Over the last year-plus of the global pandemic, we’ve all tried to find culture — be that comics, movies, TV, the factoids on Snapple bottlecaps — to both explain the moment and offer some semblance of comfort. One such artifact proved to be Crisis Zone, from cartoonist Simon Hanselmann, which expanded on the existing Megg, Mogg, & Owl series. With daily updates via Instagram, Hanselmann managed to bemuse and frighten people amid a global crisis, demonstrating the power of weird storytelling. (As well as demonstrating the true potential of werewolves.) Not only that, but the book earned an Eisner award to boot.
This week (August 17), Fantagraphics will unveil a collected edition of Crisis Zone, complete with a “slew of added pages and scenes deleted from the webcomic, as well as an extensive ‘Director’s Commentary’ from Hanselmann himself.” To better understand the collection — if that’s actually possible — we touched base with Hanselmann via email, who offered insight on the mission of these comics, how to tell stories via Instagram, and if this can be the book to chronicle all future instances of human suffering.
AIPT: How do you describe Crisis Zone to someone? What was your larger goal: a distraction or to “document” this moment in time?
Simon Hanselmann: It’s a batshit crazy adventure through the lows and lower lows of 2020 with a cast of disgusting reprobates doing horrible things to themselves and each other. It’s a comedy! The initial goal was to simply provide free daily entertainment to the masses as they were locked in their filthy depressing hovels, slowly losing their minds. It also gave me something to do while I was locked away and it did kind of turn out to be a pretty solid historical document of how utterly depressing 2020 was. I’m hoping it’ll be on the reading list of every school in the coming years. Unless they’re scared of the truth.
AIPT: What do people need to know about the Megg, Mogg, & Owl series before reading (if anything at all). And how does this book impact that “universe?
SH: I think people would be fine going in cold. It’s a separate timeline to the “main canon” of Megg and Mogg comics. Previous knowledge would definitely enhance the experience but it’s not necessary, it was always intended to be it’s own thing. It goes a lot further than the existing book series, there’s a lot more character progression, some big reveals…
AIPT: The series originally came out in real-time via Instagram. Does having it in a static graphic novel impact the experience at all, for better or for worse
SH: I have no idea, I haven’t even read the whole thing as a book yet, as soon as I wrapped up the project I moved onto building a nursery for my kid that was on the way, it’s been an insane, complicated year. I hope the book reads okay as a single, big thing. For all I know it’s completely overwhelming and may in fact give readers heart attacks and brain aneurysms. Hopefully not. For the book I drew 500 additional panels in-between episodes to fill in some blank spaces, my friend Alex Graham told me that it’s “seamless” and you can’t even tell.
AIPT: This book obviously got a lot of attention. Do you think that helps elevate webcomics more, or is this channel already doing fine on its own?
SH: Yeah, I’m pretty happy with the engagement it received, it definitely helped having such a captive audience. There’s not a lot of webcomics like Crisis Zone, so filthy, disinterested in towing the line, not giving a f--k if it offends anyone. It’s an alternative webcomic. I don’t really engage with webcomics on the whole, it’s all a bit too wussy for my tastes. I’m from the zine world. Risographed, avant garde French noise comics are my jam. If anything, I can imagine Crisis Zone turning the mainstream general public off of webcomics. Good!
AIPT: Do you have a favorite moment or scene or page from the book that best explains it or just stands out? And why that one
SH: There’s numerous panels and sequences that crack me the f--k up. I’m very fond of the whole “carrot bottom” affair with Mogg in Vegas. Also the way that Werewolf Jones escapes his Netflix show, I can’t believe I actually got away with that and remain “uncancelled” (for now…)
AIPT: The series won an Eisner recently. Why do you think it resonated so much with people?
SH: I’m highly amused by Crisis Zone winning the Eisner for Best Webcomic, mainly due to it being drawn quite sloppily on stolen printer paper with cheap colored pencils from the supermarket and being photographed with a phone. Also it’s just super offensive and dares to criticize the virtuous Twitterati, I was really pushing the limits of good taste at certain points. I think that’s why people liked it though, there’s a lack of f----d up entertainment that takes chances these days and dares to risk being offensive. I don’t like being told what I can and can’t write about. Crisis Zone was made for intelligent people who can deal with nuance and like to be challenged. It doesn’t try to tell you what to think, it doesn’t talk down to it’s audience.
AIPT: Can this book keep going forever alongside the pandemic (or, really, any similar global event)? And does that thought thrill or terrify you as its creator?
SH: I hope that the book will become a perennial bestseller and become the pandemic text. The pandemic and the culture war ain’t goin’ nowhere, Crisis Zone will continue to be searingly relevant for quite some time I would imagine. As a creator and a satirist I’m both very grateful for the free insane material but also terrified for my child’s future. I look forward to the aliens landing and the full on zombie apocalypse!
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