The Annotated “Husbands and Knives” — Part I

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Sunday, February 10, at 8 PM, Fox is re-running the comic bookiest Simpsons episode ever to have my name on it, a show called “Husbands and Knives.” The plot: the Springfield kids are sick of Comic Book Guy’s abuse, but he’s got the only store in town. Until — a new comic book store opens across the street, run by a NICE comic book guy. The kids embrace the hip, friendly, fun comic book guy, voiced by Jack Black, and Comic Book Guy goes nuts. (This is just Act One. After that, Marge gets rich creating her version of Curves, called Shapes, Homer worries that Marge’ll dump him for a sexy second husband, Homer gets gastric bypass surgery, Marge is grossed out by Homer’s extra skin, Homer gets even more plastic surgeries and becomes a freak, Marge pushes him out of a bell tower, and it turns out that the second crazy surgery — not the first, less crazy, surgery — was a dream. I’m pretty sure they didn’t do this story on How I Met Your Mother.)

The “new comic book store” story was, or course, a labor of love for nerdy me and the nerdy Simpsons writing staff. It’s packed with references to our favorite nerdy stuff. Here are a few fun stories about the production of this episode:

• Bart peruses “The Death of Casper” comic book, which shows a dead (deader?) Casper the Friendly Ghost lying in an open casket, mourned by characters from the Harvey Comics Universe (Little Dot, Hot Stuff, the Ghostly Trio, Wendy the Witch, Baby Huey, and Little Lotta). Richie Rich, however, is not there. This is sort of a callback to the classic “Three Men and Comic Book” episode, in which where Bart and Lisa discuss whether Casper is the ghost of Richie. I like to think this is true, although the existence of various Casper/Richie Rich team-up stories would prove otherwise.

• The Simpsons design crew, the supremely talented artists who create the objects and backgrounds you see in the show, threw themselves into this episode with a nerdy passion. One of many great examples: on the back of the comic Bart is reading (our version of Frank Miller’s Wolverine #1) is a parody of an old Atari 2600 ad. We didn’t ask for it. It was just there. And it’s terrific.

• The issue of World’s Finest Comics #94, in which Superman moves to Gotham City, is not an actual issue. We made it up, thinking it was exactly the kind of hokey story those old Batman / Superman team-up comics would do. And, apparently, did. Our wonderful fans on the internet were kind enough to inform us of the existence of an issue of World’s Finest with that same plot. And they were kind enough to be angry and indignant we didn’t know that.

• The new comic book store, called Coolsville, was inspired by an actual store in Hollywood called Meltdown comics. Meltdown was a real breath of fresh air for comic shoppers weary of dusty old stores with only mainstream superhero stuff, endless boxes of back issues, and Punisher t-shirts. Meltdown embraced alternative comics, international comics, crazy toys, children’s books — a whole new universe of visual pop creativity. One day, when I was shopping there, I thought, Bart would love this place. And, he did.