There’s a recent trend in popular media where characters truly want to change, but something within themselves holds them back. Rick Sanchez, Bojack Horseman, and even Lil Dicky’s FXX show Dave all feature characters who seem unable to grow, finding themselves in depressing cycles.
In comics, this type of story is demonstrated best by Simon Hanselmann’s Eisner-winning Megg, Mogg, & Owl webcomic.
What Is Megg, Mogg, & Owl?
For the unacquainted, this comic follows three roommates: Megg, an unemployed witch with a drug habit, Mogg, her talking cat with a similar addiction, and Owl, an anthropomorphic owl who is more responsible, but often gets dragged into mayhem by Megg and Mogg. The trio’s eccentric idea machine of a friend, Werewolf Jones, is also frequently featured.
Most of the stories see the gang getting into intoxicated shenanigans and often roping Owl in through peer pressure. While that may sound like dozens of other comics, what makes these comics special is how the structure of these adventures detract from what a comics audience might expect.
While a typical story places characters in challenges which force them to grow into a better person or fall into tragedy, Megg, Mogg & Owl follows a more circular path. Hanselmann’s characters go through challenges or are presented with growth opportunities, but end right back where they began.
In particular, Megg and Mogg seem terrified of change and use alcohol and drugs as a means to avoid their problems and numb their mental illnesses. Many times, they are presented with means to begin healing and improving their lives, but they will take the road that avoids this at all costs.
What The Stories Do
For example, in one of the most recent arcs published, 28 Days Later, Megg goes to her annual welfare review determined to convince her reviewer that she still needs her disability payments. Since the department is “cracking down,” she decides to accumulate food stains and get dirt under her nails so she appears unemployable.
Meanwhile, Mogg has to go job searching to make up the remaining rent, but not without excessively complaining about it. He gets a few opportunities which he manages to screw up and has to settle for a job at Burger King.
During Megg’s review, her reviewer is extremely encouraging, claiming that she can be anything she wants and wants to recommend her for the intensive training program. Megg panics and pretends she’s delusional, claiming a crow is her son and that she is giving birth while defecating on the floor.
Her antics prove successful and she gets double disability. As she drunkenly stumbles into Burger King, she finds Mogg working and informs him that he no longer needs to work which he jubilantly celebrates. They end the story as they began, but some of these stories can be quite emotional.
In the arc Rollerblades, the group finds themselves out of money to get more drugs. Desperate to find something to sell, Megg uncovers some rollerblades that her mother got her as a kid after months of saving.
Worth hundreds of dollars when they were purchased, the most the gang can get for the rollerblades is $20. The longer they take to sell, the more hesitant Megg becomes to let go. The reader can see that she is incredibly sad that her addictions have led to this. Her inability to change or grow caused her to sell a happy memory.
Why They Work
This type of storytelling hits a core because of how realistic it is about everyday life. While comics tend to have character growth or conflict resolution packaged in 20 pages, that isn’t how most people experience change.
Most people are like Megg, Mogg, Owl, and Werewolf Jones; settled into routines which they cling to fiercely. Life changes are often slow and take many, many tries before they manifest.
Sometimes, the slowness of growth can be very depressing and cause one to give up. Like Megg, Mogg, & Owl, people too sometimes stay with what’s comfortable instead of facing the uncertainty of change even if it hurts.
This comic works because it is built on this fundamental emotion. Underneath the alcohol and mania lies a battle with fear and mental illness that each character has to face or numb themselves to. It is this that allows the comic to be humorous and emotionally complex.
Hanselmann has created something truly unique that contains a refuge for those down on their luck. Megg, Mogg, & Owl show how a narrative can be emotional without character growth or changes.