actual wedding dress…
Simon Hanselmann : (laugh) Boy, you’ve raised a lot of points there. It’s a complicated issue. You brought the wedding in comics, that was a big publicity stunt. That was originally a Truth Zone comic, where Werewolf Jones proclaimed that he loved comics so much he wanted to marry them. And then I was going to a big American festival, and thought : “why don’t I do this for real ? I’d buy a wedding dress, and I’d actually get married to comics, and do it for real…” And yeah, I did it, I got Gary Groth, my American publisher, to kiss me with tongue, for a full twenty seconds. I can’t believe he did that, still. Big brass band, my publicist did an amazing job, setting everything up and made that happen.
But yeah, the cross-dressing stuff, I’ve been a cross-dresser since I was like five, since I was a little kid. I’ve always been attracted to women’s clothes. My mother and my aunt dressed me up in my aunt’s lingerie when I was two, I was like a baby and they dressed me up in all these underpants and bras and whatever and threw socks at me. And apparently I got an erection. So I think that’s the root of it. I think that kind of like woke my sexuality and this made me just desire feminine things and… I struggled with it for a very long time, growing up in a very small town, that was very homophobic and very violent. Yeah, it caused a lot of problems in relationships, it was really like, messing with my head, but I finally came out about it, and… it was a big explosion of honesty towards my friends and family and the general public. In the Comics Journal, I did a big interview, the American Comics Journal. Yeah, you know, it’s good to get it off my chest. I think 300 emails I got from people, a lot about the cartoonists saying they are the same and they’re also secret cross-dressers, and I said : “what ? that’s surprising…” Several death threats, people saying “you’re disgusting, I wanna kill you, I’m gonna come to your house and slit your throat.” I was “oh, that’s nice, okay…” But yeah, it has become entwined with — I started dressing up with all these festivals, and kind of like — it’s an extra level of like, you know : it’s a performance. I could just draw the comics, but then like, you know, I like performance. I’ve played music for years, I — I think you should try and dazzle people as much as you can. Like why just be some, you know, guy in a track suit, like : “yeah, hello, here’s my book…” When you can be “hello ! ! here’s my book ! ! look how beautiful I look ! !” Yeaah… But it’s created problems, because I still feel very shy about this. When I was in Angoulême two years ago, I was dressed up every day, and like school children would walk buy and laugh at me. You know, that’s not nice. I still get people yelling out, like “faggot !” on the streets and… You know, with the trans people, and the trans community — I don’t identify as trans or anything, I don’t like labels, but there’s a very real risk of being beaten to death in the streets. Like there are violent, horrible, hateful people out there, that do not like this, and they will fucking beat the shit out of you and kill you. So — I don’t, this is something I like to do at home, really. But I started doing it at festivals, and I do enjoy performing, and like, you know, walking through the Bulle du Nouveau Monde and every one looking and going : “woa, there’s Simon Hanselmann !” But also, it sucks. Sometimes I don’t wanna dress up, I just wanna wear some tracksuit pants and a t-shirt, and then at the signings, everyone’s like : “oh, you’re not dressed up, we’re so disappointed. We drove eight hours and we wanted you to be dressed up…” So come on, mate ! I can’t do it all the time, women aren’t always dressed up, sometimes it is no make up and just relax. So sometimes I’m just relaxed. So yeah, it’s been weird to process, and, you know, a very personal thing that I’ve struggled with for years is suddenly in the public light, and is something that I’m using for publicity. So it’s been a bit weird. You know, I wasn’t gonna dress up yesterday, but then a photographer wanted to take a picture for a big newspaper, so I was : “alright, I’d better go shave and get made up.” And then I was : “oh, I’ll stay dressed up and go to the signing…” Thankfully, no school children have laughed at me yet, so… and if they do, maybe I will fucking slap them. And go “fuck you little shit, fuck off !” You know…
Someone in the audience : You talked about being in a band. What type of music do you play, and what type of music do you listen to ?
