Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cerealized Fiction

As everyone of my age cohort knows, there is an absolute dividing line that splits us. Unlike divisions over religion, politics, and philosophy, it permits no synthesis, brooks no compromise, and suffers no neutrals. Since the need to maintain a unified polity and veneer of civility are essential to the continuance of our society, we lives our lives in a conspiracy of silence, never speaking of it openly to one another, lest the Western be riven in twain, brother again brother. "Never again," our elders made use swear; "never again," we repeat silently to ourselves and we look at children happily playing with others.

But we all know the truth. We are all, still and forever, on one side or the other:

Quisp or Quake.

For those of you too young to have experienced it, the Quisp/Quake conflict was the defining advertising event of my entire micro-generation. Quisp and Quake were two popular breakfast cereals for kids, similar to Capt'n Crunch, produced by the same company. But no one ate both. you either ate Quisp (named after its strange space creature mascot) or you ate Quake (named after a burly earthling miner).

That's because the commercials, masterfully produced by Jay Ward of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame, with Quisp and Quake voiced respectively by his buddies Daws Butler and William Conrad, depicted the two as archrivals. Quisp and Quake hated each other.

Note the use of the voice cast from Dudley Doo-Right, another Jay Ward property.

They appeared in joint commercials and even when they had solo commercials, the rival would often intrude himself, just for spite.

Brilliant as this hook was, it gets better: except for shape, Quisp and Quaker were... the same cereal. Same formula.

Now there are some cynics who say that Quake was never supposed to be a real cereal, that Quake was just a gimmick to drum up sales for the real deal, Quisp. Yeah, then why did Quake get a makeover from being a miner to a cowboy, huh? How do you explain the Orange Horror, huh? Nutcases; these are the same people who think there wasn't a moon landing.

The companies genius didn't end at producing one cereal as if it were two, then marketing them against each other, brilliant though that was. Once the rivalry was solidly established, war was declared. There would be an election among cereal-eaters, and the loser's cereal would be discontinued. The election ran for two years. Naturally, the loser was Quake. Because Quake SUCKED, and Quisp RULED!!!!! Ahem. Although I believe we put it differently in those days.

Quisp and Quake are the dichotomy that symbolizes all other dichotomies. Sky and earth. Speed and strength. Alien and native. Brains and brawn. Gay and straight. The future and the past. Humor and seriousness. Consistency and variability.

The world of comics has its own dichotomy: the "Big Two", as they are called. There are some who'll tell you that there is no difference between them, that the same formula is used to make both. But, they are wrong, because, as we know from Quisp and Quake, tone and form and style are what count; they are remembered, when content is forgotten.

I remember in the 1990s when Marvel was teetering toward bankruptcy. I remember exulting. "Quake" was finally going to lose. The cheery '90s would be no place for Marvel's dark cynicism!

But eventually, I reversed my thinking. Would DC start changing its tone or adding Marvel-ish characters to pick up wandering ex-zombies? Would DC's existing Marvel-style characters start to crowd out its native sons and daughters like Wolverinish weeds? Even worse, would DC buy Marvel's characters and incorporate them into the DCU, like so much trailer-trash left homeless by a financial twister, bringing with them their tawdry domestic disturbances, their raucus in-fighting, their soap operas, their gun-toting yahoos, their cigar-chomping, g-droppin', dullards, and their screeching drag-queen-faced dime-store divas and teenaged tarts? Shudder!

I realized that to keep that from happening DC needed Marvel; I needed Marvel as a gathering place for ... those kinds of characters. Fortunately, Marvel did not go bankrupt because they gave themselves over to crass commercialism; I mean, more crass. As in Hollywood.

Funny thing. Quisp and Quake feuded from 1965-1972. But after the election, Quisp's popularity steadily declined until it was removed from regular grocery shelves in the late '70s. Nowadays, they still make it, but it's available only on the internet as a nostalgia item; it doesn't really live as a current brand, and no children have ever heard of it. Turns out that maybe Quisp needed Quake more than he realized.

Long live Marvel.


Anonymous said...

You sound like a man who would enjoy "Breakfast of the Gods":

steve mitchell said...

Always with the dualism and the dichotomies! And always colored in lurid Manichaen tints!

Well, instead of "Either/Or", how about "Both/And"? As in, "I find things to like in both DC AND Marvel Comics."

At least I do. When I read my new comics for the week, I like to alternate, a DC Comic followed by a Marvel, followed by a DC, followed by a DC, etc. Gives me a nice dialectical buzz.

DC hit rock bottom for me recently with Final Crisis, and my DC buying went way down. But here at mid-year, I'm following Batman Reborn and Blackest Night and more of the regular titles, and my DC buying is now slightly edging my Marvel buying on a weekly basis.

Dark Reign was fun at first, but it has dragged on too long. But to my surprise, I'm reading Spider-Man again for the first time in about two decades and actually enjoying it.

