One Punch Reviews #19: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
Submitted by El Santo on September 24, 2008 - 03:30
Fellow webcomic blogger Ben Gordon recently wrote a post about the different forms of humor at the Floating Lightbulb. This led to a link that itemized humor in pat little categories. I come from the point of view that humor cannot be delineated, mainly because it’s evolving year after year. (try to find someone who genuinely thinks Much Ado About Nothing is funny AND isn’t a stuffy English major and/or professor.) So it was a small surprise that I couldn’t think of any humor that didn’t fit at least one of the types on the list. (Before you argue that “pun” isn’t on the list, I should tell you it’s right there under “conundrum.” A better argument is whether or not puns belong on a list about types of humor at all.)
One of the more interesting humor forms is something called “switching”: “a common form of switching is changing the main parts of the story, such as the setup or the punch line, and creating a new joke.” Is it something like those Seinfeld “yadda yadda yadda” jokes? Or could this be referring to Zach Weiner’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, where, oftentimes, the punchline actually changes the meaning of the drawing itself?
Usually when I write these reviews, I make it a point to plow through the entire archive of a comic. I figure it’s only fair. Today, however, I make an exception for the very first time. Why? For starters, the most obvious of reasons: the comics is too damn long. The strip updates every day since 2002, and right now the archive is over 1000 strips long. Yeah, **** that noise.
Second, it’s a gag-a-day strip. There a no continuing plotlines. Just the single panel joke, like you’d find in The Far Side, Bizarro, and Non Sequitur. Typically, gag writers go to the well to the same types of jokes multiple times. I mean, if you’ve built your reputation on jokes about guys putting on fun costumes before plummeting to their death, you’re not going to suddenly switch to cute puns your two-year-old made up while he was in the park chasing pigeons. It’s not a bad thing: it’s easier for the writer to think up of new jokes within the template, and loyal readers get what they want. It’s just that if you try to read several at a time, the jokes become more and more telegraphed. You can only do so many jokes about wacky, insensitive and inappropriate props before the novelty wears off. So you gotta read SMBC in small portions, the way Zach intended you to.
And finally, I soon came to realize that long term exposure to SMBC can actually eat away at the very soul. There are many ways to practice dark humor. Webcomics like Lucid TV and 1930 Nightmare Theatre unrelentingly go for the jugular. SMBC belongs to the same school of humor as Perry Bible Fellowship: lull the reader into the illusion of a comfort zone, making the denouement all the more shocking. The key difference is that PBF takes 3 to 4 panels; SMBC accomplishes its task in one. And make no mistake, SMBC is dark. Not blacker than the blackest black, times infinity, but dark nonetheless. Weiner throws you off at first by the generally friendly character designs and the lack of any overt images of gore. But the punchline is usually about hopelessness, shame, anger, adultery, and ultimately death.
So why do I give this five stars? Because it’s hilarious! Weiner puts some clever twists on old jokes, and, despite being churned out on a routine basis, the punchline almost always blindsides you. There’s the switching: Zach plays with your expectations by setting you up on the most cliche of panels, and then dings you with a punchline that you never saw coming. It’s hard to find a webcomic out there that’s this consistently funny … as long as mildly dark humor is up your alley, that is.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)