Life in Hell by Matt Groening

Matt Groening is an American producer and cartoonist, best known for creating the world famous cartoon series 'The Simpsons' and 'Futurama'. He was born in Portland, Oregon as the son of Homer Groening, an amateur film maker, writer and cartoonist. Despite having a creative father he strongly discouraged his son to follow in his footsteps, believing he would never be able to make a living out of it. At school Groening enjoyed scribbling in his notebooks and got in trouble for making caricatures of the teachers and drawing spaceships and monsters. He discovered that the angrier people got about his drawings, the better they were. He studied philosophy at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where Lynda Barry and Charles Burns were co-students of his. They'd both become large influences on his work. Among his other graphic influences are Charles M. Schulz, Robert Crumb, Carl Barks, Aline Kominsky, E.C. Segar, Ernie Bushmiller, Mad Magazine, Ronald Searle, Nicole Hollander, Heather McAdams, David Boswell, Dennis P. Eichhorn, Peter Bagge, Doug Allen, Daniel Clowes, Lat, Jim Woodring, Harvey Pekar, Rowland Emett, Art Spiegelman, Charles Addams, Dr. Seuss, M.C. Escher, Walt DisneyMax en Dave Fleischer, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Terry Gilliam, Cal Schenkel, John Kricfalusi, Lloyd Dangle, Lat, Tom Tomorrow, Bill Griffith, Carol Lay, Joe Matt, John Callahan, Max Cannon and Ted Rall. He also drew creative inspiration from cult novels, underground comics, avantgarde music, outsider music, exotica and alternative media. 

Work is Hell by Matt Groening
Work is Hell

After graduation Groening moved to Los Angeles, where he had several low grade jobs. Groening's cartoon series 'Life In Hell' started off as a series of doodles for his friends in Oregon, which reflected how he felt about living in LA. It was a satirical underground comic, that delved into all sorts of social issues, such as school, work, relationships, politics and childhood. The gag series centered around a rabbit family, Binky, Sheba and little Bongo, because they were the only animals he could draw recognizably enough. Other recurring characters were the ambiguously gay friends Akbar and Jeff, who look exactly alike. They started off as bad copies of Charlie Brown ('Peanuts') by Charles M. Schulz, hence their similar shirts and short stature. Groening took a lot of cartooning tips from reading Jack Hamm's instruction books. What "Life in Hell" lacked in drawing skills it made up for in its content.

After these cartoons showed up in Wet Magazine in 1977, they made their official debut as a comic strip in the Los Angeles Reader in April 1980. It was during this period that he met Gary Panter, who shared the same goals and interests. Panter's character 'Jimbo' would later inspire Bart Simpson's hairdo. Groening also collected his strip in books like 'Love is Hell', 'Work is Hell' and 'School is Hell'. These were followed by a merchandise line and the launch of the Acme Features Syndicate that distributed the strip to several papers until 2012. Acme Features was launched by Groening and his then girlfriend Deborah Caplan, and also published comics by Lynda Barry and John Callahan

Life in Hell

Groening's comic gained a cult following and in 1987 one particular strip, 'The Los Angeles Way of Death', motivated Hollywood producer James L. Brooks to offer Groening a TV contract. An initial attempt to adapt 'Life In Hell' to a series of animated cartoons eventually ended up as the series about the dysfunctional 'Simpsons' family. The feature started in the Tracey Ullman Show as 15-second bumpers before and after commercial breaks. By 1989, these shorts had become so successful, that they evolved into a full-blown animated sitcom. The pilot episode was written by Mimi Pond

'The Simpsons' have become the most successful sitcom since Hanna-Barbera's 'The Flintstones' and even broke that show's record as "longest running prime time animated TV series" in 1997. From the start, the series was praised for its satirical edge and often caused a stir because of its subversive content, that poked fun at family ethics, politics, business, religion, education, nuclear power and the United States in general. Especially breakout character Bart Simpson was seen as a bad role model for children. Yet 'The Simpsons' also became a mainstream success thanks to its hilarious comedy and brilliant satire. 

Love is Hell by Matt Groening
Love Is Hell

By 1991 the series was such a cultural phenomenon that US President George Bush Sr. declared during a meeting of the Republican Party that "America needs to be a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons." That same week, Bart Simpson responded in the next episode of their show: "Hey, we're just like The Waltons: we pray for an end to the recession too".

