Simon Hanselmann is the Tasmanian born cartoonist behind of one of the most recognizable and debated contemporary comics, Megg and Mogg. What started as a stoned riff on the British children’s books Meg and Mog, has evolved over the past ten years into a dark comedic epic that confronts small town poverty, the cycle of abuse, and the family dynamics we create when we can’t depend on our own families. Simon’s characters aren’t virtuous, hygienic, or reliable, and their thoughtless antics often end in hurt feelings and destruction. But each book is as vulnerable as it is crass, because Simon draws from his personal experiences growing up with a drug dependent single parent and spending his young adulthood living off of government benefits and compulsively making comics with his friends. Like many artists, Simon has used his work as a sort of “art therapy,” processing the environment he was socialized in through his comics. Rather than making the audience unequivocally sympathize with his characters, he forces readers to discover the humanity in these deeply flawed protagonists on their own. Simon’s work begins a conversation about difficult subjects from the most uncomfortable and revealing point, to show what it’s like to experience pain when no one around you wants to take your feelings seriously.
The publication of his first full length Megg and Mogg book, Megahex, by Fantagraphics in 2014 marked a significant transition from comic’s old guard to the contemporary comics we’ve seen over the past five years. Although his comic often exemplified much of the same pessimism and mean spiritedness that the ‘90s comics and television that inspired his work did, Simon’s presence also opened the doors for many people who felt othered within comics. Since 2014 Simon has released two more full length “expansion campaign” Megg and Mogg books, dozens of zines and online strips, and recently finished the next big keystone in the series, Bad Gateway, which comes out this summer. Although he has come a long way from his formative years in the South Pacific, he still continues to make work about those experiences, which people around the world facing a similar social climates have resonated with. This fall I interviewed Simon at his home in Seattle, where he was generous enough to invite me over while hosting several cartoonist friends who were in town for Short Run. We sat together on the floor of his home studio to record the following conversation. Over the course of about two hours we discussed making art on a budget, moving past old work, and the shape of comics to come.
Where are you from and where do you live currently?
I’m from Launceston, Tasmania. It’s at the bottom of the Earth, close to the Antarctic. It’s a small island full of inbred people. When my wife says Tasmania to people they think Tanzania, despite Warner Brothers and all of the Tasmanian Devil stuff—I thought it was embedded in the American conscious, but apparently not. But yeah, it’s kind of horrible. Huge unemployment since the ‘70s. It’s super white, super racist, super homophobic. Small towns. Meth, meth, meth. But it’s got pretty rainforest. There are good beaches. Nice wines, if you’re into that.
What was your experience like growing up in Tasmania?
I was born in ’81 so I grew up in a pre-internet time. I spent time just riding bikes all day in beach towns, we’d spend all day making a bike jump track. Doors were left unlocked. It was like that classic, Stand By Me vibe, but without the murder. Although, saying that, there were
actually a lot of murders... My father was a biker and Mark “Chopper” Read who was a famous Australian murderer was a family friend. We used to hear some gruesome shit. My mother was a bar worker and a drug addict and my father left early. I got bullied a lot—I had gender issues. I wanted to be a girl and I was confused about that, and thought maybe I was gay. With little information pre-internet, you’d go to the library and you’d look in the dictionary or try to find any scrap of information about what’s happening to you. I was a TV kid, and there were late night commercials for some place called “The Black Rose” and it was a sex shop that sold Lingerie and dildos I guess. But this ad they had at night had a man dressed as a woman saying “It’s for me.” or like “The Black Rose… It’s for you and for me.” That was one of my first public exposures to a “male” person presenting as female. But that was scorned in the community. I’d overhear my mother and her creepy friends making fun of the Black Rose commercials and using horrible Australian derogatory slang terms.
It was a pretty shitty place, but I had a couple of good friends. I started self publishing comics when I was eight years old. I always had a cast of friends and we’d play video games and make comics. Then when I was 14 I got into Fantagraphics-y “weird” comics and I started watching Twin Peaks. I dyed my hair green and was trying to be like a cool alternative kid. If you went to comic shops you could look through previews and find all of this weird shit and order it. It’s not like this now, but there were all of these second hand stores that would sell like big piles of MAD magazines and Punch and Asterix. They started importing American comics and you could buy like Hate and Eightball off of the shelf in numerous places in Tasmania in the early ‘90s. People were desperate for content in the pre-internet days, I guess. Eightball used to shift like 20k units back then, just from comic shop, record store, and head shop sales. Word of mouth—back before we were all avalanched in digital shit all day every day.
But anyways, Tasmania was kind of fucked up and I’m glad I’m out. You either stay there and wither away or get out. My best friend—my main teenage collaborator—lives in LA and works at DreamWorks now and is married with a kid. He got out and escaped, but a lot of other friends are in prison, or junkies, or work at the petrol station, or have like seven kids or something and it’s kind of fucked up. My mother is still there and is still using drugs at 60. I buy her groceries and pay her rent and pay for her drug bills when she’s in trouble. I enable her completely. But she’s stuck—there’s a meth crisis in my home town right now, so she can’t get out and can’t escape. She’s never left the place. I always shit on it and say it was horrible. You always hate your hometown, I think. Unless you’re Bruce Springsteen and you love it because you were lucky and had a nice time.
I moved to Hobart, in the south of Tasmania, when I was like 20. The decision was either to move to Melbourne, the cool city across the ocean where I would have to adjust in a big city where a lot of friends would fail and come back or move further south to Hobart where I’d met some cool comics people who I’m still friendly with and are great people. It was cool because there were bands there and there was a noise scene! When I moved I realized Launceston just didn’t have that, no “scene” at all. Maybe there were like some shit cover bands in bars, but there was no proper punk scene or youthful gallery circuit. There was a skatepark and everyone would spray paint it and take shits on it and smash bottles. That was the culture.
What role did comics have in your life early on? Were you encouraged to make comics at all at a young age?
