After more than three decades, and 1,669 installments, Matt Groening has ended Life in Hell, his influential weekly comic strip starring bitter anthropomorphic rabbits and a pair of gay lovers. Although the final strip appeared Friday, reruns will be offered to newspapers through July 13.
“Thirty-two years is a long time to do it,” The Simpsons creator told USA Today. “I love the characters, I love doing it, but it was just time.” Groening added to The Poynter Institute, “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.”
At its peak, Life in Hell appeared in 379 newspapers, but that number dwindled to just 38, with Groening being paid just $18 a week by each outlet. According to Sondra Gatewood of syndicator ACME Features, the cartoonist has been losing money on the strip for the past decade. The decline coincided with cutbacks by alternative weeklies reeling from the loss of classified-ad revenues.
Writing for Poynter, Rob Tornoe notes that the popularity of Life in Hell “opened a path for a new breed of alternative cartoonists” like Tom Tomorrow, Ruben Bolling, Ward Sutton, Keith Knight and Ted Rall to appear in weeklies nationwide.
“It’s hard to imagine how the business model that sustained alternative social-commentary and political cartooning for two decades (and is now all but dead) would have evolved had papers not discovered the power of Groening’s strip and its ability to attract readers,” Rall told Tornoe.