The Comic Book Guy originally boasted a bizarre connection to Superman’s Lois Lane, with The Simpsons supporting character having an almost-identical name to Clark Kent’s famous love interest. For better or worse, there is no denying that The Simpsons has diverged wildly from creator Matt Groening’s original vision for the series. When the show began life as animated shorts, the family’s antics were more mean-spirited, something that changed when they gained a show of their own.
The debut episode of The Simpsons, the Christmas special “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire,” was more warm-hearted than the earlier shorts, but still a mature, cynical subversion of saccharine family sitcoms. It was not until the show reached its so-called Golden Age circa the third season that The Simpsons dropped its darker edge in favor of rapid-fire, often surreal gags that came to define the series. This tonal shift came as much from writers like Bill Oakley, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, and Larry Doyle as Groening himself, with The Simpsons becoming more of a collaborative effort as the scale of the series grew.
Despite this, Groening remains the creator most often associated with the series, which is ironic, as the man himself admitted that he missed out on one moment of The Simpsons history due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The long-awaited revelation of Comic Book Guy’s real name, a Simpsons secret for the first few seasons of the series, was one Groening had a gag for but missed the opportunity to pitch in time. Comic Book Guy’s name was eventually revealed to be the surprisingly normal Jeff Albertson, a name so unassuming that producer Al Jean admitted the creators picked it to annoy fans who waited years to discover the character’s moniker. However, per Matt Groening himself, he originally wanted the character to be named Louis Lane, and to be “obsessed and tormented” by the fame of Superman‘s Lois Lane. Unfortunately, Groening was not present when a name was settled on, meaning Jean and company approved Jeff Albertson.
This anecdote illustrates how much the success of The Simpsons relies on the show’s collaborative nature more than one writer’s vision, with both gags being strong jokes but only one making it into the series. In recent seasons, fan-hated outings of The Simpsons have been heavily criticized for failing to recreate the tone of the show’s Golden Age, but the fact that Groening himself could be overruled proves that the issue with the series is not one of authorship. The show has always been the product of endless rewrites and revisions, and there is no lone creative voice who can claim to be the creator of The Simpsons when even Groening’s joke for Comic Book Guy’s name can be overruled due to his absence.
However, while the collaborative nature of the show has never changed, the writing staff of The Simpsons has gone through a lot of overhauls over the decades, and this may have contributed to the show’s critical decline. The likes of prolific Simpsons scribe John Swartzwelder are often credited with the show’s most inventive moments, and the retirement of many of the show’s Golden Age writers could have led to the perceived decline in quality across the show’s recent seasons. Regardless, if the Comic Book Guy’s lost connection to Lois Lane of Superman fame proves anything, it is that not even the creator of The Simpsons can be sure his jokes will make it onto the series, let alone anyone else working on the show.