Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: Scientifically Proven Webcomic Gags

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is a daily humor strip that’s as quick with a physics gag as it is with a dirty joke. Creator Zach Weiner pairs insights into the human condition with irreverent pokes at science, religion, relationships, and not-so-ordinary family life. SMBC is one of those comics that walk the razor-thin line between funny and terribly wrong without quite toppling over the edge. You can expect to see plenty of macabre humor and the highest brow dick jokes you’re sure to see on the Internet.

In addition to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Weiner co-writes and co-stars in the online sketch show SMBC Theater, collaborates on the webcomic Snowflakes, and wrote the superhero parody graphic novel Captain Stupendous. The first SMBC print collection Save Yourself, Mammal! is available now. Weiner spoke to us via email about how studying science improved his humor writing, why graphs are funny, and what he would write if he worked for DC.

Gamma Squad: What attracted you to the gag comic format?

Zach Weiner: I actually used to do three-panel strips that were a bit more story oriented. But, I found that I typically started with a joke before attaching the joke to characters. Since I had to find the right character to convey each joke, the cast ended up ballooning to over a dozen. Eventually, I figured I would be better just telling the jokes and not worrying about characters.

GS: During the comic’s run, you went back to school to study physics. What effect has that had on your joke writing?

ZW: It’s been huge. In addition to the obvious (more science jokes), it opened me up to doing more intellectual humor in general. I’m not longer in college, but the process I developed there (constant learning = better writing) has stuck with me. I can practically trace all the major growth of SMBC to those two years back in college for physics.

GS: You write a great deal about the intersection between sex and science. Do you think all human intellectual endeavors are just an attempt to get laid?

ZW: Well, I mean, in a biological sense, just about everything really is an attempt to get laid. Every ancestor you have, all the way to mitochondrial Eve managed to have sex at least once. I understand that intelligence (abstract thinking, foresight, creativity) is a topic of debate in evolution, but intelligence is clearly pretty useful in finding mates. Perhaps a more general way to think about it would be in terms of status. Intelligence is a great way to acquire status, which confers all sorts of benefits on you, among them being the option for sex with high quality individuals.

GS: What scientific breakthrough do you most hope to see in the next 10 years?

ZW: Oh, man, that’s hard. There are so many cool things on deck right now. BUT, the one I think would do the most for the most people would be super cheap clean energy. Fusion energy is almost certainly more than a decade out, unless some of the heterodox techniques end up working. But something like a traveling wave reactor seems like it might be built in the next 10 years. This is a reactor with very low waste, whose fuel we have tons of (literally tons – I believe I read we have something like 700,000 tons in the US alone), and which could not be used for nuclear weapons.

There are lots of cooler things, but cheap energy would boost them all. If you have cheap energy, it’s like giving everyone in the world a tax break, increasing the standard of living, and helping out all sorts of areas of research science. Supercomputers, for example, cost thousands of dollars a day in energy costs alone. Plus, commodities get cheaper because the cost of extraction goes down. So, for instance, the price of medicine would drop.

Energy in general is really exciting right now because people in high places are waking up to its importance. So, we’re getting better renewables all the time, and really cool ideas about new ways to get energy, like space-based solar, advanced nuclear reactors, and yes, fusion.

GS: Your wife is a frequent guest star in your comics. Is she ever involved in writing the comics?

ZW: Not really, though she does read them. Occasionally I’ll have a question that directly pertains to her field of expertise, in which case I’ll ask her to help out. In general, I don’t like anyone writing for me. It feels like cheating.

GS: Comics like SMBC, xkcd, and Indexed have brought out the full funny potential of the graph. Why are graphs such a rich source of humor?

ZW: There are some forms of art where the goal is to express a big idea (or a funny idea) as elegantly as possible – things like short poems, single panel comics, and short stories. Graphs are useful for this kind of thing because they’re designed to convey information directly and clearly. For especially simple jokes, sometimes speed of explanation is crucial. With a graph, you can state two concepts and define a complex relationship faster than by any other means. Take, for example, diagramming human arousal during sex. It’d take a couple paragraphs to explain what a fairly simple line graph could do in a single image.

GS: Have you ever been surprised by a particular strip’s popularity?

ZW: Sometimes yeah, though I’m better at predicting it these days. A recent one whose popularity surprised me was the joke about gamification in the future. I thought it was a somewhat niche topic that people would have to read up on. But, it turns out there’s a huge community. I even got people requesting that I write a novel based on it!

GS: You’ve been writing gag comics, character-driven comics, video sketches, and now you’re working on a web series. Which format is the most challenging to write?

ZW: Everything’s different. In general, the hardest thing to write is the thing you have least experience writing. That said, sketch writing is pretty damn difficult. You basically have to come up with an idea that’s solid, and squeeze every little bit of comedy out of it until you have at least a few pages of stuff. With comics, it’s a bit easier to be eloquent, since size doesn’t matter so much.

GS: You just released the first SMBC book. What took you so freaking long?

ZW: A very long sequence of delays and screw ups. We got very close to pulling the trigger with several companies, but each time something got close, something happened on our end or theirs. Eventually, we landed with Breadpig, which was such an excellent experience it makes me glad of all the delays.

GS: Chris Sims at ComicsAlliance recently wrote an article suggesting that DC and Marvel should be making superhero webcomics. What would your DC or Marvel comic be about?

ZW: I actually already did a superhero comic called Captain Stupendous, through IDW.

But, if it were for DC? If they’re just looking to generate audience and buzz, a properly licensed gag comic about the actual DC superheroes would probably be huge. The online market’s all for short observational strips right now.

Of course, if I got to do anything I wanted… that’s harder. I think there’s a lot of good stuff to be done with science characters. Okay, so they can’t fly or shoot lasers, but the early 20th century is often referred to as “The Heroic Age of Physics.”

GS: Does having the last name Weiner make you an inherently funnier person?

ZW: No. My brother Marty’s a Weiner, and he sucks. Nobody likes his jokes or his stupid face. Also, he has a really bad haircut.

[Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal]