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As the creator of the long-running animated TV series "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ), as well as the equally venerable weekly comic strip "Life in Hell," cartoonist Matt Groening watched his creations spawn numerous print and merchandise incarnations that helped make him a influential figure in world pop culture.
Born on Feb. 15, 1954, Groening moved from his hometown of Portland, OR to Los Angeles in 1977 with the intent of becoming a writer. It was in LA that he began "Life in Hell" as a hand-copied strip that was distributed via the record store at which he worked. The strip gained notoriety among comic and underground press aficionados, and received its largest exposure in the weekly independent newspaper The Los Angeles Reader. The Reader also granted Groening a music column, which he devoted to personal issues and fabricated write-ups of fictitious bands and albums. In 1984, Groening and his wife Deborah Caplan published his first "Life in Hell" book, called Love in Hell, and eventually set up a distribution company, Life in Hell Co., which handled the syndication and merchandise for all of Groening's projects.
The following year, he was contacted by writer/producer/director James L. Brooks to create animation for an upcoming project. Brooks' original idea was to use the angst-ridden "Life in Hell" characters, but Groening created a whole new set in order to avoid jeopardizing his comic strip. The new characters - a nuclear family based on his own parents and siblings, which utilized several of their real names - were dubbed the Simpsons.
"The Simpsons" debuted on "The Tracey Ullman Show" (Fox, 1987-90) in 15-minute skits, and immediately took off with audiences. A half-hour spin off show followed in 1989, before a "Simpsons" series was launched that same year. Groening himself confessed that he was surprised by the show's massive popularity, which continued throughout the 1990s and into the next century. In the mid-'90s, Groening attempted to create several spin-off projects, including several live-action features and series based on "Simpsons"-related characters, but none came to fruition.
Meanwhile, Groening expanded further into publishing by creating Bongo Comics Group in 1993; the company published the many "Simpsons" comic books, while a second company, Zongo Comics, released more mature titles by artists such as Mary Fleener and Gary Panter.
In 1999, Groening and "Simpsons" writer David X. Cohen created "Futurama" (Fox, 1999-2003), an animated science-fiction/comedy series which earned a small but loyal audience during its four years on the network. Following its cancellation, the series did remarkably well in syndication on The Cartoon Network and on DVD, helping to spawn a series of direct-to-DVD movies that continued the series' storylines.
In 2006, Groening announced he would serve as a writer and producer on the long-awaited theatrical "Simpsons" movie. He also found time to perform as a member of the Rock and Roll Remainders, a rock band that featured several popular writers (including Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Scott Turow) among its rotating members.
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