By now, many know the LA backstory of Matt Groening's long-running comic strip, "Life in Hell," which he stopped drawing in June. Groening's strip began in Wet Magazine in 1978, moved to the LA Reader then the LA Weekly and became syndicated in more than 250 newspapers, and led him to "The Simpsons." When he stopped creating more "Life in Hell" strips in June, Groening told cartoonist Rob Tornoe simply, "I’ve had great fun, in a Sisyphean kind of way, but the time has come to let Binky and Sheba and Bongo and Akbar and Jeff take some time off." Now he elaborates in a further conversation with Tornoe for Editor & Publisher, and points the finger at the LA Weekly.
So why did you abruptly pull the plug on “Life in Hell” after 32 years?
Every weekly cartoonist I talked to — Chris Ware, Jules Feiffer, Lynda Barry — told me how much happier they were after they were able to get away from weekly deadlines. So, I thought I might be happier too.
It’s a little bit like being tethered to your drawing table. Even when I wasn’t drawing it, I was thinking about it. So I wanted to see what it would be like to clear my mind.
You were never worried about coming up with a good strip, even with everything else going on?
I think for the first four years I worried I’d run out of ideas. Eventually, I reached the point where I knew I’d come up with something, and maybe it’d be striking and original.
Honestly, I wasn’t worried about coming up with ideas. I was worried about the mechanical aspect of drawing the strip week in and week out. The repetitive nature got to me.
So a good deal of the desire to end “Life in Hell” was just the tedious nature of creating it each week?
Well, one other reason for quitting was because the number of papers that printed “Life in Hell” kept shrinking. It was particularly aggravating that I wasn’t being printed locally in Los Angeles. “Life in Hell” was cut out of LA Weekly, along with other cartoons.
I’d draw the strip, send it out, and wouldn’t see it reprinted anywhere. If “Life in Hell” were still in LA Weekly, it would probably have kept me going.
Also this about Groening: "I love newspapers. I loved all the alt-weeklies when they were big and fat and thriving....I grew up reading everything from Playboy, National Geographic, Ebony, and the local newspapers — I read them all and just loved them."
Drawing: Matt Groening self-portrait