Webcomics, Part VI: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Written by Matthew Pardue

As promised, here’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (SMBC from here on out). I compared it to xkcd last week because of how many different topics you’ll see in both, but on reflection, I think their connection is a bit different. True, SMBC covers a lot of subjects, but more than that, it covers a lot of tones. You’ll see a pretty bizarre spectrum of comedy. On one end, some pages are about some fairly intellectual, lengthy satire, usually of human nature or something like philosophy or politics. On the other, we find jokes that you might’ve heard in middle school (if you have a good memory and lived the average childhood, the proper response to that is, “Huh. …Hahaha, I…wait…ewwww”). Now, I’ll bitterly argue against anyone who says that one type of humor is objectively better than another, or indeed, anyone who says that humor is objectively anything. It’s just weird to find this combination, as well as all the other kinds of comedy that pops up in SMBC. The blend feels like what you’d get if you spliced Jonathan Swift with the average YouTube commenter.

You may’ve rightly guessed that we need a disclaimer today. SMBC isn’t an adult webcomic in the same way as, say, Unsounded; it does have some serious themes, but usually only so it can ridicule them (which is in itself something you should remember if you pick it up; if you’re easily offended, you’ll probably want to blame someone. Hopefully not me). XKCD also likes to poke fun at just about everything, yet their methods feel different to me. SMBC normally works in a less subtle fashion; while it can be sophisticated when it wants to be, just as often it seems to enjoy annoying thin-skinned readers by picking solemn topics (religion, for example) and handling them with deliberately little care. Perhaps surprisingly, for this reason I think the comic is a lot smarter than it usually pretends to be: anything that spends this much time essentially asking “Why are these topics off limits? I don’t think they should be, because if we’re afraid to tease them, then maybe we’re also afraid to think about them without tradition and social expectations forcing us into preset directions” has a fair bit of thought put into it, even if it then goes on to tell a joke that makes your parents blush and/or roll their eyes and gives your grandparents simultaneous heart attacks.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. English majors are notoriously bad about giving more meaning to things than the creator intended (spend four years writing analytical papers and see if you don’t end up the same way). Before I put away my monocle, though, I’ll point to strips like this, which show that even if the writer isn’t putting mountains of thought into every joke, he probably still has the ability to do so:

Original at: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2710#comic

The ideas and meaning of the joke have higher brows than most of the words that deliver them, sure, and I actually think it’s a good style. Something about a complex message in a simpler package appeals to me, like a clown that gives out great legal advice.

…I forgot to finish the disclaimer, didn’t I? On top of some adult (in the sense that most parents like to pretend their children aren’t discussing these topics at school every day) content, SMBC also has uncensored language and occasional splatters of violence.

Contrary to my theory about the simpler strips being less simple than they appear, SMBC really does spend a lot of its time just having fun. It isn’t a preachy comic; even when it brings up serious things, I stand by my belief that the only consistent message you’ll find is “Come on, guys, lighten up a little.” For every strip in which God gives a frivolous answer to a praying mortal’s solemn question, there’re two strips about something random with no widespread emotional investment. Or, failing that, superheroes:

Original at: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=528#comic

Let’s look at the setup of that joke for a minute. If SMBC likes anything more than baiting people who’re stern with their beliefs, it’s subversion. Many, many jokes follow this pattern, setting you up with either an established premise or a scene that looks straightforward, then revealing a different reality in the punch line (MS Word and my favorite online dictionary both say that’s two words; I could’ve sworn we’d compounded it by now. …Which I’m sure you all care about so much. Moving on). I can think of at least one page that takes it a step further and subverts the subversion (I’d post the page in question, but then I’d get yelled at, and no one wants that). I have no complaints about this style; it hasn’t bored me yet, probably because the comic puts so many different faces on the same basic technique.

What if future scenarios are also somewhat common; for most of them, the final state of the world is pessimistic (if still darkly funny):

Original at: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2405#comic

If I had to sum SMBC up, I’d call it a less dry, more colorful cousin to xkcd. I do technically recommend it, but I’ll reiterate yet again that you need a relaxed sense of humor. I like the comic because I’m not easily offended (embarrassed, yes. Offended, no). I’d show a few of the potentially problematic strips as examples, but that obviously isn’t ok here. Just get to know the Random button until you either decide to stick with it, or fly into a rage and start writing hate mail (again, hopefully not to me; I’m just the messenger).

Here’s the first page, for all that it matters; I can’t think of a single page that’s connected to the next one, so the only reason to read them chronologically is to make sure you don’t miss any (as of today, it’s up to 2,668 strips, so if you plan on seeing them all, you’d better pack a lunch). Either way, check it out and let me know what you think.