Bongo Comics 25 Years Retrospecticus

As traditions go, New Comic Book Day may be pretty minor, but it’s a special day for folks who read them. Each Wednesday of the month, thousands of us make a pilgrimage to our LCS (Local Comic Shop) for a short respite from our humdrum lives. We escape into absurd worlds where spandex heroes defeat evil, personal demons take metaphorical form, and humor usurps boredom. There are thousands of variations of these stories, there’s something for everyone in the comic shop. Sadly, though, by the end of October 2018, we’ll be seeing fewer escape portals on the racks.

ex-plo-sion

Looks like you got more than you bargained for–HAHAHAHAHA!

A couple months ago, at the monumental San Diego Comic-Con, Bongo’s Nathan Kane announced that after 25 years, the company Matt Groening started to publish Simpsons comics, would no longer produce any monthly books. Although they’d continue to handle other print projects, in a sense Bongo Comics would be no more. Whether it has something to do with the FOX-Disney merger, the hard times publishers are having overall, or just a decision to wind down The Simpsons empire a little, I can’t say. I know that the absence of Bongo will be felt by me, thousands of comics-lovers, Simpsons and Futurama fans, and the community of creators who’ve been telling top notch stories about America’s most famous animated family. Bongo alumni Gail Simone perhaps said it best on twitter, collected here by ComicMix.

I was sad too when I heard the news. I’ve been a comics reader and collector since I was 12 years old. As a dyslexic, I can honestly say that without comics I would be illiterate. I love Bongo comics because I know that no matter what’s on the shelves each Wednesday, I can always pick up their current issue and have a great time with it. In January of this year, Flim Springfield interviewed independent artist Nina Matsumoto, who got her professional break thanks to Bongo. With news of the closing, we decided to check in with her (and a whole bunch of other Bongo Alumni), to learn more about the company, its community, and legacy.

The seal of approval

In 1993, anything with a Simpsons logo on it was flying off store shelves, but there wasn’t all that much available—at least not much of quality. There were some basic action figures made by Mattel, trading cards, plush dolls, stickers and t-shirts, and bootleg junk so badly made the Krusty Seal of Approval wouldn’t even stick to it.

Three years after The Simpsons became a hit TV series and national phenomenon, Groening (who wisely kept the publishing rights for himself) formed Bongo Comics with colleagues Bill Morrison, Cindy Vance, and Steve Vance.

Bill Morrison,
from Simpsons Comics #8

Bill Morrison, founding Art Director for Bongo Comics: “I remember going down to San Diego Comic-Con in July of 1993 with Matt, Steve, and Cindy and announcing that Bongo was coming in November. We did a group signing of the Simpsons Comics and Stories issue and anything else fans brought with them, and we handed out promotional postcards.”

The 1990s were the best of times and the blurst of times for comics. Dozens of new publishers set up shop, building new universes full of musclebound heroes or updated versions of vintage creations. High profile companies like Topps Trading Cards and even Penthouse were pumping out superhero comics; most wouldn’t last. In 1991, even before the first proper Simpsons comic was published, the cast, creators, and characters appeared in a quarterly magazine.

Bill Morrison: “One of the projects I worked on was Simpsons Illustrated, a magazine for Simpsons fans. Steve and Cindy Vance were the editors, and that magazine was the precursor to Bongo. We had a comics section in the magazine that expanded issue by issue. At the end of our first year, we did an annual issue that was all 3-D. At the end of the second year, Matt and Steve were looking for a theme for the second annual and someone hit on the idea of making it an all-comics issue and also printing it comic book size rather than magazine size. The result was “Simpsons Comics and Stories.” The sales on that issue were so good, it gave Matt the confidence to start an entire company based on his Simpsons characters. That’s how Bongo began. I was the Art Director, artist, and writer; Steve and Cindy were editors, artists, and writers, and Matt was the publisher.”

