Before The Simpsons, Matt Groening Illustrated a “Student’s Guide” for Apple Computers (1989)

A friend once told me of his old­er cousin who, for the freak­ish act of installing a com­put­er in his col­lege dorm room, found him­self imme­di­ate­ly and irrev­o­ca­bly dubbed “com­put­er Jon.” This hap­pened in the ear­ly 1980s, and boy, have times changed. They’d even changed by the late 1980s, by which time Apple’s col­lege mar­ket­ing efforts had become suf­fi­cient­ly advanced to require the tal­ents of Matt Groen­ing, best known as the man who cre­at­ed The Simp­sons. But that prime-time ani­mat­ed sit­com would­n’t begin its record-break­ing run (still with­out an end in sight) until Christ­mas 1989, while the Groen­ing-illus­trat­ed Who Needs a Com­put­er Any­way? (which you can flip through above) appeared ear­li­er that year. Back then, read­ers might well have known him first and fore­most as the cre­ator of the satir­i­cal alter­na­tive-week­ly com­ic strip Life in Hell, which had debuted in 1977. One of its stars, the hap­less but good-heart­ed young one-eared rab­bit Bon­go, even made his way to Apple brochure’s cov­er. Though com­put­ers them­selves had long since come to dom­i­nate Amer­i­ca’s cam­pus­es by the time I entered col­lege, he and Groen­ing’s oth­er now-less­er-known char­ac­ters did do their part to pre­pare me for acad­e­mia.

I refer, of course, to School is Hell, his 1987 Life in Hell book offer­ing sar­don­ic primers on each and every phase of mod­ern edu­ca­tion from kinder­garten to grad school (“when you haven’t had enough pun­ish­ment”). Groen­ing’s pages in Who Needs a Com­put­er Any­way? read like a less sharp-edged ver­sion of those car­toons, fol­low­ing Life in Hel­l’s sig­na­ture “The 9 Types of…” for­mat to present the read­er with their nine types of future col­lege class­mates, from “the stressed” to “the tech­noid” to “the unem­ployed.” Between these, you can read Apple’s pitch for why you’ll find a piece of equip­ment still some­what out­landish and expen­sive so essen­tial to every aspect of your col­lege career. Though dat­ed tech­ni­cal­ly — the text men­tions noth­ing of the inter­net, for instance, which this gen­er­a­tion of col­lege stu­dents would soon­er drop out than do with­out — it nev­er­the­less under­scores the design virtues of Apple com­put­ers — an intu­itive inter­face, appli­ca­tion inter­op­er­abil­i­ty, “every­thing you need in one small, trans­portable case” — that remain design virtues today. It also dis­plays an impres­sive pre­science of the per­son­al com­put­er’s com­ing indis­pens­abil­i­ty, a con­fi­dent pre­dic­tion that, if not for the slack­er’s lev­i­ty lent by Groen­ing’s hand, might, at the time, actu­al­ly have sound­ed implau­si­ble.

via Retro­naut/Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hunter S. Thompson’s Edgy 1990s Com­mer­cial for Apple’s Mac­in­tosh Com­put­er

Every Apple Ad Ever Aired on TV

Rid­ley Scott Talks About Mak­ing Apple’s Land­mark “1984″ Com­mer­cial, Aired 30 Years Ago on Super Bowl Sun­day

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Gail Reynolds says:

    I was with the Mar­ket­ing Agency that worked on the Apple’s Back-to-School cam­paign on col­lege cam­pus­es for about 8 years. I coor­di­nat­ed this cam­paign and have a poster which was part of the pro­mo­tion which is signed by Mr. Groen­ing.

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