Matt Groening dodges Apu controversy at Comic-Con while promoting new Netflix series
A mind-scrambling, multi-layered celebration of onscreen heroes past and present, Comic-Con is driven as much by nostalgia as the thirst for the next new thing. In “Disenchantment,” the first new series in 19 years from “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening coming to Netflix next month, Comic-Con had the chance to celebrate both.
With voice talent that includes “Broad City” co-creator Abbi Jacobson (who was not on hand but sent along a video message) along with “Adult Swim” star Eric Andre, plus an eventual reunion of the voices behind “Futurama,” “Disenchantment” blends au courant comic royalty with masters of the form. What remains to be seen is how well “Disenchantment” fits with the present.
This year has been a tough one for “The Simpsons.” The racially charged controversy surrounding the longtime character Apu, as outlined in comic Hari Kondabolu’s documentary “The Problem With Apu,” has yet to go away, and subsequent responses from longtime “Simpsons” writer Al Jean and Groening himself have not defused the issue. This week, Netflix interrupted an interview with another outlet that referenced the controversy, and the backlash to that move may have shaped its press strategy going forward.
The traditional audience Q&A that closes most Comic-Con panels was cut to just three questions in order to, as moderator Allie Goertz explained, make room for showing more exclusive footage. And the Comic-Con crowd, always friendly to their favorites, gamely kept their questions to “Disenchanted.”
And, to be fair, for anyone who’s a fan of “The Simpsons” or “Futurama,” the show looks to be in a similar vein. Unlike its predecessors, the series will carry a serialized structure upon its binge-ready release Aug. 17, and the producers said they already have an ending in mind for the next season. Groening described himself as a longtime fan of fantasy, citing his love for “Fractured Fairy Tales,” Jack Vance and Neil Gaiman. (“None of that came to pass in this show, but I read those things,” he joked)
And while the characters bear the unmistakable look of Groening’s work, from an animation standpoint, the show is another step further from the more dynamic “Futurama,” and the footage’s slapstick medieval violence and psychedelic adventures landed well amid Jacobson’s Princess Bean and Andre’s Luci, her character’s literal demon on her shoulder. “I’ve been known as a little black demon my whole life,” said Andre, whose boundary-pushing pranks and stunts on his show take comedy to its surrealist fringe.
“I like being evil because I worship Satan,” he joked. “That’s me in a nutshell.”
An editor at Mad Magazine and host of a “Simpsons” podcast, Goertz praised Bean as a strong, feminist lead for the show. “We just thought the world was ready, finally, for a female led,” Groening dryly remarked.
Josh Weinstein, showrunner for “The Simpsons’” Seasons 7 and 8, described the “Disenchantment” staff as a mix of “old farts” from “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” along with writers in their 20s, further testifying to the generation-spanning spine of the show. Nat Faxon, who provides the voice for a little elf sidekick named Elfo, described feeling “terrified” to be in the room with the “Futurama” voice vets, who include John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille and Billy West.
Asked during the Q&A why “Disenchantment” will air on Netflix instead of “The Simpsons’” home of Fox, Groening said “I just wanted to see what it was like to work with someone else,” and spoke of how easy the streaming service was to work with. “It’s really nice not to have to sell soap,” DiMaggio chimed in.
Aquaman’s Jason Momoa, who plays the titular hero, makes a playful face during an autograph signing.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Thomas Napper, cosplaying as the Amazing Spiderman, leaps off a railing.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Nick Phillips of San Diego holds a sign while people wait in line for panels in the Indigo Ball Room.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Sheila Marler cosplaying as steampunk Catwoman and David Marler cosplaying as Captain Time walk down Fifth Avenue in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
A capacity crowd packs the 2018 Comic-Con exhibition hall floor.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Brandon Isaacson, 35, of Alameda poses for pictures as “McThor,” a combination of Marvel’s Thor and McDonald’s Ronald McDonald, outside of Hall H.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
A group makes their way through the Castle Rock activation event.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
James Lavelle, cosplaying as the Future Foundation costume Spider-Man, walks down a hallway inside a DC Universe activation site.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Austen Bue, 11, from San Diego sends a text message to space, at the Hsitory Channel’s “Project Blue Book” activation site.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Lauren Quan, 18, fo San Diego, and Caroline Duong, 18, of San Diego are pulled back by a hydraulic system at Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger activation event.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Angel Mendoza of San Diego walks down 5th Street with an American flag on the first day of the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Lee Joyner demonstrates a sculpting technique at the Cinema Makeup School booth in Hall H during the first day of the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
A squad of costumed Spider-Man fans — (alphabetically) Brandon Buisan, Paul Buisan, Kate Friedo, Nona Golan, Jacob Lavelle, James Lavelle and Milan Lavelle — poses for pictures outside of the DC experience area on the first day of the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
People dressed with the Court of Owls masks from DC Comic’s Batman at work in a maze building.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
At left, Tim Walker, 26, of San Diego, and Julia Homitano, 27, of San Diego, take a selfie with zombies while waiting in line at “The Walking Dead” booth.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Tyler Lokum, 8, of Los Angeles offers his lollipop to a Mega Construx of the Pokemon Blastoise at the Mega Construx booth during a preview of the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Fans raise their cell phones to take video of an animatronic performance at the Deadpool booth.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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