In November 1993, the magazine was superseded by the simply-titled “Simpsons Comics,” featuring the work of Tim Bavington, Morrison, Sondra Roy, Cindy Vance, and Steve Vance. 175 thousand copies were printed, and it became the 25th-highest selling comic in its debut month. Books for “Radioactive Man,” “Itchy & Scratchy Comics,” and “Bartman” soon followed. With those hitting shelves every 30 days, plus specialty market projects like calendars, episode guides, and the Simpsons Sunday newspaper strip, Bongo needed talent to write, draw, color, and edit the stories—in addition to all the comic production-savvy office staff needed to keep a business running smoothly.

Bill Morrison: “I remember that every time we really got started on one of the four first issues that were scheduled to launch in November, some promotional need would come up and we would have to stop and work on a magazine cover or poster or something. Eventually we got behind on the actual comics and had to work very long hours to get them out on time. There were a few times when I took a sleeping bag to Steve and Cindy’s home studio and slept on their floor so we could keep cranking out the pages nearly around the clock.

“Steve was writing pages and drawing rough layouts, and at one point I was skipping the pencils and going straight to inks over Steve’s rough layouts. I was basically drawing with an ink pen with Steve’s layouts underneath as a guide. At one point I was inking a page every half hour, and I would throw them over to Cindy who would scan them and then color and letter them on the computer. Somehow we managed to get the books out on time, and they were really good! We won an Eisner Award for ‘The Amazing Colossal Homer’ in Simpsons Comics #1 which was incredibly exciting and gratifying.”

the first of many Eisner winning stories.

... not sure if ...

Eric Rogers giving you
the patented Fry Squint

Eric Rogers, writer on dozens of Futurama comics, was an assistant on the Futurama TV series from day one, and an animation savant. “I mean, it was like a big clubhouse, you know? There was a Simpsons video game in the main room that led to everyone else’s offices. There were always toys around. Designs everywhere for all of Matt’s different projects. You couldn’t help but be happy and enjoy your work in that environment. Matt made that place a lot of fun.”

Fortunately for the new company, to ease the workload there were friends and fresh applicants hungry for work.

Bill Morrison: “We also turned some spec scripts into comic stories on a few occasions. TV writers would write Simpsons sample scripts as audition pieces to get work on other TV comedy shows, and a lot of those scripts were good, but never turned into shows. We bought a few and had the writers turn them into comic stories.”

Some talented hands also came from the LA-based Simpsons production team at FOX who were between seasons and needed work; others came from far and wide.

not pinchy

Ian Boothby and his pal Lobstie

Comedian Ian Boothby: “I was working in television in Canada but Bongo was my first professional work in comics aside from a couple of backup comic strips in “Cerebus.” I was doing two self-published mini comics, “I” and “Sqares” (that’s the correct spelling). I met the Bongo folks at the Alternative Press Expo in San Jose [and there was] some light interest in working with me, then months passing without hearing anything. Pretty standard in any entertainment industry. So in the meantime I kept writing my own work. Eventually was allowed to pitch a four page story to them. Then I got a full comic and things went from there.”

Batton Lash, chained to his rock

Batton Lash, creator of “Supernatural Law” (aka Wolff & Byrd): “I began my relationship with Bongo via Mimi Cruz, of Night Flight, a comics retailer in Salt Lake City. She recommended me to Bongo editor Bill Morrison, who then offered me the job. At first, I thought he was asking me to write The Simpsons! When I learned Bongo was giving Radioactive Man his own book, Bill wanted me to write it. I asked if I could do the layouts as well as the script. Bill was—and is—very accommodating. He said no problem.

“[…] Steve and Cindy Vance originally did a six-issue miniseries of Radioactive Man (followed by an ‘Giant Annual’). Steve and Cindy pretty much went through the Marvel, DC, and Image ‘homages’ during their tenure. With my first two issues, I did take-offs of DC and Marvel, but from different eras not covered by the Vances. I was determined not to have him a total blockhead (a la Homer); Radioactive Man was a bit oblivious, a little naïve, but would rise to the occasion—at least in my stories!”

