Home Comics INTERVIEW: Highway to the CRISIS ZONE with SIMON HANSELMANN

INTERVIEW: Highway to the CRISIS ZONE with SIMON HANSELMANN

The cartoonist caught up with The Beat about the Eisner-winning graphic novel.

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In March 2020, the characters of Simon Hanselmann‘s Megg & Mogg multiverse were plunged into the most horrible circumstances imaginable: the same ones we were all facing as the global and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic took hold! Now, in August 2021, the crisis continues, and not just because of consistently incompentent leadership from governments worldwide: no, we’re talking about today’s release of the Fantagraphics collection of Crisis Zone in graphic novel form, featuring additional never-before-seen material like hundreds of additional panels, a director’s commentary, and MORE!

The Beat has been eagerly following Crisis Zone since it was being posted daily on Instagram, and today, we’re thrilled to present this in-depth email interview with Hanselmann on the process of adapting the no-holds barred webcomic to graphic novel form, whether or not the Crisis Zone 2022 Action Calendar is canon, and what it’s like to welcome a child into the family when the world is exploding outside your window!

AVERY KAPLAN: First and foremost, let’s make it clear that this edition includes new material, never before seen in the 2020 online release of Crisis Zone. Not only are there multiple new panels on each page, but there are several additional full pages of material, as well. Was there any addition that was especially important for you to include?

SIMON HANSELMANN: The most important thing was just getting all the extra panels done in time for the printing deadline! I’d been trying all 2020 to do them as it went along but I fell behind and pretty much had to do all of them in January, I was pumping out 20 panels a day from a pile of scrappy notes and it was a bit of a gauntlet, 10 panels a day for the instagram run was difficult enough and by the time the serial wrapped up I was incredibly exhausted… It was intensely grueling.

Another instance of my “endurance cartooning” that almost broke me, mentally and physically.

I really wanted to do a big, beefy commentary section, my original goal was to do at least 30 pages but I think it ended up being 12, I was just running out of time, battling the clock.

The commentary isn’t even really intended to be read, my goal for it was to just be this big fiddly chunk of imposing, manic, handwritten text that would make people think I’d lost my mind. I hope nobody reads it, I have barely any idea of what I wrote, but I recall being rather candid and kind of not giving a fuck.

The exclusive epilogue was quite important to me, I also wish that it could have been longer but I did the best I could, given the time.

I would have also liked to do a pointless index but that went to the wayside…

One day it would be nice to spend as much time as I want on a project, take as long as I want, make it perfect. That’ll never happen though, the people need their entertainment NOW, in an ever-crowded marketplace, and I need to make fucking money. There’s no time for pussing about and taking your time if you want to make a living off of this kinda shit.

KAPLAN: Crisis Zone has now been awarded an Eisner and is nominated for a Harvey Award (voting is open until September 6th). What has the response to Crisis Zone been like from your perspective?  

HANSELMANN: I’m very happy with how it all shook out. I think Crisis Zone is definitely the most engaged with thing I’ve ever done.

I’m just happy that people enjoyed it, the whole idea behind it was just to make free entertainment for people during a crazy fucking year and I’ve heard from a lot of people that it really did make a difference in their daily lives, amidst all the stress and horror.

It also sold a lot of books for me, people got hooked and were actively seeking out the older books, it was fantastic advertising. Classic drug dealer model, get ’em hooked with a free taste and then start charging once you’ve got ’em addicted.

The Eisner really took me by surprise. I really didn’t think something so disgustingly ribald and politically volatile could take out a mainstream comics industry award in 2021, but here we are. Hopefully I can take out the fucking Harvey as well. Of all the projects nominated I imagine it would be the one that Kurtzman would find the least repugnant.

I hope the Eisner win can inspire young cartoonists to know that they can make it in the “industry” and win awards while making horrible, dicey work that features multiple sexual assaults, a ton of slurs, “virtuous blackface” and just a general tone of “fuck you, I dare you to come at me, I’ll fucking stab you, you fucking ponce. Get a dog up ya!”… I hope I can be inspiring to the youth…

KAPLAN: Like the other books in the Megg & Mogg multiverse, Crisis Zone features some gorgeous artwork in the front and back pages of the book. When did you complete these pieces? Can you tell us about the media used for this art – are they paintings?

