An enthusiastic crowd greeted the executives and writing staff behind “The Simpsons” at Comic Con International in San Diego. The panel was introduced as follows: Animation Director Mike Anderson, Executive Producer Matt Selman, Executive Producer and Showrunner Al Jean, and Creator and Executive Producer Matt Groening.
Jean presented an exclusive clip from the upcoming Halloween “Treehouse of Horror episode.” “We are excited because it airs before Halloween this year!” he said.
The clips showed two chapters of the episode, one a take-off on “Psycho” and a number of Hitchcock works. The other, a zombies spoof, with Apoo in battle gear driving Lisa in a truck away from disaster. “How did you survive?” asked Lisa of Apoo. “As a vegetarian I did not consume any tainted burgers, and as a convenience store owner I am armed to the teeth!” he replied.
With the clip complete, the panel went directly to the audience for questions. Groening was asked “Will there ever be animated version of ‘Life in Hell?’” He replied, “Maybe, I don’t know. Here’s the real thing, I can’t figure out what the hell the characters sound like. I’ve been drawing the ‘Life in Hell’ comic strip every week for the last 29 years, and I don’t know what Binky and Bongo and Ackbar and Jeff sound like. I can’t decide. So maybe it’s adapted for ‘Futurama’ voice actors.”
Q: Who is Bart based on. Anyone in real life?
“I’ve been asked this question many times, and I guess I am going to finally tell you. Okay, there was a kid named Bart in my high school. And he was nothing like Bart Simpson. He was really nice, I just thought would be an interesting name for a bad boy. He and I worked together at a restaurant for the summer, at the Spaghetti Factory. I was a bus boy and Bart was a dishwasher. And I used to torment Bart the dishwasher. I’d bring in a tray of dishes and then tell him a riddle, and then run away. I’d tell him a question so he’d have to think about it. So for instance… I can’t think of any right now. Anyway, it really annoyed him. So he finally sprayed me with some hot water. And I said, some day you will pay!”
Q: Will Bart get a girlfriend again?
“Yes, he gets a girlfriend voiced by Sarah Silverman. And she really likes him and he kisses her, and then she is really mad that he kissed her, and then she likes him again and kisses him again, and she says to him Bart you don’t understand women and I’m never going to explain it to you,” said Jean. “Which is based on all our experiences with every woman.”
Q: Does John Swartzwelder still consult and will he ever write any future episodes?
Jean answered, “Uh, he’s been doing a lot, and now he writes books, which are available online and they’re really hilarious, and I recommend those.”
Groening added, “’The Exploding Detective,’ ‘The Time Machine Did It,’ ‘How I Conquered Your Planet’, ‘Earth vs. Everyone’…”
Q: What special guest voices can we expect this year?
“The season premier is written by and features the voice of Seth Rogan,” Jean confirmed. “In the fall we have a voice by Jonah Hill. And Selman wrote an episode with the Smothers Brothers and the Manning Brothers including Cooper Manning, the one brother that does not play.”
Jean added, “January 14th we celebrate the 20th anniversary of ‘The Simpsons,’ and on that night it starts with a documentary by Morgan Spurlock, and the second episode features the voice of Ann Hathaway. And we also have Gary Larson doing his ‘Far Side’ voice, and a cameo by the late Eartha Kit.”
The Morgan Spurlock documentary was filmed at Comic-Con, at the Marriot hotel, and included interviews with some Simpsons fans.
Q: After doing the show for 20 seasons, do you ever find it difficult to come up with new ideas?
Jean answered, “We just recorded our 460th episode. A lot of them have two or three plots, but really the show has a great template, you can take anything that happens to you or your family and turn it into an episode.”
Q: When did Homer start strangling Bart?
“The day Bart was born,” Groening said. “But you know, I did that joke on the very old ‘Tracey Ullman’ shorts, and for me it seemed ridiculous and absurd and over-the-top. I asked the animators to draw it sort of impulsively, and Bart never gets hurt. But over the years it’s gotten a bit more violent, and we’ve had to cut some of the creepier ones.”
Q: What was your inspiration for the show?
“I was influence by Family Guy,” said Groening with a straight face, to loud laughter.
“No, the show is a collaboration of hundreds of talented animators and writers and musicians. But for me it was ‘Peanuts,’ Dr. Seuss, and every Saturday morning cartoon, I watched them all.”
Q: Are there plans for a sequel to the movie?
Jean answered, “It was really so hard to work on a movie while doing the show, we just wanted to concentrate on doing the show, but we’d really like to do another movie.”
Q: Do you have any words of advice for aspiring writers out there?
Jean said, “Reading and looking at television shows that are good and thinking about them, and writing yourself are the ways to become a writer. You know, everyone I know just wrote spec shows and wrote and wrote until they broke in. There is just no substitute for writing.”
Selman added, “Keep a journal, that will train you to be observational about the world.”
Q: Did you ever consider making an inanimate carbon rod for release as a collectible?
“An inanimate carbon rod as a collectible? Uh, that’s a tough sell I think. But maybe?” Groening answered.
Q: Years ago you made an episode with 22 short films about Springfield, have you ever thought of making a follow-up episode?
“We try not to repeat ourselves but we try to do format bending things and it seems to get good response when we do,” answered Jean.
Q: What is the one thing you’ve parodied that took a long time to research because you didn’t know much about it?
“I think for the movie, we did a bit about this real place that became poisoned because pigs were rutting about there, and that took a long time to research,” answered Jean.
“But it was the most fun to research” added Groening .
Q: Will Matt Groening ever perform a voice for the show?
“My voice is on every episode,” Groening said. “During the theme of the show, we had a chorus of women singing ‘The Simpsons’ and it sounded like ‘The Simpson’ -- just one woman doing it, so Danny Elfman and I went into the studio and did ‘zzz’ to make it sound like more than one woman doing it. Also, back on ‘The Tracey Ullman’ show I did Maggie’s passifier.”
Q: When are we going to see Radioactive Man again?
“Well, Radioactive Man lives on in a special limited edition comic book that Bongo Comics published, and I signed a few in anticipation of your question, and they are over at the Bongo booth,” Groening said.
Q: What are your favorite Simpsons moments?
“The gay steal mill scene,” Jean said.
“I like it when Frank Grimes gets electrocuted,” Anderson said.
Selman replied, “I like it when Homer blows up the plant… with his tongue.”
“I liked it when Bart skates naked through the quickie mart,” Groening said.
Jean concludes the panel by saying, “Thank you so much for 20 years! It’s the greatest job in all the world. Thank you, super fans!”
And with that, the crowd, and panel, started to rise and filter out of the room.
An announcement over the audio system: ”Could everyone please have a seat again. We have Craig Glenday, from the ‘Guinness Book of World Records.’ And he’s here to present a very important award to Matt Groening and the producers of ‘The Simpsons.’
Glenday took the microphone, and in a Scottish accent, said “20 years, that’s quite a record. You’ve set so many records over the years, but the most important one is that you’ve overtaken ‘Ozzie and Harriet,’ which means you are now the longest running sitcom in the world!”
He continued, “In this year’s edition we also induct you into the hall of fame as one of the most important things that happened in the last 10 year.”
Groening retook the microphone, and in a happy tone yelled, “Thank you! On behalf of everyone who worked on ‘The Simpsons’ from the beginning, all of the animators and designers, and actors, musicians, and everyone, thank you so much. There is no end in sight. Simpsons forever!”