'Life in Hell' No More; Matt Groening Ends Gay-Inclusive Strip

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com June 20 2012 4:52 PM ET

Simpsons creator Matt Groening is ending the gay-inclusive comic strip “Life in Hell,” his first claim to fame, as alternative newspapers’ budgets dry up.

The 1,669th and last “Life in Hell” installment went out Friday, reports journalism website Poynter.org. The strip, featuring anthropomorphic rabbits Binky, Sheba, and Bongo and fez-wearing human gay couple Akbar and Jeff, has drawn its eccentric humor from a variety of topics, some political, some not.

“I’ve had great fun, in a Sisyphean kind of way, but the time has come to let Binky and Sheba and Bongo and Akbar and Jeff take some time off,” Groening, 58, said in an email to Poynter.org.

Asked by Flux Magazine in 1995 if Akbar and Jeff were gay, Groening responded, “Here’s my standard reply: “Akbar and Jeff are either brothers or lovers — or both. Whatever offends you most, that’s what they are.” After a pause, he added, “Yeah, of course they’re gay!”

He began drawing the strip in 1977, and it soon went into syndication. Within a decade it was appearing in alternative weeklies nationwide, such as the Chicago Reader and New York’s Village Voice. It led to The Simpsons; when “Life in Hell” came to the attention of TV and film producer James L. Brooks, he asked Groening to create animated cartoons based on it for The Tracey Ullman Show. Groening did not want to give up his rights to the “Life in Hell” characters, so instead he came up with the Simpson family, who then spun off from the Ullman program to their own long-running series.

At its peak, “Life in Hell” appeared in 380 papers, but in recent years the number has come down to 40, as alternative newsweeklies have closed or consolidated, and those remaining have cut budgets, Poynter.org reports. The strip’s earnings are down to about $18 per publication, according to blog The Wrap.

The papers running the strip will be able to choose from the “Life in Hell” archives until July 13, when it officially ceases publication.