HANSELMANN: Yeah, they’re paintings in my classic style. Watercolor, gouache and food coloring. I think I smashed those out right at the end of the whole process, I can barely even remember, it was all a huge blur at the end.

I think I did a painting a day, very aggressive 16-hour workdays, got back onto the Red Bull.

I desperately want to paint more. I regret not making it to Switzerland before the pandemic hit, I was going to do a residency at Fumetto and get to head out into the Alps for some inspiration.

I just want to paint trees. I love painting foliage. I’d love to spend the time learning how to be better at painting water.

Crisis Zone 2022 Action Calendar! Photo: Avery Kaplan.

KAPLAN: Preorders from Fantagraphics included the 2022 Action Calendar, for a hypothetical 2022, which features what appears to be a rough outline for further adventures on the Crisis Zone timeline (all of which seem to align with the Crisis Zone epilogue). Is there any chance we’ll see these story elements play out in sequential narrative form?

HANSELMANN: I really wish I could’ve never stopped doing Crisis Zone, I had no shortage of ideas and the news kept on ramping up, I’m confident I could’ve kept it going forever had I not had the book deadline… The calendar acted as a kind of map for what might have happened if I’d kept it going (but also not really because who can predict what’s going to happen day to day in these times we find ourselves in).

I definitely intend to do some stories in the future that take place in the “Crisis Zone timeline,” I have a thing I wrote a few months back that features Jen and Booger and some shit that goes down with them after the main arc, it’ll hopefully surface as a zine at some point…

I’m fully committed to Megg and Mogg being a convoluted multiverse going forward.

All the “original”-canon books were published out of order, why not make things even more complicated?”

KAPLAN: If I am reading this director’s commentary correctly, you and your wife welcomed a child recently? How has that been going?

HANSELMANN: You actually read that shit? Fuck. Yep, I’m a parent now. Kid was born in late April. I had to really rush that fucking calendar out, originally it was going to have lots of funny fake holidays and little comics in all the date grids but I ran out of time and had to scrap it all. I actually hate the calendar, it was made under intense duress in an insane panic, it is not what I wanted it to be.

I had to wrap it up so I could build a nursery and do a bunch of trash runs and just generally take care of the house and my family.

It’s been a fucking insane year. The day after I wrapped on the calendar and got all the files to Fantagraphics I started breaking down my studio and moving it into the basement so I could convert the upstairs room into a nursery, then I threw my back out really badly painting the room, I was in extreme pain for around 8 weeks.

Around this time my wife went into preterm contractions, it was an insanely complicated pregnancy, She was on bedrest orders for several months and I had to do literally everything around the house, moaning in agony. Both of us… Moaning in agony.

I got my driver’s license around this time which was very frightening, driving is terrifying, I almost killed my friend Ben Heywood while he was helping me out with some lessons.

Amidst all this my favourite rabbit and best fucking friend Mr Lincoln suddenly passed away from a heart attack, which almost broke me, I had no choice but to soldier on though… When the kid was born she had a bunch of complications and had to have surgery and spent almost 3 weeks in intensive care and I was spending all day at her side, losing my fucking mind, reading and singing to her. I was continuing to post comics on instagram throughout all this, I’m quite private when it comes to my social media and said nothing about any of this… I was actually photographing my old original art and posting it from the corner of the intensive care ward unbeknownst to anybody…

Things have just kind of started to calm down recently. I haven’t drawn a comic in five months which is the longest I’ve ever gone in my life without drawing anything, now my wife and I are packing up our shit and moving states over the next few weeks. LET’S GET FUCKING NUTS!!!! In the next month or so I hope to be set up in a new studio and we’ll have child care so I might actually be able to get back to work in some capacity. Gotta get cracking on Megg’s Coven and a whole bunch of other shit I’m burning to put out. I have another ridiculous webcomic thing I want to do…

KAPLAN: The director’s commentary also noted that you have been enjoying building LEGO sets. Has there been any one set in particular that you enjoyed building? Has anyone built “the Megg & Mogg house” out of LEGO yet (besides Jack)?

