Everyone knows The Simpsons, but few quite like J.J. Jones, creator of the niche Tumblr, Signs of Springfield. Now an acting supervisor at a vehicular safety equipment company in Northern Utah, Jones once spent his days (and nights) trawling through Simpsons episodes in pursuit of the clandestine comedy of the show’s ubiquitous signage. "It almost became like a game," Jones tells The Creators Project, "hunting for the various signs and gags." Screenshotting as he watched, Jones would gather physical puns and punchlines from the town's stores and streets and catalog them diligently on his site.
When the blog began in late 2010, the northern Utahn was anything but a stranger to the series. As he admits, he has seen each episode “countless times.” Unlike your typical couch-bound, zoned-out Simpsons watcher, however, Jones always approaches the show with the diligence of a researcher. “Like virtually every other kid in the 90's, I grew up watching The Simpsons,” Jones says. “But I didn't just ‘watch’ it. I analyzed it. I looked for themes, writing styles, things that this show did that other shows didn't. There's a reason why so many colleges have courses studying this series. It's fascinating how many things we don't even think about go into the process, making it one of a kind.”
In between jobs and in desperate need of a distraction, Jones challenged himself. This time around, he thought, he'd search the series for something different; something more specific than narrative tropes and nuances. “One of the elements that stood out to me is the visual gags included in each episode,” he explains. “They are often funny, clever, and extremely overlooked. They rarely call attention to these quick jokes, and many viewers don't even catch them as they come and go […] The signs are just one of those unappreciated elements.”
The two-and-a-half year runtime of Jones' blog put an end to this under-appreciation of many a willing scroller. As a newcomer to the site, I myself found it impossible to stiffle a giggle (read: cackle) through the pages upon pages of signs, from movie billboards, to road signs, newspaper headlines, amusement park rides, and ketchup bottles. While I have a weakeness for the darker side of the signs—"Nuke the Whales!"—Jones favors the wry and dry. His personal hall-of-fame includes, "the slogan on the mega store MonstroMart: 'Where shopping is a baffling ordeal!' There is also an episode where the students of Springfield Elementary take a field trip to a free historic park, only to find out they are under new management and now charge per student. The camera briefly pans to a sign that proclaims 'Diz-Nee Historical Park: Sorry, but there's profit to be had.'"
In these signs and all the others, Jones stumbled upon a stronghold to the show’s success: inexhaustibly generous farce. “The style of humor and wit that go into these signs help define the unique universe of The Simpsons,” Jones continues. “[…]The writers and staff of The Simpsons take every opportunity to include as many jokes and personality as they can make fit in their half-hour. It almost seems as if they don't care if every joke gets appreciated for the effort that went into it, as long as it helps build the atmosphere of Springfield. And they certainly do accomplish that, whether the audience is consciously aware of it or not."
Sadly, Jones was obliged to retire from his work on Signs of Springfield in 2013, going out with a bang to a shot of Homer wielding a pistol in front of a double-decker of notices at the Sleep Eazy Motel. Fully occupied at his new job, he has since decided to focus his creative prowess towards a secondary project, comedic podcast "The Shoptimist Club," which launches to the public today. Nevertheless, a recent resurgence of interest in his spectacularly specific site bids well for the dormant blog, with every hope of reigniting Jones' search for the secret sauce of Springfield's signs.
"It's almost enough to make me consider dusting off the old DVDs again…" he admits.
Click here to check out Signs of Springfield.