I was sort of a latchkey kid. Even when I was five or something, my mother worked a lot of bar jobs to try to support us, so she was out of the house a lot. Then I guess she was also probably partying with her buddies
and shooting up some junk. My grandmother would look after me, and she was a chair-bound chain smoking schizophrenic. But my mother bought me toys and stuff and I had little things to entertain me. I’d watch TV a lot and then she started buying me comics. I remember getting a Spiderman comic when I was five—that was my earliest comic memory. I found it erotic that Spiderman was all tied up, and I vividly remember being aroused by that, haha. But I would read Asterix, and Tintin, and Lucky Luke, at the school library. I had a ton of overdue Richard Scarry books. Everyone loved those books and they were really popular. Every week at library time it was like, “Ah fuck, that one is out. I hope I can get this one!” and everyone was competing to get the best one. Asterix was huge in our school. And then, like I said, we also had the second hand book stores. My Ma and I were always going around there—maybe she was selling stuff to buy more drugs, haha. I started to buy MAD magazines when I was seven. They just had all of this fun, subversive stuff laying around, easily accessible.
I got really hardcore into Nickelodeon cartoons when I was like 11 or 12 and I wanted to be an animator because I loved Rocko’s Modern Life and Ren & Stimpy. Then I had a superhero flirtation from when I was like 12 to 13 and I was super into Image. I was like, “Yeah, Spawn is the SHIT!”, I was right on that wave when Image launched— after they all left their other jobs and formed Image. I was hugely into that. Everyone at school all had them in their desks and we’d be like, “Yeah Youngblood!” Then I met these cool older guys who lived down the street who introduced me to Dan Clowes, and Peter Bagge, and Julie Doucet, and all of that stuff during the ‘90s. I was 14, they were all like in their 20’s.
Did it feel weird to be so physically detached from the places where all of this culture that you were consuming came from?
I mean, it felt far away, but it was all just entertainment! It was all just digging for more entertainment, cause we were nerds. I started smoking pot when I was like 13 or something. Then we started drinking and we’d party and stuff. We’d be hanging out while listening to music and air-drumming. We’d talk about comics and play Nintendo. But it was just entertainment from far away. We had Australian shows too.
We got cable when I was 15. We had like two TV channels up until ’94 or something. Getting cable was huge! I started watching stuff like Tom Green, Strangers with Candy, Mr. Show, The Larry Sanders Show, and all of these premier HBO shows and comedy stuff. But we did have a really good Australian comedy scene. There’s a guy called Shaun Micallef who is really good. He’s really surreal and makes really post-Monty Python stuff. Really inventive and funny. He wore a suit and was straight laced, but really absurd. I think that stuff shaped my sense of
humor. Australia has a decent sense of humor, and most of our prominent comedians and TV comedy writers are lawyers. There’s a big law school connection, so they’re kind of uptight and studious, but very funny and odd.
But harkening back to the original question, I was never really explicitly encouraged to make art. I started selfpublishing when I was eight—I don’t know where I got the idea. I started drawing my own comics when I was six or seven. I’d do weird Garfield comics or rip off Spy vs. Spy from MAD. I always loved writing stories in school. I always loved art and I was naturally drawn to that. I liked drawing. It was an escape as well. I think I’ve said it before but, it’s great for poor kids because you don’t need anything. If you’re dreaming of being a filmmaker or a musician when you’re a poor kid—there’s just so much tech that you need. But with comics you just need a Bic pen and a bit of paper, and off you go! It just melts the outside world away. I think, since there was trauma when I was a kid—I’ve remembered abuse and my mother’s creepy boyfriends and shit that happened. I thought of myself as a happy kid. I think I modeled myself after Bart Simpson, and I was trying to be this irrepressible rascal that was upbeat and funny, despite being constantly bullied. But I was popular with drawing. That’s another key to it—if you draw, then you’re the cool, funny drawing kid.
One of my friends, Luke, the DreamWorks guy—his father had a wood heater store front. He was kind of a rich kid compared to me because his parents had like jobs and stuff, haha. It was like, “Woah! your parents have a business!” But yeah, he Xeroxed Transformer coloring books when he was like six and would try to sell them outside his dad’s business like, “Would you like to buy one of these for your son or daughter?” He was very enterprising, so we linked up and we were making comics together. So we decided, “Hey, let’s try and make our own book on this copy machine!” We’d sell them at school for a dollar. I dropped out of high school because I got in trouble for selling zines on the playground. I think for one year I only went to school for like 30 days out of the year. My mother dropped me off and I would just walk to town. Then eventually, she said if you don’t like it just don’t go, and I dropped out when I was like 15. I went back briefly, but then I dropped out again. But hey, fuck them! My friend Luke dropped out at the same time and now he’s at DreamWorks and I’m a New York Times Best Selling author. Fuck school. If you know what you want to do, you can learn at the library. That’s what I don’t get about these expensive universities. To me it’s just somewhere to steal art supplies or get free photocopies.
I think kids get sucked into art or develop a creative practice early on for a lot of different reasons. But it seems like using it to escape your reality growing up was a big part of it’s function for you.
One hundred percent. I made puppet shows, I made
music. I didn’t like leaving the house and I drank alone. I remember being 15, and the highlight of my week was drinking bourbon alone in my room and watching Mr. Show and Cybill and just working on these weird puppet shows and drawing. I had a big box of comic books and I collected little figurines. I was just a child of capitalism buying shit and being immersed in entertainment. I was raised by television and comics.
I was telling my wife, the cheesy family values that were drummed into me from television, make me feel like the right thing is to go back and spend six months helping my mother and set her up in a new house somewhere else. That’s what seems right and that’s why I feel so much fucking guilt for being over here in the States. I talk to her as much as I can, but it’s so grim and depressing and just… dark. I’m her therapist basically, so she tells me the darkest shit and it’s really psychologically exhausting and bleakly depressing. Lots of people have drug problems in the family, and it’s really heartbreaking. But I’ve been down there and I’ve put her into rehab before and spent a month looking after her crazy dogs. I’ve tried everything—I’ve tried to cut her off from the money, but then it’s like “Okay I’ll buy the food for you.” but even then she knows she can spend all of her money on drugs and I will provide food and toilet paper and everything she needs. It’s enabling. Everyone else has cut her off except for me. But I don’t feel like a sucker, I just feel like she needs someone compassionate in her life. There are down and out people who are just fucked, and there has to be some compassion. The state isn’t giving it and the doctors aren’t giving it.
