@scenic_simpsons is an instagram museum for the show's most artful stills
The anonymous creator speaks to i-D about the show’s evolution and why he can’t watch an episode post-season 12.
It's rare that cartoons are considered art in the same way as, say, the hushed paintings of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye or the abstractionism of Picasso. But sometimes they should be. One show that has always stood out from the pack is The Simpsons. Premiering in 1989 and currently in its 30th season (with no signs of leaving the airwaves anytime soon), the cartoon ushered in an entirely new era of animation. Gone were lazy devices like wraparound backgrounds and wacky sound effects, prominent in Hanna-Barbera shows like The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo. In their place were complex plots, nuanced character development, and ambitious action sequences.
The Instagram account Scenic Simpsons is spotlighting just how much of a visual buffet the show was in its early years. It showcases stills that could easily pass as paintings: an Edvard Munch-esque rendering of a water glass distorting Homer's image, a tranquil shot of the sun setting behind The Simpsons's iconic Pepto Bismol-pink house, a frame of Flanders walking up a maze-like set of stairs that looks like a reference to the 1946 noir film The Spiral Staircase.
After just one year, Scenic Simpsons has accumulated over 200,000 followers. The creator of the account chooses to keep his identity a secret — preferring to let the show's art speak for itself — but on the condition of anonymity, he spoke to i-D about the The Simpsons's golden age and his aspirations to turn the account into a book.
You only curate shots from seasons 1-10. What is it about the show's early years that speaks to you?
It's mainly the colors. That's what makes the most mundane of frames so beautiful. The palette and coloring, especially in seasons 5-8, is just so perfect. You can notice even by season 10 that the lines are straighter and cleaner, the colors more bold and garish. It loses its magic a bit [after that]. It really feels like in the earlier seasons there was so much more time and care taken with the cinematography and coloring of each episode.
I first started watching The Simpsons at around the age of eight— and the first couple of seasons were way too deep for someone my age! But the show does have an indescribable quality that makes it relevant to both kids and adults. When did you first fall in love with it?
I totally get what you mean about the episodes seeming deep. There's one in which Homer nearly throws himself off a bridge because he broke Bart's piggy bank to buy beer! It's kind of mad to think about watching that as a kid. The thing I love is that I can watch episodes I've seen hundreds of times and notice new things every time — new bits of dialogue or jokes that I understand in an entirely new way. The show just satirizes family life in such a funny and clever way while also tackling real life stuff: sex, bullying, love, death, failure, your friend stealing your cocktail recipe and passing it off as his own...
During The Simpsons's early years, the show pushed the boundaries of what an animated show could by experimenting with its tone, themes, and story structures. At times, the plots made it feel more like a live-action sitcom than a cartoon. Do you have a favorite season?
It's a tear up between 5, 6, 7, and 8. I don't know if I'm going to get loads of hate mail from real Simpsons nerds, but my favorite is season 6. Just because it's got some of my favorite episodes: "Bart of Darkness," "Homer Badman," and "A Star is Burns."
What are the demands of running such a popular Instagram account?
Watching a load of The Simpsons very carefully and pausing it every four minutes or so to take a screenshoot. That and scrolling through the 100+ inbox requests I get every day and replying either, "Sorry, this screenshot isn't quite right and I don't take submissions" or "No, I don't sell advertising" or "I can't speak Spanish, sorry." It's in no way demanding though. It just means I have an excuse to watch more cartoons than before.
What are your thoughts on the current animation style of the show?
I can honestly say I've barely watched an episode since series 12(ish) — I've seen one or two but I can't bare it. I watched an episode a while back and they had mobile phones?! That just seems totally alien to me. The recent storylines have drifted way too far from the early seasons. It's more about cramming in celebs it seems. They had such big cameos in the 90s like Dustin Hoffman and Michael Jackson but they stayed anonymous. And that's just so much cooler... right?
And why have you chosen to remain anonymous?
I guess because The Simpsons already has such a strong voice behind it, it didn't really need mine. I'm happy to just sit back and let the account be its own thing. Plus, when I sell the account for loads of cash in a few months to a weight-loss drink or something, nobody can get mad at me. Just joking — it's my pride and joy.
How long do you see this project going on for?
As long as people/I still care about it, I guess. Or until I exhaust every worthy frame. I've got a backlog of around 400 still to come though, and I'm building on that every day. What I really want to do is get together with Fox and a publisher and do a book! And even an exhibition would be awesome. I want to push it further.
Text André Wheeler
Photos courtesy @scenic_simpsons