As the extraordinarily creative mind behind the longest-running American sitcom, “The Simpsons,” Matt Groening (which rhymes with raining) has become one of the premier cartoonists and screenwriters of the modern day. His uniquely drawn characters-many featuring a signature overbite-have enamored audiences for the past 23 years, allowing them to laugh at their own folly parodied in the show. When asked about his cartoons, Groening remained humble, stating, “I’m a writer who just happens to draw.”
Born on Feb. 15, 1954 in Portland, Ore., Matthew Abram Groening is the third of five children born to Homer and Margaret Groening. His father, after whom he would later name one of his most well-known cartoons, was a filmmaker, writer, and cartoonist. Groening would spend his formative years in Portland before moving on to a liberal arts school in 1972. While at The Evergreen State College, he served as the editor of the campus newspaper, for which he also drew cartoons. By 1977 Groening decided his interests as a writer would be better served elsewhere, and chose to move to Los Angeles. While in LA, he worked at a series of what he considered to be menial jobs, including washing dishes at a nursing home and landscaping in a sewage treatment plant.
Drawing inspiration from his unpleasant work experience, Groening self-published a comic book titled “Life in Hell,” which would later appear in an alternative newspaper, the Los Angeles Reader. “Life in Hell” proved to be the platform needed to launch his career when it was noticed by Hollywood writer-producer James L. Brooks. Brooks propositioned Groening with an opportunity to create a series of short, animated skits featuring the characters of “Life in Hell” for “The Tracey Ullman Show.” Fearing that the characters would fall into oblivion should the show fail, Groening quickly devised and sketched-while sitting in the lobby of Brooks’ office-what later emerged as the funniest family on Fox.
Two years after the cartoon family (a family based partly on Groening’s own) first appeared on the “Tracey Ullman Show,” “The Simpsons” was adapted into a half-hour series for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The show aired for the first time in 1989, achieving an immense amount of popularity almost instantaneously. “Nobody thought ‘The Simpsons’ was going to be a big hit. It sneaked up on everybody,” remarked Groening on the show’s rapid rise to prominence. Now in its 23rd season, “The Simpsons” has been awarded an impressive 10 Primetime Emmy Awards.
As if the incredible success of “The Simpsons” was not enough, Groening also created the animated science-fiction sitcom “Futurama,” which portrays life in the year 3000. The show debuted in March of 1999 and spent four years on the air before being cancelled by Fox. However, strong DVD sales and respectable TV ratings on Adult Swim prompted Comedy Central to negotiate for the rights to air the show. After acquiring the rights, Comedy Central authorized the making of 26 new episodes which will run until the end of 2013.
Joshua Shapiro is a second-year student majoring in both English and education. He can be reached at JS762110@wcupa.edu.