‘Megahex’ Review! (An Adults Only Post!!)

19 Sep

Megahex sounds like it could be the title of a Cage film. It would be about a heavy metal fan who falls in love with a witch and brings the power of rock to her heart and to her coven. However, in this case, Megahex is the title for the first printed collection of ‘Megg and Mogg’ comics by Simon Hanselmann, which I will review now.

Meg and Mog (note the lack of double ‘g’s) are two characters created for a series of children’s book by Helen Nicoll, illustrated by Jan Pienkowski. I read about their mild and gentle antics when I was a child. Meg was a witch and Mog her black cat. They were also friends with an Owl.

Here they all are tucked up in bed together:

600full-meg-and-mog-photo

Pienkowski’s illustrations really are gorgeous. Pop-art meets Russian poster design filtered through a child’s view of 70s psychedelia!

There is also an Owl in Simon Hanselmann’s comics and the dynamic that is visible in the picture above (the witch and the cat are something of couple, while owl is the dorky third wheel who gets in their way) persists.

Here are the main characters from ‘Megg and Mogg (and Owl)’:

another-MeggandMoggsample2

The owl smoked basil.

The line-work is simple, but lighter and more hesitant than in Pienkowski’s assured illustration. Instead of uniform red, yellow and black, there are faded, gently blotchy watercolours… grey, rather than black, and a swampy green for Megg’s skin. Everything is washed out. Note the half-shut eyes and the dialogue.

At first glance it would seem that Hanselmann has simply produced a ‘dark and edgy’ reboot of a children’s classic… the innocence of the original infused with (OMFG!) drugs and Kevin Smith style stoner laffs. I have seen the comic dismissed on these grounds.

The 'American McGee's Alice' of the comics world.

The ‘American McGee’s Alice’ of the comics world.

However, this is something of a ruse. Or rather, using beloved children’s characters in a mature work is just the starting point (and really, the shared names and identities are about as far as the homage goes).

So. Megg is a depressed witch with a Tumblr account; Mogg is her familiar and lover, though isn’t good at respecting her sexual boundaries; Owl is kind of a huffy nerd, who the other two bully. The art is soft and tactile and appealing, shifting from the aforementioned washed-out watercolours, to near-monochrome grey scale, to suit the tone.

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Megg, Mogg and Owl are all wastrels, who mostly smoke pot and watch DVD boxsets of iCarly.

This is a bad life style choice.

This is a bad life style choice.

That is to say, their lives are kind of stagnant and their jokes mindless or puerile. Owl is often the target of Megg and Mogg’s half-assed cruelty and a victim of their pranks. He’s the only one of the three who imagines himself as “upwardly mobile”, but really he’s just an owl with pretences, approaching 30, who has issues with alcoholism and sex addiction. Hanselmann observes these characters with a weird cross between anthropological detachment and emotional intimacy. He clearly likes these characters (and the whole thing wouldn’t work if he had real disdain for them… it would turn into something like Reefer Madness if the tone ever approached ‘judgemental’) but simultaneously feels distanced, even alienated, from them. You get the sense that Hanselmann in his early 30s is reflecting back upon the lifestyle of his 20s and is still trying to work through how he feels about it. Sometimes he’ll take relish in the stupid jokes and pranks, while at other times, there’s a feeling of regret… not so much moral regret, but just a sense of life having been wasted, with all that the double meaning implies.

Not actually from 'Megahex'.

Not actually from ‘Megahex’. This is really pretty though! I really like the shading.

What starts out as stoner hijinks slowly curdles into something much more sour and melancholy. The first quarter of the book may seem a bit throw-away or even stupid… but persevere. It’s kind of like the progression from Beavis and Butthead to King of the Hill that helps you appreciate that there was actually a lot more darkness and sadness in the former show than you first thought. The whole thing is pretty bleak, but there are moments of real, hedonistic, ovaries-to-the-wall joy, amongst all the nervy drug-addled angst.

