Fantagraphics Books

Simon Hanselmann has seen some shit. The Tasmanian-born comics artist—who now resides in Seattle—writes and draws comics about the druggy, sexy, hilarious adventures of a witch named Megg, her cat familiar/boyfriend Mogg, and their werewolf drug dealer roommate Werewolf Jones. Hanselmann has always said these adventures were inspired by stories from his own life, so I’m not speaking out of school when I say the weird cat hard-ons and “chem-sex” in Hanselmann’s new graphic novel Bad Gateway ring true. I don’t know how we got here, to this room covered in garbage and bong water, but it feels weirdly like home.

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Bad Gateway opens with a story catch-up (the Ed Piskor X-Men: Grand Design reference is not lost on me) about all the drama from Hanselmann’s last collection, Amsterdam, which saw Megg cheating on Mogg, and the departure of the straight-laced owl, Owl. The absence of Owl’s squarish grounding precipitates more intense lows for the trio: Megg’s unsettling plot to remain on welfare, the sale of her treasured limited-edition roller blades, and the ensuing snorting of spilled amyl nitrate off parking lot asphalt.

Hanselmann portrays the lows of addiction with sitcom-level timing, but there’s also a level of respect for the characters, especially Megg. Megg is a survivor, and the machinations she and her crew go through to score are strangely ingenious. Do we give drug addicts enough credit for being go-getters?

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Hanselmann is open about growing up on welfare with a mother who struggled with drug addiction. While he’s a remarkable artist (the paintings of weed smoke in Bad Gateway are LUSH), he’s also a social services success story. Welfare enabled his mother to provide a stable home. In Bad Gateway, we see Megg watching Ricki Lake in her room (Megg has always been a clear proxy for Hanselmann, even if he didn’t wear a red wig and draw on freckles for conventions), and it feels like a direct portrayal of stories Hanselmann has told about his youth. Megg’s mom hustles drugs in the kitchen but keeps the wilder aspects of addiction out of their home.

Bad Gateway is a soap opera. It’s a sitcom. It’s a black comedy about drug addiction. But what always shocks me the most when reading a collection of Hanselmann’s comics is how the monotony of debauchery starts to feel normal and almost relatable after a while. There’s a voyeuristic quality to it—like watching a car crash. But it’s also hard not to root for this out-of-control crew. I want them to win.

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