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The Real Reason The Simpsons Characters Have Yellow Skin

When a cartoon has been around long enough to become a genuine pop-culture institution, it can be easy to let even its most unusual aspects pass under the radar by way of a cloak of familiarity. Why does Bugs Bunny always eat a carrot? Why does Spider-Man swing from building to building on webs — and by the way, have you ever seen a spider swing in real life?

When a cartoon has been around as long as "The Simpsons" has, it can be easy to forget that a conscious artistic decision went into all aspects of their appearances and behavior, rather than the world-famous family simply springing into being one day in the late 1980s. As it turns out, there was a little bit more thought put into one of the most fundamental aspects of their appearance than you might imagine –- and there's even some scientific basis for it as well.

The decision came from the creator himself

In an online Q&A from the BBC back in 2007 to promote the U.K. release of "The Simpsons Movie," the show's creator, Matt Groening, was asked a very simple question by a 9-year-old fan: "Why are the Simpsons yellow?" He explained that when it was time to "pick the color for the cartoon," he didn't want to go with any such color that was could be seen as controversial. "An animator came up with the Simpsons' yellow and as soon as she showed it to me I said: 'This is the answer!' because when you're flicking through channels with your remote control, and a flash of yellow goes by, you'll know you're watching 'The Simpsons,'" he continued.

That's simple enough. But there's actually a bit of science behind Groening's creative instinct. You might notice that the Simpsons are far from the only famous yellow cartoon characters out there. Tweety, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Pac-Man are three others, and there's a reason yellow characters like these have a way of sticking in your imagination — it has something to do with color theory.

YouTube video essayist ChannelFrederator breaks it all down (via Esquire). In television, the three fundamental colors are not red, blue, and yellow, but red, green, and blue, otherwise known as RGB. On an RGB color scale, yellow pops against a blue background (think Springfield's sky or SpongeBob's ocean). In addition, our eyes perceive yellow as the "most visible" color thanks to the way they process light.

It's all pretty complicated, but it boils down to the simple truth that yellow is a strong character for cartoons. After all, can you imagine "The Simpsons" running for so long and being so popular if Homer and company were blue instead?