Underground comics have made household names for a number of comics creators, whom at the forefront exposed a new era of radically unorthodox drawing styles and subject matters, but also whose eccentric personalities and antics made them as recognizable as the work they were putting out. It’s hard to fully comprehend a work like CEREBUS without envisioning the dynamism and often contentious nature of Dave Sim, or to imagine where the comic book form would be without the subversive, LSD-inspired neurosis of R. Crumb. In the alternative comics world of today, we are wrought with a constant stream of cartoonist tumblrs/twitters/blogs that seamlessly expose us with a familiarity of specific artist’s works and their given musings at any moment. This social media phenomenon has enabled the kind of uncensored voyeuristic spirit that made creators like Sim and Crumb so progressive and exceptional readily available for anyone to engage with or to originate all on their own.
Herein lays what makes Simon Hanselmann such an intriguing figure in alternative comics right now. You could call him a “Tumblr success story” (TCJ) just based solely on the explosive rate at which GIRLMOUNTAIN became “internet” popular or even an instrumental figure in the emergence of stoner comedy in comics, but Hanselmann more-so prompts a reminiscence of the spunk and grit of the underground comics scene, as the basis of his work is an appropriation of popular culture awashed, for one, in complete irony, but more shockingly an immensely introspective and personal display into his own psyche. Listening to Hanselmann’s candid interviews and seeing him decked out in women’s attire and cosmetics for the first time was a transformative and amazing moment for me as a reader, as I can’t really pinpoint many other cartoonists who so fearlessly challenges the sex and gender distinction within comics.
His most familiar strips featuring Megg and Mogg is indeed a rehashing of the teen drama trope, but Hanselmann injects his own dejecting and uncomfortable moments of self-analysis through the perpetual circle of substance abuse, depression, and pettiness. Granted, while Hanselmann can ingenuously depict wordless, deep-rooted feelings of misery and a sense of complete brokeness, he is equally talented in imbuing his characters with hysterical banter and wit that is so purely adolescent and ripe with scatological-glee. Even at a time when the amount of comics on the internet is seemingly boundless, it’s generally rare to find a work that is as complexly real as it is full to the brim of amusing hilarity. As a young person stuck in what I like to tag #generationscrewed, what makes the weed-filled mundane day to day life of Megg, Mogg, and Owl so gratifying is the honest brutality of his characters; they are so well developed that at times I feel like they’re my real friends, or at the very least the kind of buds I had in my formative years where immoral self-indulgence was a great way to spend the day.
With the recent reveal of a number of print publications to be released in the upcoming year, Space Face Books debuts Hanselmann’s first move beyond the platform of the Tumblr-world with the publishing of LIFE ZONE, a brand new 64-page colo(u)r book collecting four brand new stories where we get to bear witness to a headgear-adorned Owl in a high school flashback in addition to a doomed stint in the world of retail. If you haven’t seen the brilliant informercial from the man himself (costarring back cover artist and recurrent collaborator HTML Flowers), they really sell it–making note of the 500hours of spilt blood/sweat/tears it took to birth this work, conceivably making LIFE ZONE the “it” book of CAB. I’ve been lucky enough to read LIFE ZONE before the throng of Hanselmann fans get their lusty mitts on the limited available copies this upcoming weekend, and while I’m not at liberty to disclose the details of all the audacious shenanigans, what I will say is that the book is chock-full of the kind of rhythm, pacing, and dreamy rendering that made the webcomics so gut-bustingly enjoyable. The book faithfully depicts the carnal pranks and hijinks that the web-following audience have come to know and love, yet it also has the intriguing storytelling that makes it appropriate for those who have never read Hanselmann’s work.
There are quite a few panels that are strikingly alluring, and it’s nice to see that Hanselmann’s cartoony style has the kind of range where he can illustrate a beautiful depth in his backgrounds amongst the disarray of pill-popping and boozing. Of the four stories, I most particularly enjoyed “High School,” as we get a semblance of an origin story for Megg, Mog, Owl and Werewolf Jones in their high school years. We get the chance to better understand each character’s ambition or lack thereof, all wrapped up in a pure acclimation of 90s teen pop culture. Equal parts “shits and giggles” humor and the heartbreaking reality of existence, LIFE ZONE is a strange and fantastic piece to behold, and a perfect inauguration of what’s to come with the future of Hanselmann’s book releases.
If you just can’t wait to be one with LIFE ZONE, you can pre-order it HERE via Space Face Books, and if you’re lucky enough to be at this Saturday’s CAB, you can head on over to Space Face Book’s table and even meet Simon Hanselmann.