Friday, November 9, 2007

Matt Groening

Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie are the names of real people. Those real people are the relatives, parents Homer and Marge and sisters Lisa and Maggie, to Matt Groening. He took their names to create the animated family the Simpsons. Instead of making it obvious by using his own name as the son of the family, he took the word brat and switched the letters around to make the name Bart. The creation of the Simpsons was not a quick and easy path as it seems.

Matt Groening grew up in Portland, Oregon. He was the middle of five children, along with Lisa and Maggie; there were also Mark and Patty that filled out the Groening family. Matt followed in his father’s footsteps as a writer and cartoonist. Matt started out drawing a cartoon strip for his high school, but was eventually kicked off the staff.

His work on the high school paper prepared him for his work on his college paper. Groening attended the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, from 1972 to 1977. Evergreen State College is a liberal arts school with no grades and no core requirements. There he served as the editor of The Cooper Point Journal, the campus newspaper. He also wrote articles and drew cartoons for the paper.

Groening moved to Los Angeles after college to become a writer. Upon moving there he did not start out as a writer. He had a role as an extra, busing tables, washing dishes at a nursing home, landscaping in a sewage treatment plant, and chauffeuring and ghostwriting for a retired Western director. Eventually he began working regularly at Licorice Pizza.

While at Licorice Pizza, Groening began drawing a comic book about his life in Los Angeles. His self-published, xeroxed comic book was titled “Life in Hell.” “Life in Hell” starred Binky, a lonely, alienated rabbit living a low-income life in Hollywood. Instead of sending letters home to Portland, Groening sent home copies of his “Life in Hell.” By the sixth issue, those that received copies rose from 20 to 500.

Groening showed his comic to the editor of the Los Angeles Reader. The editor quickly hired him, but to deliver newspapers. For six years, he worked for the Reader as a typesetter, editor, paste-up artist, and a rock critic. As a rock critic, he never reviewed music, but instead wrote about what ever was on his mind. In 1980, a surprised Groening was offered, by the Reader, a cartoon strip. He accepted.

By 1986 his “Life in Hell” strip was running in other alternative weeklies. He was fired that same year from the Reader because Groening wrote an angry letter to the editor over the firing of a writer. The L.A. Weekly brought him on after his time at the Reader. There at the Weekly he married his fellow staffer, Deborah Caplan. By this time he and Caplan began publishing anthologies of “Life in Hell.” They also set up their own syndicate, ACME Features, to distribute the cartoon strip. His wife began running Life in Hell Inc. The two had two children, Homer and Abe. Caplan filed for divorce in March 1999.

The founder of Gracie Films, writer-producer James L. Brooks was introduced to the “Life in Hell” strip by a fellow producer. Brooks asked Groening if he could use the characters in animated shorts for a new television series on Fox. Groening feared losing his characters, so he created an entirely new set of characters. The cartoon family, the Simpsons, began as cartoon shorts on the Fox variety series The Tracey Ullman Show. Groening designed the cartoon family in ten minutes, that’s about how long The Tracey Ullman Show lasted.

The Simpsons shorts led to a half-hour spin-off in 1989. The Simpsons was a huge success and the first prime-time animated series in twenty years. The series was developed by Groening, Brooks, and Sam Simon. Simon had worked with Brooks, but did not get along with Groening. Simon left the series in 1993 over creative differences. Although Groening drew the storyboards for the shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, on the series Groening mainly oversees the series. Currently he holds the titles of executive producer and creative consultant. He is credited with writing four of the series episodes since the premiere in 1989, as well as The Simpsons Movie in 2007.

Groening wanted to develop a series on his own, without Brooks or anyone else that helped him achieve the success of The Simpsons. In 1997, after researching science-fiction, Groening and David X. Cohen (formerly known as David S. Cohen) developed a new animated series which they pitched to Fox in 1998 and premiered in 1999. Where The Simpsons focused on the family life, their new series would focus on the work place set 1,000 years in the future. The experience getting Futurama on the air was a horrible experience in Groening’s eyes.

Fox debuted Futurama in between The Simpsons and The X-Files on Sunday night to huge ratings. Fox then moved the series to Tuesdays and the ratings fell. The series was eventually returned to Sundays, but after four years was cancelled. However just as with Family Guy, Futurama’s success in DVD sales and huge ratings on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim led to four DVD movies to be released beginning in 2007 which will then air as 16 separate episodes on Comedy Central beginning in 2008.

Aside from his two animated successes, Groening, along with Steve Vance, Cindy Vance, and Bill Morrison, began a comic book publishing company in 1994. Bongo Comic Group, named after Bongo from “Life in Hell,” publishes comic books based on The Simpsons and Futurama. The goal of Bongo was to bring humor into an industry which was publishing fairly grim comic books in the early and mid-1990s. However, in 1995, Bongo Comics began an imprint for mature readers known as Zongo Comics.

Groening continues to be involved with the productions of The Simpsons and Futurama. He has been nominated for 25 Emmy awards and has won ten; nine for The Simpsons and one for Futurama. Groening received the 2002 National Cartoonist Society Reuben Award, as well as being nominated for the same award in 2000. In 2004, he received the British Comedy Award for “outstanding contribution to comedy.”

Groening’s “Life in Hell” was the beginning of his success. His “Life in Hell” led to an even greater and outstanding, overwhelming twenty year success with one of the longest running and inspirational television series ever with The Simpsons. Groening’s creations will be around for all time entertaining and inspiring writers and cartoonists for the next 1,000 years or more.



Carina Chocano. “Matt Groening.” [Online] Available, January 30, 2001.

Matt Groening

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