Frankness before everything: an interview with Simon Hanselmann

Frankness before everything: an interview with Simon Hanselmann
In Lucca Comics & Games we interviewed Simon Hanselmann, author and guest for Coconino Press, to talk about his life, his career and Bad Gateway, his new book.

In Lucca Comics & Games we interviewed Simon Hanselmann, australian indie artist globally followed, who in the United States makes webcomic, self-publishing and Fantagraphics. In Italy his comics are published by Coconino Press.

You said many times that Megg and Mogg is a series based on your personal experience and inspired by sit-coms, but with drugs and self-harm. Nevertheless in your comics there are also touching and serious moments. Why did you decide to tell about these experiences?
As a writer it’s difficult to make things up, so I draw from real life, as most writers do, except people like George R. Martin, who lives in a middle-age fantasy with dragons, or science fiction writers who dream about been abducted by aliens. Before made Megg and Mogg I drawed another book of 300 hundred pages. It was a sort of Twin Peaks family drama in a small town. There are lot of similar themes with Megg and Mogg: drug abuse, cross dressing, sadness, depression and this things then came in Megg and Mogg. I wanted to do a funny roommate sit-com. I think Megg and Mogg was more comedic when it started, then it turned into a drama. It’s all I can do: I see junkies and wierdos in Tasmania. That’s all I’ve got in the bank. I just write about my life, my friends. Megg and Mogg looks silly but it’s about real life, really. It’s about existence, waking up every morning saying: “Fuck, fuck!”.

Your characters are neither positive nor negative, they simply seem defenceless and without willpower, inevitably humans. Their senseless acts are often induced by boredom and exhibitionism. Have they got some dreams or expectations?
Owl definitely does, he is the aspirational guy of the group. He wants to have a good job, a clean house and fit in society. But they all want something in the end, they want to be happy. Life is hard and they stucked in a path of drug abuse and they were turn in weirdos by it. They’re all bored, they torture each other. I think it’s hopeful after all, I think people wanted the best for the characters. My books were translated in many languages and people around the world said to me that these characters help them in their life. I think characters can become your friends, because it’s like you create a perspection of them and know different aspects of his behaviour, like you do with real people. Megg in the future will change maybe, instead Owl is off now. Maybe we will see his adventures, his path to be normal.

In Bad Gateway the events and themes take an incredible turning point. What is changed in you, and your characters, between the previous book and this one?
My life change drammaticaly. I got married, I moved to America, I’m less a party animal and more near the hell. But for the characters a lot more changed. Owl has left, Megg and Mogg are really fucked up, Werewolf Jones has moved in. In the new book (oh my god I have to say “spoiler”) Megg has to go with her mother, confront her future and hers mother’s drug abuse. I made the conscious decision to change things up, because I feel a lot of people thought it was getting boring. There was two books previously in Italy and three in the US, but it was kind of the same shit. The sequel of Megahex took five years to came out for many reasons: my art dealer commited suicide, he owed me ten thousand dollars, so I had to work Vice. I didn’t want to do Bad Gateway for Vice, I didn’t want to tell that story through that serialization, so I was forced to make silly kind of work where they make fun of Owl. The same shit. It was getting boring. In Bad Gateway I changed up formula, smashing everything apart, so I can rebuild it in the next book. Bad Gateway is a bridge between the old Megg and Mogg and the new Megg and Mogg.

“Bad Gateway” means “take a wrong path” and it can be related to the expression “drug gateway”. I see an interesting connection between the two expressions in the context of your work, offering an unique meaning to this book. What do you think about it?
It’s a perceptive observation. The bad gateway is just an error, like a computer error, a error in the head of people, because people are just computers basically. I didn’t actually think at the title, my best friend HTML Flowers, who’s also my co-writer sometimes (he helps me write stuff and I help him write stuff), did. Bad Gateway was the title of a zine that we wanted to publish, but I think: “this is a good title for my book, I’ll use it”. I’m bad at titles, so I let Flowers do the titles and I think pretentious meanings behind them. I think it’s interesting that it’s not translated in Italy, it’s good. In spanish it’s something like “El mal camino” which means “the bad way”. In french they called it “Winter trauma” which it’s not even french, they just use a different english title. The book is not even set in winter, there is not snow in the book, it’s not cold, no one is wearing blankets or scarves. It’s very confusing for the reader.

