'Simpsons' Designer: Shining
His Light in Hollywood
By Dan Wooding
Founder, ASSIST Ministries
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.”
Lance Wilder was born on May 7, 1968 in Lowell Massachusetts
and grew up in neighboring Chelmsford.
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.”
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
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.”
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
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
“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
“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
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