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Matt Groening to Receive WGA Honors

"Simpsons" and "Futurama" creator Matt Groening to receive WGAW's AWC Animation Writing Award.

Matt Groening (Image courtesy of Fox)

Matt Groening (Image courtesy of Fox)

Los Angeles – Iconic animation writer-producer Matt Groening, perhaps best known for creating the long-running, acclaimed animation series The Simpsons, will receive the Writers Guild of America, West Animation Writers Caucus’ (AWC) 15th Annual Animation Writing Award, recognizing his outstanding contributions to the craft of animation writing, as well as his assistance in organizing primetime animation with the WGAW.

The AWC’s lifetime achievement award will be presented to Groening this Wednesday, November 28, at the AWC’s annual meeting, reception, and awards ceremony at WGAW headquarters in Los Angeles. Futurama co-developer David X. Cohen will present this year’s award to Groening, with WGAW President Christopher Keyser set to introduce the evening.

“Matt Groening, with his creation of The Simpsons, changed the way the entire world looks at television animation. Not since The Jetsons and The Flintstones first debuted – as primetime series aimed at adults – has there been this kind of attention paid to animation on television. From a world with no animation on during primetime, who could have guessed that The Simpsons would become the longest-running scripted primetime series in history. Matt definitely deserves this award,” said AWC Chair Craig Miller.

Commenting on Groening’s role in the effort to gain union contracts for TV animation writers, Simpsons writer Mike Scully said, “Without the support of Matt Groening and Gracie Films, primetime animation writers might not have succeeded in getting their shows covered by the WGA, which allowed them to receive equal compensation and benefits with their live action counterparts.”

Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1954, Groening began to create his own cartoons at an early age, amusing friends and annoying his teachers. Talent ran in the family: his father Homer was also a cartoonist and filmmaker. Later, he attended Evergreen State College in Washington, where he studied philosophy and continued his interest in cartoons, comics, and music.

After graduating college in 1977, he headed to Los Angeles, where he struggled with what he called “immobilizing and irksome poverty.” Increasingly frustrated by L.A.’s “traffic, smog, and his landlords,” Groening began to vent his angst to his friends by sending them cartoons starring a bug-eyed rabbit named Binky. Soon Groening began to publish and sell these quirky cartoons at a record shop where he worked. Their swift popularity encouraged him to soon syndicate his work, and in 1980, Life in Hell formally debuted in the Los Angeles Reader, eventually running in more than 250 newspapers around the world – and translated into a half-dozen languages – before Groening ultimately concluded the comic strip’s production this year.

In 1987, writer-director James L. Brooks approached Matt to create a series of animated shorts to fit between comedy sketches of The Tracey Ullman Show. Matt agreed, but instead of using his Life in Hell characters, he created an entirely new cast of characters for the show: The Simpsons, which just happen to bear the names of his own family members, Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie – Bart is an anagram for brat. For his contributions to The Tracey Ullman Show, Groening shared three Emmy writing nominations (Variety or Music Program, Series or Special, 1987-89).

Triggered by this breakout popularity, The Simpsons was soon spun off by FOX into a half-hour animated series (developed by James L. Brooks and Matt Groening and Sam Simon), which first aired on December 17, 1989, fittingly with a Christmas special, followed by the series premiere on January 14, 1990. Since then, The Simpsons has gone on to become the longest-running scripted series in TV history – animated, comedy, or otherwise – and was named “Best Show of the 20th Century” by Time Magazine.

Much more than an international hit recognized by audiences around the world, the series has transcended entertainment to become a bona fide pop cultural phenomenon and, with over two decades on the air and counting, has emerged as one of the most genre-defying, boundary-pushing entertainment franchises ever, spawning not only a licensing and merchandising empire (everything from theme park rides to postage stamps), but also ushering in animation as a viable genre in network primetime television.

Groening followed up the wildly popular, acclaimed The Simpsons by creating the sci-fi animated series Futurama (developed by Groening and David X. Cohen), which first ran on FOX for several seasons from 1999-2003 and is currently one of the top-rated shows on Comedy Central, having aired on the network since 2008.

Over the course of his career, Groening has garnered multiple Emmy Awards (including shared Emmys for Outstanding Animated Program Emmys for Futurama in 2011 and 2002, and Outstanding Animated Program for The Simpsons in 2008, 2006, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1998, 1997, 1995, 1991, and 1990), the Peabody Award, Annie Awards (including the Winsor McKay Award, shared with fellow animation writers Brad Bird and Eric Goldberg), and the Rueben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year, the highest honor presented by the National Cartoonist Society. Most recently, Groening received his own Star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in February 2012.

During its two decades-plus on the air, The Simpsons has earned eight Writers Guild Awards for animation writing and numerous WGA nominations. In the 10th season of the show’s run, Groening supported his writers in their fight to secure WGA coverage for The Simpsons, which in turn set a jurisdictional precedent for primetime network animation, paving the way for hit series such as Futurama, King of the Hill, and Family Guy to all be made under a Writers Guild contract.

In the publishing arena, Groening’s signature Life in Hell cartoons have been collected in a best-selling series of books with over two million copies in print, including Love is Hell, Work is Hell, School is Hell, Childhood is Hell, Akbar & Jeff’s Guide to Life, Greetings from Hell, With Love from Hell, The Road to Hell, and Love is Still Hell. He is the publisher of Bongo Comics, which releases numerous titles based on his two hit series, including Simpsons Comics, Bart Simpsons Comics, Radioactive Man Comics, Lisa Comics, and Futurama Comics.

The WGAW’s AWC Animation Writing Award is given to members of the Animation Writers Caucus or Writers Guild who have advanced the literature of animation in film and/or television throughout the years and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the animation writer. Founded in 1994, the WGAW’s Animation Writers Caucus represents over 600 animation writers and works to advance economic and creative conditions in the field. Through organizing efforts, educational events, and networking opportunities, the Guild’s AWC is a leading proponent for animation writers. Previous AWC Animation Writing Award honorees include Mike Scully, Al Jean & Mike Reiss, Brad Bird, Linda Woolverton, Stan Berkowitz, Dwayne McDuffie, and Earl Kress.

Source: The Writers Guild of America, West

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.