Creator of the “Simpsons” visits LHS


Oscar Harold

Matt Groening reflecting upon his highschool experience with Cardinal Times Staff.

Ella Mashroutechi: So we saw some of your cartoons when you were a student at Lincoln, did you know back then that that you wanted to pursue a career as a cartoonist?

Matt Groening: I loved cartoons and comics and drawings, I never thought I would make a living out of it. First of all, most of my friends could draw better than I could. Nobody said ‘you’ve really got something there, you should pursue it,’ but I knew that I was doomed to spend the rest of my life drawing no matter what my actual job turned out to be and I lucked out. So I got to do it and pay the rent, and that’s awesome, to me, that was the achievement I was going for.

EM: What was your experience as a Cardinal Times staff member?

MG: Well, I loved journalism, I loved, at the time, it was called the New Journalism. A phrase coined by Tom Wolf, who wrote The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test, and The Pump House Gang, and a bunch of other collections of articles that used journalism with fictional techniques. So it was journalism written in the style of a novelist. Generally, this first New Journalism book is considered to be In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, an amazing true crime-murder book of which there’s thousands now, but at the time that was the first one that used the techniques, all the techniques of fiction and many things, [it was] not dry at all, which for me was really exciting. What else, so yes, but that was not what was wanted at the Cardinal Times. What was wanted at the Cardinal Times was very straight, who, what, where, why, all those things and just spell words correctly and to be factual and not liable people. So I still remember having an argument with Mr. Bailey about the headline “Plenty Peppy Pleasure for People’s Playing Ping-Pong,” which he thought was inappropriate [laughs], so it was on that level of really kind of constraint and stuff, but you know I got to draw a few cartoons for the paper and you know it was fun. In my senior year, I decided to not enroll in the journalism class but show up. I had a free period that period and I would show up to journalism every day and then write for the paper, but I wouldn’t be graded because I wasn’t on the class roll, and Mr. Bailey kept on asking ‘I don’t see your name on here, I don’t see your name on here,’ and I’d say ‘oh, there must be some mix up’ cause I didn’t want him to give me a bad grade which is what he would do. And when he finally figured out that I was not enrolled in the class he kicked me out, and I was not allowed to write for the paper anymore, so I wrote a very sour letter to the editor and to his cred- it, he allowed it to be printed. But yeah, that was, that made me mad.

EM: Yeah, that’s amazing news. So these questions are more personal, you can skip one if you’re not comfortable. Who has been the most influential person in your life?

MG: That would be my dad, Homer, who was a cartoonist before I was born. He was a filmmaker in Portland and he [was] incredibly self-motivated and very hard-working. Where I differ from him is, he did not believe in collaboration, he believed in doing everything himself and he said ‘nothing good has ever come out of a committee ,’ and I said ‘well, what about animation, you can’t do that by yourself,’ he said ‘that’s why I would never do animation, be- cause you need to work with other people’ and I said I couldn’t stand it. And so, part of me is inspired by his work ethic, but also [I] wanted to show him you can collaborate with people and do amazing stuff. The other thing, is he really did not, he was not fond of my drawings, he said ‘you will never make a living from your drawing, you can write but you can’t draw.’ And so I went out of my way to prove him wrong. I also named that character after him [Homer].

EM: Where do you think your creativity comes from?

MG: I think everybody is creative. Some people sustain it and I think to me, the best kind of life is a creative life. Whether or not you can make a living out [of] it. People should just do it. People should sing and draw, and take photos and make videos and write novels and poetry. Whatever. Who cares if you’re not a, you know, a big rock star. Just do it for the fun of doing it. I know I would still be doing pretty much what I do no matter whatever else I was doing. It’s just, that’s the fun of it.

EM: Can you describe your artistic process? Like, how do you get inspired to write an episode or create a character?

MG: It’s always, I don’t think too hard about the process, except to say, I got a deadline. That’s really basically what it comes down to, if I have a deadline, it focuses me a lot. Everything I do, everything I read, everything I watch, there’s part of me that’s thinking technically, ‘is there something from this I can use or be inspired by?’ So, oh, so here’s some- thing: I used to be, I used to have a weekly column writing about rock and roll in Los Angeles, and one week, I didn’t have anything to talk about, so I just did a list of my top 100 favorite things in the world. And it was, number one I think it was Vietnamese spring rolls, and number two was the Turangalila symphony by Olivier Messiaen, and so it was very obscure stuff, but you know, anway, [I] mixed it up. And I whipped that thing out, and then later, several years later, I decided to do a book collection of all of my writings and they had never been compiled before, and I said ‘you know what I’m going to do, I’m going to do another top 100 favorite things,’ and I did, it took me maybe two hours to come up with 100 things and [I said] ‘you know what, that’s not enough. I’m going to do my top one thousand things.’ And that took me two weeks to come up with that. And I thought ‘that’s not enough, I’m going do my top ten thousand [favorite things],’ and so I have been through, for the last six or seven years, I’ve been com- piling my top ten thousand things. And by the way, just to let you know, at that list, that list is not really a list, it’s just a big blob. But it’s fun, I’m writing about each, each thing that I list, and I realized that I need to put them in Alphabetical order, otherwise I couldn’t remember what I had already put on the list. So I have been working on that, some day I’ll do something with it I don’t know why, don’t know what either.

EM: So my last questions is, if you could give you 16-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

MG: Oh that’s a good one… As I said in my speech on stage, I was aware that other kids were as self-conscious and shy and feeling inadequate as I did, but to act on that even more, even be less intimidated by other kids in the culture in the school just to live your dreams even more. I did pretty good but I was, I fretted a lot.