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O Magazine
2015-2017

When you’re

By Aïda Camprubí

In the world of comic books there’s no Social Danger Act: slackers and criminals are totally welcome. That’s why it’s so easy to see yourself reflected in some of its characters and why what we term generational (anti)heroes are so easily created. But let’s not go into the generational issue, to each his/her own cult. Comic books are a kind of third space –like the bars described by Mar Calpena–, in which you sit down to see people’s faces and to socialise, particularly with some of the nooks within yourself. It was in one of those gloomy corner tables where I first met Simon Hanselmann, an Australian transvestite illustrator, who claims using all the clichés (wigs, miniskirts, fishnet stockings and high heels) to “seem this kind of fake media version representing what a woman is meant to be.” How come we connected so much? Because however transvestite, trans, woman or not, our life is like a big joke.

[Note: In fact, he’s not the only heterosexual author sporting feminine paraphernalia. Daniel Clowes, apart from acknowledging his passion for latex, was drawn by the Hernández brothers with stockings and suspenders; and in other fields, like music, it’s well-known the philia of Fat Mike for elastic dresses, as you can see in his last interview for CBC.]

Megg

When you’re Megg – O Productora Audiovisual

When
you’re

On top of that, Simon Hanselmann has done what Itchy and Scratchy did with Krazy Kat: adapting his childhood’s cartoons -Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski’s Meg & Mog- to his adult habits. Megg and Mogg (now with two Gs and also a triple X) share a flat with their friend Owl and, occasionally, with Werewolf Jones, spend most of the time in a sofa that consciously imitates the Simpsons’, take all sorts of drugs and apathetically black kiss each other. What makes us so similar? Since Ludolfo Paramio was able to see himself in Anarcoma, he might know the answer. His testimony says that these characters “talk to us about ourselves and our sad everyday life stories, but do it with far too much cruelty for us to accept what they portray, far too much irony for us to get upset, and far too much obscenity for us to reach any conclusions.” Still, there are some connections between us, as though we were stuck to Megg like a thumb and an index finger smeared with super glue. Skin from two different fingers united by a toxic substance.

What is the essence of this modernity portrayed by Hanselmann that makes his stories so addictive? Here’s the recipe for the metaphorical glue:

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1.
Autobiography:
what’s mine is yours.

The feeling of not wanting to hear the story someone has to tell you so as not to have to define your position. The bloody witness that turns you into an accomplice: autobiographies in comic book form. Although, this time, the main character is a green-faced witch with a cat boyfriend. Adrian Tomine already said so: “I’ve got the feeling that my characters are like weird doubles of myself,” and the same happens with Hanselmann’s. Autobiographies foster empathy. We see Megg on the sofa with a hangover, when she’s too weak to have anal sex, or losing it because of a sandwich. She could be any of us. Any one who’s ever jumped a fence to enter the forest.

And even if each autobiographical author speaks to a given generation, some age more gracefully than others. For instance, few girls will feel today like Phoebe Gloeckner’s lolitas, but you won’t be able to get the Hernández brothers’ female characters -despite being fictional, crazy like in Locas or living in Palomar– out of your system ever again.

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2.
LGTB:
the usual stuff.

The great magic of any form of entertainment or art is making what’s desirable possible. For example, Megg’s best friend, Moco, used to be a boy. Until both women start a more intimate relationship… and now they use a strap-on. In Hanselmann’s comic books this isn’t an eccentricity: it’s everyday life. Nazario did the same in his time, and the person who best describes this is doctor Onliyú: “It’s a fact that the homosexual world is considered, both in high-brow analysis and in the most daily and miserable commentary, as ‘something else,’ accepted as long as it maintains its exceptional and, in the best of cases, exotic nature. In the story of Anarcoma what happens is the opposite; homosexuality is logical, evident and natural. With its fights, its greatness and its miseries.” For the underground to lose its prosecuted component is every generation’s fantasy. Reading these comic books makes you live in the world you should inhabit.

And some have gone even beyond that. In Julie Doucet’s story The Double, she has a very trans dream in which she clones herself with a penis to be both genders at the same time. She’s the next level!

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3.
Sexo,
that tricky ground.


Bah! If God punishes a girl for enjoying sex
as much as men do,
I’d love to still go to church so that I could stop going.

