'Friendship Bouquet: A Review of Simon Hanselmann’s "Megahex"', by Leonie Brialey

Right after midnight, as 2014 became 2015, somewhere in Tasmania I was about to hug my friend happy new year. Right before I did he said, deadpan, sarcastically, “Doesn’t it feel different?” and I kind of hated him for a second for saying that, but at the same time I was glad he didn’t say something like that sincerely.

So I was like, “Yeah, man, I feel it,” equally sarcastic, but maybe also in my heart a little naively hopeful that whatever I wanted to change in my life would change on account of the year, the sun, the stars, and not any actual effort on my part. Cynical about time passing and changing us, but sincere in our friendship, both high and disappointed on a variety of drugs, we embraced.

Another friend has pointed out to me that there are no seasons in Megahex, no cosmic indication of time passing, aside from day and night, day in, day out. Moods drop and shift, colours intensify or fade, characters dip from triumphant attempts to change themselves to disappointing but safe stagnations. We experience time in Megahex, as in life, less in terms of strictly demarcated years and seasons, but more immediately in moments, and repetitions of moments that stretch, expand, and then pass.

This movement, these inhalations of excitement of the possibility of change and the disappointed exhalations that maybe nothing changes and our attempts to change ourselves are unsuccessful, are the beautiful and heartbreaking ripples of life, and Megahex.

There are ways of talking about life where everything is boring and frustrating, and there are ways of talking about life where everything is wonderful and magical. Both are nauseating at extremes, especially if sustained over long periods. Life is not either/or, but both: boring, frustrating, wonderful and magical.

Every time Megahex seems so self-aware and so cool, to exhale so loudly and profoundly at the banality of it all, it will inhale so deeply and fully that you can’t help but fill your own lungs along with it.

To go back in time, before Girl Mountain I’d never seen any woman in any media who was also such a serious stoner. I can’t tell you how much this meant to me. I can draw a line in my life—life before Girl Mountain and life after. Before Girl Mountain it’s like I had been waiting to exhale but didn’t even realise I’d been holding my breath. Something was missing but I couldn’t have known what. I’m not being hyperbolic. Representation matters, as someone on Tumblr once said. When you don’t see your experiences reflected back at you, there is a sense in which it feels like they haven’t happened, like they aren’t real. To see your experiences reflected makes them more real, and makes you a little less alone in that reality.

The stoner periods in my life have varied in length, secrecy and seriousness. From my late teens to early twenties I spent most of my days watching Futurama DVDs and hitting the bongs pretty hard. I used most, if not all, of my mum’s mineral water empties for bucket bongs. Buckets (or “bouquets”) are good because they are both economical and scientific: you can get pretty high from a literal pinch of weed and whatever you may or may not have understood from high school science suddenly has practical relevance to your life.

Smoking one out of an ocean rock pool adds an element of naturalist appreciation, which is to be admired.

A DVD boxset, much like a book, is a physical reminder of our cultural history. It can also substitute as a colourful group of friends that you don’t actually have to engage with to enjoy the company of, which is sometimes what you want in a friend. I owned (still do) Seasons 1 through 4 of the Futurama DVD boxsets, and more than the episodes themselves I liked watching the DVD commentaries. I liked feeling a part of the nerdy camaraderie between Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, passing out and waking to the terrible yet comforting loop of menu screen soundtrack. Much like in Season 4, Episode 11, ‘Where No Fan Has Gone Before’, where Fry talks about how the characters of Star Trek were his friends when he had none, Groening and Cohen were my friends when I had some but was too stoned to be with them IRL.

When I started reading Girl Mountain, I low-level internet-stalked Simon Hanselmann. Low-level meaning I looked at all his photos on Facebook even though we weren’t friends on Facebook. It’s hard to not crush on someone who seems to feel you so deeply, and express themselves so clearly, so honestly, so beautifully. I wanted to be his friend, or his girlfriend. I don’t think I am alone here.

What is the genius of Simon Hanselmann? His precise and natural sense of comedic timing? The food colouring he paints with? His turns of affection and sadism for his characters? What is the magic that he weaves?

In Season 3, Episode 19, ‘Roswell That Ends Well’, there is a moment where Leela picks up a salt shaker, twirls it around, and puts it back down. In the DVD commentary, David X. Cohen stops everyone to point to this moment as his all-time favourite piece of acting. Acting. He’s not talking about Katey Sagal’s voice acting. He’s talking about the combination of all the things that make Leela so alive that it makes sense to talk about a two dimensional cartoon character’s acting.

For characters that are literally two-dimensional and static, metaphorically stuck and dulled, every character in Megahex is, at the same time, very much alive. The detail of Megg putting on lip balm in this final panel is equivalent to Leela twirling a salt shaker: it is this small action, the flick of a wrist (Megg’s, Leela’s, Hanselmann’s) that makes a character live.

One of the few times in my life when I’ve felt like a genius was when I realised that speech balloons are balloons: they’re air, someone’s breath. No other medium expresses speech this way, so visual, bodily, physical, exhaled. I don’t think I was stoned when I realised this, but I could have been.

What is magic? Magic is timing, magic is repetition; a combination of special elements brought together in a special sequence in space and time, a way of altering reality. Magic is animation, a way of making inanimate objects live and breathe and sparkle. In Latin, anima is the animating principle,” “vital spark,” “spirit,” or “soul” of a thing. In the Bible, Adam and Eve live when God breathes life, nephesh – Hebrew for the “vital spark” or “soul” or “breath” of a thing – into their noses, into their lungs.

Lynda Barry, cartoonist and pal of Matt Groening, has written a lot about what it is that makes an image engaging or magical. For her, an image isn’t the visual thing on the page, but something in and beyond the image, something that moves and moves you.

Animation is the illusion of motion: static images made to move and dance through the passing of time. The timing in Megahex is incredible, magic. It makes everything live simply through the repetition of images, breath, food colouring.

Magic and animation are also copying: working like with like. Using simple, accessible elements of the earth (wood, lead, food colouring) to capture and imitate on a small scale the grander wonder and mystery of the universe. Imitation is also the highest form of flattery.

I tried drawing Owl, page after page, and he just doesn’t look right. He’s surprisingly easy to draw, but his essence is difficult to capture. I can use paper and pencil but there’s something missing from Owl in these drawings. It’s not only that he doesn’t quite look right, but he doesn’t sound right.

It seems fairly obvious that Simon Hanselmann is Megg, and in the same way the Charles Schulz is Charlie Brown and also a little bit of every Peanuts character. We never see Megg doing magic because it’s all Simon Hanselmann. Simon’s the magican, Simon’s the witch: he casts the Megahex, he cuts the bitches (see his Truth Zone for evidence).

Simon, if you’re reading this, I once read an interview where you mention the animated series of The Wizard of Oz. I know no one else who also remembers this series and I’ve felt crazy for so many years thinking that I imagined it. You don’t need to do anything with this information: just know you’ve made me feel less alone in the world in many small, magical, disgusting ways. Thank you, and happy new year.

Leonie Brialey is a cartoonist and writer living in Melbourne.