November 1


The Simpsons’ Matt Groening: ‘President Trump? It’s beyond satire’ | First Dog on the Moon


Cat Behavior

The creator of The Simpsons talks to Guardian cartoonist First Dog on the Moon about his art, and tells how an episode 16 years ago indicating Donald Trump in the White House was the most absurd joke he was able to think of and still is

Earlier this year I was invited to be part of Graphic, an event at the Sydney Opera House that describes itself as a festival of visual storytelling. On discovering that Matt Groening, inventor of The Simpsons and the most successful cartoonist in history, would also be in attendance, I said yes straight away.

My acceptance came with a condition: that I would also be invited to the fancy party they would no doubt throw for Matt Groening, because I planned to hide in a corner and tweet about how I was at a party with Matt Groening.

Later, we received an email from the festival people:

Mr Groening has agreed to do an interview for the Guardian, however he has only agreed to this interview if Mr Dog is to be the interviewer and write the piece Matt told me what a huge fan he is of First Dog. Theyll have a great time.

There are two challenges in doing an interview like this. Firstly, as a cartoonist, Im not an interviewer. And secondly, how do I make this interview about Matt Groening when all I want to do is talk to him about how MY NEW BEST FRIEND MATT GROENING IS A BIG Fan OF MY WORK ?!

Lets get that part out of the route first.

First Dog: Obviously I have to ask this, but why did you want to talk to me ?

Matt Groening : I merely checked you out, I love your cartoons You built me want to come out of retirement your stuff is actually inspiring, I like it a lot.

First Dog freaking out
( Has actual myocardial infarction, calls ambulance ) Thank you very much indeed I am just going to be speechless for a few moments. Its a real honour that not only have you read my cartoons, but you also like them .

No, I really like them. You know, I depicted my cartoon strip Life in Hell for 32 years and, uh, then I got fired by too many papers and I stopped But yeah, I miss it, and I like what you do. A lot.

I know youre hugely busy, but surely if you want to draw Life in Hell again you can just do it and tell people they have to print it .

Well, you are familiar with, we just finished our 600 th episode of The Simpsons a week ago, and animation doesnt get any easier its amazing how much sustained attention it requires. And perhaps Im kidding myself, but I like to think that my scrutiny makes a difference.

Matt Groening with two of his mates. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/ AP
So how hands-on are you with The Simpsons ?

I work on it full period. Whats great about being in my stance is I get to show up whenever I want to and sit in, largely with the writers, and only pitch jokes along with the rest of them.

Do you work in animation?

Not truly. I would like to, but as you pointed out it is very day devouring .

Very day consuming, and the best thing to do is get other people to do the hard work. It requires sustained attention; its amazing how incorrect things can go in animation. Whenever I see a piece of animation, a TV indicate or movie that doesnt work, I feel so bad, because I know how many tears and how many drops of blood went into that, into those projects. And you cant always get the tone right thats the hardest proportion. Its a painful process.

When you get to work with a group of people who are incredible collaborators, then its a little more relaxing. Back at the beginning of The Simpsons, I used to go home after running until the middle of the night and still not be able to sleep, because I was so worried about their own problems that we were going to be facing the next day. I actually get a good nights sleep these days, so thats pretty good. And were pretty confident that we can deliver the jokes.

By the route, Im actually looking forward to coming to Australia because only based on fan mail and occasional encounters with Australians it seems like the country where The Simpsons has the most fanatical fans. They just really really dig it, and it attains me really happy because theyre watching the show in its original speech.

Australian fans of The Simpsons, by First Dog on the Moon.

When I hear fans from Brazil or Argentina or wherever, Im always wondering: are they laughing at our jokes, or are they laughing at the Portuguese- or Spanish-speaking actors who are dubbing it into another language? You guys are get it unadulterated!

The Australian Simpsons episode, Bart vs Australia, had a big impact here. I think it was partly joy at being recognised in an episode of The Simpsons, but then also outrage at everything you probably deliberately get wrong Theres a campaign to rename our currency Dollarydoos .

Well, the impression at the time was, We know we cant get Australia correct, so lets run the other style. Lets get everything as wrong as possible thinking that you guys would all understand our idiocy, and realise that it was us being intentionally stupid.

The Simpsonss Australia episode.

But you know, I have mixed feelings about it. I am not particularly happy with that episode. I wish wed tried a little bit harder. But whatever, thats a long time ago.

Perhaps you could review it because youre going to get a lot of questions about it when you come here .

OK, I will review it. Is there a single correct observation in the entire present? I dont think so.

Im not sure there was .

Australia is not the only country that we have upset, by the style. We clearly annoyed the minister of tourism in Brazil for the way we illustrated Rio de Janeiro. And then we did an episode for the World Cup in Brazil, and we correctly predicted bribery and payoffs and corrupt practices and we were just induce that up too.

And Donald Trump? Were you only being prescient, or did you summon his presidential candidacy into being by creating it ?

We predicted that he would be president back in 2000 but[ Trump] was of course the most absurd placeholder joke name that we could think of at the time, and thats still true. Its beyond irony.

Donald Trump as watched on The Simpsons in 2000. Photograph: Screengrab

We did one online piece of animation when Trump announced his candidacy, when he was going down the escalator we had Homer actually follow him on the escalator and we went into a fiction of what was happening inside Trumps hair. But weve been trying to figure out how to do more and its really hard.