All of this has gone into the new book. That’s where Megg and Mogg has been leading. It’s all frivolous and silly at the start, but that’s what it’s like in life when you’re fucking around with this shit. It takes a dark turn as the clock ticks by.
You’ve obviously developed a lot of really incredible technical skill as an image maker over time. How did you develop your drawing ability when you were younger? Did you have to overcome any insecurity around your style?
When you say “having to overcome something” I think for me it was just beating out all of the Paper Rad and CF influences. I used to get called out as a biter back in 2008. Someone was talking trash about me and Grant (Gronewold) back in the day and there was this big blow up on Myspace. At the time I was like “Nooooo. No way! I’m not a biter.” but I was. Looking back at the work it’s like, “Oh Jesus…” And it still is, but I try to put more Simpsons into it because I guess that’s okay.
I still hate my drawing style and I think I’m a bad artist. I can’t draw hands very well. I rush everything out of this desire to just get things finished. Also when I do my watercolors, I can’t correct anything because the correction fluid will soak up the colors. So any mistake I make I have to live with it, and I can’t cover it up. When I was younger—I feel like it’s always been the same really. I’ve been using the same pens for 25 years, haha. My Uni pens. They don’t sell them commercially in America, but they are in the UK and Australia everywhere. I get them online and I buy boxes of them. I use a plastic ruler. I order my paper from Australia, so I think I’ve been using the same paper as well since I was 13. So it’s the same process. I obviously did black and white stuff when I was a kid, due to technical limitations. Color Xerox was like way fucking out of bounds. All we really had access to was Xerox machines. I didn’t go to art school, so there was no silk-screen printing or anything like that. I was always a Xerox kid.
in after them.” Some crust-punk would be in there already and you’d be like, “How long are you going to be here for today?” and they’d be like “Ah, 200 vegan anarchist zines. Three hours realistically?” and you’d be like “Fuck!” But it was a great culture in Hobart. Everyone was in weird bands making noise shit. There were house parties and 24 hour comics parties. Everyone would print their flyers for free and print their books for free. There were free zine fairs. Everyone complains here in the States about the transparency of zine fairs and the table fees. Where I grew up it was all free. Some cool zine shop would put on a free zine fair and you’d turn up and make a bit of coin. Then you could have a good weekend or something. It was fun and there wasn’t anything sinister about it. You just made some cool work that your friends wanted to see, and everyone had a good time. Minimal moaning.
In Tasmania you could legally go to any government office and say, “I want to use your phone, I want a glass of water, I want to sit around and read your magazines, and I want to use your photocopier.” You could stay in there for six hours in their work room using their photocopier, with all of these big A3 stacks of color paper and binding machines. We’d go in there and print 100 page zines and just do this crazy shit. They would be like, “Oh come in. Yeah, someone’s doing some band flyers, but you can go
But there was a really good scene there. But it was weird as well. It was the early 2000s in a small town. I’ll see things in older work of mine and think, “Ahh, that’s a bit bloody racist…” or “Ugh, that’s a bit off.” I’ll see something homophobic in the work and—at the time I was totally struggling internally, but was trying to fit in with people. It’s what you saw on TV and it was what was drummed into you. Younger people sometimes don’t realize that preinternet and before available information—the privilege
of having all of this information and outside influence available—there was no way to be influenced from the outside. We found what we could and I thought of us as being progressive, but there are still shitty things we did and shitty people.
There are clearly a lot of differences between the world you were socialized in and the world you occupy now, as far as the culture, the time period, the economic circumstances, and the access to information. How does it feel to look back at your older work knowing where you were coming from when you made it and knowing how far you have come since then?
Well I feel shitty about it, and I don’t want people to see that work. But it’s formative—it’s not work that I’m proud of. I can see a glimmer of what it would evolve into, but it’s nothing I’d want anyone to see or commercially release. It makes me feel sad, but I don’t beat myself up about it. I couldn’t help being born in a shitty small town and being surrounded by assholes and drummed full of shit. It’s like the people stuck in the Appalachian Mountains. They
don’t have as much outside influence, and they can’t help being fuckheads because it’s all they know because they’re raised into it. Poorer areas in Tasmania and where my mother is right now—to break out of the cycle of that is very hard. Like gangs, you get drawn in. You can’t walk around with a scarf and a saxophone case and a copy of Infinite Jest under your arm, because you’ll get the shit beaten out of you. You’ll be threatened into joining a gang or you’ll be killed. That’s what it feels like—you have to go along with it. It’s like prison! You have to go along with this horrible system. Some people can break out—strong people can break out of these things. If you have a good support network or you find one. You have to make your own family, I have gotten everything in my life and gotten away from everything bad through art and the friendships I’ve made through creative endeavors. You have to try to find like-minded people. I keep saying this to my mother, “You just need to get out of the house and meet some better people.” You just have to get out and diversify your thoughts.
“Younger people sometimes don’t realize that pre-internet and before available information—the privilege of having all of this information and outside influence available—there was no way to be influenced from the outside. We found what we could and I thought of us as being progressive, but there are still shitty things we did and shitty people.”
What changed for you after you dropped out of high school but before you moved to Hobart? What kind of comics were you making at that point?
I dropped out when I was 15 but it wasn’t until I was 20 when I moved to Hobart. So there was just five years when I was on government benefits. I was seeing therapists and stuff. I was too scared to talk about my gender issues with therapists, because it was so pent up. It had been drummed into me that it was so bad. But there was lots of other stuff relating to my mother and drug abuse stuff, and I would talk about that to them. I always felt like I was scamming them, but I don’t think I was. I think I was genuinely dealing with a lot of trauma, but I sold it to myself as, “Ah cool, now I get $500 every fortnight and I can just survive and work on my comics.” Then I just threw myself into work. The whole time I was just drinking and home alone. I guess I wasn’t thinking about stuff really. I was just getting fucked up and felt really depressed and I was trying to be happy.
When I was like 15 or 16 I guess I was doing “dream comics” and trippy stuff. I’ve always had a lot of weird dreams and lucid dreams. I was reading stuff like Acme Novelty Library and Clowes and I was trying to do these surreal comics. But they were really crappily drawn and there was a lot of cross hatching. Then I was doing these weird dick joke comics. They were kind of similar to Megg and Mogg. It started out as a birthday card when I think I
was like 18. My friend really liked Tintin and I did a weird birthday comic for him where it was like the Captain and Tintin and they were this team of reprobates that wanted to get free hand jobs. They would just concoct all of these schemes and it was ridiculous. I drew like 40 episodes of it and it became “my thing.” But there’s a lot of shitty casual racism in that work and horrible shit, which was the stuff I was seeing on TV I guess.