Comics writer Gerry Duggan: “I met Bill Morrison through David Mandel [Showrunner of “Veep,” Producer/Director for “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and co-creator of the “Clerks animated series, among many other credits], and we hit it off right away. I gave him a copy of The Last Christmas – the sad, funny true story of Santa Claus after the apocalypse and my writing partner on that was Brian Posehn – Bill asked us if we had any Simpsons in us, and we ended up pitching a beat-for-beat re-imagining of Jaws. It was my first paid work as a comics writer, and I think it will hold up forever because of [artist] Hilary Barta‘s wonderful work.”

AAAAHHHHH!

Thomas Lennon, Patton Oswalt, Gerry Duggan
signing copies of Treehouse of Horror #13
at Golden Apple comics in LA

It’s not always easy to translate a cartoon into a comic. Daffy Duck’s sustained glare at Bugs Bunny creates great comedy tension in a cartoon, but in a comic book it can look like someone forgot to include the word balloon and is just wasting valuable page space. The creators working to translate Springfield’s idiosyncrasies had to be adept at not only making a good comic, but finding ways to make the characters’ distinct charms feel right. But in comics, there is more than one solution to a creative problem.

Ian Boothby: “Characters like Itchy and Scratchy work better on television because you can control the timing and cut away from a gruesome image, where on the page it just sits there. Timing in general is the big difference, you don’t have as much control of the pacing of a joke because everyone reads at their own speed.”

blam!

Timing is everything!

James Lloyd, longtime artist on Futurama: “Spectacle is part of the Futurama appeal and we were competing with the ever-bigger screens of home entertainment, which can be a challenge. I certainly put what I could into the ‘eye-ball kicks’ of any given adventure with the PE [Planet Express] gang in hopes the comic would read with the same excitement I get from the show. We certainly had great designs and a limitless visual playground to draw from— which is a rarity I don’t take for granted. Still, satire was the key; it was always at the forefront of both shows and the comic. As long as we were true to that, we were golden.”

alternate reality

From Futurama Comics #83
by Ian Boothby, James Lloyd, Mike Rote, Art Villanueva, and Karen Bates

I heard you were dead! Yes, but it was only a mild case

Fearless Fosdick by Al Capp

Batton Lash: “Radioactive Man was kind of like Fearless Fosdick, which was a strip within a strip in L’il Abner. Radioactive Man took place outside The Simpsons universe. […] Bill’s mandate was there were a thousand issues of Radioactive Man, spanning the history of comics. That said, Bill gave me carte blanche; if I wanted to do a ‘50s Fawcett take-off or a ‘60s Gold Key parody, he’d stand back and let me go! For better or worse, I have this memory of comics since childhood (but I stopped reading comics by 1974—so my knowledge after that is limited!). I thought that someone who was unfamiliar with, say, a Charlton parody, might enjoy the stories on their own merit. For those in the know, however, it’s all gravy!”

(not pictured, Fallout Boy as a dirty hippie

Radioactive Man through the years
(dialogue by Steve Vance and Cindy Vance)

american elf, johnny boo

The American Elf himself
James Kochalka

James Kochalka, musician and alt-comics mainstay, who has written and drawn in all 81 issues of SpongeBob comics: “They really gave me free reign to explore the characters as I wished. My version of the characters have distinct personalities that are different than they are on the show. My SpongeBob comics are Kochalka comics, for sure.”

And Bongo trusted the creators they worked with to strike the right tone in their stories. From an editorial point of view, Bongo created a supportive space. FOX didn’t have a say in what came from the company. If you were invited to Springfield, they let you run free.

Ian Boothby: “I’m probably most proud of “The Simpsons Futurama Crossover Crisis.” At first Matt didn’t want to do it because the characters didn’t exist in the same universe, but I found a way to make it work that he approved of and we got to go all out with it. Then it was collected into an amazing trade by Abrams ComicArts that was nominated for an Eisner.”

An epic collection for an epic story!

James Kochalka: “Because SpongeBob wasn’t ‘mine,’ a part of my brain just didn’t even care what the hell I drew happening. Which kind of freed me of all restraint, and allowed me to do surprising narrative U-turns.

I don't know enough about SBSP to make a joke here

James’ personal recommendation.