HANSELMANN: I’m very embarrassed by my hardcore LEGO phase last year, it’s incredibly dorky, a 39yr old man sitting at a table putting together little (embarrassingly expensive) children’s toys.

I can’t imagine my wife found it very sexy… But yeah, damn, LEGO is fucking fun and incredibly relaxing. I love the crinkly numbered bags. My favourite builds were a medieval blacksmith’s house and the spring lantern festival. Ooh and the pirate shipwreck island. I also just bought a shitload of mail-order plant parts and was making little freebuild forests. I have a small city built in my basement where Mr Lincoln used to live, gotta break it down now though, I’m moving on…

I did draw up a plan for a LEGO Megg and Mogg house and planned to mail-order all the individual pieces to build it, I don’t have time for that shit anymore though, I barely have time to think about comics, the LEGO’s going away into storage and will return when my kid’s old enough for it, then we’ll build a new city, together.

Not the Megg and Mogg house though… Megg and Mogg is not for children.

KAPLAN: I understand you will be taking part in a single in-person appearance to promote Crisis Zone. Would you mind telling us a little bit about this?

HANSELMANN: Yeah, just one event. An outdoor event at the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery.

Why the fuck would I travel right now? The pandemic’s still raging on and I have a baby. Everyday people message me and are like “come to Brazil!!!” and I’m like “what the fuck are you talking about?!”.

I’m not even sure it’s a good idea to be doing this one live event in Seattle.

Nevertheless, I guess it’s happening, I am going to have some art hung in the gallery, am going to play a set of music I’ve been making on my phone recently when my kid’s asleep on me, will be DJing a bunch of shit while I sign books (if anyone shows up).

I’m planning on providing a bunch of free cheeseburgers (“Daddy Burgers”) with the Werewolf Jones hot sauce that came out last year and some Crisis Zone cocktails which consist of absinthe and Dr Pepper.

Hopefully my new merch will be ready by the time of the event, have teamed up with Secret Headquarters in LA to do some Crisis Zone shirts, pins and THONGS.

I guess since I’m moving soon, this will be my farewell to Seattle… it should hopefully be a fucking banger. Come on down if you’re so inclined, I’m fully vaxxed but still, stay the fuck away from me! Trust nobody!

KAPLAN: You were especially perceptive about the arrival of the first lockdown in early 2020. Would you care to offer any predictions for what’s up next for all of us? Will we ever be able to gather at a comic convention again?

HANSELMANN: Everything’s just going to keep getting worse. I’m very excited to be moving away from the city, I’m tired of the needles and shit everywhere and getting yelled at everytime I go to the supermarket. I’m done with cities.

I’m done with conventions too. I’m still participating in some virtual shit for some upcoming festivals but I can’t imagine actually going to one for a good while, mostly just because I don’t want to leave my kid. I doubt any festivals will be functioning in any serious capacity for a good couple of years anyway, everyone’s too spooked by the COVID and the government is going nuts, they’ve got the military out on the streets in Australia to enforce the lockdowns, shit’s getting REAL weird.

I was getting tired of conventions anyway, you sell fuck-all product there and have to deal with a bunch of cunts and bad food options. It’s all just dirty looks these days. Paranoia and Hatred.

I prefer promoting my work online and selling books through the post. It’s a good model. Why the fuck would I want to leave the house?

I do miss hanging out with Heidi MacDonald though. Industry shittalk. Blackout Drunk, pounding down coffin nails.

KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to be sure and include?

HANSELMANN: Animal Crossing update: I quit around the middle of December or so. Nintendo thoroughly shit the bed by not doing enough updates, it got sooooo boring. They sold like 36 million copies, how the fuck could they think this level of updates is sufficient? No cafe, no Kapp’n, no Nookingtons. Utterly ridiculous.

My new favourite Switch game is just spying on people’s playlogs, seeing how many hours they’ve put into things. Why did you make your log private, Avery? How can I spy on you now? How many hours do you have logged on Animal Crossing now? Are you still playing it?!

I barely get to play my switch anymore… Got three hours on Tony Hawk, managed ten on Skyward Sword. It’s very difficult to play a Switch when you’re trapped in a bean bag with an overheating baby passed out on top of you…


Crisis Zone is available now at a bookstore or public library near you.

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