'The Simpsons' eventually earned more respectability from its detractors. With a cast of numerous colourful and unforgettable characters it allowed for many different and unpredictable storylines. Jokes and references to both high and low culture appeal to both average viewers as well as intellectuals. Some can only be caught after multiple viewings. Various celebrities have guest starred as voice actors, including Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Taylor, Stephen Hawking, Paul McCartney, Mel Gibson, and Michael Jackson. Some of them fellow comics artists and/or animators, including Mike Judge (the episode 'Bart Star', 1997), Stan Lee ('I Am Furious (Yellow)', 2002, 'Married to the Blob', 2014), Art Spiegelman, Alan Moore, Daniel Clowes ('Husbands and Knives' (2007), Gary Larson ('Once Upon a Time in Springfield', 2010), Nick Park ('Angry Dad: The Movie' (2011), Neil Gaiman ('The Book Job', 2011), Seth MacFarlane ('Dangers on a Train' (2013) and Matt Groening himself ('My Big Fat Geek Wedding' in 2004 and 'Homer the Whopper' in 2009). Several artists have also guest animated the shows' opening credits, including John Kricfalusi ('Bart Stops To Smell the Roosevelts', 2012, 'Treehouse of Horror XXVI', 2015), Bill Plympton ('Beware My Cheating Bart', 2012, 'Black Eyed, Please', 2013 and 'Married to the Blob', 2014), Seth Green ('The Fabulous Baker Boy', 2013), Sylvain Chomet ('Diggs', 2014), Michael Socha ('What to Expect When Bart's Expecting', 2014), Don Hertzfeldt ('Clown in the Dumps', 2014), Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland ('Mathlete's Feat', 2015) and Disney animator Eric Goldberg ('Fland Canyon', 2016). It landed the show a place in the Guinness Book of Records for being the TV show with the most guest stars in history. In 2007 a theatrical feature was made: 'The Simpsons Movie'.

In 1999 Groening created a new animated sitcom, 'Futurama'. Its style of satire and comedy are similar to 'The Simpsons', but stories are set in the 31st century. The series is a spoof of the science fiction genre, both the naïve versions dealing with flying cars, aliens and robots, as well as more grim and frightening dystopias. Despite receiving similar excellent reviews, the show never reached the same mainstream popularity and was cancelled in 2003. Thanks to a strong cult following it was revived in 2008, but met its end again in 2013. In 2014 the Simpsons episode 'Simpsorama' made a crossover with 'Futurama'.

Cover by Matt GroeningBizarro Comics

In 1994, Groening formed Bongo Comics (named after the character Bongo from 'Life in Hell') with Steve Vance, Cindy Vance and Bill Morrison. The company publishes comic books based on 'The Simpsons' and 'Futurama', among other things. Zongo Comics followed a year later, and deals with comic books for more mature readers, including work by Gary Panter and Mary Fleener. Matt Groening is also the co-producer of Paper Moon Graphics, a successful line of humorous greeting cards. Artists that have worked for Bongo Comics are Igor Baranko, Hilary Barta, John Delaney, Jason Ho, Mike Kazaleh, Batton Lash, Carol Lay, Phil Ortiz, Andrew Pepoy, Horacio Sandoval, Scott Shaw!, Mike Worley and Sergio Aragonés.

Groening won a Reuben Award for 'Life in Hell' in 2002 and received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame 10 years later. He has voiced characters in animated films such as J. Otto Seibold's 'Olive, the Other Reindeer' (1999) and Bill Plympton's 'Hair High' (2004). He also appeared in several documentaries, including about Frank Zappa ('Peefeeyatko', 1992, and 'Late Night Special', 1993), Captain Beefheart ('The Artist Formerly Known As Captain Beefheart', 1997), Chuck Jones ('The Magical World of Chuck Jones', 1992, and 'Chuck Jones: Extremes and In-Betweens', 2000), John Cage ('Revenge of the Dead Indians', 1993), Charles M. Schulz ('Good Grief, Charlie Brown', (2000), The Beatles ('The Beatles Revolution', 2000), Daniel Johnston ('The Devil and Daniel Johnston', 2005), Ed "Big Daddy" Roth ('Tales of the Rat Fink', 2006), Wayne White ('Beauty is Embarrassing', 2012), David Boswell ('I Thought I Told You To Shut Up!', 2015), Nick Park ('A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman', 2015), The Residents ('A Theory of Obscurity', 2015) and Steel Pulse ('Dreadtown'). He occasionally played in the amateur rock band The Rockbottom Remainders and designed the album cover of Frank Zappa's posthumous live record, 'Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa: A Memorial Tribute' (1996).

Groening also wrote the foreword to Monte Beauchamp's book about Robert Crumb, 'The Life and Times of R. Crumb' (1996), the 1956-1958 edition of the posthumous compilation books of Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts' series and Sergio Aragonés' compilation book 'Mad's Greatest Artists: Sergio Aragonés: Five Decades of his Finest Works' (2010). He did the same for reprints of Chuck Jones' autobiography 'Chuck Amuck' (1994) and Lat's 'Kampung Boy'. When the Hammer Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. held the exhibition 'Masters of American Comics' (2005) and published a catalogue with work by the respective artists Groening wrote an essay about Gary Panter. Groening was also one of many cartoonists who contributed a graphical homage to The Ramones' compilation CD/comic book 'Weird Tales From The Ramones' (2005).

School is hell by Matt Groening

On June 16, 2012 'Life in Hell' came to an end. Twenty-two cartoonists paid tribute, including Jim Borgman, Ruben Bolling, Carol Lay, Ivan Brunetti, Jerry Scott, Sammy Harkham, Jen Sorensen, Tom Gammill, Peter Kuper, Jeffrey Brown, Bobby London, Patrick McDonnell, Tom Tomorrow, James Sturm, Tom Gammill, Sergio Aragonés, Alison Bechdel, Jordan Crane, Tony Millionaire, Art Spiegelman and Rob Sikoryak. Another homage came from Ted Rall, who wrote words of praise on his personal blog, claiming that the success of 'Life in Hell' motivated many mainstream magazines and newspapers to publish more alternative cartoonists.

Matt Groening

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