And I loved it. I took this feeling of freedom, this total abandon, and expanded it in my later Johnny Boo books and my Glorkian Warrior series. And then I took what I learned there back to SpongeBob! Culminating in my greatest SpongeBob comic, Skate the Cake from SpongeBob Comics #75, which has strong parallels to my book ‘The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza.’ Collectors really should track that issue down, if they don’t have it already. At 18 pages, it was my longest SpongeBob story and also my best.”

Batton Lash: “There were some suggestions, but those guys said it wasn’t etched in stone. There was, however, one ‘don’t’: an editor asked me not to use a parody of Bono in “Radioactive Man: The Musical” because he and his wife were fans. And here I thought nothing in The Simpsons universe was sacred! But, considering how much leeway they gave me during my entire run, I deferred to his wishes!”

image from http://frunosimpsons.blogspot.com/

Turn Up the Silence, The Radioactive Man Musical

here are two comics series...but there are 5 of us...

Zongo away!

Bongo didn’t just hire comic veterans and undiscovered talent to tell new Simpsons stories, Groening wanted to give a stage to peers and other indie creators who’d influenced him. Under the banner of Zongo Comics, the company published stories by underground artist Gary Panter, and a self-titled book by Mary Fleener.

Panter is called “the founder of punk art” by some, he made his mark creating album art, zines, and concert posters in the same 1980s LA punk scene that helped nurture Groening. He’s probably best known as the set designer for Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Despite his indelible influence, the seven issues of “Jimbo” published by Zongo were probably the most widely available comics work available from Panter in 1995.

outsider art, on the inside!

Jimbo and Fleener, published by Zongo Comics

Mary Fleener may be even more of an iconoclast than Panter, she’s been at the vanguard of autobiographical comics since starting to publish in the 1970s underground. Across a variety of outlets, Fleener has chronicled experiences within her community, hometown politics, counterculture music from the Grateful Dead to the Ramones, and has crusaded for personal issues. Her style is reminiscent of cubism and mostly presented in stark black and white. Her point of view is individual but universal, and often anchored by her experiences as a woman. She’s part of the legendary “Wimmen’s Comix” and “Weirdo” roll call, so the three issues of “Fleener” published by Zongo are just a small part of her resume, but they well illustrate the commitment to talent Bongo worked to represent.

I can’t think of another mainstream comic company releasing such audacious work, but that’s why people become publishers: to do what they want, and have fun with it. Fun is what Bongo specialized in. In addition to the Zongo line, they published original series and passion projects by the artists and writers who contributed to their Simpsons books, comics legends, and in one surprising case, a tie-in from the top of the music charts.

hot goofs from the rip roaring 1940s!

Bill’s Morrison’s Little Green Men

In 1996 Bongo’s Creative Director treated himself to “Roswell: Little Green Man,” a retro sci-fi title that ran twice annually—between Simpsons deadlines—for 6 issues.

Bill Morrison: “The high point for me was probably getting to create my Roswell series and see it published. Matt encouraged me to come up with something of my own, and it really expanded my own perception of what was possible for me to do as a writer and artist. I never won an award for Roswell, but it did get four Eisner Award nominations. And it did have an unexpected fan. I could hardly believe it when at a party [The Rocketeer creator] Dave Stevens not only told me how much he loved Roswell, but was going on and on about it to a friend.”

wabbits

Hopster’s Tracks, a perfect example of the funny animal genre

 

 

1998 saw two issues of “Hopster’s Tracks.” a classic funny animal book by writer/artist Stephanie Gladden, who drew early Simpsons comics and has since gone on to work for Cartoon Network and get a Harvey nomination for illustrating Paul Dini’s Jingle Bell. She also writes and draws her own webcomic, “Girls of Monster Paradise,” when not busy with all that other work. Bongo editorial assistant Scott M. Gimple co-created 2003’s six-issue series “Heroes Anonymous,” based on Morrison’s original concept, which was drawn by a bevy of Bongo colleagues¹. Gimple is now the showrunner as well as a producer and scriptwriter for the Walking Dead TV series.

