Horrors! The Life and Death of Matt Groening’s Best Simpsons Comic Book

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Don’t have a cow, man, but Bongo, the Eisner Award-winning publisher of Simpsons comic books for nearly a quarter-century, died this month. Yes, the Matt Groening line – the one that once brought you Sergio Aragonés’s Funnies and a Zongo imprint that put out Gary Panter’s Jimbo and Mary Fleener’s Fleener – has ceased publication. And if you’re a designer whose first and foremost priority for comics is their visual appeal, you might give your shoulders a simple “whatever” shrug. After all, “Ya’ seen one yellow-skinned kid with Panter-Screamers spiked hair, ya’ seen ’em all.” But on the other hand, you might have seen and read The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror.

art: Jordan Crane

More Warped Than Ever

This comic is an offshoot of The Simpsons’ top-rated “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween television specials, which were originally inspired by the legendary EC Comics of the mid-1950s. So it’s only fitting to come full circle. The four-color version is a bubbling cauldron of Al Feldstein’s horror, sci-fi, and fantasy titles mixed with dollops of Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad in its original 10¢ comic book incarnation. It’s been around since 1995, chockablock with demented, delirious, non-canonical premises and pop culture parodies even more warped than the TV show. In addition to respected comics pros like Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, writers have included such celebrities as Star Wars’ Mark Hamill, comedian Patton Oswalt, and the Go-Gos’ Jane Wiedlin.

Heavy Hitters

And then there are the artists. Over its 23 years, Treehouse of Horror has been an anarchic playground for illustrators who revel in the opportunity to render Springfield’s residents off-model. Waaaay off-model. In addition to Aragonés, Peter Kuper, and the others shown here, these artists have included Gilbert Hernandez, Scott Shaw, Stan Sakai, Bernie Wrightson, and even John Severin and Al Williamson from the EC era. And their stories are even more warped than the TV episodes. Zander Cannon and Gene Ha’s “Nosferatu: A Simpsony of Horror” is a small masterpiece of art and design. Warning: issue #15, edited by Kramer’s Ergot’s Sammy Harkham, is an unleashed monster of graphic mayhem.

art: Bill Morrison

According to artist Bill Morrison, Mad ‘s current editor-in-chief and Bongo’s founding art director, once Groening decided to let Treehouse contributors render the characters in their own styles, “We got to work with some of the greatest artists and writers in the comic book industry over the years, and I don’t recall anyone ever turning down our invitation.”

No more invitations. Treehouse of Horror now joins the ever-expanding list of print-based publication fatalities. It’s enough to make you scream. Except not in a funny ha-ha way.

art: Peter Kuper

art: Tone Rodriguez

art: Peter Kuper

art: Zander Cannon and Gene Ha

art: Batton Lash and Bill Galvan

art: Kyle Baker

art: Hilary Barta

art: Tim Hensley

art: Gene Colan

art: Gary Millidge

art: Jim Woodring

art: Dan Brereton

art: Jason Ho and Nathan Kane

art: Jason Ho

art: Al Williamson

art: Eric Powell

art: Oscar Gonzaléz Loyo (click to enlarge)

art: John McCrea

art: Troy Nixey

art: C.F.

art: Scott Morse

art: Sammy Harkham

art: Jim Woodring

art: Phil Noto

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About Michael Dooley

Michael Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design and teaches History of Design, Comics, and Animation at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also a Print contributing editor and author.

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