The humour reminds me a bit of the Mitchell and Webb sitcom Peep Show with Owl as a neurotic and uptight Mark figure and Megg / Mogg more like Jeremy or Superhans. Importantly, Mark is just as corrupt as Jeremy, but is in a greater state of denial about the fact. (As an aside, I find it interesting that most viewers seem to genuinely view Mark as the more moral of the pair, whereas he’s really just more sanctimonious. Mark is scheming and bitter and really creepy when it comes to intimate relationships, stalking much younger girls, hacking into emails and generally being something of a prick. Jeremy, on the other hand, is basically a sweet-heart… just a grossly irresponsible and idiotic one. He also – amongst all his affairs – gets regularly sexually exploited / abused, which is something that a lot of people seem to miss.) There’s a similar coupling of bemusement and pessimism. The characters are screw-ups, but kind of likeable despite themselves. A lot of immoral / illegal stuff happens, but it rarely seem motivated by genuine evil, but by an inability to integrate into normal, law-abidin’ society. Characters mess up and hurt each other and commit crimes and fall to pieces because they’re lazy, confused and wretched. Finally, the humour of both is cynical and melancholy, but pretty humanistic, with the occasional foray into slap-stick and just plain old gross-out gags.

The beady eyes, comb-over and oddly spaced teeth are signs of a genuine deviant. By contrast, look at Jeremy's moral concern!

The beady eyes, comb-over and oddly spaced teeth are signs of a genuine deviant. By contrast, look at Jeremy’s moral concern!

Perhaps an even better comparison would be the maligned Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker sitcom Nathan Barley about the post-ironic moral degeneracy of East-End (Shoreditch; Brixton) London hipsters. In this comparison, Owl would be the character of Dan (Julian Barratt), who wants to rise above his surroundings, but at heart is no less of schmuck than his friends, who are far better at playing the glib ‘too cool to authentically feel anything’ game than he is. Nathan Barley is, in essence, one 6-episode long tirade against Vice magazine… which, coincidentally, publishes Hanselmann’s comics online.

'Sugar Ape' - the in-show parody of 'Vice' magazine.

‘Sugar Ape’ – the in-show parody of ‘Vice’ magazine.

*Trigger Warning for brief discussion of sexual assault in the comic*

Basically, Owl cares too much for him to be able to comfortable inhabit the scene. He has too many feels. Without revealing too much, there’s an incident in which Megg, Mogg and their lovably wretched pal Werewolf Jones “prank” Owl, which he (very understandably!!) later insists was sexual assault… but, despite Owl’s assertions, his friends just see what they did as a joke and Owl can’t get them to re-frame what happened. After all their assault wasn’t a “real” assault… but rather, an ironic play-acting of an assault. It reminds me of a line of dialogue from two of the hipsters in Nathan Barley: “Well, the idea, yeah, was to make it look like these models are being molested in a magazine office, yeah… when actually that’s sort of what was really happening… yeah, only cause we were all in on it, yeah, it isn’t… except cause we were actually touching them, it *kind of* is”. There is the same use of ontological fuzziness (is this “real”? is it “pretend”?) to get away with doing horrible things.

Anyway, there’s that distinction between experiencing life as “heavy” and experiencing life as “light” that’s at the heart of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Is life really genuinely important, meaning that the bad things that happen should be taken really deeply seriously? Or is life just a game with obscure roles in which everyone is pretending and faking it and essentially everything is meaningless anyway so why does it even matter if someone gets hurt? The good thing is, unlike Kundera, Hanselmann isn’t a misogynist. Megg is basically his stand-in and Hanselmann shows her shaving her legs with a lighter and having to deal with depression and other real human stuff that a lot of male writers wouldn’t bother talking about. Plus, Hanselmann looks incredibly good in drag, which helps matters immensely (not necessarily in a ‘this comic is totally progressive way’ but simply in a ‘this guy is really pretty way’).

hanselmann

i-should-probably-try-to-objectify-simon-hanselmann-less-but-maybe-he-is-sort-of-ok-with-being-objectified-and-i-dont-know-the-ethics-here

Actually, the comic is really good at presenting messed-up relationship stuff. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say that Mogg is abusive (EDIT: actually, on second thoughts, I would), but he isn’t a very nice cat and totally crosses some of Megg’s sexual boundaries. It’s sad and troubling and sometimes funny in a really horrible way but mostly just sad.

Mogg needs to lay the Hell off.

Mogg needs to lay the Hell off.

So, some of these characters are pretty shitty people / animals. At the same time, you mostly end up rooting for the bunch of them. There’s a weird camaraderie about reading the comic… in a short amount of time you feel as though these guys are your stoner friends. Though you probably wouldn’t actually want to be friends with them. Interestingly, I had already read most of the comics online and had basically experienced it as highly episodic with no real continuity or plot progression. This isn’t actually the case! Reading the same comics again within the Megahex collection, Owl emerges as more of a central character. His struggle to assert his independence and escape the bullying of his friends becomes, perhaps, the central plot of the comics.

Anyway, it’s good stuff. Touching and comforting and disturbing and worrying all-at-once. It might just keep you going through some dark nights or, at the very least, provide some rough chuckles.

megg moggFinally, here’s a link to an absolutely wonderful interview with Hanselmann. He interviews real good:
http://www.tcj.com/disgusting-creatures-the-simon-hanselmann-interview/

Around 2010, two years and around 80 pages into it, is when I decided I wanted it to get a little less silly and “prankish.” I’d decided that I wasn’t completely satisfied with my teen-drama thing and that I’d take a break from it and inject some more of my depressing, horrible material into Megg and Mogg. I was [originally] going to go really dark kind of out of nowhere, but I’m very slowly rolling it out. The “Megg’s Coven” serial that I’m working on irregularly is going to get pretty damn dark eventually. It’s all about my mother and my grandmother and our generations of brokenness. Our recent fuck ups. It’s basically straight-up autobiography. If I put this shit on paper I can make it seem less confusing and horrific in my reality.

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6 Responses to “‘Megahex’ Review! (An Adults Only Post!!)”

  1. MissHawkline September 19, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

    I was really hoping you’d do a full post on this.

    One of the things that definitely makes Megahex so good is that it isn’t just a “dark and edgy” update of the original books. That seems to be happening a lot these days, and often it just seems kind of cheap and tasteless. I was listening to this interview with Hanselmann where he says that he doesn’t like it when people describe his comics as a re-imagining of Meg and Mog, because to him it’s something different. It’s kind of like how with Calvin and Hobbes, where some fans thought that Hobbes was a toy who came to life whenever Calvin was around, when it was really just that Calvin saw Hobbes as a real tiger, and everyone else saw him as a stuffed toy.

    I also like how Megg’s witchiness is sort of taken for granted. I guess it’s kind of like how the Simpsons are yellow, or anthropomorphic animals interact with humans in Disney cartoons. There isn’t any world-building, but that ends up making Hanselmann’s world seem more believable. (I think it helps that all the characters are on drugs all the time, so the weird bits seem perfectly natural.)

    That comic where the other characters abuse Owl was the second most disturbing for me. The way it was handled really stuck with me, though. Like you said, Megg and Mogg don’t believe they “really” did anything, wrong, because to them it was all a game. And then Owl forgives them almost instantly after he’s given a weak apology and a small present. The sad thing is that this happens so often in real life. I don’t think that Megg and Mogg are really that guilty about what they did, and if they are it’s just on a superficial level. I’m sure they would feel truly bad if they were more aware of what they were doing, but they’re just too jaded. What’s really worrying is that they come across as trying to make Owl feel guilty about what happened. It’s like they just want Owl to forgive them so they don’t have to feel bad any more. I find it quite unsettling when people try to do stuff like that, blaming their victims just because they point out unpleasant truths.
    That particular comic reminds me of The Office in some ways. It shows how pathetic their lives are, and I like how that strip is made to look like a comedy on the surface, even though it’s just really sad.