Probably one of the most unusual and well known non-Simpsons books Bongo published was “Mylo Xyloto Comics,” a tie-in to a concept album by the band Coldplay. It was written by Mark Osborne, director of 2016’s stylish “The Little Prince,” Weird Al’s claymation Jurassic Park music video, and the live action parts of the SpongeBob Squarepants movie.

coldplay...

The album by Coldplay

The comic book

Steve Hamaker, who previously handled the first colored editions of Jeff Smith’s “Bone” and later won an Eisner for “Rasl,” provided colors for the book: “That project was one of the first coloring jobs after my full-time work with Jeff Smith had ended, so I had to keep on schedule and try to hit all of my deadlines. Mark became a close friend, personally and professionally, and I wouldn’t have that without Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay, Jeff Smith, or Bongo Comics.

“In a last-minute situation I was hoping to attend San Diego Comic-Con in 2012 to kick off the premiere of the first issue, but my son had just been born 2 or 3 weeks earlier. Obviously I wasn’t going to attend that year, so I hadn’t planned ahead. As you may know, you can’t get a hotel in San Diego a week before the con. The band Coldplay made sure that I had a hotel room and I have never forgotten that generosity. I’m sure that Mark and Terry Delegeane at Bongo had a lot to do with that as well, but it was a very special weekend because of that. In 2013, Terry at Bongo once again made sure that I had a room by letting me take one of their reserved rooms.”

A personal favorite Bongo series of mine was the 12 issues worth of “Sergio Aragonés Funnies,” a delightful one-man anthology by the legendary MAD Magazine artist and creator of GROO the Wanderer. Each issue was a mix of autobiographic stories, gag strips, and puzzle pages, the kind of book that is full of simple pleasures and invites rereading.

he's the best! buy his books!

The various looks of Sergio Aragonés

so many references

slab it!

Bongo would occasionally take the characters into places TV couldn’t or wouldn’t. The Simpson family regularly revisited their superhero alter-egos, delved into the world-within-a-world of Radioactive Man, and famously crossed-over with Futurama years before the TV series. This year, readers even got to see the return of beloved villain Hank Scorpio. Ian Boothby also did the miniseries “Comic Book Guy: The Comic Book” aka “The Death of Comic Book Guy,” parodying the sales-goosing trend of killing off and reviving comic book characters for media attention and profit.

oh hank, we miss you so.

Not spy vs spy, but money vs money.

One longtime Simpsons tradition is the annual Treehouse of Horror episode featuring censor-pushing frights and parodies of classic monster tales. Bongo’s annual print version went even further, creating some of the most out-there, fun, and wild stories by inviting a slate of top-notch guest creators to warp Springfield to their horrific desires. Sadly, there won’t be a final edition for 2018, but grab some of the previous years; they’re all great!

Batton Lash: “I’m a huge Bradbury fan; that said, I just wanted to write four little stories in two colors! …I’m happy to get in on and write of one the last Treehouse of Horror Nathan edited!”

an EC Comics Cavalcade!

Including work by Bonham, Steve Ringgenberg, Lloyd, Steve Steere, Angelo Torres, John Severin, Mark Schultz, Al Williamson, Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, Len Wein, and Bernie Wrightson!

James Lloyd: “I was proud to be a part of the THOH #11 (2004) that reunited a good chunk of the original EC gang (Tales From The Crypt, Haunt Of Fear, etc), who were heroes— though I was extremely nervous I’d fall on my face throughout. I would be happy to draw more of those the rest of my days.”

james lloyd

Beautiful pencil art for THOH #11 by James Lloyd

Gerry Duggan worked on more than one of the Treehouse annuals, 1995’s all-comedian lineup featured Brian Posehn, Patton Oswalt, and Thomas Lennon: “Bill [Morrison] put that together. I came out to Los Angeles a few years earlier and had been writing spec scripts and jokes and was kind of writing for Twitter before it existed and yelled my material at you in a comic shop. Brian and Patton were early adopters in the Duggan biz, and Dave Mandel broke my work down for me in a way that really helped me understand how much you have to wrench on quality material sometimes in order for it to seem effortless. I’ve always been lucky in collaborators.”

oh my god, it's eyes!

