Awesome Men Throughout History: Matt Groening
Most cartoonists would be considered extremely lucky to be successful with one character or comic strip, let alone an animated series based on their work. By that metric, Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, has hit two major home runs in his career (well, Futurama was a foul ball for a couple of years, but you get what I mean), and still finds time to knock out a solid grounder each week with his Life Is Hell comic strip, too. It’s exhausting just to think about it, especially if you’re me and you’re describing his career in baseball terms when you only half-understand the sport to begin with.
Regardless, Matt’s accomplishments and contributions to American culture are more than enough to qualify him for Awesome Man status.
Matt was born in Portland in 1954, which puts him at the later end of the Baby Boom and also explains most of his cultural references, i.e. Richard Nixon being a character in Futurama just so Matt could continue his generation’s legacy of bringing him up whenever possible. After graduating from Evergreen College, Matt moved to Los Angeles to try his hand at writing. Like everyone else who moves out to L.A. with dreams, he worked a bunch of crappy jobs that were demoralizing enough for him to self-publish a weird little comic book called Life Is Hell, in which two vaguely lagomorphic characters raged against Matt’s specific gripes with adulthood in the 1980s.
His comic was funny enough (again, it was the 1980s) to get picked up as a regular strip by the Los Angeles Reader, where Matt also worked as a delivery guy, typesetter, and editor. Busy guy. A collection of themed strips was published as Love Is Hell in 1984 and sold 22,000 copies, and suddenly Matt was getting attention from the big shots who’d been ignoring him for years.
One of those big shots was producer James L. Brooks, who commissioned Matt to develop a series of cartoon shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show. Matt wisely decided not to risk losing ownership rights to his characters and hastily scribbled out a dysfunctional family whose members were all named after people in his own family. And lo, The Simpsons was born.
The impact of The Simpsons can’t be underestimated. Sure, it’s not as funny as it used to be, but it had something like ten straight seasons of hilarious, character-based brilliance that has affected the outlook of thirtysomethings all over the country. It’s a show I’ve been watching for its entire run, which equals most of my life, and it helped shape my sense of humor and love of words as much as, if not more than, any other piece of modern media. I daresay a lot of people reading this who are my age feel the same way.
And that’s just me. Matt has 12 Emmys, 30 Annies, a Peabody award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame thanks to that show, which makes him more successful than Jim Davis, whose merchandise and syndication numbers are no joke. He added a new word (specifically, “d’oh!”) to the English language, and Time magazine called The Simpsons the best television show of the 20th century.
Anyway, I’m running out of column space here, so we’ll end with the best possible tribute to both Matt Groening’s legacy and his present/future work: Homer Simpson injuring himself.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.