Let’s Talk Comics: Booger, Gender, and Simon Hanselmann’s “One More Year”
“How was your day, Booger?” inquires Werewolf Jones.
“…Quite horrible,” confesses Booger. “But it could’ve been worse, I guess…I wasn’t actively physically assaulted.”
So it goes.
— — —
Simon Hanselmann’s Megg, Mogg, & Owl comics have grabbed attention in the indie scene for years, since they started showing up on Hanselmann’s blog Girl Mountain (and later Vice) in weekly doses of drug-fueled cringe comedy. The strip’s driving conceit through the years has been its cast’s frightening lack of empathy, as each character is too fucked up (by substances, mental illness, or both) to truly care about people besides themselves. Megg extinguishes her suicidal tendencies in booze and pills, while Werewolf Jones — who Hanselmann describes as “my extremely destructive fucked-up side” in a cast largely drawn from aspects of himself— shoots heroin into his eyeballs and ruins his friends’ lives at every opportunity.
And then there’s Booger. A “gender illusionist boogeyman,” Booger is a stand-in for much of Hanselmann’s own gender confusion, facing the world as a transfeminine monster in her creator’s place. It’s tempting on one level to critique the positioning of a transfem person as monstrous, but this is Hanselmann we’re talking about, who once described his body to the Guardian as “animated, sentient meat.” Sure, Booger is a monster, but isn’t everybody, down to the bone?
It’s that idea — again, central to the Megg, Mogg, & Owl canon — that allows Booger the chance to exist as just another asshole. On the still-uncommon occasions that transfem characters show up in fiction (and aren’t two-dimensional stereotypes), they’re often forced to be virtuous because they represent all trans people everywhere. Who wants to be represented by a douchebag? Other marginalized communities also suffer from this tendency, an unintended consequence of “diversity casting” that maintains structural whiteness, cisnormativity, and so on. It’s what made The Good Place so novel; cis women behaving badly in a nuanced way is still itself a rarity. Trans literature is still a niche within a niche, making characters like Maria — the drug-addled, backwards-looking protagonist of Imogen Binnie’s Nevada — almost unheard-of. Since our stories are so often misunderstood, there’s an implicit demand that we be shown in the most palatable light, but that robs our stories of the all-important shades of grey.
Removed from the constraints of respectability, then, Booger is free to be just as much of a terrible fuckup as anyone else. So what does it say that, by and large, she isn’t?
In Hanselmann’s most recent MM&O collection One More Year, Booger can be seen abusing drugs and alcohol, engaging in some light property damage, cruelly mocking people’s bodies at the pool, and smoking cigarette butts off the street outside her gym. She’s unquestionably a dangerously irresponsible and self-destructive person. But all of that behavior, relatively light in comparison to the main cast’s ongoing criminal antics, is aided and abetted by her friends: the property damage was a negligible side effect of one of Werewolf Jones’ hallucinogenic rampages, and Megg enthusiastically enables Booger’s drinking, encouraging her to chug booze so she’ll be more comfortable at the water park.
In fact, that story — “Heat Wave” — is one of the most insightful in the book. Booger spends all day trying to get her friends to understand how deeply uncomfortable she is around other (read: cisgender) people, beset with low-key anxiety at every turn: will the park be crowded? Are those kids laughing at me? Is that family close enough to judge how well I pass?
Booger is not a good person. But the ways in which she’s actively bad are more frequently internal than external, potentially because she simply doesn’t have the energy to care about other people beyond asking “do they hate me or will they leave me alone?” The harm she delivers to others is from negligence rather than malice. Her existence has become an attempt to push everyone away except those she thinks she can (or must) trust, whose companionship and approval she craves; immediately after her quote at the top of this essay, Booger — smoking grass with Megg and Werewolf Jones — succumbs to Megg’s advances, and an implied threesome ensues. (Owl, meanwhile, languishes alone in the hospital after an “accident” at the park, and Mogg is forgotten altogether.)
“Heat Wave” is much like “Megg, Booger, and Werewolf Jones” in that it shows Booger’s exhaustion with the world she inhabits. When WJ suggests she pee at a betting parlor instead of an alleyway, Booger laconically replies “Yeah, I really don’t feel like getting beaten to death today.” She doesn’t even have the inclination to tell off a pack of casually transmisogynistic children who snicker from a stoop as she passes. It’s not hard to see Booger’s bottled-up anxiety and weariness as an extension of Hanselmann’s, and the root of her “bad behavior”: this world wants me dead anyway, she seems to say, so why should I give a shit about it or anyone in it?
One More Year is not a comic that everyone is capable of enjoying. It’s mean-spirited, cynical, bitterly depressing, and vulgar in the extreme. But it’s in that junkyard of a world that Hanselmann manages to coax up a truly compelling and flawed transfeminine character: one who hurts others and herself out of reflex, numb and afraid of what the next day will bring, clinging to nihilistic ennui because the alternative is too painful.
It’s brutal, sad, and probably my favorite thing about Hanselmann’s whole fucked-up oeuvre.
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