Long live DC, and Marvel, and IDW and Boom and Dark Horse and Avatar and Diamond and Image and all the other companies working to make the comic market exciting and diverse.

Jon Hendry said...

Lightning rods are good.

When I was contracting there, I once heard a joke that Lexis-Nexis(*) had invested in nearby trailer parks in order to draw tornados away from the data center.

Kinda like the roles of DC and Marvel.

(*)(legal and journalism text database company based outside Dayton, OH)

H said...

Oh, I recall the arguments with my misguided brother wherein he sang the praises of Quake. Quisp was a better cereal because of the coolness Quisp exuded, an ingredient that buffoon Quake sorely lacked.

A local grocery store actually carried Quisp on the shelves a few years ago. You bet I got it and ate it. Sadly, one day it disappeared from the shelf and never returned. Probably an evil scheme by Quake.

SallyP said...

Well, I'm flummoxed. I was a kid then, and although I vaguely remember Quisp, I don't remember Quake AT ALL! But gosharootie, I sure do miss Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Scipio said...

"Well, instead of' "Either/Or", how about "Both/And"?

Not an option. Don't blame me. Blame Aristotle.

Diamondrock said...

"Blame Aristotle."

I'm always doing that. I blame that guy for everything. If I burn my dinner or stub my toe or anything else like that the first thing I do is blame Aristotle.

Somebody's got to be held accountable.

steve mitchell said...

Null-A, anyone?

LissBirds said...

I feel inspired to quote J'onn J'onnz from "American Secrets" after reading your post, as he asked a store clerk about American culture:

"Why are there two of everything here?"

To which the clerk responds, "Competition, buddy. The American Way."

And then J'onn leaves the store, a little peeved that he had to settle for an Oreo's inferior counterpart, Hydrox cookies.

So there you have it. DC=Oreo's: wonderful chocately goodness (which, like DC, has had its formula messed with over the years) and Hydrox=Marvel, the never-can-be-quite-as-good-despite-a-loyal-following chocolate sandwich cookie. (Not that I'm biased or anything. Not only do I bleed DC forever but I also bleed white frosting and chocolate runs through my veins.)


Oh, and I like how cereal commercials in the 60's could use sugar as an actual selling point. Those must've been great times....if I was a child of the 60's I probably would've picked Quisp because he was an alien and all. Can't beat that for coolness.

steve mitchell said...

(Steve visits Big Monkey Comics.)

Steve: I'm shocked, shocked to find that Marvel bashing is going on in here!

(The store owner hands Steve a pile of comics.)

Scipio: Your complete run of Strange Sports Stories, sir.

Steve: (sotto voce) Oh, thank you very much.

Brushwood said...

omg, I started to wonder if this ad campaign was the fevered dream of my 7-year old mind. It totally warped my mind when Quake actually vanished. I will use this metphor often now.

TotalToyz said...

What always puzzled me about children's breakfast cereals is that Madison Avenue thinks the best way to market it to children is to depict someone trying to steal it.

Remember Jean laFoote, the pirate who was always trying to plunder Cap'n Crunch? He's long gone, but we still have the Trix Rabbit trying to swipe the cereal. Barney Rubble, Fred Flintstone's best friend for nigh on fifty years, is always trying to steal his best buddy's high-sugar breakfast. And Lucky Charms teaches kids to be juvenile delinquents by showing kid gangs running around trying to mug height-challenged Irish-Americans.

Why does no one in these commercials ever just buy the tooth-rotting junk? "Silly rabbit, Trix are for anyone who can fork over $4.25!"

SallyP said...

And speaking of Trix. One day they let the rabbit eat them. And that's how cocoa puffs came to be.


TotalToyz said...

Marvel did not go bankrupt because they gave themselves over to crass commercialism; I mean, more crass. As in Hollywood.

Oh, now. Just because DC can't make a blockbuster movie with any of their characters other than Batman, doesn't mean they don't want to.

Matt said...


Ah, but DC CAN plunder their characters for formulaic movie cash-grabs, but doesn't. That should count for something.

Sleestak said...

I voted for Quisp. Cut out the ballot from the back of the box and mailed it in, even.

Yes I'm old.

farsider said...

Quisp and Quake are the dichotomy that symbolizes all other dichotomies...Gay and straight....

Hey, now. Just because Quisp comes from the planet Q, doesn't mean he's gay.

Drew said...

Well, they weren't the SAME cereal. Quake was formed into heavy, jagged "boulders" that would would rip the living shreds out the roof of your mouth if you weren't careful. Quisp was lighter (read: more injected air), cup-shaped, all all-around easier to eat.

Johnny Sorrow said...

Having magic powers isn't really "brains," is it?

spectator said...

Commenting only Quake/Quisp ads, the "joint" advertisements are quite clearly made simply to catch both target groups, girls and boys. Hence, the masculine Quake and the rather more feminine Quisp.