Matt Groening explains his new Netflix series, and reveals the future of The Simpsons, to Michele Manelis.
What was your inspiration for Disenchantment?
The show is inspired by the fairytales, fables and folktales that I grew up with. There's an amazing book by Italo Calvino called "Italian Folktales" that was a huge influence. I love taking the iconic component of fairytales and turning them upside down.
It's not only funny but very moving. Was that intentional?
Well, we try to move people. We're not just telling jokes, we actually plot the series as a drama and then we add in jokes. And we hope this thing is really funny but we also want people to be moved and perhaps in some of the later episodes, actually bring a tear to your eye. I don't want to over promise, but I think the show will make people cry.
Has the politically correct climate in Hollywood forced you to change your content?
Part of the fun of making up stories is making the people that like your stuff really like it. And then if you annoy and offend another part of the audience, that's fine. But my goal is to take the people who might be offended and make them laugh, too. If you can make somebody laugh, even if they don't agree with you, that is a creative victory!
Given that the Simpsons' humour is both social and political, are we going to see any of this in Disenchantment?
I am of the opinion that basically everything is political, even something that is on the surface of very light entertainment. It turns out that after doing this, we started seeing political components to this show that we were not conscious of at all. I am curious to see if the stuff that we started to notice as we were in the middle of this show will resonate with other people.
How has your work ethic changed over the years?
I am a recovering journalist. I used to write about music and stuff around town for the LA Weekly and before that The Los Angeles Reader. I am exquisitely sympathetic to anyone with a deadline because that was my bane. For 32 years, I did a weekly comic strip, Life in Hell, and I am telling you, every Friday when it was due, I was surprised, like, "Oh no, it's due again today!" I have a different kind of deadline with animation but I share that with a bunch of other people. But when I was by myself, working on a wobbly card table in my little apartment in Hollywood, I'm tell you, I was in pain!
How do you look back on your career?
It is astonishing. I was doing little drawings for myself and I self-published my comic strip in a little magazine form. I knew that I was stuck doing this for the rest of my life, no matter what happened to me. The fact that I was able to turn it into something else was unexpected and a delight. I wake up every morning completely happy that I get to do what I want to do.
Which books did you read growing up?
Dr. Seuss. I loved all of those books.
Did you and your family ever create stories together?
My father, the real life Homer, was a cartoonist himself and he and I would make up stories together. We made up a story which we called The Story. It was about me and my younger sister Lisa, the original Lisa, going out for a walk in the woods and meeting a series of animals who we helped. He filmed us in 1964, acting it out with the soundtrack of my sister telling the story. The Story is on YouTube.
Which stories do you read to your children?
I have young children right now and they don't like it when I make up stories. They actually want me to read the book. Even though they can't read, they can tell when I am skipping pages, so that is fun (laughs)
How has being a father changed your perspective of life?
There's nothing better than kids. It's the greatest. My household is a circus and it's fun to come home. I try to get home for dinner every night. I play with the kids in the morning and usually on the weekends so it's a blast. And my wife, who is from Argentina, is an amazing artist named Agustina Picasso and she is the best mother in the world.
What do you say to people who claim that certain Simpsons episodes have predicted the future?
I would say that some of the stuff that we've been credited for predicting was because we were trying to think of the most absurd thing that could possibly happen. So yes, we did predict that Trump was President back in 2000.
What's in the future for The Simpsons?
The Simpsons doesn't seem to have any end in sight. Fox seems to have been swallowed by Disney and I don't know what the future of The Simpsons holds, but I think that Disney has paid so much money that they will probably keep us around.
What has been one of your favourite parts on this Simpson's ride?
One of the best things about The Simpsons is that it opened up doors for animation in general. The TV landscape is filled with creator-driven, uniquely visual storytelling, and before The Simpsons there wasn't really that much. It was all devoted to kids and it was not very good animation. And now there's just so many great, great shows that all look different from each other and I feel, we were kind of the first.
What's the quirkiest merchandise you've done for one of your shows?
You know what I am proud of? We actually did Bart Simpson asthma inhalers. Asthma inhalers are something that kids are not very proud of, but if you got a Bart Simpson one, that's pretty cool. That is the weirdest thing.
• Disenchantment is available for streaming via Netflix. The Simpsons airs on TVNZ 2, Friday, 7.30pm.