I Found Cereal!

As many of you know, I’ve been writing graphics and design books for more than 20 years.  Back in those early days, I routinely worked for clients, creating graphics and designs on a daily basis.

But even before that, I wrote and illustrated a daily comic strip for a popular Boulder free newspaper, the Colorado Daily (still in publication). The name of the comic strip was Cereal. In all, I wrote more than 400 of the comics—all the black-and-white weekday variety—from my Junior year of college in 1983 until after I graduated in 1985. I was paid precisely $2.50 for each one, or $12.50 a week. For you youngsters, that was not good money back in those days; that just plain sucked. But I did it anyway, strictly out of love for the art.

In the process of moving offices a decade or so ago, I had sealed all 400+ original drawings in cloth, wrapped them in plastic, and placed the sealed result in a shoe box. (Not the recommended method for preserving fine art, but it worked surprisingly well!) Then I placed the shoe box in a larger box to be moved. But as these things go, somehow a few of the boxes got lost in the shuffle and I haven’t seen my beloved Cereals since. Until now, that is. A couple of weeks ago, I located a cache of missing boxes and—wouldn’t you know it?—at the bottom of one of them, under a stack of late 1990’s multimedia CD-ROMs, was that very shoebox and its contents, in absolutely mint condition!

Which is why, with your permission, I’d like to share a few of these 25-year-old comic strips with you. In which you’ll learn, among other things, the origin of Shenbop.

Why Cereal? The strip’s name was a play on words.

  • First, like the fibrous, sugar-coated variety, Cereal was a part of your Daily routine.
  • Second, the strip was an ongoing serial, with characters and events crossing and shifting over time.
  • And third, it was surreal, combining common events with head trips, talking mirrors, and sardonic dead animals.

Young Milton. The strip revolved primarily around the exploits of Young Milton Horwitz, a round-headed hairless fellow who spent most of his time talking to himself. In Book 1, Chapter 5 (remember, this was a serial), we see Young Milton lamenting his cafeteria hamburger. Click the comic for an enlarged version.

Below we see Book 1, Chapter 33. There were five Books in all, but a Chapter is nothing more than a comic. So these are the 5th and 33rd strips that I drew. Admittedly, roughly rendered. With stories and punch lines that read like Charlie Brown meets the Borscht Belt. But, hey, it was a work in development.

Berry. Young Milton’s foil was his roommate, Berry Hari Kari. If Young Milton was my inner dread, Berry was my outer reprobate: An antisocial but ultimately resourceful libertine who stays up too late, consumes too many mind-altering substances, and greets each day with a desire to go right back to bed. Here’s a pair of early interactions, set in that staple of dorm life, stackable bunk beds.

I should mention, Berry suffered from a speach impediment that involved a lot of apostrophes.

Shenbop, the dead frog. Those of you who have consumed my Illustrator training videos or my InDesign One-on-One books may recall a dead frog named Shenbop, pictured in one of his several incarnations below.

Well, this frog started life as Berry’s cute-and-cuddly pet.

Next, we find out what makes Shenbop tick: a pull-string voice box. Plus we are introduced to his world-famous tagline, “I am dead but I don’t smell.”

That’s it for now. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with two parting thoughts:

  • Cereal is the reason I was first confused for a computer graphics expert. More on that in a future post.
  • If you want to see more Cereals, let me know. That’s the advantage of getting paid $2.50 a strip. The Man doesn’t own them. I do and I can do with them as I please.

Bear in mind, I’m not going to publish all 400+ comics—some are just too awful. But others hold up okay. And with 400+ to choose from, there should be enough to go around.

Next entry:Martini Hour 015, in Which Colleen Attempts to Represent Deke’s Adoring Masses All By Herself

Previous entry:Photoshopping the Great Masters

  • Great stuff

    These were some funny strips.

    I’ve had the same experience; Some of the stuff I did back then is way better than I’d ever would dare to believe. (Found some music I did in the late 80’s a while ago, along with a game I did on the CBM64)

    However, what I really meant to express;

    I’d love to some more of your comics, and yes; please tell us how Cereal made you an expert.


  • I Love Shenbop

    These are pretty funny. I’d like to see more. I would love to see more of Shenbop. He’s awfully cute.

  • Love the Frog

    He would look great on my workstation right next to my Deke bobble head doll.

  • ROFL!

    Thanks muchly for the publishing the history of Shenbop - you’ve been dropping rather blatant hints in the InDesign books that there was a backstory, and now you’ve revealed it in all of its ribiting glory. (Free suggestion: how about including an exercise in the InDesign CS5 book in which you build a few pages of The Illustrated Origins of Shenbop

    ? You could even reuse the Cereal strip!)

    As for “Cereal”: while the six strips you’ve posted probably aren’t in contention for the next Pulitzer, 20 years or so reading student-written cartoons and comics (while drawing a paycheck from the IT department of an Enormous State University) taught me that many of the creators have some really funny jokes that show up at unpredictable points in their student career. (Of course, being undergraduates they have some drawings that they want everyone to forget, especially when they’re looking for a job…but that’s another story.) More to the point: keep posting the Cereal strips: if you’re willing to do that I’ll be interested to see how your style developed over your 3-year tenure.

    (No, I’m no longer in academia; I left it about the time that you started drawing the strip, at a time when “computer graphics” was usually a synonym for “Calcomp plotter” and “keyboarding” meant punching IBM cards.)

  • Impressive

    Hey Deke, I can’t wait to read about your initiation into computer graphics.

    Yo, keep the strips comin’! ;)

  • nice ones

    I really like the frog :)

    And I have a personal question whether your college course was about graphics and computers back then or something completely different. I have no idea if in 1983 a term computer graphics even existed… ;) as I was just a little kid in those days…

  • Math + Fine Art double major

    And no, there were no computer graphics programs back then. Not at the major universities, anyway. We were using punch cards.

    To be perfectly honest, I hated my computer courses. They were ultimately pointless logic exercises, IMHO, and altogether failed to anticipate the face of modern computing.

  • Computer Graphics Courses in 1983

    I heard UNC in Chapel Hill had a CG curriculum back then. I had to try and put something together on my own at my school with a Computer Science & Studio Art double major. I think we did some interesting stuff, though.

    Frank Smullin: Analytic Constructivist

  • Really interesting post, Joseph

    I should know better than to make sweeping generalizations. ;-)

  • Thank you

    You are basically right. I couldn’t find much in the way of computer graphics courses either. I did the same thing you did - put together my own ‘combination platter’ of majors - at pretty much the same time.

  • Impressive :)

    I eagerly read your newest post about getting into computer graphics. Interesting :) Although I already have a master degree I’m thinking about choosing a computer graphics course as I am more and more interested in this field.

  • I love the Bunk Bed

    I love the Bunk Bed, after returning from tuition I would throw the bag in the corner and just jump into my bed.

  • Cool Frog!

    Love da Frog Deke :) and Cereal.

    Frog also happens to be the first word that I remember learning in Polish (żaba for anyone who’s interested!).

    I remember my “computer courses” in University in the mid 80s. Programming! Terrible. It put me off computers for a decade.

    I wanted computers I could talk to…, that would answer back.

    And then later I ended up by accident with a Mac and Pho’shop 2.

    I was reborn.

    Anyway, do keep the serial of Cerials rolling.

  • Enjoyment

    It’s one kind of enjoyment to do one thing just out of love, regardless of the money back.

  • wow. its really very funny

    and i would like to see more in your article.

  • Very interesting. I’m

    Very interesting. I’m looking forward on seeing more of your work. I’m slowly becoming a fan of yours. Good luck!