Life in Hell

Life in Hell

Cover of Life In Hell No. 4, published in 1978
Author(s) Matt Groening
Current status / schedule Ended
Launch date 1977
End date 2012
Syndicate(s) Copley News Service
Genre(s) Black comedy, satire

Life in Hell is a comic strip by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, which was published weekly from 1977 to 2012. The strip featured anthropomorphic rabbits and a gay couple. Groening used these characters to explore a wide range of topics about love, sex, work, and death. His drawings were full of expressions of angst, social alienation, self-loathing, and fear of inevitable doom.


Matt Groening created Life in Hell to describe life in Los Angeles to his friends.

Life in Hell started in 1977 as a self-published comic book Groening used to describe life in Los Angeles to his friends.[1] It was inspired by his move to the city that year; in an interview with Playboy, Groening commented on his arrival: "I got [to Los Angeles] on a Friday night in August; it was about a hundred and two degrees; my car broke down in the fast lane of the Hollywood Freeway while I was listening to a drunken deejay who was giving his last program on a local rock station and bitterly denouncing the station's management. And then I had a series of lousy jobs."[2] In the comic book, Groening attacked what many young adults found repellent: school, work, and love. He described it as "every ex-campus protester's, every Boomer idealist's, conception of what adult existence in the '80s had turned out to be."[2]

Groening photocopied and distributed the comic book to friends.[2] He also sold it for two dollars a copy[2] at the "punk" corner of the record store in which he worked, Licorice Pizza on Sunset Boulevard.[1] Life in Hell debuted as a comic strip in the avant-garde Wet magazine in 1978, to which Groening made his first professional cartoon sale. The first strip, entitled "Forbidden Words", appeared in the September/October issue.[3] Popular in the underground, Life in Hell was picked up by the Los Angeles Reader (an alternative weekly newspaper where Groening also worked as a typesetter, editor, paste-up artist and music critic) in 1980, where it began appearing weekly.[3] Then-publisher of the Reader Jane Levine said Groening arrived at editor-in-chief James Vowell's office one day, showing him his "silly cartoons with the rabbit with one ear." After Groening left, Vowell came out of his office saying, "This guy is gonna be famous someday."[2]

The strip was frequently a serial, discussing various topics such as "Love is Hell", a 1984 "13-chapter miniseries" pontificating on love and relationships. In November of that year, Groening's then-girlfriend (and co-worker at the Reader) Deborah Caplan offered to publish "Love is Hell" in book form.[4] The book was an underground success, selling 22,000 copies in its first two printings. Soon afterward, Caplan and Groening left the Reader and put together the Life in Hell Co., which handled syndication and merchandising for Groening’s projects.[5]

Life in Hell reached the attention of Hollywood producer James L. Brooks, who received one strip—"The Los Angeles Way of Death" from 1982—as a gift from fellow producer Polly Platt.[6][7] In 1985, Brooks contacted Groening with the proposition of developing a series of short animated skits, called "bumpers", for The Tracey Ullman Show. Originally, Brooks had wanted Groening to adapt his Life in Hell characters for the show. Fearing the loss of ownership rights to his characters, Groening instead created an entirely new batch of characters; the Simpsons.

As television began to place more demands on his time, however, Groening came to almost exclusively feature single-panel strips or 16-panel grids in which Akbar and Jeff exchange terse jabs. This later period also saw the increase of autobiographical strips, perhaps because Groening was influenced by this burgeoning trend in alternative comics.

Television has also made the strip "safe enough for a number of newspapers to print", according to Groening, who claims that he has not "toned the strip down at all, other than no longer using profanity"[8] as a concession to daily papers that carry the strip.[9]

On December 7, 1998 Groening registered the domain to publish Life in Hell online; however, the Web site has remained in its "under construction" state since then, although Groening insists he'll "get around to it ... [when he's] ready to wade in on a regular basis."[10] As of May 3, 2013, the domain has expired.

