If Bart Simpson and Chris Griffin grew up and went to therapy, they might have a lot to say.
A lot of it would probably be hard to hear.
That's the subject of a fascinating — and heartbreaking — new comic by a 25-year-old, Seattle-based artist who writes and draws under the name Panic Volkushka.
Both "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" often depict over-the-top family violence. Volkushka, a graduate student in counseling and art therapy, told Welcometoterranova that a class he was taking inspired him to imagine how that violence might affect adult versions of the shows' child characters in the real world.
"People [have been] saying, 'Growing up, I couldn’t watch these shows, because that’s what happened to me, and I didn’t understand why I was suddenly expected to laugh at it,'" Volkushka said.
"At the time I was taking a class on systems therapy, which is based on the idea that even if you’re doing therapy with individuals, that they exist within the context of larger systems — their family system, social systems around them — so you have to understand that to understand what’s going on in their life," Volkushka said.
"The behavior that you pick up in your family is so much of the behavior that you take with you for the rest of your life. And for a lot of people, they don’t realize they’re doing that. Sometimes, for therapy, a big part of that is just realizing, ‘Oh, this is why I’m doing this.'"
As someone who once benefitted greatly from — and currently studies — counseling, Volkushka also hopes to highlight the restorative value of therapy.
"I was bullied pretty badly when I was in middle school and ended up going into therapy when I was 13," he said. "And it was really, really helpful, and I had a wonderful therapist."
In casting the therapist, Voshka attempted to contrast "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," and their casual depictions of abuse, with a show which he feels presents a far healthier family dynamic: "King of the Hill."
"Hank really doesn’t understand Bobby," Volkushka said. "There are times Peggy doesn’t understand Bobby. And Hank definitely discourages Bobby from things that he thinks are 'too girly,' or 'not the things that boys should do,' but ultimately, he loves Bobby, and when Hank is trying to discourage Bobby, or doesn’t understand Bobby, the show generally shows Hank as being in the wrong, and even if he doesn’t understand it, usually by the end of the episode, he’s come to some sort of peace with it. Like, 'I don’t understand my son, but he’s still my son.'"
Though he's received a few complaints from fans of the shows, Volkushka said the reaction has been mostly positive.
"I grew up watching 'The Simpsons.' That was, every Sunday, I’d sit down with my parents and watch the latest episode. And I still really love it."
Ultimately, he said, he hopes the comic will prompt people to take a harder look at the way family dynamics are depicted in pop culture, even on shows that as enduring and popular as the ones it explores.
"You can still appreciate it for what it is and criticize it at the same time. I don’t think that’s impossible."