The most striking thing about the cover design of Simon Hanselmann’s One More Year is the shiny lenticular foil that highlights not only the title lettering, but also the tears and saliva pouring forth from the protagonist’s disembodied head. The book is the last in the current series of Megg and Mogg comics that chronicle the unpleasant escapades of a witch and her lover, a cat. The horrific but distractingly shiny image serves as a warning to long-term fans and newcomers alike of the depths to which Megg, Mogg, Owl, and Werewolf Jones will stoop. It’s likely to shock more than ever before, which is actually quite an achievement.
The glittering cover was key to Hanselmann’s marketing strategy. “That was kinda to trick people into buying the book,” he says. A lot of the material has already been released elsewhere; on Vice, in other anthologies, and as limited edition zines. “But ‘ah, the cover’s so glittery. I gotta have it. I gotta put it on my shelf!’ We sold out of them by early afternoon at TCAF [Toronto Comic Arts Fair] so I think it worked. Nobody seemed mad that there was all this stuff they’d already seen in there.”
Quick primer for the uninitiated: Meg and Mog was a set of children’s books published in the 1970s by Helen Nicholl and Jan Pienkowski that told simple tales about a kind witch and her cat (not her lover). These books should absolutely not be confused with Hanselmann’s Megg and Mogg comics, a rather more recent series that uses similar (but for legal reasons, distinctly different) witch, cat, and owl characters to tell semi-autobiographical tales about the author’s misspent youth in Hobart, Tasmania. Three volumes of stories have been published by Fantagraphics to date, the second and third occurring within the same time frame as Megahex, the first. Are you keeping up? Don’t worry, neither was I, and I’ve read all of them. I mention this to Hanselmann.
“Ah, shit, damn it. Well I’ve failed as an artist,” he says. “That’s it for me, I’ve plateaued. All down hill from here. One More Year is just like Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam, it’s set during the same arrested development state. I think of the newer two books as expansion campaigns like they do for a video game. But that’s it for the trilogy, I’ll have to finally continue the story after Owl moves out. The title, One More Year, was me saying to myself, ‘one more year and you’ve got to fucking pull the trigger on this.’”
Which brings us onto the actual meat of One More Year—a mishmash of drug-addled episodes and escapades that plunder the depths of boredom, depression, and the dangers of fucking everyone in your close-knit group of friends. Often the bleakest moments are simultaneously the most tender: Megg and Mogg rekindling their love for each other after a sexually exploitative trip to the worst drug dealer in town (a spider and sometime pornographer); a Valium and tramadol bender on Mother’s Day brightened up by Megg finally receiving word from her absent junkie mom. And of course there’s at least 27 all-new pages that serve as a long-running boner gag set in a swimming pool. Hanselmann likes to keep us on our toes, snorting at the dick jokes while the crushing futility of his storylines really sinks in.
And he’s about to get darker. Chronologically, the last strip Hanselmann wrote detailed Owl’s departure from the house he shared with Megg and Mogg. Owl was the only positive force in their “three person couple,” the only one with a job, who could pay bills, and occasionally forced the others to leave the house. In future,
Owl will be gone. He’ll be out of the house, but he’s just off with a girlfriend, a job, and a nice apartment, sort of trying to live the life he’s always aspired to. So Megg and Mogg is gonna get horrible and very, very bleak.
Hanselmann has a lot of material to work through—tragic recent events that he needs to play out among his peculiar cast. Last year he lost two close friends. “Carl was a heroin overdose, Alvin was a suicide. A lot of the material was based on Carl, like Owl’s Birthday. My friends Collin and Reggie got really high and tricked him, like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna sexually assault you on your birthday, ha ha ha!’ He was traumatized afterwards.”
Experiencing two deaths in the past year has changed the way Hanselmann wants to deal with death in his work. Werewolf Jones for instance, the most unhinged of the bunch, was killed off once in 2013, but Hanselmann wants to do it again, properly this time. “That strip was based on a junkie friend of my mother’s that died. It was just the way the thing happened; he broke into her house and masturbated on her bedsheets and then went to stay at someone else’s house and had an overdose. My mother always felt really guilty about not letting him stay.”
When it was published people responded with heartfelt sympathy to the death, Hanselmann’s first indication that he’d created real empathy in his writing. And there’s plenty more to come in future Megg and Mogg editions. In the works is Megg’s Coven, a more autobiographical series set to explore Hanselmann’s relationship with his mother and grandmother in depth. But we’ll have to wait at least one more year for that one.
Currently Hanselmann’s working on a sci-fi epic that’s proving to be harder work than he’d hoped. The subject matter is new to him; “No comedy. No dicks. No bongs. I wrote this thing and it’s terrible. I did my usual overwriting and had to cram 20 panels onto a page. And I cheated with a kind of narration thing, so you don’t have to show any action or actually be a real cartoonist. I just felt like I fucked it up.”
The success of Megg and Mogg has made him too comfortable in their self-medicated world, and sometimes it’s a struggle to leave. “It’s become a safety blanket; it just pours out of me. I’m a very lazy artist in a way. I don’t like drawing even the human background characters in Megg and Mogg. Someone once referred to my ‘generic, stock, potato-faced characters,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s true.’ All the characters have the same face aside from Megg, Mogg, and Owl. I hate drawing anything else.
There is a fastidiousness and an insanity to my craft. I get very focused. It makes sense that I just find this thing that sticks and don’t want to deviate.
Although contracts for a Megg and Mogg TV show have been pushed in front of Hanselmann’s nose from day one, it’s this single-minded devotion to comics that has prevented anything from materializing. “I mostly just want to do a TV show so I can brag about it,” he says. “It’s deviating from the comics, which is really what I love, and I make the most money out of making zines. I’ve crunched the numbers on what I could make from doing say an Adult Swim show compared to just making a bunch of zines. Just sitting around alone, watching TV, making zines, doing whatever I want, I can make more money. I don’t know, one day I guess. But it could get fucked up really badly—it could ruin the books retroactively.”
For now Hanselmann just seems happy to have One More Year out of the way, and to finally get going on a project he’s been delaying now for years. “I put the book out. I’m working on a gallery show. Bunch of rambling. Blah blah blah. Right, I’m going to go make a pulled pork sandwich, then go back to work.”