For more than 30 years, "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening sketched the syndicated comic strip "Life in Hell," a long-time staple of alternative newsweeklies like LA Weekly and the Village Voice.
But, as the cartoon's revenue stream dried up in the wake of newspaper budget cuts, so too did Groening's ink. The final "Life in Hell" strip, the cartoonist's 1,669th, was published Friday (pictured).
"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," Groening told Poynter in an email Wednesday.
"Life in Hell" was known not just for its characters — including anthropromorphic rabbits and a pair of gay lovers — but for helping a whole new generation of cartoonists to break into larger markets by licensing to the popular and widely distributed newsweeklies in major cities.
“Groening is modern cartooning’s rock God, a Moses who came down from the mountain (or the East Village office of the Voice) and handed us the rules we followed,” Rall told Poynter.
But as budget woes plague former syndicators like LA Weekly, which dropped the strip in 2009, the comic appears to have become more work than it was worth — it earned around $18 per publication.
"I was hoping that he would never end it, that he would keep up, but with the way the newspapers are in today's world, it just wasn't profitable," Sondra Gatewood, who managed the strip's syndication for more than two decades, told TheWrap. "It wasn't like back in the day."
Groening created the company Acme Features Syndicate, Gatewood's employer, to shop out the comic, which hit a peak of about 380 papers in the early 1990s. That number has fallen to a dismal double digit — less than 40 newspapers now carry it.
"With budget cuts, with drops in advertising due to Craigslist and with no more personals because of Match.com," said Gatewod, "alternative weeklies have had to really, really scramble to reinvent their budgets."
That has been a difficult fight.
Village Voice Media, the parent company of the namesake Manhattan weekly and various other alt-weeklies across the country, has come under intense pressure from protesters and the likes of New York Times columnist Nick Kristof to shutter Backpage.com, its cash-cow personal listings site often used to market prostitutes.