Think about something that makes you happy. Maybe it’s a hug from a loved one. Maybe it’s reading a good book or watching a favorite movie. Now keep thinking about that. No matter what happens. Stay happy. Lose your job? Stay upbeat! Significant other dumps you? It could be worse! Whole family dies in a car accident? Keep smiling! Keep smiling. Keep smiling or else.
In Happy Hour, the new AHOY Comics series from Peter Milligan, Michael Montenat, Felipe Sobreiro, and Rob Steen, happiness has been made mandatory by the government. When the series’ protagonist, Jerry Stephens, fails to follow the rules following a horrific accident, a visit from the Joy Police leads to his institutionalization. Can Jerry learn to look at the bright side of things? Or will one man’s quest for unhappiness have larger repercussions?
The Beat chatted with Milligan about what inspired Happy Hour, what’s been making him happy during the dumpster fire that is 2020, and finding joy in AHOY editor-in-chief Tom Peyer‘s hair.
Joe Grunenwald: Being happy is one of the best feelings in the world, but Happy Hour seems to be villainizing the very idea of it. Do you hate joy?
Peter Milligan: The book doesn’t so much set out to villainize happiness…rather to suggest a little healthy distrust…IF the absence of happiness is seen as illness, a failing, or some kind of treachery.
Grunenwald: Joking aside, the concept of government-mandated happiness doesn’t feel as far off as one would hope. Was this an idea you came up with recently, or have you been developing it for a while?
Miligan: I’ve had the idea gestating for a little while, which is often the way with story. Happy Hour was an [idea] I’d been working on in the background, and then I met Tom Peyer again and saw what they were doing at Ahoy and it all came into focus.
Grunenwald: How did Michael Montenat get involved with Happy Hour? What about his work makes him the best artist for this series?
Milligan: Tom Peyer showed me his work and we both thought he was perfect for Happy Hour. The thing that was most important was Michael’s ability to make things real. When you’re dealing with a pretty absurdist or crazy plot I think you want the art, and the look of the characters, to be as realistic as possible, as a counterpoint. Chris Bachalo had the same kind of quality when we were doing Shade, the Changing Man. When things weren’t going totally nuts people and scenes looked real.
Grunenwald: In the note at the end of Happy Hour #1, AHOY editor-in-chief Tom Peyer says the first mainstream comic he worked on as an editor was your aforementioned Shade, the Changing Man run. Did you ever imagine he’d still be editing your work thirty years later? What do you enjoy most about working with him?
Milligan: It’s always a lot of fun working with Tom so I think I’d hoped we’d work together a lot sooner than this. The main joy with working with Tom is probably his hair. One look at his hair and you realize that anything is possible. It’s very liberating.
Grunenwald: The series’ main character, Jerry Stephens, goes through a lot of big life changes in a short period of time, and finds himself at odds with the government. What’s his ultimate goal in this series?
Milligan: Jerry THINKS his goal is to be somewhere where he can be as unhappy as he wants to be. But life is not always straightforward – and it’s especially not straightforward in happy Hour – and what Jerry thinks he wants at the beginning becomes a lot more…complicated.
Grunenwald: People have different ideas of happiness, and the series opens with a discussion of how different philosophers thought of happiness as a concept. How do you personally define happiness? Do you agree with any certain philosophers’ views more than others?
Milligan: There’s an entire philosophical branch dealing with happiness. Universities give out degrees in Happiness Studies. I quite like Bertrand Russell’s thoughts on the subject, which comes down to – I think – that happiness is about zest. Zest. I like that.
I know they say that money can’t buy you happiness. And maybe they’re right. But let me tell you, NO money or NOT ENOUGH money can certainly buy you a whole chunk of unhappiness.
What is enough money? That’s a different degree course.
Grunenwald: 2020 has been the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to things to be depressed about. What’s something that’s brought you happiness this year?
Milligan: Besides the small, fleeting moments of happiness of everyday life…the morning air, food, drink, sex, whatever, none of my loved ones have suffered or died from Covid. But that’s not happiness as much as lack of unhappiness.
Maybe sometimes that’s all happiness is. A lack of unhappiness.
Grunenwald: What’re you hoping readers take away from Happy Hour?
Milligan: It’s a pretty insane ride but I think Happy Hour will make the discerning reader think about happiness, unhappiness, death, love…and leeches.
Published by AHOY Comics, Happy Hour #1 arrives in stores this Wednesday, November 4th.