A tribute to Life in Hell

Tim Wilson on Facebook points me to a Slate piece “To Hell With You, Matt Groening: A tribute to Life in Hell, with comics by Alison Bechdel, Tom Tomorrow, and others.” by James Sturm, celebrating 35 years of Life in Hell:

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 [leading to The Simpsons show].

… 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 [on the site] 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.

Here’s Bechdel’s contribution:

Another riff on the current senses of gay; for discussion, see my posting “That’s so gay!” (here).

On Bechdel and her cartooning, see here. And some brief background on Groening:

Matthew Abram “Matt” Groening ( /ˈɡreɪnɪŋ/ gray-ning; born February 15, 1954) is an American cartoonist, screenwriter, and producer. He is the creator of the comic strip Life in Hell (1977–2012) as well as two successful television series, The Simpsons (1989–present) and Futurama (1999–2003, 2008–present). (link)

Life in Hell was often linguistically interesting — the “Mistakes were made” strip (with its notable passive) got picked up on Language Log, here — and The Simpsons has produced so many lexical innovations and catch-phrases that people collect them on websites. Topics for a future posting.


3 Responses to “A tribute to Life in Hell”

  1. NCOD « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (which Jacques and I celebrated as our anniversary). This year: check out Alison Bechdel’s tribute to Life in Hell, a mock Akbar and Jeff number with an instance of what I think of as […]

  2. Matt Groening « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] in Language Log, where Mark Liberman posted about the “Mistakes were made” strip; and in this blog, in connection to a “Tribute to Life in Hell” collection from other cartoonists. Many […]

  3. Jeff and Akbar explore their sexuality | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] postings on this blog here and […]

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