The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror, the Comic Book : Lovecraft, Existentialism and Free Donuts

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.

– “The Call of Cthulhu”, H.P. Lovecraft

Dieticians might be shocked; fast-food might be far better for our health than previously thought. Krusty Burgers, to be specific, may very well save mankind, or at the very least, save us from a mass, alien enslavement of the human race. Yet, let’s save that for later.

Whilst each Halloween blissfully brings FOX’s Animation Domination Treehouse of Horror, this spine-chilling time of the year also brings bliss in analog format: Bongo Entertainment’s own annual comic books, “Treehouse of Horror”. (For the uninitiated, Bongo Entertainment is the comic book publishing and distribution arm of the Matt Groening empire, spawned in 1991 by the ravenous needs of Simpsons fans the world over.)

Free donuts or true love? Photo: JSDevore
Free donuts or true love? Photo: JSDevore

Narrating three spooky, Simpsons tales, similar to the televised format, Treehouse of Horror the comic book delivers a sometimes darker, more sinister version of the bright and cheery, if not ever-twisted Springfield we visit via the beloved Boob Tube. Neither a companion piece nor an official complement, the comic book may be a different beast altogether (artists, writers, creep level), but like any Simpsons offering, it is replete with academic frames-of-reference, historical nods and cerebral asides. Never one to spoon-feed the consumer mushy peas for the mind, the Groening network presumes you know a thing or two about a thing or two; and if you don’t, that’s your referential loss. Treehouse of Horror #19 is no exception.

Though each of the three tales is a stand-alone, there exists a clear theme throughout this year’s issue: World Domination. Via public school lunches or ancient, dormant overlords, be ye warned: thy cushy, quirky, sunshine-yellow life is available only for a limited time. Inspired by a 1928 short story titled The Call of Cthulhu by American horror-writer H.P. Lovecraft, the final yarn of the Treehouse triad best connects the philosophy of 1920s existentialism with our ageless Simpsons. Lovecraft’s story tells of a slumbering sea monster -part-octopus/part-dragon/part-mustachioed gentleman- at the ready for an Earth-shattering awakening, enabled by any accidental and naive repetition of a bygone curse: Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn. (Thank you, Bart and Milhouse.) Coming off the heels of WWI and riding the sunrise of the Great Depression, the concept of a deadly, sleeping, unseen giant must have been a useful literary tool in Lovecraft’s paranoid day.

Fitting for Halloween, the holiday’s pagan roots stretching the tissue-thin layer of protection betwixt this world and that of the spirits, Treehouse of Horror is always a full-colour, hilarious reminder of the evil that forever lurks. When the pretty, lace veil of perceived reality is finally lifted, the cavernous, black hole that is the charred face of true reality screeches her call of annihilation like a banshee in an abandoned, Irish castle. The jarring, depressing, futility of modern life exposed in Lovecraft’s stories is confirmed by the realization of a secret, malevolent, alternate universe. Lovecraft called it “cosmic horror”, this diseased and hopeless contemplation that humankind is worthless, insignificant and mindless, that the universe at large is innately hostile towards and conspiring against the very existence of the woeful human.

Writing in the first quarter of the 20thC., Howard Phillips Lovecraft was cosmically attached at the skull, like a conjoined litter of depressives, to fellow brooding, turn-of-the-century thinkers like Nietzsche, Kafka, Sartre and Woody Allen. (Okay, Woody’s quite a bit later, but you get it. Fretful, pensive to distraction and dizzied by death and dying.) What is man’s place in this mad, absurd, pointless world? Why bother? What does it all matter, when clearly we are slated for a brief, impotent sojourn on Earth, only to be ultimately condemned  to death, deterioration, desiccation and dust.

Meh. Lighten up, already! Existentialism, smexistentialism. Springfield still has Kwik-E-Mart squishees, Krusty burgers and Lard Boy donuts. Plus, it’s Hallowe’en! How bad does mankind really have it in this cruelly short, dismally-fated, rat race? Well, don’t ask Friedrich Nietzsche, ask Ned Flanders.

  • Tale No. 1: “Monster Mash-up”

Free beer and donuts vs. true love? Easy peasy call, right? Homer is lured into a haunted house by the Bacchanalian siren and finds himself accosted by a host of local characters, all morphed into classic monsters of lit and film. Krusty Hellraiser, Barney, Moe & Duffman zombies, Comic Book Guy From the Black Lagoon, and Reverend Lovejoy as Satan, of course. As a ghost-Marge entices Homer to join her in the grave, he must decide if true love or donuts and beer shall comfort his mortal soul. Plus, there are the cavity probes. You know you like it.

And this door doesn’t hold anything better! Nothing but a post-apocalyptic cityscape’s bleak nothingness of rubble and ruins. And zombies probably.    -Homer

  • Tale No.2: “Alienated”

School cafeteria lunches never tasted so good! With lunch lady Doris and her usual gruel M.I.A., students are dining on substitute vittles. With the new chow, kiddies become smarter, more efficient and develop a serious case of what Ned Flanders calls ‘sass mouth’. Yet, will the fast-food tables turn? Will Professor Frink and little Lisa uncover the mystery of the missing cafeteria meat food?  Will Krusty Burger and its foodesque, lethargy-invoking, quasi-edible slurry save the world; or will Krusty simply teach the aliens how to serve man?

Rod and Todd have taken to answering me by using the word ‘whatever’. Also, I think they’re mutilating cattle.     -Ned Flanders

  • Tale No. 3: “Cthulhu? Gesundheit!”

Be careful what you wish for, Milhouse. Borrowing heavily from the Cthulhu mythos, or the Lovecraftian milieu (Fun to say, right? Try working it in at Thanksgiving.), Bart and Milhouse are assigned to catalogue the long-forgotten tomes of Springfield Elementary School’s basement-library. There they find an ancient spell book of the dead: Necronomicon. (Good name for a Comic-Con goth panel.) By speaking one simple tongue-twister, Cthulhu and his ilk can be called from the depths of the sea, like a genie from his bottle, to do the bidding of his new master. Will the Kraken-like sea creature enslave and devour the human race, or will Santa’s Little Helper be a good doggie and save the day?

Bart, where does A Tale of Two Cities go?     -Milhouse

How about in the trash? Any book that can’t make up its mind where it wants to be set can’t possibly be any good!     -Bart

Pay attention, humans! Cthulhu has been awakened!
Pay attention, humans! Cthulhu has been awakened! Photo: Dennis van Zuijlekom

Happy Halloween, Earthlings!

Ooh! An actual beer and donuts joint?! Well … I guess I have a little time to stop!    -Homer

 

 

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