By Erin Grant
The Meg and Mog stories were a series of children’s picture books written by Helen Nicoll and illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski. First published in 1972, they were about the tales of Meg the witch, her stripy black cat Mog, and their friend Owl. Their simple designs, bold colours and cheeky shenanigans make them instantly cherishable by children.
Simon Hanselmann’s Megg, Mogg and Owl takes all those sweet and wholesome feelings the Helen Nicol books evoke, douses them in alcohol and sets them on fire. The fairytale has ended, and Hanselmann has hit us with cold, hard reality.
My love for Hanselmann’s version of Meg and Mog first began when the comics were being published online- either on his Tumblr, Girl Mountain or in their weekly appearance on VICE.com. The comics hit me with a dose of nostalgia while simultaneously making me evaluate where I currently am in life.
Suddenly these characters from my childhood had grown up alongside me- and they were not successful, confident, or even happy. I looked at them, saw myself staring back, and then it didn’t feel so bad that I was not any of those things either. According to society, your 20s are the prime of your life. But for many, including myself, they feel like a wasteland of ‘in-between.’ Adulthood is purgatory when you are perpetually caught in the middle of increasingly high expectations and rapidly draining support.
Megg, Mogg, Owl, and their assortment of other friends are not what you would call well-adjusted adults. They spend their days unemployed, getting high, pulling pranks and generally being degenerates. But although they are horrible to both each other and themselves, it is hard not to have a soft spot in your heart for them. They are charming and funny, and they’re just like you or me (well, apart from the hard drugs and rampant verbal, psychological and physical abuse). At the end of the day, they are just young adults doing the best they can with the cards they are dealt.
Megg, Mogg and Owl is the perfect stoner comedy, for many reasons. One of them is the sheer absurdity of watching a literal cat, an owl and green-skinned witch live their lives like average humans. Netflix cartoon Bojack Horseman has a similar effect, there is just something amusing about anthropomorphism when it isn’t disneyfied. The humour is sardonic, vulgar and, a hilarious affront to my childhood. Part of the charm the comics have is that they are so utterly relatable- even when they get hyperbolic. My favourite strip is one where Megg goes to the welfare office with live crows in her dress. Attempting to physically manifest her invisible yet crippling mental illness, so she can keep her pension. A satirical take on what it’s like to battle a dehumanising system that is supposed to help you.
Megg, Mogg and Owl is also an image of the harshness of life; of living with depression and addiction. Hanselmann’s most recent edition of Megg, Mog and Owl is Bad Gateway (2019), and it is his darkest book yet. Megg and Mogg’s party lifestyle is finally catching up with them. Megg is spiralling downwards as the trauma she’s numbed for so long is resurfacing, Mogg’s refusal to grow up means he’s becoming an insufferable man-child, and Owl? Owl’s life is looking up, he is out of the seedy and decaying sharehouse and is somewhat free from the stagnant lifestyle that is choking his friends.
Bad Gateway is still full of Megg and Mogg’s trademark black humour. Still, the comedy in Bad Gateway has an extra layer of darkness to it. Hanselmann knows that in some situations, you just have to laugh because your only other option is crying.
Whilst reading the comics, you never forget the characters are inspired by those of Helen Nicol’s books. Therefore, you can never escape the loss of innocence, and the fact life is never what you imagined it to be as a kid. Life only gets worse after carefree childhoods and is full of pain and self-destruction. And that, after all, is the poignant message I take from Megg Mogg and Owl, and although it is morbid, I find it comforting.
Along with his self published zines, Hanselmann’s books from publisher Fantagraphics are Megahex, Megg and Mogg go to Amsterdam, One More Year and Bad Gateway.
Featured image: Illustration from “Bad Gateway.” © Simon Hanselmann, 2019