As The Simpsons series slips further and further from greatness, there’s one place you can be guaranteed some old-school Simpsons fun – the comics. What was once a watered-down version of the TV show is now a reminder of how good it used to be. Even so – it’s rare you’ll see a Simpsons comic on a “must buy” list, but when the title is guest edited by Sammy Harkham, the creator of the critical darling Kramer’s Ergot anthology, you can’t help but snap to attention.
The issue opens with its own one-page “couch gag” written and illustrated by Tim Henley, and immediately sets the tone for the book. The Simpsons comic has never ben afraid of pushing a few boundaries, and this issue is no exception. The creator’s personalities come through strong in every tale, and the stories all fall somewhere on the spectrum between “affectionate homage” and “avant-garde genre-buster”. With definite emphasis towards the latter.
Matthew Thurber and Kevin Huizenga’s “The Call of Vegelu” veers off heavily into fantastical sci-fi such that it’s initially quite jarring – but then the final twist snaps you back into familiar satirical Simpsons territory and it all makes sense. Ted May and Sammy Harkham’s short unites fan-favourites Moe and Gil for some uniquely bleak humour. Jon Vermilyea’s Hans Moleman story, “C.H.U.M.” (the clue’s in the name) is perhaps the most like a traditional “Treehouse of Horror” short, as seen in the TV series, and is no worse for it.
As a big Jeffrey Brown fan, it was his Milhouse story that convinced me to pick the title up, and it delivers brilliantly. Brown’s art style meshes well with the Simpsons while being recognisable him, and the subject matter is appropriately twisted (this is a Halloween special, after all) as Milhouse finds himself comitting multiple murders – it’s testament to Brown’s ability that through all the insanity, Milhouse never really breaks character.
Anthology titles are always hit and miss, but this is definitely more good than not. That said, if you pick this up expecting traditional Treehouse of Horror-style hilarity as informed by the TV series, you’ll be severely disappointed. If, however, you’re interested in seeing a group of idiosyncratic cartoonists use the Simpsons as a vehicle for their own style, you’ll get exactly that, and as I’ve said before, giving indie comic creators this kind of exposure can only ever a good thing for the medium. Do yourself a favour and pick it up.