Cartoonist Bill Morrison to appear at inaugural Plymouth-Canton Bookfest

Bill Morrison drew a spoof of the 2016 “Captain America: Civil War” movie poster, replacing the Marvel characters with characters from “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” Image courtesy of Morrison.

Award-winning cartoonist Bill Morrison knows a thing or two about satire. 

An alumnus of Lincoln Park High School and the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Morrison, 63, has worked on “The Simpsons” – prime-time TV’s longest-running sitcom and longest-running animated series – and has been editor-in-chief of “MAD Magazine.” 

Morrison, who lives in St. Clair Shores with his wife Kayre, will be one of more than 100 vendors and authors at the inaugural Plymouth-Canton Bookfest.

The Event will be held Sunday, Oct. 2 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Plymouth Arts & Recreation Complex (PARC), located at 650 Church St. in Plymouth. This event is free and open to the public. 

“Most of my career has been spent in publishing and I’ve been involved with not only ‘The Simpsons’ line of comic books, but also the entire history of ‘Simpsons’ books,” Morrison said. “I’m really looking forward to exhibiting at a show where the attendees care about books and aren’t only looking for celebrity autographs and Funko Pops!” 

A funhouse mirror of our society

Morrison, one of six children who grew up in Lincoln Park, gave his insight into the success of “The Simpsons.”

“To me, ‘The Simpsons’ is a funhouse mirror of our society,” explained Morrison. “If you go to a funhouse and stand in front of one of those mirrors that’s really wavy and curvy… the reflection of yourself is skewed in such a way that it makes you laugh. That’s why it resonates. It does a brilliant job of taking everything in our culture and showing the funny side of it. We’re basically laughing at ourselves… That’s why it works and keeps on working. I think it could go on forever.”

He also gave his insight into “MAD,” which was first published in 1952.

“‘MAD’ has always poked its finger in the eye of the authority figures and institutions of our culture, whether it’s politicians, advertisers, film and TV shows, celebrities, corporations, etc. And they’ve always done it with great style, wit, and humor, and with the best illustrators, cartoonists, and comedy writers in the business,” said Morrison. “‘MAD’ is the funny kid at the back of the class who’s always cracking jokes under his breath at the expense of the windbag teacher. That attitude resonates with Americans who don’t relish being under the thumb of authoritarians, I think.”

Morrison pointed out that were it not for the irreverence and satire of ‘MAD,’ many successful TV shows such as “The Simpsons,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “Seinfeld” wouldn’t exist. 

“Even if you didn’t read ‘MAD,’ I guarantee that some form of comedy and satirical entertainment that you love sprung from the minds of writers and comedians influenced by ‘MAD,’” Morrison said. “‘MAD’ is so important to the popular culture in America.”

The final editor-in-chief of “MAD”

Morrison served as the final editor-in-chief for “MAD” from 2018-19. Currently, “MAD” is being published mostly in a reprint format.

“I was so fortunate to land the job as editor-in-chief of ‘MAD.’ When I think about reading ‘MAD’ as a kid and being inspired and entertained by ‘The Usual Gang of Idiots’ like nearly every other kid in America, it’s difficult to wrap my head around the fact that I was chosen to run it,” Morrison explained. “Though it was an incredible honor to be the fifth editor-in-chief in its nearly 70-year history, it was also a huge responsibility and challenge… I compared it to being handed a Fabergé Egg full of Silly Putty and being told that I had to get the Silly Putty out of the egg without breaking it.” 

Morrison began his career as a technical illustrator and later worked in advertising. However, his passion was drawing comics and cartoons.

Eventually, he moved to California and found work illustrating movie posters for Disney, including “Cinderella,” “Oliver & Company,” and “The Little Mermaid.”

In fact, Morrison’s artwork on “The Little Mermaid” created quite the controversy as one of the towers in the background resembles a penis. He has reiterated this was an accident. 

“My excuse or my explanation is it was a rushed job… You’ll see there’s a lot more detail and a lot more time spent on the original movie poster. On the video cassette art, I spent a lot of time on the characters and didn’t have much time to work on backgrounds, so it’s stripped down to basics without all the sparkly glitz and all the windows in the towers. Unfortunately, the one particular tower behind the Little Mermaid’s head ended up looking like a penis, unbeknownst to me until it was pointed out to me by a kid in my church youth group of all things,” he recalled, laughing. “He told me it was all over the radio. That was when I realized it became this big controversy. I’ve gone on the record several times and stated I didn’t mean to do it. This whole thing became an urban legend.”

Beyond Incredible

In 1990, he became an illustrator for “The Simpsons,” which recently began its 34th season. He also approved artwork for numerous “Simpsons” merchandise.

In 1993, “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening founded the now-defunct Bongo Comics and named Morrison the art director. This was a dream come true for Morrison because he always wanted to draw comics. He has served as the art director and, subsequently, the creative director for Bongo, which published “Simpsons” comics from 1993-2012.  

Like so many, Morrison is awed that “The Simpsons” has been on the air for 34 years (it began as animated shorts in 1987 on “The Tracey Ullman Show” before graduating to its eponymous series in 1989), stating that nobody thought such a thing was possible.  

“It’s just beyond incredible,” said Morrison. “Everyone I know who was with the show at the beginning, including (Groening), never expected the show to last more than a few seasons. ‘The Flintstones’ was the only (prime-time) animated show that lasted more than a few seasons and its run was 1960-66, so I think everyone back then thought it would be amazing to last even six years.” 

Far and away, Morrison’s favorite “Simpsons” character is Homer, the lovable yet hapless buffoon who is the titular family’s patriarch and who also loves eating doughnuts and drinking Duff beer. 

“He’s so hilarious,” said Morrison. “I just love writing Homer. He’s fun to draw. There’s nothing about him that isn’t delightful. Whether I’m creating for Homer – writing or drawing – or just watching him, he’s my favorite, hands down.”