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Book Review: The Huge Book of Hell

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Before there was The Simpsons, there was Life in Hell, a dark comic strip drawn by Matt Groening.

As Groening has become famous for the great television series he created, he has continued drawing this weird but hilarious strip. There are several Life in Hell books with names like School is Hell and Childhood is Hell. I recommend reading Work In Hell when you are frustrated with your job and checking out Love Is Hell when love just ain’t coming your way and you want to wallow in that.

The books are much darker and more philosophical than The Simpsons. The drawings are raw and crude.

The humor can be quite self-deprecating. For example, Groening draws most of his characters as bunnies, only to have some characters ask if they are drawn that way because of the cartoonist’s artistic limitations.

But the writing more than makes up for the weak drawing. His new book, The Huge Book of Hell, for example, has suggested magazine covers: Annoying Performance Artist magazine, not to be confused with Annoying Street Lunatic magazine.

The imaginary publication features such articles as “The Gentle Art of Scab-Pulling” and “Is It OK to Yell ‘I’m On Fire’ In a Crowded Theater?” Gross? Sure. Silly? Well, sometimes. High-brow? Maybe.

And there is even a special book guide within the book. Yes, just like Oprah’s book discussion group, Groening provides “A reading group guide to The Huge Book of Hell.

The guide includes such discussion questions as: “How would you characterize the cartoonist’s own attitude towards society? Does it change as the book progresses? Will it ever? Why does the cartoonist refuse to change? Have you read any of his other books? Is it any better there? What the hell is wrong with this guy?”

My favorite cartoon panel in the book — perhaps because it hits close to home — shows a young character lying awake at night asking questions:

Do animal crackers feel pain when you bite their heads off? Why do flies land on dog manure? Don’t they know it’s dog manure?

How can anyone eat something called rump roast?

Is it possible to have so many questions flying around inside your brain that you can never go to sleep and eventually go insane?

The final, inevitable panel shows the character finally sleeping. Groening is great, no matter what the medium. Read and enjoy.

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • Paul J. Marasa

    I remember being given a copy of Childhood Is Hell when we were expecting our first child. It was better than Spock, reminding us of the skewed perspective children have on the adult world, not to mention kids’ secret desires and fears. Groening manages to use his jaundiced eye to see great possibilities in life, even when it happens in Hell.

    And don’t foget his “advice to three-year-olds: “This may be your last chance to run naked and free, so go for it!”

  • Scott Butki

    I need to dig my books out and re-read them sometime.

    I remember reading Love Is Hell after a break-up and finding some solace there.