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Official Article

Simpsons Illustrated and 90's Magazine Ads

In 1991 there were 2 groups of animated icons laying claim to the phrase, “Cowabunga!”. On one side you had the kid-friendly, pizza-eating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the other the foul-mouthed, child-strangling dysfunctional family, The Simpsons.  While the green machine may have sold more toys that year, there’s no doubt who was getting the most exposure in magazines nationwide.  With all those trees being cut down to discuss their effect on civilized society, is it any wonder that Bart and the gang decided to push their way onto the racks of the Kwik-E-Mart next to covers of Time and Newsweek on their own terms?

At age 9, I was lucky enough to be caught up in the frenzy caused by The Simpsons weekly animated sitcom and snag the first 3 issues of Simpsons Illustrated. I guess after almost 2 years on the air my parents realized that I wasn’t repeating phrases like “Eat my shorts” or “Don’t have a cow, man” (how was that ever considered edgy?) so they authorized the purchase of the magazines above that I still have in my collection to this day. Though it ran for 10 issues from 1991-1993 I don’t hear Simpsons Illustrated brought up very often in discussions of favorite elementary school reading material, so allow me to give you a glimpse into the pages of this truly one of a kind publication.

Starting with a table of contents modeled after Homer’s Safety Inspector clipboard from the Nuclear Power Plant, you instantly knew that you would be rewarded for your attention to detail, as little nods to the Springfield universe were sprinkled throughout. Though there were articles covering topics like how the music and animation were created for the show (Yawn), most exciting were extras like this fake ad for Frosty Krusty Flakes or a glimpse of a textbook page from Springfield Elementary complete with “El Barto’s” doodles over the “courageous tale” of town founder, Jebediah Springfield (aka Hans Sprungfeld, Murderous Pirate).

Also featured was a section called “In The News”, which found headlines from around the country involving people sharing the same name as Simpson family characters. For example, did you know there was a balding Senator from Wyoming named Alan Simpson in the early 90’s? Well, now you do! Who says Simpsons Illustrated had no educational value? The magazine also had a comic strip page featuring short adventures of supporting characters like Krusty, Apu and many others. This was a pre-cursor to the magazine eventually morphing into Bongo Comics which featured titles I loved dearly, like Radioactive Man, Bartman, Simpsons Comics and more.

For aspiring artists or those just looking to see their own names in print, Simpsons Illustrated had pages where you completed a drawing of a character and mailed it in to be included in the next issue. The "Draw Bart’s Mouth" contest from the 1st issue resulted in some awesome entries, with people not just finishing the mouth, but giving Marge’s ”special little guy” a complete makeover. The Robocop was always my favorite, plus I really got psyched by the kid that took it upon himself to draw a series of original pictures featuring Bart as a member of the X-Men, Ninja Turtles, and an assortment of other heroes. Radical!

The first issue also had 2 very special inserts included. The first was a 3 page fold out “family tree” style diagram explaining how the different residents of Springfield were related to each other. Again, this was a time when the B and C level characters like stuntman Captain Lance Murdock were not in much of the spotlight outside of 10 second gags on a few episodes, so seeing guys like Sam the Barfly recognized as more than just a part of the background at Moe’s Tavern was a revelation.

Also included was a copy of The Springfield Shopper newspaper. Mocking the “who cares” style news of a small town, this added another layer to the mythos of those irradiated rascals. On the front page was a photo of the town’s famous batch of 3-eyed fish, but most entertaining was the classified section where worthless merchandise from the Simpson family patriarch’s brief stint as “Dancin’ Homer” and firearms supplied by Herman’s Military Antiques were sure to delight avid watchers of the show. Even more hilarious is the listing for bootleg Krusty t-shirts featuring “Black Krusty, Air Krusty…” which was obviously a jab at the glut of bootleg Simpsons shirts found in elementary schoolyards all over the U.S.A. in the early 90s, heck you probably owned one yourself at some point.

Issue 2 was filled with more of the same fun, like this tear out School Survival Handbook, which surely inspired another favorite book in my collection by the self-declared underachiever, Bart Simpson’s Guide To Life. The not so helpful and irreverent tips in the handbook, such as wasting your school hours by Doodling, Passing Notes and Going To The Bathroom for extended periods of time were surely the stuff of authority figure nightmares, but let kids know, “Hey, Bart gets it.” As you can see, issues 1 and 2 of Simpsons Illustrated were packed with entertainment, but with subsequent issues they passed into a whole new dimension!

Arriving complete with red and blue lensed glasses emblazoned with the Butterfinger candy bar logo, The Simpsons Illustrated 1992 Annual in Mind-Bending, Knee-Slapping, Eye-Popping 3-D was a sight to behold. Every page of this very special issue was in 3-D, except for the cover and even then they inserted the same image in the middle of the magazine so that you didn’t feel cheated! Now when I say every page was in 3-D, I mean EVERY page.

Second shameless plug for Butterfinger on the inside cover in 3-D? Yep! “Behind the Scenes” pictorial enhanced to create the illusion that you are partying with the cast and crew of The Simpsons? You betcha! How about literal eye-bulging violence in the Itchy and Scratchy comics? Of course! Even the ad for fellow FOX Network program Parker Lewis Can’t Lose got the blue and red line treatment. Believe me, the Ferris Bueller clone’s 90’s fashion sense looks even crazier in 3-D. It’s going the extra mile like this that really endeared me to the show and the magazine all the more. Flipping through these pages again really took me back to the wonder of tuning in on Thursday nights at 8 PM for the first few years of The Simpsons animated antics.

