Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Breakfast of the Gods

The basic concept behind Brendan Jones' Breakfast of the Gods is a fairly simple one: what if you had a basic good vs. evil fight among all the mascots of breakfast cereals? Applying modern storytelling twists to what were long-established characters is an easy way to get a "new" story together and often leads to some decidedly memorable new visions...
"Tortoise Beats Hare" (1941)
"Red Hot Riding Hood" (1943)
"Three Little Bops" (1957)

Of course, the danger at this point is that just "updating" a story or the characters is almost as trite as simply retelling the story. I can't tell you the number of lack-luster iterations of Alice in Wonderland I've seen over the years. So, coming to Breakfast of the Gods, I was cautious -- sounds like a clever concept, but does it deliver something solid beyond the one-note gag of Cap'n Crunch vs. Count Chocula? Does Jones have something there besides a single idea?

It turns out that he does. The story itself is solid -- good set-up, nice development. What stands out, though, is his work on character development. The templates he's basing all of the characters on (Tony the Tiger, Frankenberry, Trix the Rabbit, etc.) are pretty shallow, by and large, which is hardly surprising given their origins as advertising icons. But Jones is able to take the one or two traits each one has displayed in commercials and extrapolate an entire identity from that.

For example, on TV Toucan Sam used his heightened sense of smell to find his way to the nearest bowl or box of Fruit Loops. In Breakfast of the Gods, he's something of a scout or tracker, able to find his way through a maze of a jungle with ease. In a more obvious example, Officer Crumb, the Cookie Crisp Cop, is here the main source of law enforcement.

Obviously, with a host of cereal mascots over the years, not everyone can be highlighted equally. Jones pulls in cameos for a LOT of characters that I had long forgotten (Big Yella, the Freakies, Jean LaFoote, the Crunchberry Beast...?!?) but focuses largely on the classics: Count Chocula, Tony the Tiger, Cap'n Crunch, etc. These guys are given character and personality, as I said, that builds off what we've seen in commercials but are now complete. I'm actually quite partial to what he's done with Sugar Bear, and am eager to see that sub-plot resolution.

He pulls off the art surprisingly well, too. With characters created over decades by who knows how many artists, Jones is able to present them all in a way that is both recognizable, but homogenized. The more abstract characters get a little more detail, and the detailed characters become a little more cartoony, but they meet in a fair middle-ground that manages to appease both sides reasonably well. I especially enjoy his rendition of Tony the Tiger (admittedly, an old favorite of mine) and the addition of an eye-patch, due to the loss of an eye in one battle, is a striking enhancement. Jones' illustration and story skills aren't necessarily the best, but they service the story reasonably well; I expect putting another artist on this would dilute some of the nuances that Jones' knowledge of breakfast cereals has been able to drop in.

The story is presented as if it were ready for publication, and that may well have been Jones' initial or ultimate intent. That said, I have trouble seeing this completed in a pulped wood format just from the legal aspect of things. I can't imagine any publisher risking a lawsuit with all those characters that are owned by other companies. It's not really a problem now, since Jones isn't making any money off the book, but I think much of this goes above and beyond "fair use" so it seems to me unlikely that you'll be able to read this anywhere but online.

Of course, that just means that you HAVE to read it for free. Not a bad thing for many people, given today's economy, but I know a number of people who prefer the pulped wood format that seems more designed for. Nonetheless, it's a good story with some excellent characters, and I'm looking forward to seeing the story's completion.

3 comments:

Ben Towle said...

Is it just me, or is this concept pretty damn similar to James Sturm's Cereal Killings?...

Sean Kleefeld said...

I haven't actually read Cereal Killings, but from the descriptions I've seen, they don't sound at all similar to me other than the basic concept of using somewhat dark versions of cereal mascots as the main characters. But the storylines sound wildly different from what I can tell.

Matt K said...

Sean, this is freakin' awesome.