A few weeks back I felt the urge to soak up some childhood nostalgia after a bad day at the office (the public library). Stumbling on to an illegal streaming link I started surfing through back seasons of The Simpsons. The nineties hit was my daily bread growing up. I knew every episode inside and out. Within a matter of time I was laughing like a buffoon, howling until my chest hurt.
Matt Groening, the father and creator of The Simpsons was an incredibly self-aware individual who spent his formative years glued to the TV set. He was the type of individual who loved to soak in his favourite shows while hating himself for being such a square-eyed sucker. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Groening grew up in a middle-class family. His father, Homer Groening, was a cartoonist and filmmaker, a profession he admired from an early age.
I stumbled on this great little half-hour documentary My Wasted Life, that gives an amazing portrait of Groening's unique path to notoriety. He talks about the power of television on his work, of seeing the world through the wide range of programming in the late nineteen-fifties and sixties. "What I tried to do as my life’s work is to bridge the gap between the funny artifice that I saw on TV and what I knew was real.”
Moving to Los Angeles after college, he was full of angst and anxiety at his lack of prospects and began Life in Hell, a homemade comic book as a way to stay sane. It was an outlet for his frustrations and more importantly a medium to cut his teeth as an aspiring cartoonist. His strip would eventually find a home in more than two hundred and fifty publications around the world.
The cartoon caught the eye of James L. Brooks who was producing a new television series, The Tracy Ullman Show, and wanted to feature an animated strip before and after commercials. Initially setting out to sell an animated version of Life in Hell, Groening changed his mind last minute. He eventually settled on a pitch about a dysfunctional small-town American family (whose characters were named after his own real parents and siblings).
I was fascinated at the lengths Groening went to to make sure The Simpsons stood apart from its peers. In the documentary he highlights the power of the silhouette, setting out to ensure each and every member of the Simpson clan was clearly identifiable. The crude iterations were a hit with Fox eventually getting behind a stand-alone series in 1989. The rest as they say is history.