AMONG MY earliest encounters of The Simpsons was an animation festival in Philadelphia, in the Spring of 1989. I was doing some work with Habitat for Humanity and decided one night to take in a movie. The first episode of The Simpsons proper was months in the future: in early 1989, the rough and amateurish output of Matt Groening which I saw that night (and which didn’t much impress me) was recognizable only as the interludes of the Tracey Ullman Show. Ullman then was known as an accomplished impersonator and a sharp witted Brit, but within a couple years she was eclipsed by this inauspicious cartoon team constituted of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. Who knew? From such humble beginnings came what is arguably the most successful animated series of television history.