Matt Groening & Tim Girvin: Cartooned life

Meditations on careers, creative and titles.

I met Matt Groening first at TED, 2007.

More often than not, people have said that the big connection that I have with college is cartooning.

“Hey, you’re from the same school as Matt Groening! “The Evergreen State College has turned out two cartoonists — Matt Groening and Lynda Barry. Barry, I did know, and remain connected to. She and I drew together. But Matt, we missed each other. Anyway, I met him. And isn’t it stupid to say that since then, I’ve actually studied his work? I mean, I knew about the Simpsons in the past, but sort of assumed that it was something that other people watched. Not me. And I’ve learned why millions of other people love this family, this village — this little and bigger world.

The modeling there, at this school, is really about teaching your self. And I’d failed resolutely at doing well in conventional schooling — I knew every Principal and Vice Principal, and Hall Director of every school I’d ever been to. So being at Evergreen, still rife with the stumbling challenges of COLLEGE LIFE (what, really, am I doing, any way) I’d had the chance to direct my self.

So really then, maybe I’m the third cartoonist. Look here, to the etymology.

Cartoons, cards and charts…a history.


cartoon (n.)1671, from Fr. carton, from It. cartone “strong, heavy paper, pasteboard,” thus “preliminary sketches made by artists on such paper,” augmentive of M.L. carta “paper”


Cartoon, really, comes from card — which goes back even further — with ancient Egyptian roots.


card (n.)1401, from M.Fr. carte, from L. charta “leaf of paper, tablet,” from Gk. khartes “layer of papyrus,” probably from Egyptian. Form infl. after 14c. by It. carta). Extension to comical drawings in newspapers and magazines is 1843. Cartoonist first recorded 1880.?And card comes from chart.


Where from:


chart (n.)1571, “map for the use of navigators,” from M.Fr. charte “card, map,” from L. charta



What’s the point of all this nonsense? It’s more of the same patterning – what word, what work, known — and whence, where does is come from? In a way, I believe that the work is the work that you do, but there’s always more, beneath the surface; there’s what you find, quickly discovered, then there’s more — that lies beneath the common view. Dig in. Excavate. Evaluate. Find: more.

And that’s the thing about Matt’s work, where to, the etymology — it’s about the charting, the navigations, the sketching of a miniature world — and channeled ideas for how to get around in it. Survive in it. That is a lot more than I do, as a designer.

Matt Groening is much cooler than I am. And besides that, he’s got a movie coming out this week. So I’ll have to go see that. Two.