A Tribute to Matt Groening’s Life in Hell, with Comics by Tom Tomorrow and Alison Bechdel

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Oct. 10 2012 3:30 AM

To Hell With You, Matt Groening

A tribute to Life in Hell, with comics by Alison Bechdel, Tom Tomorrow, and others.

When the comic strip burst onto the American scene in the beginning of the last century it was wildly inventive—cartoonists were intrepid explorers mapping out a new continent. By the ’30s the comics page was delivering thrilling narratives that helped distract the country during the Great Depression. In the ’50s, Charles Schulz arrived and helped the comic strip find its soul. But by the mid-’70s the daily newspaper’s comic page was a depressing place: formulaic four-panel gags that were scrubbed clean for family consumption.

By the early ’80s the most interesting comics were found in the weekly alternative press. Jules Feiffer had set a precedent in the early years of the Village Voice with his self-titled strip. Taking up much more space than the rapidly shrinking daily comics, Feiffer’s work, and those who followed in his wake (Mark Alan Stamaty, Lynda Barry), had more room (both in column inches and editorial freedom) to address relationships, politics, and even existential despair. These comics weren’t as character-driven as they were creator-driven.

Life in Hell started in 1977 as a self-published comic book in which Matt Groening described life in Los Angeles to his friends. He sold copies of the comic for $2 at a record store, Licorice Pizza, and it debuted as a comic strip in Wet Magazine in 1978. Soon it was appearing in alternative weeklies throughout the country. At its peak, Life in Hell ran in over 250 publications. The strip had many fans, including producer James L. Brooks, who asked Groening to animate bumpers for The Tracey Ullman Show. The rest of course, is television history.

I hadn’t owned a television for years by the start of the 1990s. I was living in New York City and going to art school. The Simpsons were on my radar more from the ubiquitous bootlegged T-shirts being sold on every corner than from the few episodes I caught in passing—to me Groening was the guy who did the funniest comic in The Village Voice. I especially loved the way Life in Hell varied its format: The strip could go from dozens of tiny cramped panels cataloging doomed romances one week to being just a large single airy panel depicting an intense moment of shame the next. And of course some cartoonists just draw loose and funny. Groening’s one of those cartoonists. He could draw a stick figure and it would be funny.

This past June, after 1,669 installments (and down to only 38 papers, amid the smoking wreckage that was once the alternative press), Matt Groening put an end to one the funniest and most caustic comic strips ever. To commemorate the dearly departed strip, 22  of Groening’s cartoonist friends, admirers, and sycophants decided to pay tribute. The comic strips below are a few that were assembled for a poster by the Center for Cartoon Studies and presented to Groening this week by the cartoonist and Simpsons producer, Tom Gammill.

When you create a superb, enduring television series you receive multiple Emmy awards and become rich. When you create a superb, enduring alternative weekly comic strip you get the admiration of your fellow cartoonists. And a poster!

BorgmanScott_Hell

Jim Borgman and Jerry Scott.

SammyHarkham_Hell

Sammy Harkham.

JenSorensen_Hell

Jen Sorensen.

TomTomorrow_Hell

Tom Tomorrow.

TomGammill_Hell

Tom Gammill.

Sergio_Hell

Sergio Aragonés.

AlisonBechdel_Hell

Alison Bechdel.

R.Sikoryak_Hell

R. Sikoryak.

You can download the entire poster here.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 23 2014 6:00 AM Naked and Afraid Prudie offers advice on whether a young boy should sleep in the same room with his nude grandfather.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Books
Sept. 23 2014 7:14 AM Fighting the Sophomore Slump, Five Novels at a Time Announcing the Slate/Whiting Second Novel List.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AM I Stand with Emma Watson
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.