When I was a Village Voice reading a teen, I was addicted to two things: Lynda Barry's "Ernie Pook's Comeek" and Matt Groening's "Life in Hell."
They were funny and weird and often quite sad.
So when, a few years later, I heard that Groening was doing a series of animated shorts for the new "Tracey Ullman Show," I swallowed my Ullman loathing and tuned in. The cartoons were about a dysfunctional family in the fictional everytown of Springfield, USA. Turns out I wasn't the only fan.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Last night, I was contemplating the wonders of romance and a near-forgotten cartoon popped into my head. It's a love quiz, and one of the entries is:
Q: Who wrote the book of love?
A: Some goddammed liar.
And so I pulled my old copy of "Love is Hell" off the shelf and laughed mightily.
Leafing through my old volumes of "Love is Hell," "Work is Hell," and "School is Hell," I was amazed at how much of what eventually became The Simpsons is present in Groenings work. But with more cuss words!
If you were too young to have discovered Hell the first time around, or you somehow came late to the Groening party, those early strips are revelatory. They were a product of a time that will never come again -- when a weekly comic could be dense and complicated, and they're as fresh and funny now as they were a generation ago.
As Binky would say, ain't that a corker.