Friday, October 3, 2008

The Cereal Killings (1992-1995)

James Sturm's The Cereal Killings was a comic book mini series published between 1992 and 1995 by Fantagraphics Books.

I first encountered The Cereal Killings around 2003 in a bizarre and grimy news and book shop called Clark's Out of Town News in Fort Lauderdale. It had existed for many years with its entrance hidden from the road by the rising ramp of the Andrews Avenue draw bridge. Only when it became a part of Las Olas Riverfront, and upgraded its entrance to a dimly lit corridor leading to and from a parking garage, did I notice it. In addition to the newsstand essentials they stocked counterculture erotic art books, homebrew versions of radical texts such as The Anarchist Cookbook, and a porn section of ancient VHS tapes, a boxed male blow up doll at least two decades old, werewolf erotica, and swinger personals magazines. Very little product moved from Clark's once it had been entombed there. It was a strange land of mysteries and I mourn its passing.

The true and tangible gold of Clark's was their comics section. There were all manner of Kitchen Sink, Fantagraphics, and even smaller alternative press comics that had been there since the early nineties. They'd actually sealed some of them in plastic which had accumulated a fine layer of sticky dust. Among these wrapped comics were issues 2, 4, 5, and 6 of The Cereal Killings. I bought an issue out of curiosity and quickly returned for the rest.

In Cereal Killings cartoon mascots are actual people, working day-to-day in the real world. The cereal mascot life is similar to being an actor or sports player - the mighty can fall and the old is replaced with the new. A number of beloved mascots have died recently in seemingly unrelated and understandable ways; regardless the newspapers are making a spectacle of the deaths and calling them cereal killings. As a result of this bad press the industry is in a slump. Carbunkle, once one of the few human mascots, has become a cereal agent. He was the brainchild behind marshmallows and the sugarberry, but he, like may of his cerealebrity friends are becoming washed up. When Dougie the Sugar Duds frog dies from an obesity instigated heart attack, Carbunckle starts being visited by terrifying visions of his dead clients. These visions lead him toward a new approach: a healthy cereal. In the 50s Kelcog once produced a corn cereal whose mascot was a scarecrow. The line didn't last very long and the Scarecrow disappeared - Carbunckle thinks he's the industry's next big thing, but he has to find him first. The visions increase and he's starts to become obsessed.

Sturm's heavily shaded and simplified style gives the anthropomorphic cartoon characters a distinctly eerie look about them. The older mascots are becoming out of place and the 90s are frequently contrasted with the cereal heyday of the 50s through flashbacks. Sturm builds a commentary on how food products have become a part of American entertainment, like deities in some ways, and how cereal advertising manipulates consumers. He did heavy research on the bygone days of the cereal industry and the strange religious origins of the Kelloggs company. All these elements meld into the dark and affecting mystery of The Cereal Killings.

Cereal Killings was Sturm's first book. He's since become quite a presence in the indy comic world, best known for his Eisner Award-Winning books Golem's Mighty Swing and Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules. In 2004 he co-founded The Center for Cartoon Studies. Cereal Killings ended with issue 8 (which was chapter 9 due to the previous book being a double-issue). Sturm considered collecting a revised Cereal Killings but has since decided against it. At his approval I am able to present you with issue 4, the first issue I read, and a prime example of the dynamic storycraft the series has to offer.

READ IT: The Cereal Killings Chapter 4
BUY IT: Mile High Comics,

- Cap

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