His last strip ran 6/15/12.
I discovered Life in Hell when I was a kid in the mid-80s as my mom would bring The Village Voice home each week, scouring the apartment listings and help wanted ads looking for a better gig. Tuesday and Wednesday nights my brother and I put aside a coupla minutes to chuckle at Binky and Bongo, Jeff and Akbar and even when it was waaaay over my head I still found it uproarious. She even picked us up the collections (from good oole Forbidden Planet, natch) as they were released, devoured so repeatedly that we could reference dozens of panels at the drop of a hat.
We were precocious, too smart for your own damn good, wiseass kids. To say the least. I can easily say Life in Hell played no small part.
Forgive the length of what follows, but fellow cartoonist Ted Rall has this to say on his blog this morning, and is by far the best eulogy I’ve read so far…
My generation of altie cartoonists—artists whose work first appeared in alternative weekly newspapers like The Village Voice and SF Weekly, people like Tom Tomorrow, Ruben Bolling, Ward Sutton, Carol Lay, Keith Knight—walked through the door that Matt Groening’s “Life in Hell” kicked down in the early 1980s. It’s hard to imagine how the business model that sustained alternative social-commentary and political cartooning for two decades (and is now all but dead) would have evolved had papers not discovered the power of Groening’s strip and its ability to attract readers.
Artistically and creatively, Groening was also a huge influence. His primacy of writing over art, a simple, stripped-down drawing style paired with sardonic, dark observations about life through an existential lens, multiple panels, the freeform use of interchangeable characters without continuing traits, much less story lines, were the template most of us followed.
Groening was also a mentor to many of us, generous with time, advice and blurbs, a real comics fan who still haunts comic shops and conventions. His time understandably became more restricted due to “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” yet he remained engaged, both in the comics scene and in “Life in Hell,” which has seen a quiet resurgence in relevance and energy in recent years.
Groening is modern cartooning’s rock god, a Moses who came down from the mountain (or the East Village office of the Voice) and handed us the rules we followed. Now the Voice is a rotted husk, print has abandoned cartoonists along with its readers, and digital hasn’t figured out that people really really really love to read funny pictures, not just any funny pictures, but pictures drawn by the exceptionally funny people who need to be paid to spend their time and energy thinking up funny ideas, but if people remember Groening and what he was, or someone like him comes along again, all will be well again.
Such is my love for Life in Hell that the Simpsons, Mr. Groening’s most well-known and loved creation, was the farthest thing from my mind the first opportunity I got the chance to meet the man at San Diego Comic-Con some years ago. I only wanted to thank him for the comic strips I dug so much, and to quote his own work back to him… A line that appears in the collection “Love is Hell” and has served me well to this very day.
“Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.”