From Treehouse of Horror #18
(highly recommended)

https://imagecomics.com/comics/series/infinite-horizon

The Infinite Horizon by
Gerry Duggan, Phil Noto

One of the more atmospheric stories was Duggan’s “Rosemary’s Baby” parody with artist Phil Noto in the 2012 annual.

Gerry Duggan: “I was introduced to Phil by Dave at a dinner during San Diego Comic Con in either 2004 or 2005, and during dinner we got to talking and I fell in love. Before long I pitched him a comic series that would become “The Infinite Horizon,” and since then we’ve spent time together in Springfield and a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Phil’s a genius artist and storyteller. His back must hurt for lugging me around for so long.”

Bill Morrison: “Most of those creators who were already well known for writing other types of comics came to us via our Treehouse of Horror annual. We launched Treehouse by inviting some of our favorite comic writers (Jeff Smith, Mike Allred, and James Robinson) to contribute, but we had our regular artists draw their stories. I think the first three issues went that way. We would meet people whose work we loved at conventions and ask them if they’d like to write a Treehouse story. Then one year I met Geof Darrow and he told me he’d really like to draw something for us. We hired him to do a two-page pin-up in his own style, figuring that if the characters were “off-model,” nobody would have a problem because it was only a pin-up, not a whole story. Geof did an amazing piece [THoH 4, 1998] and everyone loved it, including Matt who suggested that we bring more artists into the Treehouse annual and let them draw in their own styles. The only proviso was that they had to give the characters the trademark overbites and bulgy eyeballs. We got to work with some of the greatest artists and writers in the comic book industry over the years, and I don’t recall anyone ever turning down our invitation. Everyone was always thrilled to be asked to be a part of The Simpsons.”

so sick

By Geof Darrow?
It’s like Where’s Waldo gone mad!

Bill Morrison stepped down as Creative Director in 2012, and went on to do character designs for Groening’s Netflix series “Disenchantment” before taking over as Editor of MAD Magazine in 2018. Leadership of Bongo was handed to Nathan Kane:

Bill Morrison: “Yes, Nathan was a natural choice to take over for me. He had already served as Bongo’s Art Director for many years, so when he transitioned to Creative Director it was a pretty smooth process. Nathan had already done some writing and editing in addition to his art direction and coloring, so he really knew how to do the job going in. There was nothing I felt I needed to tell him.”

don't get mad, BUY MAD

The all new Gang of Idiots!

I asked Morrison if he took anything from Bongo to his other work: “Only everything. I’m sure I wouldn’t have my job at MAD if not for all the knowledge and experience I got from working with Matt at Bongo.” All the creators who spent time at Bongo comics honed their storytelling skills, and took those tools back to their own work.

Gerry Duggan: “Oh, wow – you know, just how much collaboration is required to make something great, and how much work goes into a comic that makes the writer and artist look good from the bullpen. Whether it was Nathan’s colors, or Bill’s notes – the whole office contributed in meaningful ways.”

working his fingers to nubs

James Lloyd, the artist in his natural ink speckled state.

James Lloyd: “Anytime you get standard in your work or let your attention slip, it ends up in print— for all time. Deadlines are there to be met, but you’ve also got to take the time, lose the sleep, skip the night out, to get things right. I’m proud of my time on the book, but there are bad notes that make me absolutely cringe when they make the trade paperbacks. Ah, well.”

What I heard repeatedly while talking to the artists and writers was what a supportive creative environment the publisher was. The company helped make comics happen that otherwise wouldn’t, they welcomed new people and mentored them properly so they could grow and keep advancing in their careers. That many of them continue to work together outside Bongo is a testament to what a great company it is.

James Kochalka: “SpongeBob was really separate from the rest of Bongo. Basically what Bongo did was act as our distributor, I think. And I really think they did this motivated more by friendship and kindness than by profit. Nickelodeon Magazine shut down and Hillenburg wanted to continue but had no experience running a comic book company. Bongo’s help, and expertise, made the enterprise possible.”

