Matt Groening ’77 made the leap from the pages of those same weeklies to create “The Simpsons,” the signature show for the upstart Fox network. Five hundred episodes (and counting) and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame later, he rewrote the rules for TV animation, paving the way for the likes of “South Park,” “Family Guy,” and the alt-cartoon universe of shows populating Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.
Before there was Akbar and Jeff, or Binky and Sheba of Life in Hell, and many years before there was Homer and Marge Simpson, there was The Adventures of Lisa and Matt. Growing up in suburban Portland, Matt Groening had his first exposure to the big screen in 1964 at age 10. That’s when his father Homer, a filmmaker and cartoonist, made a live-action short starring Matt and his sister, Lisa, which was shown in a local theater. Groening was as much at home in front of the camera as he was sitting in front of the television, soaking up “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” and relishing the bad-boy inspiration for Bart Simpson decades later, Eddie Haskell of “Leave It To Beaver.”
As editor of the CPJ, Groening began the comics page, publishing the cartoons of not only Barry but also Charles Burns ’77 (whose avant-garde work was exposed to a broader audience by RAW publisher Art Spiegelman). Craig Bartlett remembers Groening’s tenure as editor publishing the 1977 Daily Olympian spoof, The Daily Zero, “that really made people mad in Olympia.”
In 1980, his weekly strip Life in Hell, inspired by his move to Los Angeles, was picked up by the Los Angeles Reader, where he had been writing a weekly rock column. Other papers followed, and the strip has been syndicated to more than 250 newspapers worldwide, and spawned 15 book compilations. True to his later creations, Groening designed his characters so they could be identified by their silhouettes alone (a device Bartlett later borrowed when he created “Hey Arnold!” for Nickelodeon). “When I was drawing cartoons at Evergreen, I never dreamed I could make a living at it,” Groening told the Seattle Times. “In fact, I never dreamed I could make a living at it until I was actually doing it.”
Twenty-three seasons and 27 Emmy Awards later, “The Simpsons” is an inextricable part of pop culture. In addition to the Springfield ensemble, Groening continues work on five-time Emmy-winner “Futurama,” his pastiche of science fiction, which ran on Fox from 1999-2003, then got a second life when Comedy Central began airing new episodes in 2010. As demands on his time keep growing, he has mused about ending Life in Hell, but for now, Binky lives.
After more than 500 episodes, Hollywood showed Matt Groening some love on February 14, 2012, when he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.