The stars of Life in Hell. Artist: Matt Groening.


Medium: Magazine cartoon
Appearing in: Wet magazine
First Appeared: 1978
Creator: Matt Groening
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Life in Hell started out in private distribution, simply a vehicle for cartoonist Matt Groening (rhymes with …

continued below

… "staining", not "stoning") to express frustration with various aspects of life as he tried to establish himself as a writer in Los Angeles. By 1978, it outgrew that venue, and started appearing in Wet magazine. Since Groening wasn't thinking in terms of cartooning as a career, he saw no need to make it easy to sell to editors, and eschewed such commercial niceties as keeping it to a consistent format. Sometimes it would be one big picture, and sometimes a whole lot of little ones tucked here and there in a mass of words.

He still does it that way. But that hasn't stopped it from appearing in several hundred newspapers (most of which are weekly tabloids) all over the world.

1980 was when Life in Hell started appearing in The Los Angeles Reader, the first of those hundreds of papers. Binky, a very disturbed anthropomorphic bunny, was its star, and the supporting cast was pretty much limited to his girlfriend, Sheba. They had an addition to their family in 1983, when a near-perfect stranger, with whom Binky had shared a single night of passion five years earlier, dropped off his one-eared son, Bongo, and then disappeared. Bongo (no relation) has since become an important part of the cast, representing the point of view of the child as wracked by anxiety and frustration as his parents.

Akbar and Jeff started turning up in the background during 1984. They rose to prominence the following year, hawking Tofu Hut — the first of their many entrepreneurial ventures, most of which seem equally sensible. Their exact relationship is not quite specified — they may be gay lovers; but then again, they may be twin brothers. Whatever the case may be, in their perfectly matched short pants, fezzes and Charlie Brown T-shirts, they're harder to tell apart than Heckle & Jeckle.

By 1985, Life in Hell had achieved a certain level of notoriety — to the point where TV producer James L. Brooks invited Groening to submit ideas for animated segments on The Tracy Ullman Show. That was The Simpsons, and from that point on, Groening was no longer known to his small but enthusiastic constituency as "the guy who does Life in Hell". He was known to a much larger but still enthusiastic constituency as "the guy who created The Simpsons".

But Life in Hell goes on. Groening still produces a new one every week for his hundreds of weekly newspapers — and still manages to connect with the same disturbed, frustrated, anxious, laugh-loving audience.


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Text ©2001-04 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Matt Groening Productions Inc.