There was a whole ritual involved. I usually flipped on FOX Channel 11 at 7:55 PM and inserted my blank VHS tape, ready to push the record button on the remote as soon as that angelic choir began their chorus of, “The Simpsons…” Then I began chowing down on some Kung Pao Chicken from my favorite Chinese Food restaurant, with a fork in one hand and my other hand poised on the pause button for when the commercials started (I wish now I would have just left them in, but tape space was precious). Before purchasing the DVDs of seasons 1 through 13, I had amassed a collection of about 25 video cassettes stuffed with almost every episode, which were watched during most meals Friday through Wednesday until the next week’s episode arrived. Yeah, they hooked me like a 3 eyed fish.

What are your memories of The Simpsons media dominance? Did you get your hands on a copy of Simpsons Illustrated or one of their other books?

BONUS 90’s Magazine Ads

There is nothing more fun than looking at old ads from days gone by, so here’s a collection of advertisements found in the pages of Simpsons Illustrated.

Does anybody remember these Chip N’ Dale Rescue Rangers Fudge Bars in the freezer at your local grocery store? I often asked for the fruit flavored popsicles shaped like Mickey, Goofy and Donald, but I never caught sight of these choclatey delights. I have to believe these were also a standard offering from the roving ice cream trucks during summer 1991. Anyone?

Pop Qwiz was microwave popcorn with a gimmick, you didn’t know what color your salty-sweet snack food would be until after you popped it! Neon popcorn was a no-brainer to market in the 90’s, although I was always much more partial to the brands that came with a sour cream and onion or ranch seasoning packet to dump in. Confession: as a kid, when all we had was plain microwave popcorn, I would dump actual ranch dressing in the bag and shake it up. Gooey? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely!

Willy Wonka candy seemed to be found at every fun event growing up, but this ad shows the upgrades our favorite sugary treats were getting in 1991. Jumbo Nerds, Double-Dipped Nerds and even Everlasting HOT Gobstoppers trying to give Hot Tamales a run for their money. Plus, there’s this weird offer for a Willy Wonka Secrets of Magic video that fascinates me. Has anybody experienced this first-hand? Did they get Gene Wilder out of retirement to pull Wacky Wafers from behind kids' ears, or at the very least put a guy in a purple top hat to show off the Levitating Runts Trick? As it turns out, I'm not far off. You can see the cheesy 12 minute video for yourself through the magic of YouTube by clicking this link, huzzah! 

Finally, is there anything that takes you back to your childhood play sessions in the 90’s like Koosh balls? With the appearance of rubbery Porcupines or noodley Sea Urchins they arrived on the scene and forced us to play with them through their hypnotic waving tendrils. Throw ‘em, juggle ‘em, pet ‘em, there was nothing quite like touching that “kooshy” exterior. First they just added multiple colors to create “Ultra-Koosh”, then they tried to make us identify with the strange objects by adding faces and arms to create the Kooshkins! How many of these little guys did you have growing up?

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AnEarly90sMan Posted on Feb 18, 2015 at 10:04 PM

Ah yes, the Bart Simpson hair carving. The good old days. Remember when people had this:

Those magazine ads are definitely from an early 90s magazine. You can see the mid 90s coming in (Pop Qwiz popcorn, anyone), but there's still a HW Bush era atmosphere (Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers) to them. Those Simpsons Illustrated issues had to be from the fall of 1991 into the spring of 1992 when we were getting a lot closer to 1993.

Thank you for writing this article, Holu.

shakin steak Posted on Feb 18, 2015 at 04:26 PM

Ugh, I had these magazines. But I have no idea what happened to them. Thanks for the blast from the past!

Hoju Koolander Posted on Feb 11, 2015 at 10:37 PM

@jkatz I always saw that one at the bookstore, but I opted for The Simpsons Family Album and Bart Simpson's Guide To Life. To your comment it definitely wasn't for kids, but anything animated will catch the eyes of a child, while adults don't give it a second glance. So it was inevitably going to be a favorite in the schoolyard.

jkatz Posted on Feb 10, 2015 at 04:54 AM

Did anybody else have The Simpsons Rainy Day Fun Book? Basically a giant activity book with card tricks, pranks, stuff you could cut out, and many more. I always thought it was bizarre because I never really considered The Simpsons to be a kid's cartoon per se.

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 06, 2015 at 02:33 AM

I had reached that point in my life where sports became important to me (namely basketball and hockey) so I was watching that, or Unsolved Mysteries, and some of the sitcoms like Cheers, Night Court, etc.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Feb 05, 2015 at 10:44 PM

@Vaporman87 That's The Simpsons Sing the Blues, my friend. I have it on CD and Cassette! I often find myself singing "Look At All Those Idiots" or "Deep, Deep Trouble" to this day. You didn't watch The Simpsons? Are you a communist? j/k What were you watching instead?

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 05, 2015 at 06:40 PM

Ha! Two articles in one week with Simpsons references (the other by fuschnikt)... that's got to be a record!

I had no idea The Simpsons had their very own magazine. I should have figured though, as in the 90's everything had it's own magazine.

I like all the "inside" information that was in these. Though I was never really a huge Simpsons fan, I did catch it now and then. Not enough to know about some of the more obscure characters that got better treatment in these pages.

I owned very little Simpsons merchandise, but I did buy a Simpsons cassette tape with music on it, sung by the Simpsons themselves. I wonder if that's worth money on Ebay now?

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