    I like the comparison with Beavis and Butthead. I never noticed it before, but they are quite similar in some ways. Megg and Mogg is good at looking cruder than it actually is, and the colours are similar too. A lot of the humour comes from how jaded and apathetic the characters are, and like Beavis and Butthead, they’re pretty disconnected from reality, though unlike them, they’re self-aware enough to realise how bad things are.

    Nathan Barley sounds like an interesting series. I’ve met a few people who act like that. 😛

    I’m so glad you like the original books too! 😀 I have fond memories of Meg on the Moon. (That particular book is what I think made Hanselmann’s comics affect me so strongly.) Those nostalgic feelings combined with the gender issues give it a sort of dreamy gloopiness that confuses me a little, in a good way.

    • cagewisdom September 20, 2014 at 11:57 am #

      Ah! I’m stoked you liked my review! 😀 It’s a tricky thing to write about, for sure! It produces quite odd (though not unpleasant) emotions in me too. I think the comics I find the most depressing are those uncollected ones with Megg talking to her mother, since they seem to clearly autobiographical and are just deeply sad. I suspect they’ll be collected in ‘Megg’s Coven’, which is Hanselmann’s next book project (I think it says as much at the back of ‘Megahex’, anyway!)

      ‘Nathan Barley’ is an interesting series… though it’s quite Hellish and oppressive… it’s all very bright and white and loud and close, which makes sense, but makes for some quite unpleasant viewing! It’s certainly very well observed though and I actually think was very prescient in a lot of ways (especially considering that it came out before Facebook and Youtube had taken off). It feels more Charlie Brookerish than Chris Morisish, though both of them wrote it. It’s all on 4od / Youtube, I think.

      ‘Meg and Mog’ was very charming. I read a lot of things that troubled me as a child (accursed late two books of Narnia!!!) but Meg and Mog was just lovely and simple and sweet. Very cute!

      Finally, it’s nice to see that Simon likes a lot of my favourite British sitcoms… as evidenced by this poster he drew specially for Gosh Comics (which is, as he correctly notes, the best comic book shop in London!)

      http://girlmountain.tumblr.com/post/96004235782/exclusive-megahex-bookplate-for-londons-best

      • MissHawkline September 21, 2014 at 1:23 am #

        I’ve seen a little bit of the ones with Megg’s mother, and that storyline does look pretty grim. Even the colours look darker.

        I’ll watch Nathan Barley sometime soon. 🙂 Last year one of my lecturers introduced me to Charlie Brooker, and I found his reviews pretty funny, if a little angry.

        Children’s literature in general interests me a lot. I’m a little bit obsessed with Alice in Wonderland, and I loved the Oz books when I was younger. (Geoff Ryman wrote a very good, but incredibly bleak book inspired by the Oz stories called Was.) And of course, I love Winnie-the-Pooh, despite the sad history behind the books.

        You like Black Books? 🙂

      • cagewisdom September 26, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

        I am fond of Black Books – sometimes I wish it got even *more* manic and demented, but it is a generally charming and funny show!

        I’ve never read ‘Was’, but I remember being intrigued to after reading a positive review of it by Adam Cadre:
        http://adamcadre.ac/calendar/11/11447.html

      • MissHawkline October 5, 2014 at 2:53 am #

        I think I read somewhere that originally Black Books was going to be a bit more like that. It would have been interesting to see what it would have been like if it had gone in that direction.

        Was is definitely worth reading, though I’d recommend also having something more light-hearted to read at the same time. 😛

      • Rev. Syung Myung Me/Kitysneezes.com September 23, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

        MissHawkline — if you dig Brooker, check out Black Mirror. It’s phenomenal. It’s an anthology series written by Brooker (except one episode) about media/Internet/&c. It’s not a comedy, and it’s pretty goddamn bleak, but it’s the best sort of bleakness.

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