In the past few decades that The Simpsons has dominated television, you may have found yourself asking a very logical question: why do virtually all of the adult-oriented sitcom’s characters have yellow skin? While there are a wealth of weird theories floating around the internet, the answer may be a lot simpler than you expect.
Series creator Matt Groening has revealed that the reason for his characters’ unusual skin color was – first and foremost – economical. In a 2000 documentary dissecting his career, the animator recalled when, how and why the decision was made.
“If you’re flicking around with your channel changer very fast,” he said, “and you zoom by The Simpsons and there’s nothing else that looks like them on TV, they stand out.”
Standing out was important, not because there were a lot of adult-oriented cartoons, but because there weren’t any at all. Around the time that Groening made his magnum opus, animation was by and large thought to be for children. Sure, there were a handful of shows that had already broken the mold, but they came nowhere near the level of cultural relevance which The Simpsons achieved in its prime.
Of course, the yellow skin is not the only design hallmark of the show. Another prominent feature is the characters’ hairlines – or, rather, absence of. While Homer and Marge sport distinct haircuts, their kids lack that line which divides their head from their hair. It shouldn’t work, and yet it does. For what it’s worth, it’s helped make Bart in particular one of America’s most recognizable doodles.
Not all characters in The Simpsons have yellow skin, though. Some who are drawn with different tones include Krusty the Clown, who covers his yellow skin with white make-up, as well as Apu, an Indian store clerk whom colorists rendered in a dark brown tone. Apu’s character, in particular, has proven problematic, causing a bit of controversy not too long ago.
But for those wondering what’s up with the yellow skin, there you have it. You can now rest easy knowing the reason behind the decision.