Simon Hanselmann takes to Instagram for new ‘Megg, Mogg and Owl’ comic

Simon Hanselmann’s beloved Megg, Mogg and Owl comic series usually comes in the form of zines and graphic novels, but once the pandemic hit, he figured he’d post new chapters almost once a day for free on his Instagram. Five months later, he’s still posting new chapters.

“It was supposed to just be for like 30 days,” Hanselmann said. “‘Oh, COVID will clear up in a month, everything will go back to normal.’ And, yeah, nothing did, and [the comic] just kept on going. And I enjoy it. I enjoy this model of creating. Just throwing it out for free.”

This new serialized storyline, dubbed “Crisis Zone,” follows Megg, Mogg and Owl’s crude, gross, hysterical and miserable misadventures navigating current events, and Hanselmann doesn’t plan on stopping until the United States election.

Hanselmann, a Seattle-based cartoonist born in Tasmania, Australia, has turned his Megg, Mogg and Owl comics into a cult classic over the past decade or so. The series, an over-the-top comedy-drama that started as a parody of the Meg and Mog children’s books, follows a group of gross, self-centered and depressed stoners who none-the-less emerge as strangely likable and relatable. The main characters are Megg, a witch, Mogg, a cat, and Owl, whose species you can figure out. There’s a ton of other characters, the most prominent being Werewolf Jones, a thrill-seeking deviant with some rotten children.

Much of the series has been released as zines, though Fantagraphics has published a slew of books containing the series. Most Megg, Mogg and Owl books collect short stories, but the 2019 book Bad Gateway served as the first long-form graphic novel in the series.

Earlier this month, Fantagraphics published Seeds and Stems, an odds-and-ends collection of Megg, Mogg and Owl zines never before collected as a book. Hanselmann figures it may be his favorite Megg, Mogg and Owl book, even though he felt bad putting the book out, initially.

“Everyone’s collecting all these zines,” Hanselmann said. “They’re hard to fucking get. They get lost in the mail, got to send another one, people buying them for exorbitant prices online. But then people can’t read them either. They’re not accessible, I don’t put them online.”

Hanselmann has seen Megg, Mogg and Owl zines go for $150 a piece on ebay, which disheartened him. He didn’t want these stories to be so hard for people to read, so he released it as a 360-page “toilet book.” He hopes people stick it in their bathroom to read while on the toilet.

Hanselmann figures his free, ongoing Megg, Mogg and Owl comic on Instagram has been helping him sell copies of Seeds and Stems. (The book even claimed the #1 new release spot in the “Flower Plants and Seeds” section on Amazon, even though it absolutely doesn’t belong there.) His Instagram comic has blown up – back in March, before the pandemic hit in full force, Hanselmann had about 40,000 Instagram followers – he now has more than 96,000.

“Frankly, it’s good fucking advertising…I think I’ve been selling a few more books,” Hanselmann said. “The pre-orders for Seeds and Stems, the new book, have been pretty healthy, which I’m surprised about in the economy right now.” 

The Instagram comic has been incredible – perhaps the best Megg, Mogg and Owl has ever been. While the series has always been packed with pop culture references and occasional references to politics, it’s never embraced real-world current events as head-on as it has been, and it works wonderfully. Megg, Mogg and Owl’s signature ridiculous humor and miserable storytelling meshes so well with the ridiculous, miserable times we’re all living through together.

Lots of people have been checking in on the comic as new chapters release. 

“One comic had like 900 comments,” Hanselmann said. “It’s pretty healthy. People talk to each other, and I feel like there’s a little community in a way. It’s a group thing. We’re all experiencing COVID, and we’re all experiencing Megg and Mogg experiencing COVID, so people talk, and I feel like it’s been pretty respectful.”

Hanselmann has had fans write to him saying they don’t want to go to sleep until they’ve read the new chapter of the Instagram series. He only skips a day when he’s just too tired to be physically able to do it, and he feels awful when he misses a day. He loves making comics, which he’s been able to do on a mostly 9-5 schedule as of late. 

“It’s cathartic for me. It always has been,” Hanselmann said. “It’s just always been an escape, and I just enjoy working. I can’t relax very easily.” 

One of the most interesting parts of the Instagram series focuses on one of the recurring Megg, Mogg and Owl characters suddenly transitioning into a new gender identity. Hanselmann wanted this character “to transition in the public eye, sort of abruptly, as friends of mine have,” he said. “And watch these characters deal with it and grapple with it. And it’s not going to be 100% smooth. And I wanted to challenge people’s conceptions that may not be accepting of this kind of thing.”

This character, who identifies as a woman and still has a mustache, gets into arguments with another trans character in the series who believes she should shave it if she wants her new identity to be taken seriously. 

“It’s conflicting ideologies within one subsection of people. There’s never just one side. There’s always multiple sides and in-fighting amongst groups. It’s just that,” Hanselmann said. “It’s what I see as a queer person who’s gender-fluid. I don’t bang on about it online or anything, it’s a personal journey. It’s just my brain talking to itself. Processing things through these characters. It’s not trying to be virtuous, it’s not trying to be right. It’s exploratory.” 

In addition to the pandemic, the comic follows other current events like the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and discourse surrounding “cancel culture.” The latter is a tricky topic, Hanselmann said. While he feels like someone like J.K. Rowling, who has gotten into hot water recently for her rather obsessive trend of transphobic remarks, can’t really be “canceled” because she’s so famous and rich, cancel culture still exists and poses a danger. 

“What I value in comedy writing and what I think a lot of productions these days are bankrupt in terms of is just a willingness to skirt the knife’s edge and explore and not really worry about the repercussions,” Hanselmann said. 

One of the most complicated aspects of Megg, Mogg and Owl is the dissonance between the likability and relatability of the characters contrasted against the honest-to-God fact that they’re objectively awful people.

“They’re the worst parts of ourselves, in a way. You get to vicariously laugh at your worst inclinations,” Hanselmann said. “A lot of people say, ‘oh, I know a Werewolf Jones. I know someone like this. I’m Megg, I’m blah, blah, blah.’ So people see themselves in the characters. I try to be honest with the writing and write honest, flawed, horrible characters. I don’t like works with sycophantic, likable characters. I want dirty, fucked-up, real characters.”

Megg Mogg and Owl also merges goofy, silly gags with rather serious and dark plot points and themes. Crude jokes get interrupted by sad, strikingly compelling moments like a trip from Meg to the unemployment office.

“That’s just life,” Hanselmann said. “Life’s up and down, like a roller-coaster… the comic is outrageously sexy and fun and outrageous and pushes the limits, and it’s also deeply depressing and horribly human at times. That’s just life. It’s not hard to strike the balance, really, I’m living it. It’s the most realistic comic there is.”

Despite how laser-focused he’s been on Megg, Mogg and Owl over the years, he never gets sick of it.

“I love Megg and Mogg. They fit me like a glove,” Hanselmann said. “It’s effortless in a way, and I think that’s my strength as a cartoonist over the last seven years or whatever that Megg and Mogg has been a thing, it’s consistent. It’s like The Simpsons. You can tune in every week, and it’s comfortable.”

***

all images courtesy of simon hanselmann. you can buy his latest book here and read his ongoing instagram comic here

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