If by chance he gets elected, which I doubt highly will happen, I think well abruptly be very inspired. Mr Trumps election, as horrible as it “wouldve been”, would be great for slapstick as comedians always say

One of the things that occurs to me is the sober writing of political history is impossible for this election. When historians are writing about this election, after all of the other chairmen, its the most difficult. Just quoting from it would be like a clown indicate. Its only the most amazing thing. And Im hopeful that this is just an aberration but I dont think it will be. Theres a certain absence of civility and common sense, a complete exaggeration of name calling and triviality[ that] is just astounding. And it may be here to remain. We shall see.

If Trump wins there will be an exodus of people. I wont[ leave the US] because I actually think it will be amazing in all its horror.

Youre coming to Graphic and doing a session on The Simpsons, and also one with your friend, the cartoonist and novelist Lynda Barry. What can we expect from that conversation ?

She and I went to college together and we do a tandem talking here growing up and how our childhoods were similar and different and at one point she and I read some of my strips[ from Life in Hell] together

I was doing strips in which the characters stayed in exactly the same positions from frame to frame, and the one thing that changed were their expressions and the dialogue. It plays like a very primitive sort of animation when you see it on the big screen. And it is quite gratify for me, to read these comic strip and get a giggle, you know.

I always thought and I see this in your stuff too that youre holding the readers eye on the page so that the dialogue[ runs ]. You cant just go to the last frame and get the punchline; you need to be resulted through the strip. Thats one reason why Life in Hell was so dense at the beginning: I was in weekly newspapers and I felt I only got a cracking at get people to look at my stuff once a week, so I was going to make it so they genuinely had to work at it in order to get the joke. And as years went by, and I had more things to do, I simplified my style.

And also, man, after doing things a certain way its fun to mix it up a little.

Thats Pythons the tyranny of the punchline, isnt it? I often struggle if I have to come up with a punchline, whereas if I set 20 kind of vaguely funny jokes into one cartoon and you add them all together, its actually perhaps funnier. Well, thats one route of working anyway.

I agree altogether: you make getting there the fun portion; you merely dont want to let the air out of the tyre for the last frame, thats all.

A lot of animated cartoon the great Warner Brother cartoons, Bugs Bunny and all those theyre brilliant. Generally the last gag of the cartoon is a complete misfire, but you still run, That was brilliant. You know, getting there was great.

Although I have to say, for the most proportion when writing a cartoon strip I do know where Im running before I start depicting. Occasionally I change my mind along the way; as Im pencilling the strip, I sometimes come up with a better joke at the end.

I love pacing and timing and its fun comics are definitely their own medium. Its not animation, its not a single panel; youre capturing time. And partly that time is the time it takes to read the dialogue balloons.

Getting back to your stuff thats why I like your stuff so much: I like the journey, I like the story.

( Grinning like an idiot ) Do you have any pets?

Pets? I have had pets. Right now we have a pet salamander named Ramone. At the moment thats all we have. But well be getting more. Over the years Ive had cats and puppies. I have a house full of kids, I have two 10 -month-old twin daughters and a three-year-old son as well, so the house is full.

Ramone, Matt Groenings pet salamander. Illustration: First Dog on the Moon
Youre tremendously successful, with a back catalogue you can see from outer space, but do you ever think it will one day be enough? Bill Watterson[ Calvin and Hobbes] and Gary Larson[ The Far Side] devoted it up. Is there a phase where you merely want to say, I can go and sit on a beach and look at the children and talk to my new puppy that Im going to have ?

I is likely to be stop and have a wholly fulfilling life reading volumes and scuba diving and all the rest of that stuff, but I still am having such a detonation attaining up stories and working with people I dont feel like doing that. Its really fun to make up stories and tell jokes. Its genuinely an extension of childs play. The same various kinds of joy I got as a kid, constructing up worlds and depicting dinosaur battles and all the rest, you know? That was a explosion. And in a way I was able to never leave that behind, I still get to do it. And thats the fun proportion.

You mention Watterson and Larson well, first of all they did daily strips, or daily cartoons, or whatever you would call Larsons Far Side. And I think thats simply such a grind. I was told a tale that Gary Larson had to go on book tours and they would set up a drawing table for him in the hotel room after he got done with his hours-long book signings. And I believed, that sounds like such a nightmare.

We had Gary Larson on The Simpsons playing himself[ Once Upon a Time in Springfield] and that was amazing. To me he is one of the great legends, and I certainly miss Calvin and Hobbes I think that was one of the best comic strip of all time.

Watterson had the skill to make some very dark satire uplifting and hopeful. What is the most hopeful or beautiful thing youve worked on?

My favourite stuff that Ive ever done is taking their own children actual words and showing them. I have two sons named Will and Abe and when they were younger I recorded their dialogues, and then I would illustrate it. And its the funniest, sweetest stuff it attains me laugh, perhaps because my ego is taken out of it.

Yeah, thats the stuff I love the most.

And The Simpsons? The world is a terrible place and essentially the job of a cartoonist has appeared to be procuring fault so you can “re making fun” of it. It is a lot darker .

Well at The Simpsons, we just to continue efforts to make sure that whatever the tale is, it is ultimately a gala of the family, even if households drive you crazy Were trying to do a family show in the broadest sense: that there are jokes for different members of the family there are jokes that little kids will love and there are jokes that they wont get at all. And what we figured out a long time ago, partly through luck, is that it doesnt matter. Every joke doesnt have to be understood by every member of a family. As long as you keep it moving fast you can have a rude joke that makes a 13 -year-old boy laugh, and builds the uptight grandparents perhaps purse his or her lips a little but not leave, or not change the channel.

The aim

( There was a lot more; we were only supposed to talk for half an hour but we just went on and on. And then he invited me to dinner at his house next time I am in the US. No he really did .)


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