Close-up via NUMBER 3
How did we get here? For decades, Groening has been adamant in his refusal to merchandise his highly popular creations (outside of book collections and DVD releases). He has rejected countless offers to license his characters, turning down billions of dollars in the process. After spending years battling his syndicate, he announced his decision to end his long-running comic strip Life in Hell in 1995. Pent-up demand for officially licensed Simpsons merchandise lead to a boom in bootleg car decals featuring Bart Simpson urinating on various logos, which is now a million-dollar industry despite its questionable legality. The ever-reclusive cartoonist has made virtually no public appearances since the famous incident at the Fox network upfront presentations in 1998, when he declared money to be the root of all evil and ran out the auditorium during the announcement of Futurama.
His anti-commercial martyrdom took its toll on his personal life. After his divorce in 1999, Groening retreated to a yurt in central Oregon and cut off all ties with his close friends, including Lynda Barry, creator of the mega-popular Fox sitcom Marly's, and Gary Panter, who took over Peanuts in 2000. After seven years in isolation, Groening re-emerged with The Mean Kids, a dense 16 x 21 inch 20,000-page graphic novel that bankrupted its publisher, Buenaventura Press, upon its release.
So what changed his mind? "Well, I had a lot of time to think about it," he told The New Yorker. "I figure a few pieces of merchandise here and there couldn't hurt, as long as I oversee all aspects of their production and donate the profits to charity. I want my signature to become synonymous with high quality and social responsibility."
The "PLAY IN HELL" series of T-shirts will be available in Comme de Garcons stores starting next week. [On the Runway]