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'The Simpsons'
television

'Simpsons' Designer: Shining His Light in Hollywood

By Dan Wooding
Founder, ASSIST Ministries

CBN.com HOLLYWOOD, CA (ANS) -- Lance Wilder, a top designer on the hit animation show, The Simpsons, has appealed to Christians not to “abandon Hollywood.”

In an interview with ANS, Wilder said, “I can't imagine what would happen if Christians and people with a sense of morality and responsibility abandoned Hollywood.

“Fortunately we're not called to abandon these things, but we're called to be a light and an example to do our best and to hold firm to what’s right.”

When I put it to him that some critics say that The Simpsons is anti-Christian, he replied, “I know that there has often been criticism about the show and I think sometimes it's justified, but most of the time I don't think it is. The Simpsons is not anti-Christian, nor is it Christian. It's an animated television comedy that is supposed to entertain you for 30 minutes. It has always been a comedic look into family, school, politics, religion, friendship and the life at large. Our show has been on so long that we continue to cover many topics and changes in the world over the last 15 years.

“We've had the benefit of developing many characters and story lines without ever having to age the characters which has been a luxury that no other TV shows have.”

EARLY DAYS

Lance Wilder was born on May 7, 1968 in Lowell Massachusetts and grew up in neighboring Chelmsford.

Maria and Lance at MOVIEGUIDE® Awards“My Dad worked for Hanscom Air Force Base and is an honest, hard working, semi-regular church going agnostic,” he said. “My Mom became a Christian when I was 2 or 3 years old and has been an elementary school music teacher for many years. I have one brother who was born on my 4th birthday. I grew up attending The First Baptist Church of South Chelmsford.”

When asked how he became an artist and where he trained, Wilder said, “My immediate and extended family and friends were always very encouraging about my ability to draw. I started drawing when I was 2 years old. I did a lot on my own and became very influenced by the Disney films & Warner Brother’s Loony Tunes as far as cartoons went. I loved illustrator Norman Rockwell and was also influenced by TV shows like The Andy Griffith Show, Leave it to Beaver and even at an early age I really enjoyed All in the Family and MASH.

“I think the combination of great writing as well as the mixture of emotion from happy and funny to sad and serious as well as the variety of characters really caught my eye early on. I had a very instructive art program throughout school especially high school where we had a couple great teachers who really treated the AP art program like a college course which helped me build up a really good for four years where I graduated in 1990 just as The Simpsons was being picked up for a 2nd season.

HOW HE FIRST GOT INVOLVED WITH THE SIMPSONS

Wilder then told how he first got involved with The Simpsons.

“I took several animation and design tests my senior year at RISD in 1990 for The Simpsons,” he said. “I contacted them when I'd heard they had been picked up for a 2nd season and needed artists. I really felt the show had great writing, character and the potential to maybe go three to five seasons. After sever weeks of trial and error I got offered the job of Background designer where I have been designing and supervising for the last 16 seasons.”

I then asked him what his job is on the show.

“We receive the scripts and basically create everything the writers come up with, in the style of The Simpsons,” Wilder explained. “I also had the great fortune of writing a script outline for an episode three seasons ago. The main theme of The Simpsons is observational humor and satire. It is meant to make many age groups in many demographics laugh at many different levels of jokes. Hopefully the result is an enjoyable and entertaining 30 minutes.”

FAVORITE CHARACTERS

He then spoke about his favorite characters on The Simpsons.

“The show has grown to so many secondary characters besides the family that represent many of the types of people we know and deal with in everyday life regardless of where you happen to be from,” he said. “I think there's always something that people can relate to and laugh at. One of my favorite characters has always been Sideshow Bob (played by Kelsey Grammer) There has always been a lot of character and depth to him.”

HOW HE BECAME A COMMITTED CHRISTIAN

Lance Wilder then revealed that he became a committed Christian after moving to Los Angeles to work on the show.

“I've always believed that there was a God ever since I can remember,” he began. “My Church and Sunday school and members of my family were a good example to me as well. I knew all the kids songs and Bible stories and believed them to tell a true story. However the real turning point in the journey came after being in California for a year and a half and accidentally coming upon KKLA Christian radio out of Los Angeles one night.

“I began listening to some of there programs while I was designing with the headphones on. I had a dream job and was getting paid to do something I'd always wanted to do and yet I felt that there was something more. I prayed for Christian friends and a great church and within three or four weeks I was introduced to a bunch of Christians my age who had moved out from Florida whose parents grew up with my mom and my grandparents.

“They invited me to Christian Assembly Church in Eagle Rock, California which has been my church home ever since--but my walk has definitely been a growing and refining process the entire way.”

THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE

Lance is now married to the love of his life, Maria.

“I first met my wife Maria the first few days of school at The Rhode Island School of Design. We went on one date and nothing happened until six years later she moved to L.A. to find work with mutual friends of ours. Within a few weeks she had landed a job on The Simpsons as a layout artist and a couple months after that she was promoted to Background design where we worked together for a few seasons until we were married in Massachusetts in Sept. of 1995 and had our first child, Nathan in Aug of 1996.”