Eric Rogers on mentoring new talent: “Nah, not so much of that. Although I did edit stories for David Slack, who went on to be a big shot Teen Titans writer, and has since amassed a fantastic career as an hour-long network drama writer. I’m just going to assume my amazing editing of his Bart Simpson Comics stories was what led to his brilliant career  ;-)”

Bill Morrison: “Yes, I collaborated with Bongo’s current Creative Director Nathan Kane, and artists Andrew Pepoy and Tone Rodriguez on my Beatles Yellow Submarine graphic novel. Andrew and Tone inked most of the book and Nathan provided all the beautiful colors. Ian Boothby is also writing regularly for MAD.

“Taking artists and writers under my wing was a regular part of my job, but one particular artist who comes to mind is Mike Rote. Mike used to come to Comic-Con and hang around the Bongo booth as a kid [an 11 year old kid]. We got to know him and would give him encouragement when he sent us drawings and fanzines. When he was old enough, we hired him as an intern and I taught him to pencil and ink the characters. Mike went on to be Bongo’s most prolific inker, and he’s now the Art Director on Matt’s new show Disenchantment. Another Bongo success story is Scott M. Gimple who started out as my editorial assistant and is now the showrunner of “The Walking Dead” on AMC. I’m also proud that we gave the great Gail Simone her first job in comics. She’s obviously a talented writer, but she’s also very funny. She wrote many Simpsons stories for us, as well as the Simpsons newspaper strip, before moving on to fame as one of the best superhero writers in the business.”

Nina Matsumoto: “Before Bongo Comics, I seriously thought women couldn’t work in American comics. I grew up on manga and, of course, I saw many female creators in there. I was also into newspaper strips, where I also saw female names. But I never saw them in American floppy comics, so I just assumed that for whatever reason, women couldn’t work in that industry. I thought that if I were to work in comics, I’d have to either be a manga artist or draw newspaper comic strips. That is, until I bought a one-shot called ‘Lisa Comics’ #1 in 1995. Lisa was my favourite character, so naturally, I had to get it. At the back of that issue, there was an interview with a female intern at Bongo Comics. A woman! Working for Bongo! She wasn’t even an artist or a writer, but it still blew my mind. I didn’t think it was possible. It made 10-year-old me realize that this industry DOES hire women, and I COULD work in comics.

“In January of 2007 — discovered through a piece of fanart that went viral — I was hired to draw a manga-style Simpsons story (‘Too Crazy Juvenile Prankster: Bartomu!’) by Nathan Kane, the art director at the time for Bongo. I had no previous experience being published, but he trusted in my abilities based on my webcomic. After I finished that story (my first art job ever), I was hired to pencil stories in their house style, a skill I had honed over several years of drawing fanart of The Simpsons.

“In 2013, I penciled a story (also manga-styled) and the cover for ‘The Wonderful World of Lisa Simpson,’ another Lisa-centric one-shot. It was extremely fitting considering how the first Lisa one-shot gave me hope that I could work in comics here one day.”

Ian Boothby: “I saw my friend James Lloyd also get discovered and, like Nina Matsumoto, deliver some of the best work Bongo ever did. We’re all from the Vancouver area along with John Deleney so we called ourselves Bongo North. Nina, Andrew Pepoy and I won an Eisner for ‘Murder He Wrote,’ [Treehouse of Horror 14, 2008] hard to beat that.”

America Junior

Bongo North, sounds lovely.

Ian is currently working on a sequel to “Sparks,” a delightful graphic novel about a pair of cats who disguise themselves using a robotic dog mecha, which he created with Matsumoto (profiled on Flim Springfield here), and added, “Working with my wife Pia was great [Pia Guerra co-creator of “Y: The Last Man”]. It’s not something we did often back then. We currently work together on The New Yorker cartoons.”

How do they keep up with the news like that?

by Pia Guerra for The New Yorker

For fans of comics, The Simpsons, or Futurama, getting a monthly dose of humor is a great way to treat ourselves. For the creators of those comics, the rewards (beyond those well-earned paychecks) were something different: validation of their work.

