Matt Groening, Creator of The Simpsons

27 June 2003

   Matt Groening has made cartooning look easy and lucrative. It seemed to his readers like a simple jump from doodler to famous cartoonist. But the cartoonist paid his dues before he became renowned worldwide, wealthy beyond his dreams and now the Cartoonist of the Year.

    Scribbling doodles as a youngster in school, Matt did not make an academic impression on his teachers. He “cannot remember a time in school that I wasn’t doodling or drawing when I should have been paying attention.” *(1) He made use of his artistic streak by drawing comics for the school newspaper – until he was kicked off the staff, that is. *(2) Born in Beaverton, Oregon on February 15, 1954, Matt attended Lincoln High School in Portland. A highlight of his school career came in 1969 when Mel Blanc, voice of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck made an appearance for the school’s centennial celebrations. (Mel Blanc was also a Lincoln High grad.)

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   Attending Evergreen State College, Matt graduated in 1977 and made his way to Los Angeles. His car “brokedown in the fast lane of the Hollywood Freeway just above the Vine Street exit at 2 a.m., inspiring his ‘Life in Hell’ cartoon series.” Other events, such as hating his apartment and working disappointments added to the motivation. Rather than writing a usual letter home, Matt formed his dispatch in the shape of a comic strip. It became anunder ground winner. People in the big city must have felt the same way – the comic made its first appearance in Wet magazine in 1978 and two years later began as a regular weekly in the Los Angeles Reader. The cartoon built up to 250 newspapers by 1990.

    In 1985, while nervously waiting for an interview with James L. Brooks and executives of Gracie Productions to work on animated projects for the “Tracy Ullman Show,” Matt roughed out a family of five characters in the 15 minutes before the meeting. He was hired to create the quirky characters into short fillers for the show, beginning in April, 1987. The shorts were overwhelmingly popular and spun off into a separate production. The Simpsons debuted as a short series in December 1989 and as a full season in 1991, becoming the Fox Network’s highest rated television show and a beloved favourite.

    Six Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program have been given to The Simpsons for 1990, 1991, 1995,1998, 1999 and 2000. This year, Matt Groening won the prestigious Reuben Award for "Cartoonist of the Year" from the National Cartoonists Society. The Simpsons has been rated one of the top ten shows of the century by infoplease.com. Time Magazine rated the program “the best show in the history of television” in their 1999 “end-of-the-century” issue. The oddly endearing yellow-faced characters of The Simpsons seem to have become an essential thread of our lives. It's like they are relatives, a part of our families. (We watch it re-runs of it every day and twice on Sundays!)

    Another television creation has been taking up Matt’s time and imagination in the last few years. Futurama debuted on Fox Network with all its weird and loveable characters in 1999. Even the ugly creature Dr. Zoidberg and Bender the robot have earned soft spots in the hearts of fans. The distinctive program has had a tough go of it, with an unsettled schedule and lack of promotion. Sadly, Futurama is in its last season and not by the cartoonist’s choice. "We had so many more stories we were eager to tell," Matt Groening said in USA Today. *(3)

    Preferring to keep some control over his creations, Matt Groening started his own production company in 1993. Bongo Comics Group now distributes the weekly print version of The Simpsons through Universal Syndicate to newspapers around the world. The company also distributes books such as “Big Book of Bart Simpson,” “Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror Spine-Tingling Spooktacular” and a large number of The Simpsons comic books, including “Futurama/Simpsons Infinitely Secret Crossover Crisis.”

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    Matt Groening (pronounced like graining) is the divorced father of two sons, Homer and Abraham. Though he noted that there was no similarity to personalities, The Simpsons characters were named after his father, Homer and his sisters Lisa and Maggie.

    Can you imagine our lives without The Simpsons? We see their images everywhere, on mugs, aprons, computer stuff, t-shirts, ties, posters, caps, calendars, talking beer bottle openers… the list is endless. Even the dictionary has added a Simpsonism: Homer’s “D’Oh” can now be found in the Oxford English Dictionary. What more could a cartoonist ask?

The Simpsons home website:
http://www.thesimpsons.com

Article by Kevin Reed: “The Simpsons: A Toon for our Time”
http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/pop_culture/15091

*(1) http://www.snpp.com/other/interviews/groening89.html

*(2) mich.com/~drhanna/mgstory.htm   (Link broken)

*(3) http://www.usatoday.com/life/television/news/2003-03-05-futurama_x.htm

Lots of Simpsons info, including an article on how The Simpsons tv show is made:
http://www.synergizedsolutions.com/simpsons/articles.shtml

An indepth article in Wired Magazine with Matt Groening about Futurama:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.02/futurama.html

A Complete Futurama site! Sweet!
http://www.gotfuturama.com/

© Susanna McLeod 2003
TheCartoonists.ca  
     
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)