After 32 years, Simpsons creator Matt Groening quietly pulled the plug last week on his Life in Hell syndicated comic strip.
"Thirty-two years is a long time to do it," Groening says of the strip that got the attention of TV producers, giving him the chance to do animation that led to The Simpsons, the longest-running animated series ever. "I love the characters, I love doing it, but it was just time."
Life in Hell is an urban tale of a bunny named Binky and his girlfriend, Sheba.
In a telling tale of the times, Groening not only wasn't getting rich off the comic (papers paid just $18 a week for the strip), but he also was losing money on it for 10 years, says Sondra Gatewood of ACME Features, Life in Hell's syndicator.
At its height, Life in Hell was distributed to 379 newspapers, she says. Now it's down to just 38. The final strip ran June 15, but reruns will continue through July 13.
Life in Hell's circulation fell as alternative papers - hurt badly by the loss of classified ads, which went to Craigslist and other websites - cut back.
Still, editors are "shocked" at Groening's decision, she says. "The strip is part of the history of their papers."
Jill Stewart, the managing editor of L.A. Weekly, goes way back with Groening. She was the editor of the Evergreen College campus newspaper, where he was the staff cartoonist, and later a roommate when both moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s.
"This is the end of an era," she says. "Moving from Oregon, where everything was smaller and prettier and cleaner, to a city like Los Angeles, where the creativity and money is, was tough. It was life in hell, and the strip really touched into that fear and love of L.A. It told the whole story of a culture and people."
Groening is actively involved in his second animated series, Futurama, which returns Wednesday (10 ET/PT) for another season on Comedy Central.
Life in Hell "prevented me from doing other projects," he says, "because every week I had to go back to the same drawing table." Quitting "will open me up to new things, more animation, more stuff. I may just sit and stare into space."