Even stuff like Strangers with Candy that I mentioned earlier—there’s tons of casually fucked up shit in there. At the time they were “progressive.” It was like early Sarah Silverman bits where she was offensive on purpose, like trying to do it in a nuanced way and expose racism. But the issue with that is that dumb people can see it as just straight racism and it can perpetuate racism. There’s a very fine line with comedy when you’re playing with loaded shit like that. It’s really fucking dangerous. I do still play with things like that though because I do think it is important for artists to fuck with shit and question shit and write about weird shit. Any weird shit that I write about that goes near the edge is usually based in part on something personal that has happened to me. It’s me processing something.
But I did the dick joke humor comics just to make my friends laugh, it was fun. I only say it was similar to Megg and Mogg because it was based on an existing “property”. It’s funny that my two most popular works have
“It was like early Sarah Silverman bits where she was offensive on purpose, like trying to do it in a nuanced way and expose racism. But the issue with that is that dumb people can see it as just straight racism and it can perpetuate racism. There’s a very fine line with comedy when you’re playing with loaded shit like that. It’s really fucking dangerous.”
been these weird stoned riffs on some existing thing with this added debauched element. I guess that’s what I do best. I also did a puppet show that had existing property characters in it, but they all had different names and it kind of became my own thing. It kind of sucks, haha. I feel like I’m a remix artist or something. But I put a lot of myself and my experiences into Megg and Mogg.
What were the puppet shows that you mentioned like? Was that a live performance that you would do?
It was action figures bobbing around on strings. People liked it in Tasmania, it got quoted a lot. I use to just record them on a camcorder. I’d hit record, say the lines, pause, and move the camera and characters, do the next bit, it was janky as hell. I’d make these elaborate dioramas though with little crumpled up overdue bills and little couches and bookshelves. I’d have little windows with little curtains and a little brick wall out there so that there was some depth to it. It was the craft of it all—I loved making them! You get weird editing with the shitty VHS, it was like some weird Harmony Korine puppet show. They were like a debauched super hero team that sat around the house doing nothing. It was very proto-Megg and Mogg in a way. But there’s some unfortunately dated content in there.
I did do a live version where I had about 20 ft of sets set up. The story had been written so that it could move along through all of the sets from left to right. I was in a full bodied black body stocking and I had a Madonna mic so that I could do all of the puppeteering and move. My girlfriend at the time was behind a curtain with a CD player with a queue of music to play, and she rehearsed the music cues. My Horse Mania bandmate Karl Von Bamberger filmed it, and it was being projected, so you could watch it live but it was also up on a big screen behind you. Karl was doing live star wipes and shitty editing. It was so ramshackle, but people loved it and people quoted it for years. But I could never show it to anybody. It’s shitty… But it came out of this sad depressed confused kid in their bedroom alone pouring their heart into this project. It was magic.
I think when Megg and Mogg started out there was some pretty dicey content in there. I hope it’s smart enough to stand the test of time. The sexual assault stuff with Owl—that’s stuff that happened to a friend of mine. It was Karl, actually. The comic wasn’t really supposed to be funny, it was supposed to be horrible. It’s not intended as a “rape joke.” It’s about unfortunate shit that happens within friendship groups. The point of the comic was that Megg and Mogg are a horrible kind of people, and Owl is this victim. But yeah, I read a lot of Goodreads reviews saying things like “The sexual assault scene in Megahex is glossed over. Disgusting!” and I just don’t agree with that. Owl moves out at the end of the book and then he mentions that assault as the catalyst. Megg and Mogg are
confused about it and they think that they haven’t done anything wrong, just as the people in the shitty small town that I came from didn’t think that they had done anything wrong. And the person it happened to was still friends with those people up until the person it happened to died. That’s just creepy small towns—lot’s of horrible shit goes on. It’s important to process that shit, and I don’t shy away from traumatic shit in my work. One of my favorite directors and writers is Todd Solondz. I don’t mind wallowing in the fucked up psyches of people. That’s the shit I grew up with, so it doesn’t feel weird to me.
You can say Megg and Mogg is horrible and crass and “edgelord humor,” but it’s published in 14 languages so it must be hitting a nerve with people. People come up to me and say, “This book got me through high school.” or “This book got me through depression.” or “This book makes me feel better about gender stuff.” That’s heavy shit for me to hear. But you also get sensitive to stuff you see online and you start to feel like an asshole. But overall I stand by my work. Yeah, there are asshole qualities about it, because it’s work about assholes. If you don’t like it, fine Do you need to be an asshole about it?
I want to come back to that point, but before we talk more about Megg and Mogg I wanted to ask you about the comic you were working on just before that, Girl Mountain. What did you learn from the experience of working on Girl Mountain and eventually deciding to scrap it?
It was a learning experience. I learned what not to do. I was 21, and I had been self publishing for 13 years at that point, so I thought I knew it all. I thought I was ready to tackle the great Tasmanian graphic novel. It was going to be 1,000 pages, and it was kind of a Twin Peaks-y small town drama. The main character was a confused cross dressing kid with a junkie mother—it was very autobiographical. He lived in a small town and had lots of weird dreams. I was incorporating auto-bio, my weird surreal dream comics, a lot of short fiction that I had written—I don’t know where it came from, but I wrote all of this short fiction in a burst of inspiration one night when I was 15. But I spun all of that into this overly dramatic, silly book. I don’t know, it just wasn’t very good. I got through 256 pages of it. I worked on it for years, and the drawing changes dramatically through those pages over a six year period.
How did that sort of segue into starting Megg and Mogg?
