The Simpsons is dead, long live The Simpsons. The classic cartoon sitcom has had an incredible impact on pop culture and animation since it began airing in 1989. This was especially true during its golden age, which is disputed but broadly covers seasons 3-8. The show’s classic run has lived on in the meme zeitgeist, like with the infamous “Steamed Hams” skit, Sugarposting, or screenshots used in Twitter jokes. Simpsons quotes are practically a dialect of their own. But while classic Simpsons has come and gone, fans these days are enthusiastically returning to the show’s older episodes — and the new canon — to find inspiration for their own Simpsons stories.
The animated comedy just had its season 33 premiere on Sunday, and the show has reinvented itself many times over its decadeslong run. The one thing that the show refuses to compromise on is aging up any of its characters, and so the timeline keeps sliding forward: In season 33, Homer and Marge are millennials. But what if the Simpsons actually aged? Each Simpson has been through so many iterations and timelines that they can be imagined anywhere (or anywhen). Webcomic fan artists are exploring these questions and more, while paying homage to The Simpsons’ classic years.
The Simpsons actually had its own comics, published from 1993 to 2012, which were based on the sitcom. Fan comics, however, give artists the creative license to imagine their favorite characters in situations that the official media can’t or won’t depict. Panic Volkushka is the artist who created Couples’ Therapy, a comic where Bart Simpson and Family Guy’s Chris Griffin are working together to maintain a romantic relationship despite the abuse inflicted upon them by their fathers.
Springfight! is another fan comic that takes a critical look at the legacy of Homer Simpson, but combines it with a love letter to the show’s classic run. The comic starts with a very Simpsons premise: Mr. Burns is leaving his wealth to whoever can best the rest of Springfield in a massive tournament. Homer takes the lead early on, but his family life has crumbled as a result, and the Simpsons have to navigate the scenario together.
“As a child of the 90’s, I’ve never known a world without The Simpsons,” says Joe Chouinard, the creator of Springfight! “I took the show for granted growing up, partly because it was so pervasive, and partly because I didn’t understand half the jokes. But I don’t think any piece of media has had a bigger impact on me. Those early seasons are burned into my brain, and have undoubtedly influenced the way I think about humor and storytelling. Also, I quote the show on a daily basis. I imagine in twenty years I’ll still be proclaiming whether or not everything is, in fact, coming up Milhouse.”
Chouinard’s inspirations were far reaching. After a rewatch of Yu Yu Hakusho, Chouinard wondered why emotionally charged martial arts tournaments weren’t a larger part of the Western cartoon canon. From there, Springfight! blossomed from an idea into a full comic.
“So, I ditched the status quo and gave the characters permission to grow, change, and move on with their lives,” says Chouinard. “It felt like they deserved it after three decades, and it was nice to have some closure, even if I had to make it myself.”
Other artists are still fully in love with The Simpsons in its current form, and remain active in the fandom. Spikermonster is an online artist who has been a fan of The Simpsons throughout his life, but he rediscovered the show during a depressive episode.
“I decided to rewatch [the episode] Love, Springfieldian Style after watching the Sex Pistols mockumentary The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle,” he tells Polygon via Twitter. “I discovered that I’m still pretty fond of it, actually. That led to me finding more Simpsons episodes to watch. Before I knew it I was neck deep into the show, drawing fanart and thinking up ideas for stories and character exploration. My depression had entirely vanished. I feel like it saved my life.”
That art led to a project called Those Springfield Kids, which is “a character study of Bart, Lisa, and their friends during their late high school years.” Spikermonster explains that they were curious to see how the cast would develop if the clock suddenly started on their lives. “I was partially inspired by other Simpsons fan projects like Bartkira and Marge Simpson Anime,” says Spikermonster. “To think that there’s some people out there who are seeing my work and they might be feeling the same way I felt upon seeing Bartkira for the first time is truly so exciting.”
He adds, “I hope people don’t stop making these sort of fan projects, it’s always so fun to see how creative people can get in their reinterpretations of such an iconic show.”