Simon Hanselmann : I describe the music I make as ‘Tasmanian ghost shitcore.’ I was in a band with a friend of mine, Karl Von Bamberger, for ten years, and he died of a heroin overdose last year. I was supposed to come to Angouleme, and be a guest last year, and the day before Karl died of a fucking heroin overdose. So — I’ve been performing still, with him, he — I play my iPod with his parts, his voice is on the iPod, so we still sing together and it’s very depressing. And the first time I did it I was like breaking down and crying on stage. So yeah, he’s dead, but he’s not getting out of the band, I’m not gonna let him quit, even now he’s dead. Fuck it, fuck you, Karl ! I know you hear me, you’re not getting out of the band, we’re still a band. Even when I die I’m sure the band will keep on going on, you just put iPods on stage, with both of us, and…
And music I listen to… I really like Mount Eerie, it’s like an American, Pacific North-West, folky, black-metal experimental kind of thing. His wife died last year as well, it became very depressing. Just horrible, bleak sadness. I like a lot of hip hop as well, my friend HTML Flowers started getting — when we first met he was playing like folk music, and I was doing guitar stuff, and then he started listening to a lot of hip hop, so now I listen to a lot of hip hop. Which is kind of embarrasing — I really like Yung Lean, the Sweedish, 19-year old rapper, for some reason. I’m a 35-year old man, I really shouldn’t like that, but I do. I took my wife to a concert of Yung Lean in Seattle and I was really embarrassed the whole time. It’s like the Insane Clown Posse, you know them ? They’re the clown guys — I hate them, but I felt like I was taking my wife to an Insane Clown Posse concert. Like I imagined in her eyes it was just as bad as the Insane Clows Posse. Yeah, I like Xiu Xiu, it’s like a very depressing, horrible noisy, depressed man who just shouts about things. Yeah, all sorts of music. I really like Taylor Swift for some reason a few years ago, both Michael DeForge and I really got into Taylor Swift for some reason. Now, I think she’s fucking horrible, but… yeah, all sorts of stuff.
I wish they’d asked me to play a gig here. I was at the Spin Off thing, and obviously, there was techno stuff, and I thought : “they should have asked me to play.” I would have done like, Tasmanian ghost shitcore with my dead friend, crying on stage. So a missed opportunity there, for Angoulême, really. The organizers really fucked up there… Maybe next year.
Xavier Guilbert : One of the last pictures I would like to discuss with you is this portrait of Megg sporting male genitalia, since it’s (as far as I know) the only time I’ve seen something that’s this ambiguous. Generally, Megg is full woman…
Simon Hanselmann : But that’s not Megg.
Xavier Guilbert : Even in your works, I don’t remember seeing a character that would be ambiguous like this one.
Simon Hanselmann : Well, there’s Booger, in the comics, the… the boogeyman character, who’s a trans-boogeyman. There’s the high school flashback where Booger is male, and then presented female later on, so… You know, this character is about this as well, just about me dealing with that. But I want to do more with that character, like kinda have a solo book. But this piece was for an erotic art show, in Australia, that my friend put together. So I did this sort of — you know, gender-bending kind of sexual witch portraits. Very feminine, but with big cocks. Yeah, it was a sexy show. And I dressed up, and I played some music there as well.
Yeah, people get confused by this and think Megg has a penis. But Megg is born female. All the gender stuff kinda goes into the Booger character, the boogeyman — well, the boogeywoman. Yeah. You thought that was Megg ?
Xavier Guilbert : It was ambiguous.
Simon Hanselmann : Hmm. Well, maybe it is… (laughs in the audience) I guess, let’s keep that ambiguity going, I said it wasn’t, but maybe I’m lying… You believe what you want to believe, in your heart. If you want witches to have dicks, I want you to have these witches have dicks. (laughs in the audience) This is a lot about you, going back to the Freudian thing. (laughs)
Xavier Guilbert : We’ve got very nice sofas, I’ll lie down afterwards.
Simon Hanselmann : (bursts out laughing) You do what you need to do. If you need to release yourself, you go for it. Maybe I’ll hide behind the couch and masturbate as well. (laughs in the audience) We should really put on a show here.
Xavier Guilbert : (trying to regain some composure, with Simon bursting out laughing again) Well, here’s the cover of the new book that’s going to be released this year by Fantagraphics. (a pause) How can I follow up with that ?
Simon Hanselmann : Just start masturbating. But I’m excited about this book, it’s going to have a prismatic foil, like shiny, like a hologram foil. All the lettering, and the sweat on Megg will be this foil. I’ve got to the level in my carreer where my publisher will actually let me have prism foil, which is very exciting. I just finished that last week, I’ve finished it like four days before I came to France and — thank fuck it’s done. My God ! It was a grueling few months. Anyways, I’ll stop rambling.
[Interview conducted in public on January 28, 2017, during the Angoulême Festival.]