Rock legend Alice Cooper shares the love with Bill Morrison, creative director of Bongo Comics, publishers of The Simpsons and Futurama comic books.
In this third installment of TMR’s exclusive interview with Bill Morrison (part 1 & part 2), the creative director of Bongo Comics, talks about his undying love of the medium, how even pursuing your muse really is a job, and what he hopes readers get from their time and money spent on Futurama and Simpsons Comics.
We then close with a pair of vignettes that highlight how his efforts as both a comics professional and a volunteer have helped change the world for the better, if only a little, if only two lives at a time.
What do you get from doing your day-to-day job?
A paycheck. (Laughs)
Seriously? (Laughs) I ask, because I get the real sense that there’s more to it than that.
No, that’s the most wise guy answer I could come up with.
Well, like I said, I’m a huge comic lover, and even though
Even if I wasn’t working at Bongo, and I was just creating my own comics, or if I was independently wealthy and just doing stuff for myself, it’s still a job. There’s still a certain amount of blood, sweat and tears that you have to put into anything, even if it’s fun. And this job is incredibly fun.
There are parts of my job that I don’t enjoy as much as other parts. Sometimes my job is a little bit grading test papers, because I’m looking at the work of other artists and writers and making notes with my little red pen, and making changes and corrections. And when I’m doing that, I’m thinking I’d much rather be writing and drawing something myself, rather than making notes on somebody else’s work.
But, still, I used to work with my father, who was an insulator. He insulated homes with fiberglass. I always have that in my memory, and I always have that to compare whatever I’m doing to. So, no matter how much I’m not enjoying my job at the moment, I can always look back at that and say, “Well, at least I’m not up in an attic in the middle of the summer with jeans and a sweatshirt, gloves and a mask, putting up fiberglass insulation.
I’ve done similar work in the past, even working the garbage and sewer trucks of my home town during the summers, so I know whereof you speak, my friend. Those memories remain very vivid to this day.
I think it’s good for people to have jobs like that in their history, because it really makes you appreciate
What do you hope that your readers get from the books you folks publish?
Well, both shows, The Simpsons and Futurama, are just designed to make people laugh. I think they go beyond that. They’re very layered TV shows. And we try to do that in the comic books, too. We try to layer in social commentary, slapstick, everything. There’s basically something for every age group. Every strata of our society, I think, can read our comics and get multiple things out of them, just like they would with the TV shows.
One of the coolest things that people get out of our comics, which is really a bonus and came as a surprise to me, is that there have been a couple instances where parents have come up to me
There was a woman who came up to me at Comic Con one year, and she thanked me for basically doing my job. She said, “Thank you for making these comic books. They mean so much to my son.” And I didn’t really get what she was saying at first. I just kind of politely thanked her. I thought she was basically saying, “My son enjoys your comics, and he’s entertained by them.” But she went a little further and said, “I don’t think you understand, let me explain
“My son was failing in school, and I was in despair. I didn’t know what to do, because his problem was he didn’t like to read, and that affected all of his classes. He just wasn’t interested in reading. And because of that, he didn’t read well at all and all of his grades were in the toilet. And I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what I could possible do to inspire him to want to read.
“But the one thing I did know is that he loved The Simpsons. And one day I saw one of your comic books in a supermarket, and I thought, ‘Hm. I know my son loves The Simpsons, maybe he’ll want to read it.’”
So she bought it. She took it home to him. He went nuts. And, even though he couldn’t read it well, he started asking questions. He had to know what was in those word balloons. So he started asking his mom, “What is this word? What does this say?” And she said before I knew it, he was reading not only your comics, but he wanted to read actual books, and now he’s getting As and Bs in school.
And that just blew me away, because I realized that—not in every case, but at least one case—that the work that I am doing goes just beyond entertaining people, but in some cases, actually changes their lives.
Now, I know that’s a bold statement, and I don’t want to say that my work is so important it’s changing people’s lives, but I have a first-hand account where that did happen. Who knows what this kid’s life might have been like if he’d never really learned to read? And now, because of reading a Simpsons comic book that I had something to do with, he is reading and getting As and Bs, and who knows what he’ll go on to become because of that.
And there’s a whole wealth of worlds and lives and choices now available to him.
Yeah, and that’s really cool.
It doesn’t get much better than that, my friend.
No, it doesn’t, at all.
There’s one other story that I’d like to share, and while it’s not really directly related to the comics,
Here in Los Angeles there’s a halfway house for teenage prostitutes who’ve been taken off the street. They’re housed in this place where they also have schooling, and the people who run this place try to rehabilitate them. And there’s a guy here at Bongo, Bob Zaugh, who’s our operations manager, who asked me if I would come and speak to these kids one night.
I was a little nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect, because I know these are kind of tough kids who’ve been living on the street and have a whole lot of problems. And I thought, “Well, yeah, I’m willing to go and talk to them and give them a little art demonstration. I don’t know how much they’ll get out of it, but I’m willing to do it.”
So I went and did it. And I basically did a demonstration of how we draw the Simpsons, and we passed out comic books. We also gave the kids some paper and pencils, and I sort of tutored them; during the drawing demonstration that I had done, I went around to all these desks and gave them pointers, and gave them encouragement.
And I went away from that feeling like, “Well, that went OK. Hope the kids got something out of it,” but didn’t really know exactly what.
A couple years later, Bob Zaugh came into the office one day and said, “Hey, I was talking to my friend who runs that halfway house, and I just thought you might like to know she told me that one of the kids you spoke to that night just got accepted into Otis Design School, and got a full scholarship. And she said that the reason that she decided to pursue art was because of your encouragement that night.”
I was in tears. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” This was a teenage prostitute. Who knows if she even would have lived? She was probably on drugs, and who know what else was going wrong in her life, but she didn’t have much hope at all. And then, just because of a few words of encouragement—“Yeah, you’ve got some talent! You should pursue that,” I’m not really sure what I said to her—she decided she wanted to be an artist and pursued it, worked on her drawing, and then ended up getting a scholarship to an art college.
It’s like, “Wow!” you know?
If you’d written that as a story, a lot of folks would look at it and say, “Nope, it can’t end that way. It’s just unrealistic.”
That’s an amazing story, Bill, seriously.
I look for stuff like that now. I realize that, for the most part, what we do is disposable entertainment—and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s important to make people laugh, and keep people entertained. We all need that. We all need that escape from everyday reality, where we just want to read a good story and have a good laugh, or have a good cry, or whatever.
So, entertainment is important. But when you can go beyond it, and actually do something that you know changes somebody’s life, it’s just the best.
So I look for opportunities like that now. That’s part of why I do the Bowling for Boobies thing. Because, for me, the fundraising part is fun; I really enjoy doing it. But who knows how people’s lives are changed from getting a check for a couple thousand dollars at this time when they most need it?