Life in the 31st Century 

Matt Groening: Past, present, Futurama

Wednesday, Mar 24 1999

Page 3 of 4

At Evergreen, "a hippie college, with no grades or required classes, that drew every creative weirdo in the Northwest," he wrote short stories, studied philosophy, edited the school paper and cartooned alongside also-later-famous classmates Lynda Barry and Charles Burns. "Lynda was good and Charles was good. I had self-esteem problems." In 1977, age 23, with "one eye on Hollywood," he headed south. "One of the things I loved about Los Angeles," he says, "as opposed to Oregon, was that in Oregon when you asked somebody what they did for a living, they would define themselves by their occupation: 'Well, I wait on tables.' But in Los Angeles people defined themselves by what they wished they were doing. And as somebody who wished he was doing something other than working in a record store, I found that refreshing. I was working at Licorice Pizza up on Sunset Boulevard, near the Whisky a Go Go, and it was during the whole punk thing, so I used to sell 'Life in Hell,' which I'd been doing as a Xeroxed comic, with all the punk zines in the book corner." He peddled himself to the town's new alternative papers as well, and was hired by the Reader -- to deliver papers.

"Life in Hell" eventually made it into the paper, and from the paper into the wide world. "[Artist] Gary Panter and I used to walk down the street in the old days," Groening recalls, "and we'd get excited if we saw one of our strips in the gutter. The high point was when I got on the bus one day, and somebody had done Binky the Rabbit graffiti in the back. And that just blew my mind. It was Binky crucified, which I didn't like very much, but it was still Binky. It may have been the Trix rabbit, actually. But I like to think it was Binky."

Groening had also begun writing Sound Mix, which was supposed to be a music-scene gossip column. "But I didn't know any gossip," he says, "and I couldn't make myself learn any." And so he turned the space to his own different ends, chronicling his various enthusiasms, obsessions, pet peeves and problems. It was spectacularly concerned with the truth. Some of it had to do with music; most of it did not. While "Life in Hell" certainly had its autobiographical moments ("Lies My Older Brother and Sister Told Me," "Lies I Told My Younger Sisters"), Sound Mix was almost all Matt, almost all the time, without the mediation of cartoon rabbits. He wrote about his family and his childhood, as in "Tales of the Beaver Patrol: My Life in the Boy Scouts." He reported his ongoing war with his noisy neighbors. He made lists of things he liked (Perez Prado, The American Thesaurus of Slang, various underground comics, William Gaddis' Carpenter's Gothic, the word defenestration), which might suddenly turn into lists of things he hated: "Style. Both the word and the concept. And the word yuppie. Also what I'm getting paid to write this. Also this bad cold I have. I hate everything. Yet I love everything." Some columns he filled with things he found on the street or in the trash: discarded school assignments, teenage mash notes, handbills of the insane -- little bits of real, mad city life. And, as with The Simpsons' signature swipes at Fox, he did not hesitate to bite the hand that fed him. "If you took all the Reader employees who have left in the last six months," he wrote, naming 28 of them, from its editor in chief down to the typesetter, "and laid them end to end, they'd reach from the Reader's front door clear to the organic cucumber bin in the health-food market across the street." Finally, he was asked to give up the "music" column and perhaps write a humor column under a different title. "What an ugly word," he wrote in his last appearance there. "Humor."

Related Stories

WHAT WORK GROENING DOES NOT DO in the offices of Futurama or The Simpsons gets done in a little low building about five minutes away. "This is my fantasy clubhouse," he says unlocking the door and disarming the alarm. It seems not so much a clubhouse as a several-chambered walk-in closet, half of it meticulously ordered, half of it an undealt-with jumble. One room is full of videotapes, neatly labeled by Matt (in a hand that looks nothing like Akbar), part of a project to school himself in the history of film. (He also attempted, a few years back, to read the classics of 20th-century literature in chronological order.) Shelves in another room hold hundreds of compact discs; film canisters containing his father's films tower crookedly on a table. The originals of "Life in Hell" are neatly laid in portfolios kept in a safe, while boxes overflowing with pages upon pages of the found writing he used to reprint in Sound Mix line the hall -- an archive of ephemera, of effluvia, of which Matt has made himself custodian. "I was going to do a book with this stuff," he says, "but I never got around to it."

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 20
  2. Thu 21
  3. Fri 22
  4. Sat 23
  5. Sun 24
  6. Mon 25
  7. Tue 26

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!


  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending