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June 20, 2012

Congratulations To Matt Groening On Ending His Life In Hell Strip


Rob Tornoe has a fine article up on Matt Groening ending his long-running Life In Hell, his original mass creative outlet and the work for which he was best known before creating the television animated program The Simpsons. Despite Groening's continuing fame and despite the fervent reaction the original collections of the (mostly if not solely) 1980s material received, the Life In Hell work has remained somewhat inexplicably under-appreciated. A most recent collection, 2007's Will And Abe's Guide To The Universe, made many critics' best-of list for that year including my own but also may point to one of the reasons why that work has always been a little under the radar -- there simply aren't many collections of the material post-Simpsons despite its high quality and Groening's devotion to the format, and the format itself (alt-weekly strips) has become less prevalent with the growth of the Internet.

Life In Hell first made its appearance in self-published comic book form in 1977 and in a magazine called Wet in Fall 1978. Its last episode was June 15.

I am deeply grateful for this work. Life In Hell was one of my favorites during a time I wasn't able to read a lot of comics. The work was an enthusiasm shared by myself and a lot of my college friends -- Groening's books were along with RAW and the occasional strip collection one of the few comics efforts routinely available in campus bookstores. I thought it a very sweet strip in a lot of ways, and not just the later ones focused on his children. There was a very solicitous element to Life In Hell in the way it gently assayed both the surge of undeserved egotism and the wail of head-against-the-wall despair/dismay inflicted upon most of us by the rampant absurdities of consumption-obsessed modern culture. Also, more simply, the gags were routinely great and the drawings almost always made me laugh. Thank you, Mr. Groening.

Groening showed up for a while at last year's Brooklyn Comics And Graphics Fest, and the notion of why this work wasn't the subject of a complete collection became an item of discussion for some of us as we stood within eyesight but not earshot of the creator. I received no official story, although it wasn't for lack of people telling me they had tried to see such a project done. One publisher described Groening's dedication to his alt-weekly outlet like Walt Disney himself doing Feiffer with nobody stopping to point out how wonderful and odd it was.
posted 5:30 am PST | Permalink

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