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In the latest TBS Book Review, Mikael Hattingh schools us on Simon Hanselmann’s Megahex, out through Fantagraphics. Dense, human comic book characters that are relatable? Umm…yes please.
It wasn’t until I first read Blankets by Craig Thompson, the poetic autobiographical memoir about first love, that I discovered comics were magical. Comics, I think, are a largely misunderstood and under-appreciated story-telling medium. They’re limitless. They offer a reading experience that prose cannot, and yet are capable of affecting the reader with the same power as any good work of literature or even film can.
Graphic novels such as Blankets are sometimes considered “dignified comics,” which inadvertently suggests that other comics are somehow menial or crass in comparison. But then there’s Megahex by Simon Hanselmann.
Megahex is the episodic story of Megg, a depressed stoner witch who lives with Mogg, her savvy, stoner cat (and part-time lover), alongside their anal-retentive, forlorn housemate, Owl, who is indeed an owl the size of a full-grown man. The comics are drawn almost like bastardized episodes of The Simpsons featuring lots of bongs, lots of red eyes and lots of genitalia. In writing, Megahex couldn’t sound more in bad taste.
But Tasmanian-born, Melbourne-based Simon Hanselmann is now the first major Australian comic artist ever. Megahex, his first major book release, is now a New York Times best-seller, published by none other than Fantagraphics – perhaps the most legendary publisher of comic books in the world.
Despite any preconceived ideas, Hanselmann’s work is underlined by something very human. Behind the humour there’s darkness and behind the vapidness is pain. The stories, which mostly take place in an isolated suburban world, revolve around themes of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, boredom, sex, drugs and cruelty. Megg, Mogg and Owl are all unnervingly real characters, each one able to draw equals parts sympathy and disdain from the reader. Within each water-coloured panel there’s surprising density. You read this book laughing, aching, shaking your head – always completely immersed, and always connected.
No doubt there’s a crudeness to Megahex. The idea of Megg, Mogg and Owl came as an accident to Hanselmann and has, to his surprise, stuck with him and blown up into what it is now. But this crudeness, to me, really just equals authenticity.
Over the past five or so years, Hanselmann released most of the pages found in Megahex online through his Tumblr (long before Fantagraphics even heard of him), working for nothing but his love of comics. Its easy to see how the characters and the art itself have evolved and been refined over time, particularly in the 69 previously unpublished pages toward the end of the book which promise a continuation of the saga. While not every story is necessarily as captivating as the other, as a collection, Megahex will one day be regarded as an untouchable classic in the troves of underground comics.
I ordered my copy over a year ago when Fantagraphics first announced its impending release. When it arrived, I frantically unwrapped the packaging and I felt that same level of urgency one does fumbling with a zipper when you have to pee. Inside was a signed page and a personalised drawing of Megg, Mogg and Owl from Hanselmann, along with a lock of his wig and a lip-stick print.
I won’t lie, I was tempted to kiss it.
I might have, I don’t know.