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December 02, 1990|Charles Solomon

THE BIG BOOK OF HELL By Matt Groening (Pantheon: $15.95). Before Bart Simpson became as ubiquitous as Snoopy, Matt Groening dispensed his irreverent humor in the weekly comic strip "Life in Hell," which he continues to draw. This anthology surveys the 10-year history of the strip, beginning with the first appearances of Binky, the alienated rabbit; Sheba, his girlfriend, and Bongo, his one-eared illegitimate son. Groening uses this unlikely cast to satirize contemporary American culture, from the pretensions of the performance art/poetry scene to the excesses of Reagan-era politics. (Bongo asks his father, "If you vote Republican, does that make an accomplice to their crimes?") In recent years, Akbar and Jeff, the identical entrepreneurs in fezzes, have taken over the strip, and their topsy-turvy gay love affair has become has become the crazed mirror of contemporary relationships.

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