Matt Groening Ends “Life in Hell”

I am quoted in this piece about the end of Matt Groening’s seminal alternative comic strip. Since they used an excerpt, I thought you might like to read the complete quote I supplied:

My generation of altie cartoonists—artists whose work first appeared in alternative weekly newspapers like The Village Voice and SF Weekly, people like Tom Tomorrow, Ruben Bolling, Ward Sutton, Carol Lay, Keith Knight—walked through the door that Matt Groening’s “Life in Hell” kicked down in the early 1980s. It’s hard to imagine how the business model that sustained alternative social-commentary and political cartooning for two decades (and is now all but dead) would have evolved had papers not discovered the power of Groening’s strip and its ability to attract readers.

Artistically and creatively, Groening was also a huge influence. His primacy of writing over art, a simple, stripped-down drawing style paired with sardonic, dark observations about life through an existential lens, multiple panels, the freeform use of interchangeable characters without continuing traits, much less story lines, were the template most of us followed.

Groening was also a mentor to many of us, generous with time, advice and blurbs, a real comics fan who still haunts comic shops and conventions. His time understandably became more restricted due to “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” yet he remained engaged, both in the comics scene and in “Life in Hell,” which has seen a quiet resurgence in relevance and energy in recent years.

Groening is modern cartooning’s rock god, a Moses who came down from the mountain (or the East Village office of the Voice) and handed us the rules we followed. Now the Voice is a rotted husk, print has abandoned cartoonists along with its readers, and digital hasn’t figured out that people really really really love to read funny pictures, not just any funny pictures, but pictures drawn by the exceptionally funny people who need to be paid to spend their time and energy thinking up funny ideas, but if people remember Groening and what he was, or someone like him comes along again, all will be well again.

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About Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at, editor-in-chief of, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.

4 thoughts on “Matt Groening Ends “Life in Hell”

  1. Discovering Matt Groening in the Voice in the 80’s was such a joy. Kind of hard to remember the comics world before that, and very sad to see it go. So many times I would grab a Voice, turn to life in hell, and be rolling on the floor of a subway car somewhere laughing. My wife and I used to joke that we WERE Akbar and Jeff. My all time favorite was the strip “How Much Stress is Too Much Stress” which came out when I was working on my thesis, I pasted it up over my desk to get me through the really bad nights….

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  3. I would pick up the Voice for you and Mr Groening’s cartoons.
    Hentoff and Ridgeway wrote great articles back then, too.

  4. I noticed that they didn’t hyperlink to your site, Ted, but they hyperlinked all the artists you named.

    And doesn’t Alison Bechdel describe the collapse of the alt-business model in part of “Are You My Mother?” Something about how her subscribing papers start closing or merging?

    It’s so very sad to think about all the creatives who will simply shrug their shoulders and go to their nothing jobs because they simply don’t have the financial means to produce their stuff.

    But Walmart has lots of cheap shit, so that’s a fair trade off.