I think in 2008 when I moved to London I was still working on Girl Mountain. I started drawing Megg and Mogg in late 2008, so it’s been 10 years which is terrifying. I started doing Megg and Mogg just as a break from it. Girl Mountain was a big small town drama with all of these interlocking characters and black magic and science
“I fell in love with Megg and Mogg and all of the sad shit slowly worked it’s way in there. I realized that I could do this jackass stoner comedy that also shows the horrible, serious side of drug abuse. And it’s just me processing my 20s.”
fiction elements. There was space travel, haha. I had grand plans, and it would have been a grand sci-fi space opera in the end. I used bits of it in a strip I did for Lagon Revue. But yeah, I started drawing Megg and Mogg as a silly diversion roommate comedy. I had already been drawing witches. I was like, Okay, it’ll be like a TV show like How I Met Your Mother or My Wife and Kids, but a debauched, drugged up, silly version of that. I kind of liked these new witch comics and other people liked them also. I sold them at noise gigs in London and I put them on MySpace and got a bit of positive feedback, so I kept doing them. Then I think I just realized that I hated Girl Mountain and thought it was lame, and I fell in love with these Megg and Mogg characters. All of the stuff from Girl Mountain about the mother and cross dressing carried
over. I still really need to explore more with the Booger character. I have a whole 60 page solo Booger zine that I’ve been wanting to do that has been ready to go for two years. But I just haven’t had the time to execute it properly.
But yeah, I fell in love with Megg and Mogg and all of the sad shit slowly worked it’s way in there. I realized that I could do this jackass stoner comedy that also shows the horrible, serious side of drug abuse. And it’s just me processing my 20s. Girl Mountain was me in my 20s processing my teenage years and writing about those experiences. Then Megg and Mogg was me writing about my 20s and the noise scene in Hobart and hanging out and getting all fucked up. Everyone was like, “What the
fuck are we going to do?” in this small town where no one has got a job, everyone is on government benefits, everyone is either drunk or an addict, and you don’t know what the fuck to do. But unlike Megg and Mogg, I was always working. Working was my “drug” or whatever. I caught compulsive workaholism. I’ve never not wanted to just work all fucking day. Even when I worked full time jobs, I would work all night and just get a few hours of sleep, and then I’d go to work sick the next day. I set myself these deadlines.
Right now I’m staring down this hardcore, fucking horrible anxiety inducing deadline. Everyone is like, “Oh just take a few extra weeks or an extra month.” and I’m just like, “I can’t. That’s the deadline. Gotta factor in distributors. Bookstores. Publicity. It’s gotta be fucking done. Fuck you.”
I think that sort of compulsive work ethic can be really common with people who feel like there’s a limited amount of time for them to have the opportunity to say everything they would like to say with their work.
maybe five years to live. He’s been told that he’s going to die every couple of years his whole life. Being exposed to him and his experience, his knowledge of a finite existence and being so fucking creative and needing to get this shit out. It has to come out and it has to be processed. I often say that it’s selfish. Everyone is out there working day jobs, and I’m just here selfishly or arrogantly needing to make this art. It all feels kind of pointless and banal. But still, who is to judge life. I think everything is kind of meaningless and we’re all just floating along. There’s order to our reality and we need to be good to each other, but inherently, everything is pointless. I’ve got all of these books stacked up over here to go to the zine fair—this is all just future landfill. I wonder where that’s going to go when the people who buy it die. Time just snaps by in an instant. I’m 36 now, and ten years of Megg and Mogg have just snapped by. The disease lottery is raging on, I’m worried my mother is going to overdose constantly, my best friend is going to die young—it’s a weird fucking reality. I’m not used to it. I’m not attuned yet with waking up everyday and dealing with reality. It’s constantly baffling and wondrous and I just want to do what I love.
That’s true of HTMLflowers’ case especially! My best friend and writing partner of ten years—he literally has like
“My best friend and writing partner of ten years (HTMLflowers)—he literally has like maybe five years to live. He’s been told that he’s going to die every couple of years his whole life. Being exposed to him and his experience, his knowledge of a finite existence and being so fucking creative and needing to get this shit out. It has to come out and it has to be processed.”
What did you want to do differently with Megg and Mogg that you hadn’t really done with your previous projects?
Megg and Mogg is just a solid formula. I wanted it to be like a sitcom. There’s the straight man, the wild man, the lead Megg, and then there’s her off to the side shitty boyfriend Mogg, who’s her familiar—her Salem. I feel like I could write sci-fi with Megg and Mogg. I have a weird, metaphysical, mental realm story for them, and it would be like 300 pages or something, haha. I’d love to do it, but I don’t have the time to do it. I think they’re very versatile characters. They’re different parts of me, and they’re so easy to write with.
That’s what I wanted—just a good template that was interchangeable and easy characters to write for that I could easily insert life experiences and weird ideas into. They just work for me and I’m so fucking comfortable with them! I still find it challenging obviously. The new book is me trying to really move it forward. It’s also because of the fact that they are out of order. I jumped the gun in 2014 in the first book, Megahex, because it has the ending where Owl moves out. I intended after that to just continue it. The book I’m doing now is the book I intended to run with in 2015, but financially I couldn’t. What I’m trying to get into with the new book is all of this family history. This book is going to break my mother’s heart. I really didn’t want to serialize it on VICE and I didn’t want to put it out as zines. It just never worked out that I could financially do it at that time. I had a successful art show in France last year, and I made enough money that this year I could just sit down and work. That was my dream that I had been saying for years. I just want to sit down like Dan Clowes and have the rent paid and just be able to fucking work and take my time. I’m still barreling along working like a crazy person, but I’ve had the time to do proper focused-crazy. I haven’t had to be cranking out zines to pay the bills. I’ve just been able to work on this one long story.
It was kind of a mistake to put out two books of odds and ends. People see those books as continuations. They’re like, “Oh but Owl moved out. Now he’s just back and it just resets? This sucks!” But there’s a note in the front saying that this is essentially just an expansion pack. They are expansion campaigns. It deepens Megg and Mogg, but the end point is that Owl moves out and now Owl is gone. Then the next books after this—I’ve got like four more planned and plotted out—they’ll just keep moving on. When you read the book it’ll end and you’ll be like “Fuck! What’s going to happen next?” Then you’ll find out in the next book. I want it to be like Love and Rockets. I want them to grow up. When I’m 50 I’ll be processing my 40s and so on. I might scale back because there are other things that I want to do. I don’t want to be a one trick pony forever—but I think that’s my strength in a way. A lot of people are doing lots of different experimental stuff, but my strength is that I do consistent meat and potatoes work with the same characters. People like the characters, and
I like the characters, and I don’t think the work sucks yet. I regularly think I’ve jumped the shark and that it’s over. Megg and Mogg was nearly over in 2012 and in 2010— there were times when I was like, Ah okay, that’s enough. But then I realize, No, I could do this with them, and this with them!
How do you try to map out releases when the chronology is changing as you make it?
I wasn’t really thinking. I think I thought I was going to do “Megg’s Coven” after Megahex, but it was all financial. I don’t really plan it. There’s the Booger book that I’ve wanted to do for like two years, and I just haven’t managed to slot it in. I think there are about five zines that I’ve wanted to do which are set post-Owl-moving-out or pre-Owl-moving-out. Most of the zines I’ve been making are a clearing house of Owl-centric ideas and getting rid of that stuff. It’s all solidifying now, and I’m going to just move it on.
You just have to choose a path and go with it. Sometimes you just pick your path, and you run down that path. I try not to be too much of a thinker—I try not to overthink things. I think things can break if you over think them. Or you can just get bogged down, just sitting around thinking too much. I don’t go on the internet too much. I’ll check the news and stuff, but I’m not on message boards all day talking about things and over analyzing things. I just let it happen, work wise. Although, I do read my reviews and stuff. I like going to Goodreads and reading reviews of Megg and Mogg. My favorites are the bad reviews because, if it’s a smart person and not someone being reactionary and saying “It sucks! The colors suck!”—if it’s by a good writer about the failings of the work and character stuff, that’s really fucking helpful! It’s a workshop to make it better and see what people see. You don’t think about it so clearly sometimes, so you need other people to tell you. I guess it is important to get other voices in the mix, but at the same time, my favorite thing about comics is the autonomy. It’s the fact that it’s just you. To harken back to to being a poor kid—it’s just you and it’s so cheap and easy. No one has to interfere.
I think, especially since you’re so self educated, you have a much more finite voice as a writer than many other people. What elements have informed your writing and how it has changed over time?
Definitely sitcoms—or shitcoms. All the stuff I’ve read over the years. I try to go to the Tate Modern or whatever when I can and check out art shit. I like Rainer Werner Fassbinder films. I try to keep my influences open. I don’t just read comics and I don’t just watch sitcoms. But I think television has influenced me more as a writer than comics. I’ve talked before about the timing of sitcoms and the way you have to keep all of the fluff out. It revolves around advertising, so it’s all about keeping a really tight structure and keeping the viewer involved. The pacing of
“The timing of sitcoms and the way you have to keep all of the fluff out. It revolves around advertising, so it’s all about keeping a really tight structure and keeping the viewer involved. The pacing of the jokes and the way you suck people in—that’s why I stick to the grid.”
the jokes and the way you suck people in—that’s why I stick to the grid. It’s easy to read, and it’s fluid. I try to get really realistic pacing to immerse the reader.
Megahex came out the year that I finished high school and started college, and I remember so many people who were never particularly into comics reading that book and getting into comics because of it. I remember having a copy and loaning it to multiple friends, and then seeing those friends buy their own copies of it. I definitely think a part of its success can be credited to it’s readability for people just being introduced to alternative comics.
Yeah it became like a gateway comic. People say to me at festivals, “This is the first comic that I’ve read.” and I see reviews that say “I don’t read comics, but I got into this.”
How have you developed your technical skills as a cartoonist while on a constrained budget? Have you changed the materials you use over time?
I just use all of the same shit I’ve always used. We’re sitting in my studio next to all my plates. I have 5 plates in operation that I use my watercolors on. I like to get big pools of color and try to get it on flat. I just tried to learn over time. I tried Prismacolor markers when I was like 18. Then my friend Michael Hawkins was using watercolors
for spot colors, so I tried that. Once I could afford to start doing a little color copying, I was like “Yeah, I’m going to start fucking around with colors.” I’ve just been doing the same watercolors for years. I stole this plate from a mental hospital in England that I broke into. It’s NHS ’85. We found this psych ward in this brutally overgrown mental hospital that had been abandoned for 30 years. I had some friends who were into that exploration shit. That plates from Tesco—it’s got a crack in it. I just get cheap brushes or whatever I can get. I use the same old paper. It’s just corner store stuff. I have to order it now because I’m in America. I’m all stocked up on the Queen food coloring from Australia that I use. That’s still working and the color lasts. I just stumbled onto that. It’s a good flat color application and it’s cheap—I think it’s 90 cents for a years worth of food color.
I never had a computer growing up—I never really felt the need. I’d perhaps like to correct small mistakes in photoshop, but computers confuse me. I don’t like them. We spend enough time on screens as it is. I like mixing my paints and I like working in a traditional way. I also have the benefit that I can sell my art work and make money. Instead of selling a PDF for a dollar on Gumroad, I’ll sell a rich old French woman a page for $3,000. But yeah, I mostly rely on low-fi consumer goods to make the work.
How did the internet play a role in the momentum you had with Megg and Mogg? How has it affected your ability to reach people and how has it affected your perception of what you’re making?
I disliked “webcomics.” I always grew up reading print comics, and when webcomics came about I didn’t really have a computer. I vaguely knew of it as an option, but I never really liked the aesthetic of it. I never really liked really computerized work. I like it if it’s subtle or if it’s utilized in an interesting way. I love the brutal stuff—like someone like Ben Mendelewicz—I love that! But those dopey sort of office comedy webcomics—I was never into that stuff. So I thought of it as a lesser form and I kept away from the internet for years. I put some stuff on Myspace on my music page, but it wasn’t until 2012 that HTMLflowers convinced me to start a tumblr and put stuff on there. Also I read Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld in 2009 which made me go, “Whoa!” The infinite scroll was really cool. A friend in Australia, Sam Wallman—he started out doing great auto-bio stuff about queerness and then he got really into unions and stuff—I think he’s the best person in the world at making scrolling stuff and using that format of the infinite scroll.
