Cartoons by Homer Groening

Homer Groening was a Canadian-American film director and cartoonist. He made various amateur movies and some cartoons in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, among them the comic strip 'Phoebe, Get Your Man' (co-created with Peg Bracken). While his work showed talent and was syndicated at the time Groening never experienced a major breakthrough. His career pales compared with the success of his far more famous son, Matt Groening, best known as the creator of 'Life in Hell', 'The Simpsons', 'Futurama' and 'Disenchantment'.

Early life
Homer Philip Groening was born in 1919 in Main Centre, Saskatchewan, Canada. His first name was a reference to the Greek poet Homer. He was raised in a Mennonite family and spoke German at home. He obtained a degree in English at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, where he also met his future wife: Margaret Wiggum. After graduation she worked as a high school teacher for a while. The couple married in 1941. During World War II and the Korean War Groening fought as a bomber pilot. He fought in Normandy on D-Day and later bombed Berlin. Matt Groening always felt his dad was "a tough act to follow" considering he was a decorated war veteran. After his return to civilian life Homer Groening and his family settled in Portland, Oregon. He and his wife had five children: Patty (1943-2013), Mark (1950), Matt (1954), Lisa (1956) and Maggie (1958).

Film career
Groening earned his bread by directing commercials and amateur movies. He was mentored by Lew Cook, founder of the OHS Moving Image Archive. In 1958 Groening started an advertising agency: Botsford, Constantine and Gardiner. He became account executive. Two future independent film makers started their career under his employ. Groening once hired Norm Dimick as a sound editor and in the late 1960s Will Vinton (later famous for 'The Adventures of Mark Twain' and 'The California Raisins') once asked creative advice. Groening's movies mostly served commercial and educational purposes, but he also directed a few experimental pictures. 'The Big Three' (1958), 'A Study in Wet' (1964), 'Psychedelic Wet' (1968) and 'Linfield Revisited' (1973) were documentaries. He shot several surf movies at location in Hawaii. Homer Groening had a dry sense of comedy which he often expressed in his voiceovers. Some shorts, like 'Basic Brown Blue' (1969) and 'The Story' (1969) were made for his children, starring themselves. 

"Did you notice something wrong with the Captain? I heard the Steward say that he was aft."

Comics career
Groening was also active as a cartoonist. He managed to publish some of his humorous one-panel cartoons, but only in local magazines like The Oregonian and Northwest Magazine. Together with a co-worker, Peg Bracken, he created a syndicated cartoon series named 'Phoebe, Get Your Man'. The comic strip starred a young woman, Phoebe, desperately trying to get married. Bracken later made another series of cartoons with her husband Roderick Lull, published in the Saturday Evening Post. She later published bestsellers with her books 'I Hate to Cook' (1960) and 'I Hate to Housekeep' (1962).

Final years and death
Homer Groening's graphic career always remained in the fringe. His lack of success explains why he strongly discouraged his children to follow in his footsteps. As luck would have it, Matt proved his father wrong. Between 1977 and 2012 he created a long-running comics series, 'Life in Hell'. In 1987 he scored a commercial and critical hit with the TV show 'The Simpsons', which still runs as of this day. Homer Groening lived long enough to witness his son's success with pride. He passed away in 1996. His wife died in 2013.

References to Homer Groening in 'The Simpsons'
Matt Groening occasionally included autobiographical elements in his work. The most well known example is the fact that some members of the Simpsons family are named after his own relatives. Bart Simpson is the main exception, as his name is just an anagram for the word "brat". But Bart's parents are called Homer and Marge and his sisters Lisa and Maggie. Matt's mother's maiden name was borrowed for Chief Wiggum and his son Ralph. Sister Patty inspired Marge's sister Patty. In the episode 'Prank and Greens' (2009) Bart befriends an older boy who enjoys playing pranks and whose personality was directly based on Matt's brother Mark. The only unintentional similar name is Abraham Simpson. Groening actually let his writers come up with a name for Homer's father, but by sheer coincidence it was his actual grandfather's name! Other than their names Matt Groening always insisted that his family was nothing like their animated namesakes. Yet Homer Groening's wife did once have a beehive hairdo, though never as tall as Marge's.

Legacy and influence
Thanks to Matt Groening's celebrity status, the films of his father have gained more present-day interest. Groening used footage of his father's film 'A Study in Wet' in the logo of his own production company The Curiosity Company. In 2015 some of Homer Groening's movies were screened at the Portland Film Festival in the presence of Matt and his sister Lisa. Animator Bill Plympton, who met Homer Groening in 1967, claimed that Homer's deadpan comedy style was an influence on his own films.

Cartoon by Homer Groening
Northwest Magazine, 28 March 1954.

Article about Homer Groening

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