There is an abundance of evidence that Homer Simpson is, was, and always has been a character in The Simpsons. There’s footage, of course – of Homer going about his days of “d’ohs” and doughnuts – but there are also toys, dusty VHS tapes, and video game appearances, not to mention Homer’s everlasting existence in popular consciousness.
Equally, there is an abundance of evidence that Graggle Simpson is, was, and always has been a character in The Simpsons. There’s footage, of course. There are also toys, dusty VHS tapes, and video game appearances. And Graggle is beloved. In recent weeks, the lizard-like yellow fella has been popping up in viral tweets and TikToks – people are lamenting that the character has disappeared from the show, and are campaigning for his return with hashtags such as #BringBackGraggleSimspon.
There’s just one snag in the Grag: He isn’t, wasn’t, and never has been a character in The Simpsons; he hasn’t appeared once in all 728 episodes. Where did Graggle Simpson really come from? Why is he currently everywhere? And how is there so much evidence that he exists?
Graggle Simpson was forged in the fires of the imageboard 2chan way back in October 2015. An anonymous user added the character to a screenshot of The Simpsons, and there he stayed until January 2021. Then, another anonymous user – this time on 4chan – posted lore for the stretched-out blob. He called him “Yellow Matt” and said he was a “self-insert character” from Simpsons creator Matt Groening.
That’s when a YouTuber known as Simian Jimmy stumbled upon the post. He migrated the image over to Twitter, changed the character’s name to “Gumbly” and claimed that the character was an new addition to The Simpsons – concrete proof the show had jumped the shark. “I don’t know why Gumbly was the first name that came to my head, but I might have been subconsciously connecting the character design to Gumby since they’re both just naked, skinny, single-coloured dudes,” Iowa resident Simian Jimmy says now. His post blew up, and people began Photoshopping Gumbly into more and more Simpsons scenes.
“I didn’t put much time or effort into it – whenever I look at it I feel that it’s obvious that it’s fake, but I’ve seen my picture all over the internet now,” says a 21-year-old Florida resident who used Paint 3D to add Gumbly to a scene from Season 13 of The Simpsons. In response to Simian Jimmy’s tweet, he shared the picture from his Twitter account @RayDibb and ultimately earned over 4,000 likes. From there, Gumbly then quickly spread to YouTube, where Aaron Murphy, a 21-year-old creator from California who runs the channel Nightbane Games, inserted him into the 2003 video game The Simpsons: Hit & Run.
“The Graggle meme is kind of like a game – try and fake it as much as you can,” Murphy says; his Hit & Run video earned over 40,000 views. Murphy thinks Graggle is popular because of our cultural fascination with lost media and creepypasta stories. “The idea that The Simpsons originally featured a character named Graggle, but he was soon completely wiped off the face of the Earth to the point that no one remembers him, is really funny and thought-provoking,” he says.
But that – Simian Jimmy, @RayDibb, and Murphy thought – was that. A good, quick, clean joke shared with internet strangers. The end. For over a year, Gumbly rested deep in the quiet corners of the internet. Then along came Facebook.
This May, Gumbly was resurrected and rechristened as “Graggle” by a 26-year-old Australian who goes by the Facebook username Yeliab Ressap. After browsing the internet and seeing a picture of an alleged piece of concept art for “Yellow Matt”, Yeliab Ressap posted a picture of the character with the caption: “NEW MANDELA EFFECT JUST DROPPED – THIS UNIVERSE DOESN'T HAVE GRAGGLE SIMPSON.” (A “Mandela effect” is a false memory shared by multiple people.)
“I just wanted a stupid word and that was the first thing that came to mind,” the Facebook user says of coming up with the name “Graggle” (he hadn’t actually heard that the character was nicknamed Gumbly when he came up with the name). Within a week, his post had a thousand shares. Then it spiralled. “A few people have accused me of being a government agent because of how quickly and rapidly it took off, but here I am saying I’m not a government agent. It’s just the nature of the internet.”
Yeliab Ressap’s post was screenshotted and shared on Instagram and Twitter – on the latter site, it earned over 70,000 likes. When Jackson (AKA @CalmDownLevelUp), a 25-year-old from Seattle saw this tweet, he knew it was his time to shine. He’d first seen Gumbly in 2021, and had thought the meme was so funny that, “I made a folder in my phone called ‘Evidence of Gumbly’.” When he saw Yeliab Ressap’s post, it “had been like a year since I’d seen him. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, Gumbly!’ This is my chance to reply with all my images.”
One of Jackson’s tweets, featuring four of the Photoshopped images he’d collected, earned over 3,500 likes at the end of May. He started pretending that he genuinely believed Graggle was a real Simpsons character. “I just think it’s funny that people get angry, it’s just a funny thing to gaslight people with,” Jackson says. “You hear so much in the news about fake news and Russian misinformation… It’s a very satirical take on that stuff being in the news all the time.” At the end of our call, Jackson confesses: “I was trying to think of lies to tell you, I was going to try and gaslight you, but I couldn’t think of anything.”
Yeliab Ressap’s post changed the fortunes of Graggle née Gumbly, but TikTok is the app that gave him wings. People took the pictures that Jackson had collected – as well as @RayDibb’s photoshop – and began creating video montages. A video of “recovered footage” of the character has 418,000 views; a rip of Murphy’s Hit & Run footage has almost a million. As Graggle becomes more and more mainstream, and as evidence of his existence mounts, some people seem to be genuinely falling for the gag. One TikToker took it upon themselves to debunk his existence (though of course they may just be adding another meta-layer to the joke).
Though Graggle – in one form or another – is now seven years old, no one I speak with thinks he is a dying meme. “I actually think it’s still very underground,” Jackson says. Yeliab Ressap thinks the simplicity of Graggle is key: “It allows people to take it, make it their own, and run with it.” “I feel like he’ll be around as long as The Simpsons are around,” Murphy says. “Who knows, maybe he’ll come back in 2023 with a new name – something like Grunky.”