Matt Groening…

was born in Portland, Oregon, 50 years ago today. The Writer’s Almanac has this biographical essay on the creator of The Simpsons.

[Matt Groening] hated grade school, because his teachers were always confiscating his notebook drawings and tearing them up. He began keeping a diary when he was in fifth grade, vowing that he would never forget the injustice he suffered.

He drew cartoons for his high school newspaper and once ran for class president as a joke. In his campaign, he said he was the founding member of “Teenagers for Decency.” He was shocked when he got elected. He tried, unsuccessfully, to rewrite the school’s constitution to make himself absolute dictator.

Groening decided to move to Los Angeles after college to try to make it as a writer. He lived in a neighborhood full of drug dealers and thieves, and got a job ghostwriting the memoirs of an 88-year-old filmmaker. After that, he worked at a convalescent home, a waste treatment plant, and a graveyard. He started writing a comic strip based on his daily troubles called “Life in Hell.” The main character was a miserable rabbit named Binky. He made the comics into booklets and mailed them off to everyone he knew. He started to sell the booklets in record stores, and the Los Angeles Reader eventually began to run the strip. Within a few years “Life in Hell” was syndicated in weekly newspapers across the country. Groening said, “I had no idea I was going to make cartooning a career. I was doing it merely to assuage my profound sense of self-pity at being stuck in this scummy little apartment in Hollywood.”

When a TV producer asked Groening to created a TV show, Groening decided to invent a cartoon family that would be the exact opposite of all the fictional families that had ever been on American television. He named the parents after his own parents, Homer and Marge, and he named the two sisters after his own sisters, Lisa and Maggie. He chose the name Bart for the only son because it was an anagram of the word “brat.”

The Simpsons has gone on to become the most popular and longest running sitcom in America. Groening no longer writes for the show, but he gave it its basic premise, which is that authority figures are generally mean and stupid. He said, “Teachers, principals, clergymen, politicians—for the Simpsons, they’re all goofballs, and I think that’s a great message for kids.”