Who doesn't remember watching Saturday Morning Cartoons and seeing commercials for how Cap'n Crunch was abducted by the Soggies and you -- yes, you! -- were the only one who could save him?
Part of the fun of growing up, especially in the 1980s, was waking up every morning and sitting down to a bowl of chocolatey, marshmallow-heavy, go-to-the-dentist-now-because-your-teeth-are-going-to-fall-out-from-all-the-sugar cereals. Cap'n Crunch, Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, Count Chocula, Rice Krispies, Cookie Crisp, Boo Berry, and others were staples of the morning routine. (And hopefully they still are.) It wasn't so much the cereal, though, that drew us to them. Instead, it was the cast of characters on the boxes.
Who doesn't remember watching Saturday Morning Cartoons and seeing commercials for how Cap'n Crunch was abducted by the Soggies and you -- yes, you! -- were the only one who could save him? Or how about rooting for that damned Trix rabbit to finally get his hands on some Trix cereal (and secretly harboring resentment towards the bratty kids who kept it from him)? Or thinking how great it could be if you could actually follow Toucan Sam to some river of Froot Loops?
Comic creator Brendan Douglas Jones taps into these golden memories in his book Breakfast of the Gods, a web-based graphic novel set in a world populated by all of those venerable cereal box icons. But it's the brilliant, if somewhat morbidly warped, approach Jones takes with the characters that propels the book past mere novelty.
In the land of Cerealia and the Fruit Islands, there is a war for control being waged between Count Chocula and Cap'n Crunch. The Count, who on the cereal boxes and in commercials is an innocuous and fun-loving vampire obsessed with chocolate, is here presented as a power-hungry and blood-thirsty villain employing other cereal icons to instill terror across Cerealia. As Book One of Breakfast of the Gods: The Last Good Morning opens, Frankenberry pummels and murders the Honey Nut Cheerios Honey Bee. We then see Frank break into the home of Snap, Crackle, and Pop, kidnap them, and torture them in two pages of startling brutality. Jones plays off our innocent ideas of these characters to get the most effect out of showing Frank and the Count snap, crackle, and pop the three Rice Krispies spokeselves.
On the other side of the war is Cap'n Crunch and Tony the Tiger from Frosted Flakes. They set out to find the Honey Bee's killer, only to find themselves confronted with the murders of Snap, Crackle, and Pop and the frightening reality of the Count starting a turf war in which the safety and well-being of all of Cerealia hangs in the balance.
Narratively, Breakfast of the Gods is fairly standard and straight-forward. From the first 28 pages of Book One that are currently available at Webcomics Nation, it's difficult to gauge if the simplicity of the story will continue throughout the rest of this installment and into books two and three. But Jones' inventive approach to the characters elevates the book beyond its simplicity. He puts ridiculous dialogue into the mouths of the characters, but because we have a built-in identification with them it's excusable and even somewhat profound.
For instance, in the most recent page of Book One, Tony and Cap'n Crunch are waxing philosophical on their mortality and where they'd like to their final resting places to be. Tony, realizing how defeatist the talk is, immediately changes his tone. "Listen to us! Planning our funerals as if Chocula's victory was a foregone conclusion! Well it's not! It can't be -- not if our sacrifices are to mean something!" How hokey can you get? But there's something heroic and honest about these words coming out of Tony the Tiger's mouth, especially after only hearing "They're Grrrrrrrrreat!" for years and years.
There are perhaps too many of these moments throughout the book, but Jones realizes that this is hackneyed, overwrought dialogue and follows it up, usually, with great bursts of meta-humor. In that same scene with Tony and the Cap'n, the Cap'n responds to Tony's reinvigorated energy by saying, "That's the spirit, Tony! Never lose hope, because hope is what feeds our souls, hope is what lights our mornings, and hope is an essential part of a nutricious [sic] breakfast!" I'm not sure if I've ever been all that hopeful staring into a bowl of Count Chocula, or Cap'n Crunch for that matter, but the moment is nonetheless funny and a good counterbalance to the pontification it follows.
As graphic novels go, Breakfast of the Gods isn't a breakthrough. But it's still loads of fun, and that trumps the book's shortcomings. And really, why shouldn't it? We've grown up on bad-for-you cereals featuring the characters in the book as spokesmen; we should be allowed to indulge in empty-calorie entertainment featuring the characters as grown-ups.