Groening decided in 2007, in the wake of the 2006 U.S. election results, to write "Life Is Swell" above the comic instead of "Life in Hell".[11] Though Groening had previously stated that he would never give up the comic strip,[12] in 2009 he indicated that due to troubling times for print newspapers and constant involvement with The Simpsons and Futurama, he would likely one day drop the strip.[13] Three years later, Groening announced the strip's conclusion and the final new strip ran on June 16, 2012.[14]

Recurring characters

Recurring jokes and situations

Merchandise and advertising

After the success of Love Is Hell, more book collections followed, including Work Is Hell and Childhood Is Hell. To date, 15 books have been released.

In addition to the books, the comic also spawned T-shirts, greeting cards, posters,[5] coffee mugs, and a short-lived newsletter called the "Life in Hell Times".[18] There is also an annual calendar.

In the late 1980s, Groening drew several print advertisements for Apple Computer in the form of Life in Hell comic strips.[19]

At the 2005 Comic-Con in San Diego, a series of deluxe Life in Hell vinyl figurines manufactured by CritterBox Toys was announced.[20]

Several characters from Life In Hell make a cameo appearance in Gary Wolf's 1981 noir novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?.

Binky and Bongo appear as background non-interactive characters in the Simpsons arcade video game (coin-op).



  1. 1 2 Chocano, Carina (2001-01-30). "Matt Groening". Archived from the original on February 4, 2007. Retrieved January 14, 2007.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Ortved, John (2009). "The Matt Groening Show". The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History. Greystone Books. pp. 11–26. ISBN 978-1-55365-503-9.
  3. 1 2 Groening, Matt (1990). "About the Author". The Big Book of Hell. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-679-72759-0.
  4. 1 2 Groening, Matt (1994). "Introduction". Love is Hell: Special Ultra Jumbo 10th Anniversary Edition. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-679-75665-5.
  5. 1 2 Morgenstern, Joe (1990-04-29). "Bart Simpson's Real Father". Los Angeles Times Magazine. pp. 12–18, 20, 22.
  6. BBC (2000). The Simpsons: America's First Family (6 minute edit for the season 1 DVD) (DVD). UK: 20th Century Fox.
  7. Kim, John W. (October 1999). "Keep 'em Laughing". Scr(i)pt. Retrieved January 14, 2007.
  8. 1 2 Paul, Alan (1995-09-30). "Life in Hell". Flux Magazine. Retrieved January 14, 2007.
  9. Doherty, Brian (March–April 1999). "Matt Groening". Mother Jones. Retrieved January 14, 2007.
  10. "Doh! Groening's Guide to Digital Cartooning". USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review. January 2003. Archived from the original on February 2004.
  11. Shulman, Dave (2007-07-19). "Matt Groening: Life is Swell". LA Weekly. Retrieved September 23, 2008.
  12. Leopold, Todd (1989-12-16). "Prime time is heaven for 'Life in Hell' Artist". TV Host. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  13. Bergman, Erik H. (2009-02-26). "Matt Groening looks to the future". CNN. Retrieved February 26, 2009.
  14. Graham, Jefferson (2012-06-19). "'Life in Hell' is over for cartoonist Matt Groening". USA Today. Retrieved 2012-06-20.
  15. Groening, Matt (1997). "Hell For Beginners". The Huge Book of Hell. New York: Penguin Books. p. 137. ISBN 0-14-026310-1.
  16. Groening, Matt (2001). "The Secret Life of Lisa Simpson". Simpsons Comics Royale. New York: Perennial. p. 128. ISBN 0-06-093378-X.
  17. Jean, Al (2004). The Simpsons The Complete Fourth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Homer's Triple Bypass" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  18. Romanov, Alexander (2005-07-27). "Rare Life in Hell Merchandise". What the Hell. Archived from the original on 2007-02-06. Retrieved 2007-02-10.
  19. "Matt Groening Apple Ad from 1989". Archived from the original on July 18, 2014. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  20. "Life Is Heaven with Life In Hell Line". Simpsons Collector Sector. 2005-07-18. Retrieved 2007-02-10.
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