An Extra Fix Of Megg And Mogg
Tripwire contributing writer Laurence Boyce takes a look at Simon Hanselmann’s Seeds And Stems, out now from Fantagraphics…
Seeds and Stems
Written and Drawn by Simon Hanselmann
Published by Fantagraphics Books
If there’s been a highlight of what has been a miserable year then the daily Megg and Mogg cartoons from Simon Hanselmann (https://www.instagram.com/simon.hanselmann/?hl=en) is one of the few. Almost every single day, Hanselmann has told another episode in the lives of stoner witch Megg, her feline boyfriend Mogg, the uptight Owl and the hedonistic Werewolf Jones. Almost operatic in scope, the ever evolving story (subsequently titled ‘Crisis Zone’ and – as of writing – still going) has taken in kidnappings, lots of drugs, numerous violent deaths, a parody of The Tiger King, several graphic beatings alongside musings on life, love, sex, culture and the current state of politics and life under lockdown. It’s a superlative cultural achievement from Hanselmann, full of the crude, the satirical, the moving and the simply funny. As Crisis Zone awaits its conclusion (and publication sometime in 2021), Seeds and Stems has been released to help you get an extra fix of Megg and Mogg.
This collection of rarities and oddities from ‘zines and the likes begins with a typical bit of audience baiting by Hanselmann as two of our protagonists begin by buying rare records to grab some obscure cuts. Later on they find a budget re-release of all these rarities in an album entitled ‘All Your Collecting Was For Nothing,” – a slight burn for all those fans who have spent the Ebay fees on magazines and ‘zines containing rare Megg and Mogg strips. But this irreverent and sometimes pushy humour is what makes Hanselmann such a great storyteller. There’s a real sense of pathos without recourse to sentimentality.
While previous collections of Megg and Mogg stories have worked as a coherent narrative, by its very nature Stems and Seeds is more of a staccato bag of odds and sods. Indeed, it comes with an orange slipcover for ease of reading on the toilet. Many of the stories focus on Megg (any relation to her, Mogg and the Jan Pienkowski stories for children is purely coincidental) and her inability to do much more than get stoned and watch the television. Trying to do anything beyond that – such as singing in a band – becomes almost impossible, a sign of her own inherent laziness and selfishness but also of a sort of existential dread. Her closest acquaintances are consistently enabling her behaviour. Boyfriend Mogg also has a selfish mean streak, and their relationship is – at best – dysfunctional (with the fact that they are a human female and a cat the least of their worries). Flatmate Owl is ostensibly the most reliable of the bunch, the one with the job and keeps a little bit of money flowing in. But he’s also something of a prig and a blowhard, easily sucked into the drug fuelled schemes of his friends that belie his consistent attempts to project a sense of respectability. And Werewolf Jones is a constant presence, taking any of kind of drug and indulging in any kind of sexual practise that intrigues him at the time while barely manage to raise a couple of kids who are close to feral.
‘Pocket Pool’ is perhaps one of the most indicative examples of their dynamic. Owl tries to ensure that a house inspection by the landlord goes with a hitch. Instead Werewolf Jones turns up with a bong and a visible erection, a large bear and vampire are having sex in one of the rooms and a little boy is peeing on the floor of the kitchen. The lives of our protagonists revolve around their base instincts with little desire to move beyond them.
Indeed there’s a certain amount of squalidness to all of Hanselmann’s stories. People engage in numerous graphic sexual acts, defecate all over the place and ingest numerous drugs along the way (stories such as War of the Worlds explicitly deal with bad trips). If you think Stems and Seeds is something to do with rose bushes, and think a bit of ankle is racy stuff, then this is NOT for you. Yet all the protagonists (even Werewolf Jones, a paragon of selfishness and venality) retain our sympathy. They’re flawed and selfish people but faced with a world that is often equally flawed and selfish. And those who have been following the stories of the characters for years will appreciate some of the flash forwards which reveal the future fates of some of our protagonists and show that there is at least a glimmer of hope. For some.
In veering between grubby realism and wilful absurdity (lest we forget, Owl is just that – a giant, walking, talking Owl. And Mogg is an actual talking cat in a consensual relationship with a woman) Hanselmann also takes the edge off some of the more blunt and explicit notes of the material while also flitting between introspection and silly comedy without creating too much of a tonal shift. Certainly there’s an air of the work of Robert Crumb here, with the perceived innocence of the medium allowing for a deeper exploration of the excesses of human behaviour. Hanselmann’s art style is also deceptively simple, extending an innocence and naivety to the characters. But the strips that are in colour – such as the brilliant Heavy Dudes in which he fully portrays an ‘arthouse’ film that the gang go to see – are glorious and bold.
While it often delves into dark territory, Stems and Seeds is still a richly rewarding affair and – at its heart – a powerful and personal piece of work from Hanselmann. While those discovering the characters for the first time might do well to also check out works such as Megahex for a more narratively coherent collection, this is still a wonderful ragbag of strips.
Seeds and Stems is out now from Fantagraphics Books