– Carmen in Beto Hernández’s Palomar

If it were so easy… Simon Hanselmann describes sex as “something twisted and strange, even within the mainstream. It’s superfluous, goes beyond reproduction purposes, and it has basically turned into a sport, an obsession, an activity with its own toys.” This is what sexual relationships are about today, after the joy of liberal times they have been typecast again within the limits of sport.

But despite his cold view of the practice, Hanselmann has a lot in common with Julie Doucet, because “she makes very clear her insecurity to socialise with others, with boys, with other women. Above all with women who are sexy or openly sexual or desired. She’s more a desirous than a desired person, has no problem with affirming she’s sexually active, but has some problems when it comes to relating to others in this aspect,” as fanzine writer Andrea Ganuza puts it.

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4.
Illness vs.
Indifference.

“- We really should do what the doctor says, Maggie
Bah! Doctors don’t have a clue about treating consumption. When you’re diagnosed with an incurable illness there’s only one thing left to do
Which is?
Living life as though you didn’t have one.
—Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, Peter Bagge

Megg doesn’t suffer from consumption, there’s almost no tuberculosis today. Well, I know a couple of cases, but both were cured after living some months on the straight edge. But there are other illnesses that inevitably permeate our everyday lives, like depression, and that’s something our main character suffers from. Tom Spurgeon says in The Comics Reporter: “comedians see dignity in a trampled soul.” Some, like Peter Bagge’s character Buddy Bradley, assume their limitations, but Megg inevitably sinks in them. A little-trained eye will see her depression as an ocean of indifference making everything go down.

Other pairs of eyes, more expert in turning water into oil, are Conxita Herrero, whose characters react before this strange world pretending it’s totally normal, and Flavita Banana, who gives a humoristic -albeit somewhat recalcitrant- touch to anything that, seen another way, would provoke a grimace more to do with tears than with laughter.

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5.
Defective
feminism.

At any given time, bombs will fall. Soviets, Americans, it doesn’t matter who’ll start. Everybody knows, and despite all that, people, even the most pessimistic critics, go on having kids as if the thing had nothing to do with them. As if a two or three-year-old could stop something that adults can’t stop: death! And some of these bombs are already here: AIDS is one of them, and its consequence is homophobic activism.

I don’t want to be involved in any kind of death, Israel. If you get me pregnant, I will have an abortion to save the kid from a future death… So, where are my knickers?

– Tonantzin in Beto Hernández’s Palomar

Any current comic book should be feminist, or at least try to, because thought trends, like the people who think them, are fragmentary and imperfect. Megg is a feminist, but she doesn’t fit in with the rest of feminist activists when Moco takes her to a meeting in one of their houses. The rest are too respectful, smiley and active, aren’t pestered by a constant depression and don’t want to take the same kinds of drugs.

We find a perfect example of this sort of feminism with a broken down engine in Peter Bagge’s Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story. The biography of the first promoter of birth control methods is full of humanity, hidden interests and hot licentiousness. It’s dirty feminism, but feminism after all.

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6.
What matters the most,
finally: intimacy.

How can we create an intimate communication that is close to what are supposed to be the limits of decorum? It sounds strange, living as we do, surrounded by pornography. It’s like saying, how can we share what’s really intimate?”

David Toop

When it comes to creating and reading comic books, loneliness is the thing, whether you like it or not. They’re invented alone, processed alone. Intimacy is what allows for a different kind of connection, maybe even a different kind of ‘reader.’ A more immediate one, Jason told us in an interview for O. Hanselmann’s Megg tells us about her dysfunctional private life and shows that it’s far from grotesque. For once renegades are the norm, this story is our story. What has no place here is otherness, that is, what the rest of the world thinks is normal.

Another author able to trap us inside the most grotesque form of intimacy is Alison Bechdel (inventor of the Bechdel Test); in her Fun Home she talks about homosexuality and her father’s suicide. Despite its crude sincerity, or maybe thanks to it, her comic book has become so successful that it is being turned into a musical. For his part, Hanselmann hopes that one day Megg, Mogg and Owl will become a trash TV show starring Lindsay Lohan. Placing these fictions in the place they run away from -generalised obviousness- won’t break any barriers. But it will probably push social limits a bit forward, let all of us who are inside loosen the straps of what’s socially acceptable and, who knows, maybe allow us to breathe more freely.

Simon

Hanselmann

& Mogg

Megg