TRAGEDY

Wilder then spoke about a tragedy they have been through.

“A turning point in my growth as a Christian happened about two years ago when our fourth child was diagnosed with the fatal disease Trisomy,” he said. “God used that experience to bring my wife and kids closer together and really helped me think about eternal things more. Although Nicholas was stillborn at 39 weeks I couldn’t imagine not having him or having the experience of friends, family and our church reach out in prayer and support. Being a perfectionist with a bit of workaholism, I find it very difficult to not have control over something. This situation was something I couldn't work harder or longer to fix. It forced me to trust that God had a plan and to just let go. The thing that I tell people is that through that time somehow there was more peace and hope than sadness.

“My oldest son Nathan-8, Jessica-6, Jacob-4 and now Miranda who just turned 1 have been an incredible blessing-and also enjoy supervised Simpson episodes.”

CHRISTIANS WORKING ON THE SHOW

I asked Lance Wilder if there were many Christians working on the show and if he had fellowship with them.

“The truth is that there are and have been many Christian people in many different positions over the years. We had a regular Bible study here for several seasons too,” he said. “We have also had many shows with positive and moral storylines. But certainly we've had some jokes that are not appropriate for the younger audience. I believe our biggest demographic has always been 18-49 year olds, not kids. I think slowly people have come to realize that just because something is animated it doesn’t mean it's automatically for children. Our show has always had an audience with a very wide age difference--and at the beginning of every episode there is a PG warning.

“We have done many shows that are appropriate for kids and families and I tell people they can always tape the show first and/or watch with their kids to explain things. What goes on the screen is very important but I also know that what goes on behind the scenes in our day to day life is more important. The places that God puts us and the different people He brings into our life is so important. I hope to set an example to people no matter where it is I am and I hope to give answers to their questions regarding eternal things.

“We have had several people come to Christ the past three or four years, and we have 15 to 20 artists who are Christian currently.”

IS NED FLANDERS A CHRISTIAN?

When asked what he thought of the character, Ned Flanders and whether he was really a Christian, he said, “Ned Flanders and his family have always been the Christian neighbors next door to the Simpsons. I think Ned has changed and grown over the years as have most of our characters. Again I think many times Ned represents religion in our culture in general terms. Our show satires life and the news and when it comes to Ned Flanders or Rev. Lovejoy or Homer falling asleep in church--I see it as humor that most people can relate to.

“I believe good comedy is always walking the tight rope. You observe the things about ourselves that are based in truth and then presented in a humorous way that is funny, not hurtful. If the intent is to put someone down or make them feel inferior to you then you've crossed the line and it's not comedy in my opinion. Is Ned Flanders a "Christian"? I have found that many people don't even know what that means. For me a Christian is not someone who acts like a goody two-shoes, has big hair and speaks loudly asking for money on some religious TV network.

“I believe Christians are imperfect people of all colors, all economic backgrounds, and from all cultures who realize that there is living God and that we are not Him. I believe that the only way we can know the true God is if He cared enough to tell us who He is and what His plan is for each and every person who asks. I believe A Christian doesn't put on a show to try to look good enough. Salvation comes through grace not works. Works done with the skills, talents ,and time that God gives us used on the path He has made for every individual person is the calling of a Christian.

“I work with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Shamans, Atheists, and denominations from all over. They are wonderful and talented people and I wouldn't want it any other way. Where would the entertainment industry (or other groups of people) be if Christians got up and left? I didn't realize that Christianity was supposed to be a closed private club for those ‘good enough’ to get in.

“We are fallen sinners no better than anyone else. It is only because the one true higher power, the Creator cared enough to want personal one-on-one relationships with every single person that we can become ‘Christian’ It's because the God of Biblical scripture gives freewill and choice to every person. The gospel is free for the asking and a free gift for taking. I have no interest in some 'god' who doesn’t care enough to reveal himself or his plans. The God of the Bible talks about love, generosity, caring, discipline, honesty, and integrity in our churches, our schools, our politics, and in our jobs.

“God became a human being, born of the Virgin Mary -- just as the Old Testament prophets said. God became one of us and lived among us for a time to give us the rest of the story and to set the perfect example. He came to give hope and proof that He was who He said when He died on the cross and rose in the flesh and bone to show that He alone held life and death in His hands.

“No other religion or prophet or Philosopher ever made the claims of Jesus let alone got those claims to stick. It's because I believe these things that I try to stay on the straight and narrow path. It's difficult, but when I fall I want to fall heading in the right direction.

The Simpsons has afforded me an incredible job and opportunity to meet and talk with people from all over the world. I believe that God has a place and a plan for all of us. Television and movies are so prominent in the world and in our culture today more than ever.”

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Dan Wooding is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). Wooding is the co-host of the weekly radio show, "Window on the World" and was, for ten years a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC.


(More from ASSIST News Service
Assist News Service is brought to you in part by Open Doors USA, a ministry that has served the Suffering Church around the world for nearly 50 years. You can get more information by logging onto their website at www.opendoorsusa.org.

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