Sequential State – the comics criticism archive of Alex Hoffman

Darkening Sameness: Thoughts on Megg & Mogg In Amsterdam and Other Stories by Simon Hanselmann

Megg & Mogg In Amsterdam and Other
(Amsterdam from this point forward) is Simon Hanselmann’s latest Megg, Mogg, and Owl release from
Fantagraphics. It collects 160 pages of Hanselmann’s comics which have
originally appeared on the internet and in other forms, including the
collaborative zine Werewolf Jones & Sons with Melbourne-based artist HTMLflowers.

One thing that is clear to me as I read Megg, Mogg, and Owl comics is that Hanselmann has a lot of
the series’ main points plotted out, and that these points have a real-world chronology. Megahex, the first Megg
& Mogg collection, ends with Owl moving out of the house. The death of
Werewolf Jones is looming, and just over a year and a half away. As a direct
physical sequel to Megahex, you would expect Amsterdam to pick up
where that book left off. But Hanselmann takes a reprieve from the ending of Megahex to bulk up the series.

Amsterdam is set inside of Megahex, meaning Hanselmann gets to
continue to play with the chemistry of Megg, Mogg, and Owl as a group without
the awkwardness of the major changes that happen at the end of Megahex.

There’s something to be said here about
the context of the beginning of the book where Hanselmann explains to the
reader that the events in Amsterdam happen during Megahex.
Without that bit of information, the Megg, Mogg, and Owl series would transform
from a plot-driven story into some sort of drug-addled Charlie Brown
purgatory where nothing changes and everyone stays the same. I wonder if there
was a way to integrate that information more completely into the comics; more
than one reader (including myself) has missed that memo at first, which led to
a confused first reading.

Despite the timeline insertion, the
tone of Hanselmann’s latest comics has changed. In Megahex, it felt like
comedy was the overwhelming driver of the storyline, with blasts of extremely
dark stories in between (“Megg’s Depression” and “Owl’s Birthday” come to
mind). While the basic formula hasn’t changed, the stories of Amsterdam feel more relentlessly dark.

I’m struck by the relative sameness of
the adventures of the group. We see more of the buildup that leads to the end
of Megahex, we start to understand it all a little more. The abuse, the
drugs, the depression, the self-loathing, all of that carries through. The best
story in the collection is the Amsterdam trip (a longer form narrative
that Hanselmann was worried about
pulling off
after focusing on short stories for so
long) because it feels like a progression from baseline. Hanselmann is trying
some new things in Amsterdam, and that feels promising. Ultimately Amsterdam
adds more weight to the ending of Megahex, but it also feels like
treading water.

If any of this sounds like me grumbling
about Amsterdam, let me dispel that notion immediately. Hanselmann owns
the 3×4 grid and makes it work like few other working cartoonists. I think one
of Hanselmann’s greatest gifts as an artist is the ability to submerge readers
in these comics. Amsterdam has a way of getting under your skin, queasy and unrelenting.

There’s a level of polish to Amsterdam that you only start to see at the end of Megahex. It’s clear that Hanselmann is getting
into a groove with the comics in Amsterdam; there’s a mastery of
form and color that makes this collection of Megg & Mogg comics an exciting addition to the series. 

All that said, I want to see Hanselmann take
more risks and blow things up. Amsterdam is, strangely, the calm before the storm, and it suffers for that. But I am looking forward to the storm. Let’s see how bad things can get.

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