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01st Aug 2018

The Simpsons and one man’s obsession to finally complete his 28-year-old sticker book

How I completed my childhood sticker book


Peeling back the years.

In primary school, fads came thick and fast. I spent a whole summer thinking I was Gazza, kicking a penny floater about on the drive with my brother and dad. Another time, I remember the whole family doing a 4-hour round trip after a tip off that a particular Toys R Us had some elusive Ninja Turtles figures in stock.

My childhood also coincided with the birth of one particular pop culture phenomenon that has outlasted all others: The Simpsons.

It must have been around 1989/1990 – after the first series proper of the Simpsons had aired – that I started to see merchandise everywhere. The cooler kids at school started to wear t-shirts emblazoned with Bart Simpson saying things like “Don’t have a cow!” and “Eat my shorts!” Those slogans seemed so subversive to me. I was, of course, hooked.

I was reminded of all this recently when, whilst looking through some old boxes at my parents’ house, I found amongst other childhood artefacts a copy of THE SIMPSONS STICKER ACTIVITY ALBUM.

Published by Diamond Publishing in 1990, this album rode the very first wave of Simpsons-merch-mania. During this time, the vast majority of merchandise used images from The Tracey Ullman Show, since they were easier to licence than the first seasons proper.

The problem was, the look of the Simpsons family had evolved since they first hit the screens, which meant that the majority of images used were from just a few episodes from the third and final Ullman seasons.

Leafing through my part-complete album, I decided to do what I hadn’t done 28 years previously: complete it. The first time around, I’d relied on my pocket money and the odd schoolmate for swaps. This time, I had the internet on my side. But would there still be any of these stickers in existence, or had they been lost to time?

Several months of eBay alerts, patience, and internet sleuthing later, I had in my possession – finally – the final few missing stickers. I had completed my sticker album after 28 years. A cultural artefact, the completed album is a snapshot of the birth of a pop culture phenomenon still going strong after three decades. Just look at it.

Note Bart’s blue shirt. Some suggest that Bart wore a blue shirt on official merchandise as a measure to mark it out against counterfeit goods. Others say it was simply from an early design of the character, before they settled on having him wearing an orange shirt.

Note the incorrect captions beneath some of the stickers. For instance, the caption for sticker 117 reads “What’s that, Maggie? How does Bart’s story end?” whereas in the original scene, Lisa actually says “How does Bart’s story end? Well…”

The album is full of similar inconsistencies. Whether or not they’re mistakes or deliberate rewordings is a fact lost to history.

The album came with a patented ‘slide-o-scope’, which animated special images throughout by utilising the red and green lenses.

In recent years, of course, The Simpsons has lost some of its cultural pervasiveness. Some say the animated series has lost its original charm, or that the writing is simply not as strong as it once was. Others would argue that the power of TV has waned with the emergence of new media.

But in fact The Simpsons is far from being dead. It continues to survive and thrive online, in memes, bootleg merchandise and YouTube mixes.

Here’s to the next three decades of our favourite family.