LONDON'S BURNING

The Clash in “Sandman Presents:
Marquee Moon” (unpublished)

Eric Rogers: “There’s one moment above all that stands out. I worked at NYPD Blue for a bit in the mid-2000s and one of the writers there, Jody Worth, was personal friends with Mick Jones from The Clash. Mick was a comic junkie, so Jody mentioned to him that I wrote Futurama Comics and Mick asked if I—me, a nobody hack—would sign an issue for him. Of course I did it, and signed a copy of Futurama Comics #1 for Mick f***ing Jones. The fact that a member of The Clash asked my signature still blows my mind. That moment still feels like it was a dream, not reality.”

James Lloyd: “A high point would definitely be getting to draw a story written by one of the funniest guys in independent comics, Evan Dorkin (‘Spree for All’, Bart Simpson #31)— but the greatest moment for me during the Bongo tenure was finding out that a childhood idol, Hilary Barta, not only knew and liked my work, but had lent his brush to it while ‘assisting’ long time Futurama inker Andrew Pepoy on an issue.”

the magic behind the page

A page from “Spree for All”
pencil art by James Lloyd, and finished art.

Bongo Comics may be no more, but like The Simpsons, Futurama, and SpongeBob Squarepants, the characters and their stories will continue to have a lasting impact on fans and the industry where they were created. In comics, no story is ever truly done or lost.

it me.

Best way to spend a day

Back issue racks will hold Bongo books for years to come, they’ll remain available on the Simpsons Store and Futuramaland apps, and passed around between friends and family, they’ll keep kids entertained on long car rides and over summer vacations, always just an arm’s reach away to help stave off boredom.

Eric Rogers’ thoughts echoed those of everyone we talked to about how they’d like Bongo to be remembered: “I just hope the fans feel like they were getting additional episodes of the shows via our work. That was always the goal, to make the comics feel like they were the episodes that never aired. If we achieved that, then our work was done.”

My personal hope that as the family of Bongo creators go on to their next assignments and their own work, that they continue the legacy of supporting new creators, and that fans of their comics remember the people who created them and keep looking for those names every Wednesday.

I want to thank everyone who sent replies to me for this piece for their time. I’m sorry I couldn’t include everything. We’ll close with the words of Nina Matsumoto, who I think sums up what makes Bongo Comics so special.

“If not for Bongo, I may not be a professional artist today, or an Eisner Award winner. For that, I owe them so much. They’ve always given me the utmost respect and trust, and I feel privileged that they were the first comics company I ever worked for.”

 

LET'S FILE THIS UNDER "R" FOR ARRIVEDERCI

The final issue
Wednesday October 17, 2018

 

Notes:

¹Clarification courtesy of Bill Morrison: I had the original concept of a support group for super heroes, and I shared the idea with Scott who expressed interest in helping me develop it. We each created different characters and wrote scripts. The Gay Avenger was my original creation, but Scott fleshed out his origin story in the script he wrote for the second issue. Beelzubella was another of my creations, and I wrote the script for her story in issue #5. Scott created some of the other characters with my input, more as an editor. I also did original character designs that we passed on to the artists. It was very collaborative.

 

*Interviews and quotes have been lightly edited for clarity. Additional editing by Diana Welsch.

Simpsons and Futurama artwork © Bongo Entertainment, Inc. and Matt Groening Productions. All other works are property of their creators or corporate entities were applicable.

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About OneWordLong

I'm a storytelling artist and writer. I make collage, transmedia art projects, write essays and cultural analysis. In addition to onewordlong.com I also co-curate FLIMSpringfield.net
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3 Responses to Bongo Comics 25 Years Retrospecticus

  1. Pete Benson says:

    Digital comics are not on comixology. You can find them on their own apps, Simpsons Store and Futuramaland, both on iTunes and google play.

    Like

  2. bmcmolo says:

    This was wonderful. Thank you!

    (Worst! Comment! Ever! But: from the heart.)

    Like

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