In a world ruled by politically correct, your comics always create some sensation. Are you scared that one day your work can be ban? What do you think about censorship?
Definitely, I faced that in America. The comics scene in America is totally left wing, very political. In the art there is no craft. If you make a really beautiful book it’s not gonna win, but if you make a political book, critics say: “Oh bravo (applause)”. This pisses me off. I’m not leftist or whatever, i’m liberal, but the extreme politically correctness is bullshit. I’m running by my own experience, someone can get offended and say: “You can’t write these experiences”. I say: “Fuck you”. Fuck this people, fuck this fucking idiots. It shits me. I believe in something they preach, but they are too aggressive sometimes. People also insulted me when I cross dressed in the past and it’s fucking ridiculous, but I’m outspoken and I don’t put up with this shit. Megg and Mogg could get banned but just fucking try. Just fucking try. They can do it, but I’m not cancelable. Just stick to your fucking guns and do what you want to do. Everyone can fuck off. I want freedom for people, I want justice but there’s a way to go about it. I’m a friend of some republicans, not hardcore right-wing orrible racists, but in my family a lot of people are right-wing, everyone has someone who is right-wing in his family. You have to find a common ground to talk to each other in a nice way. You have to use a bit of honey. The world is falling apart, there’s a lot of shit going on, people are mad, people are angry, it’s tough. But fuck off.

Many people criticized your choices and words about gender and cross dressing, thinking that is a sort of a mask that you wear to promote your comics. Instead I think that you are simply yourself and your works prove this. What do you think about hating and hate speech? When you are attacked in this way, what do you do? Draw or just something else?
Of course I don’t like hate speech, there’s no room for that. Real hate speech is terrible. When I dress up for the festival someone thinks that is a marketing thing, but I become more confortable being male, I like to split between. I don’t think it’s a big deal, also when I’m working. I work all the time, all day, I don’t need to be dressed as a woman or anything. When I’m working I’m a skeleton, I’m just flesh and bones. It’s vanity. It doesn’t matter what we wear, so I wear what I want. I like to be lazy. Women have always to make up themselves, to be perfect, but they just want to slope around in underpants. The fact that women have to follow beauty standards is a toxic thing. I think Megg and Mogg is very queer, it’s a progressive comic. I think there are in it realistic images of trans persons. A lot of trans in comics seem like the best people in the world, but it’s just a bullshit. In the real world some of them are cunts, some of them are real pieces of shit. So I try to write a realistic character who can be problematic sometimes, cause I think that’s realistic. I didn’t try to do progressive stuff on purpose, it’s just natural for me. I hope for the future that people would be themselves without worrying about it. I met right-wing people in America who come up in to me in comic festivals and said: “This is just disgusting, this characters are horrible”, but then they read the book and emphatized with the characters and I felt better about queer people and drug addicts. Like I said before, I want to build a bridge, try to make people more tolerant.

Live interview from Lucca Comics & Games 2019

Simon Hanselmann

Simon Hanselmann was born in Tasmania. He made comics since he was a child. Then he began to post the strip-adventures of the witch Megg and her friends on his Tumblr page “Girl Mountain”, achieving a growing interest from the readers and catch the attention of Fantagraphics, the king of independent publishers in USA, that collected his webcomic in the anthology Megahex. Hanselmann received a nomination for prestigious Ignatz Awards. He loves doing cross dressing. He says of himself: “Despite some panic attack, I’m happy but always confused about sexual identity”.

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