Around the Tumblr boom there was lots of great stuff on the web. Then I realized, Oh, it’s just a delivery system. There are good and bad books, and there are good and bad webcomics. Now it’s all “content.” But yeah, I put some shit on Tumblr and I think a month later it went low-level viral—or as viral as you can go with alternative comics. All of these US publishers started writing to me, who I had aspired to for years, but who I felt too self conscious to ever send work to. I hate my work. But that was really crazy and that happened really quickly. The web worked! It’s a way to get your stuff out there, you can sell zines online, you can have a little business—it’s a wonderful tool! I came very late to it, but I think I utilize it smartly enough. It’s a fantastic tool. But I still prefer printing zines and having books to web content. It’s always about the books. That’s just the format I like. My shittily low royalties from the Megg and Mogg digital sales options also reflects what my readers like as well.
Were you still in London at the time that you started putting it up online?
No, I started Megg and Mogg in 2008 when I had just moved to London. I was in London for about two and a half years, and I moved back to Australia in 2011 and I
“I put some shit on Tumblr and I think a month later it went low-level viral—or as viral as you can go with alternative comics. All of these US publishers started writing to me, who I had aspired to for years, but who I felt too self conscious to ever send work to.”
just kept on doing the zines. I got asked to be a part of this gallery show at The National Gallery, and we set up behind this glass wall and there were seven of us drawing comics. I did a lot of Megg and Mogg there. A bit after that Grant was hassling me to get on Tumblr and said it was good for comics. So I started looking into it and started finding all of these comics, and I made a ton of friends. It was a good time for a lot of good shit.
Then the next year Frank (Santoro) started doing the comics workbook thing and me and Mikey Zacchilli and Aidan Koch were doing comics on there. It started building this whole community, which is a bit fractured now—everything changes and moves on. But it was a glory time for comics, or it felt like it in 2012 and 2013 on Tumblr, post-LiveJournal and post-MySpace. If I hadn’t put stuff online I’d still just be selling zines at noise shows. Me banging on a keyboard and yelling about things, and then going “Hey, do you want to buy a zine?” and people reacting like, “Eww, no…” It got my shit out there and it’s the way to do it. You can’t just make zines in this day and age. If you want to be “professional” or whatever that is, you have to put work online and get your name out there. Or if you just want to make stuff for your community and your friends, that’s totally fine too! There’s nothing wrong
with either path. But the internet is amazing for shifting comics.
What was different about the local scene that you were operating in at the time and the online community that you started to become a part of? Who were some people who you met online who were encouraging early on?
I don’t think the scenes were that different. Melbourne at the time—or my group that I considered the people making exciting work there—was HTMLflowers, Tommi Parrish, Michael Hawkins, Marc Pearson, Lee Lai, Sam Wallman, and a few others. It was a colorful, queer scene of people making pretty decent work. Michael Hawkins was one of my Hobart friends who I met in like 1999. We use to make anthologies together and I love his work! It’s crazy! It’s impenetrably weird and really hard to read sometimes, but it’s beautiful and it’s amazing! He was a huge influence on me. His stuff from the mid-2000s is incredible and there’s such an amazing aura to it. But yeah, it was a really cool scene. Tommi Parrish just did the cover for Best American Nonrequired Reading, their Fantagraphics book is a big hit, and I think they are one of the best and most exciting cartoonists currently
“It started building this whole community, which is a bit fractured now—everything changes and moves on. But it was a glory time for comics, or it felt like it in 2012 and 2013 on Tumblr, post-LiveJournal and post-MySpace.”
“In reading order the books should go, One More Year, then Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam, then Megahex, then the new one. They are almost in reverse order from the way they were released.’”
making work. HTMLflowers, I think is amazing, whether he is singing or rapping or drawing, he’s just fucking super depressing and funny! A perfect balance.
Then the scene I fell in with online was people like Michael DeForge, Patrick Kyle, Ines Estrada—the whole North American scene around then. Jonny Negron was kicking around. Critics like Sean T Collins. Julia Gfrörer. Ryan Sands was doing Same Hat at the time, just before Youth in Decline. There were a lot of European people as well—but mostly North Americans. I really loved Famicon Express—Jon Chandler, Leon Sadler, and Stefan Sadler. Leon and I had been talking back and forth for about five years about gender stuff. He sent me this drawing a few weeks ago with this big letter thanking me for helping him a bit getting through that shit. We had similar gender stuff and I enjoy talking to him about it and we helped each other. I was reading a lot of stuff. I was looking at Comics Comics and the Comics Journal. I’ve always been obsessed with the industry and how things work behind the scenes. I think to succeed in any enterprise or adventure you go on, you need to know the mechanics of what you’re doing. You can’t go in blindly.
What have you been working towards in the series with the new book Bad Gateway?
This book picks up 28 days after Owl has moved out—
as it should have it 2015. Owl is gone because they’ve abused the fuck out of him and they treated him like shit. We saw him leave back in that first book. In reading order the books should go, One More Year, then Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam, then Megahex, then the new one. They are almost in reverse order from the way they were released. I always see people online saying, “Which book do I start with?” and someone else says, “Megahex!” But I’m like “No no no!” That one has the weakest material, the most divisive material, and at the end Owl moves out.
But this book is trying to mature it up a little bit. It’s called Bad Gateway because it’s a bridge in a way. It’s bridging the old Megg and Mogg to the really hardcore new family base of Megg and Mogg. I’ve been collecting stories for a while and there’s some dark crazy shit. It’s eight chapters, but it’s all one big story broken up. It’s really about reality creeping in. Owl is gone, so they can’t pay the rent. They have to go to the jobcentre. They have to sell everything they own, and face all of the depressingness of selling all of your memories. There’s a lengthy flashback for Megg and the dynamic of her relationship to her mother—which is pretty auto-biographical. It’s trying to show the origin of Megg’s behavior. Everything is very fractured.
The dynamic has shifted—and I was worried about taking Owl out. But the point of Megg and Mogg is not just pranks on Owl. It works fine without that. This one is just
“It’s called Bad Gateway because it’s a bridge in a way. It’s bridging the old Megg and Mogg to the really hardcore new family base of Megg and Mogg. I’ve been collecting stories for a while and there’s some dark crazy shit.”
more about addiction and the sadness. And it’s funny too! There’s an incredible dick joke in here—two dick jokes that I think could be award winners. It’s kind of paced the same as the other Megg and Mogg books where it starts out silly at the beginning, but it gets grimmer and grimmer until this depressing ending.
