Matt Groening’s Saturday Morning Cartoon That Never Was

An image of Milhouse surrounded by unused child designs.

Back in 2011, during a Twitter discussion about whether Milhouse’s design was inspired by Wonder Years actor Josh Saviano, Simpsons superdirector David Silverman dismissed that theory, mentioning Milhouse had originated from an unproduced Saturday morning cartoon Matt Groening had pitched to a network in the 80s, and his design was recycled for a Butterfinger commercial. I wrote about it at the time.

Silverman mentioned that cartoon again recently (the Wonder Years thing just won’t die!), and this time some more details have emerged.

First, Silverman explains the history a little more, mentioning that he and fellow animator Wes Archer picked Milhouse from Groening’s designs:

Second, the invaluable resource Simpsons Production Art tweeted two character designs believed to be from Groening’s cartoon, shared with him by the Instagram account miscolored.simpsons:

I happened to have come across those designs a few years ago, and I shared two more characters:

I’ve been trying to search through my web history, and it appears I came across them via this Pinterest pin in May 2018 from the now-defunct website Simpsons Zone, which, judging from their Pinterest account, was some kind of aggregator for Simpsons stuff. The collectible page was archived, but the individual pages for “Melvin Concept” and “Iris Concept” were not. My recollection, which could be wrong, is that the original source was an auction site (I’m no longer sure it was eBay). I don’t remember the wording of the listing, just that there were four designs in total (Iris, Melvin, Carla, and Potter) and some indication they were from an unproduced Groening project (I don’t believe there was a title). The brief excerpt you can get from that Pinterest pin – “All artwork comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from Animazing Gallery” – seemingly indicates that it came from Animazing Gallery, possibly via ComicArtFans, but I haven’t been able to verify this. At the time I was skeptical of the legitimacy of the designs because there’s so much misinformation and bootleg stuff out there, and I assumed this project would’ve been written about before, the way Groening’s Apple ads from this time period keep resurfacing every five years or so.

However, miscolored.simpsons had also come across this snippet from an old issue of Wizard, which gives a bit of credence to those designs:

I hadn’t made the connection before, but upon seeing that I remembered Matt Groening had mentioned a character he used to draw as a kid in an interview with Nickelodeon Magazine before Futurama launched. I didn’t save that issue, but luckily someone is selling it on eBay and, incredibly, they happened to include a photo of the entire interview. Here’s the part about that character, Melvin:

Incidentally, those drawings appear to have been taken from the 1986 Life in Hell strip “The Evolution of My Cartoon Career.” Melvin and Gurfy are labelled 1968, when Groening would’ve been 14. There is something very charming about the idea of Groening trying to make a cartoon about this character he’d created as a kid for two decades, only for the Simpsons to get in the way.

A few caveats: I’m still not 100% certain those character designs are authentic. Also, I’m just some dork on the internet. Maybe an actual media outlet could ask Groening about it instead of the same old questions about “when is The Simpsons ending” and “when is Futurama coming back.” Finally, it’s unclear whether Melvin’s Inferno is necessarily the same cartoon pitch these designs came from, or even if it’s the one Milhouse originated from. Groening’s cartoonist friend Gary Panter has said Groening “probably went to, like, hundreds of pitch meetings” at the time; one could assume he had multiple cartoon pitches.

Nevertheless, between this and the Krusty spin-off, this has been an incredibly fruitful month for finding out more about unproduced Matt Groening projects.