I hope it’s good. I started it January 1st, and I’ve just been working all fucking year. It took about a month or two to write it all and pace it all. It took four months to pencil and 40 days to ink it. I was inking four pages a day. At the end of the 40 days I had this big stack of pages and just said “Fuck!” Then I’ve been coloring since the end of July. That’s why I’m freaking out now—I have like 45 days that I can work before the end of the year. It takes so long, haha.
What has it been like to meet people who have read the books who are invested in the stories and have their own input on what’s going on?
I talk to people a lot at fairs. I ramble. All of the time at bookstores, people are like “Hurry up! You’re talking to everyone for five minutes each! Just speed it up! Sign the book and pass it on!” But instead I’ll tear a piece of hair and put it in their book and I’ll be like “How are you doing?
What’s the scene like here?” When I travel I get to sit at these table and ask about what the town is like and get a sense for things. I’m open and friendly to people. I get a wide array of people saying all sorts of crazy shit to me. Some really nice stuff.
I had this really weird republican couple at Emerald City Comic Con who came up and said, “We’re republicans…” and I was like “Okay… where is this going?” But one of them was saying how she was really repressed and the book really opened her up. She thought it was “disgusting” and “crass” but after she started reading it and seeing the humanity in the characters, she said she started to feel better about trans stuff and different sexualities and different people who are below her in socio-economic situations. So I was like, “Success!” They were scared that I was going to yell at them, and I was like, “I’m not going to yell at you, that’s a great story!” That’s what you want—you want to actually get through to people and make a fucking difference. So I think Megg and Mogg is political, but I do it subtly. It’s socially political, but I don’t smack it in your face. These characters are diverse and very queer, and they go about their business like real people. You watch them and you can take your own things away from them.
I think the books are very representative of the era that they’ve been made in, and the way that the tone of conversations about abuse and sexuality have changed over the past couple decades. How does this new book feel like a marker in your career and what you’ve been working towards. Do you want new readers to come in through this book, or do you want to open up old readers minds to the new tone?
I am uncomfortable with people coming in though Megahex because I think it’s the weakest book. I think of One More Year as a good book to start with, but some people say it’s a lot sillier and the others are more emotional. I think Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam is thought of as the really dark one. But I’d be happy with people starting with the new one. It’s called Bad Gateway, so it should be a gateway into Megg and Mogg. You can read the “Previously On…” and concisely get the re-cap, and then jump right into it. I try to keep it clear when I write, I don’t want to confuse the readers. So I guide them through and there’s no extraneous information. I think people could read this new book and say “Oh I’ll go back and read the old ones and fill in the blanks.”
But yeah, whatever, I just hope people keep buying the fucking things.
Are there any other projects you’d like to embark on that you don’t have the time or money for at the moment?
The other projects I want to do are—I really want to do an adaptation of a Knut Hamsun novel. He’s a Norwegian writer from the turn of the century who influenced Hermann Hesse and a bunch of other psychological fiction shit. He’s a great writer about nature and romance and ego and mental illness. I’ve wanted for 15 years to do this adaptation of Mysteries, his second novel, but people would hate that! I’m the Megg and Mogg guy! People would be like, “Oh a new Megg and Mogg guy book! Oh, but it’s all flowery fiction?” And I’ve got the sci-fi Megg and Mogg thing, but that would be weird as well. Like Truth Zone exists in another dimension, it would be another dimension’s Megg and Mogg. But I’ll just stick to Megg and Mogg—I’m not sick of it. It’s 10 years this month and I’m barely scratching the surface of what I want to do with these characters.
Now that this comic has had this fundamental affect on your life and your ability to make a career out of the work you’ve been developing for so long, how does it feel to to be on the other side of that? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future and how has your perspective of the past changed?
Well I feel like nothing has changed in a way. I’ve been sitting in a room since I was eight years old, just drawing comics. Once I’m in here, I don’t know where I am. I could
be in Afghanistan or Zimbabwe—I don’t know what’s going on outside. As things go on, I just want to keep making this work and keep getting better. I hate all of my old work. I criticize myself harshly. I just want to make better, entertaining, well written work! I want people to keep reading them and loving the characters the way I do. That’s all I could ask for. I make a living out of it now! I do look back, and I did grow up really fucking poor and had a lot of shitty fucking jobs. Just having no money and thinking, What the fuck am I going to do? I pray that I find money in the street. I don’t want to do home invasions, I don’t want to rob people—I’m not like that. I’m a nerd and I have empathy and I don’t want to steal from people. But that’s what you do when you’ve got nothing. I’m very lucky now.
Every day I count my blessings since I can make a living doing this and that I have a bit of money and can support my mother. I feel successful I suppose… But I still feel like a dickhead. I have to remind myself sometimes that it’s just comics. No one cares. It’s just a big fish in a small man-made pond thing. But if you can do it, it’s such a great job! I feel like I’ve found the ticket to success, doing the same characters that people like, trying to keep it consistent, and putting out the work regularly. Having a book deal, if you can get it, is great. But I make no money from that really. The main money I make is from the zines and selling directly to the fans! I feel like more people should be ripping off this model. I was waiting for this wave of Megg and Mogg imitators to come, but it never really happened. But the cultures not that anymore. People aren’t making mean, weird, junkie comedy. They’re making… nice stuff. There’s been a big YA boom, which is great for actual children! I love that Raina Telgemeier sells like a million books, because then all of these young women read these books, and they’re going to start making comics, and we’re going to see a whole wave of new cartoonists! Hopefully some weird new shit. Pretty much all of my favorite contemporary cartoonists are women already. More women! Then we won’t have to put up with all the “It’s just a boys club” moaning bullshit anymore. If you can’t find a ton of quality comics by successful, powerful women in this day and age you’re doing something very wrong. On the opposite end of the spectrum, these “comicsgate” fuckheads need to realize that things move forward and change. You’re fucking old men! Comics aren’t going to be like they were when you were a kid. Fuck off… it’s not for you anymore. Read your old ones! There’s no blue short bangs or septum piercings in old Batman, just re-read those.
But yeah, I don’t even give a fuck about all this mainstream garbage, have fun yelling at each other about your children’s comics, douchebags. I’ll be here chilled out, sipping my champagne and drawing more stuff for actual adults. Peace!