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‘The Most Dangerous Game’ Collects the Best Year of ‘Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’

In general, gag webcomics are not my favorites, but there are, of course, sublime exceptions: CA contributors Let’s Be Friends Again, The Perry Bible Fellowship, HIJInks Ensue, xkcd and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. SMBC has been online for nearly ten years, and creator Zach Weiner has always had an eye for unusual jokes, however, from oddball puns to nuggets of science fictional ideas to fresh twists on familiar ideas. It’s the perfect webcomic for fans of xkcd, or anyone who prefers their geeky webcomics with a side of sex, philosophy, superheroes and religion.

The latest SMBC print collection, The Most Dangerous Game, focuses mainly on the comics posted in 2011, Weiner’s strongest year yet. It’s a great introduction to Weiner’s work and highlights his recent artistic growth spurt — if you can get past the atrocious layout of the book.After recently going back to school to study physics and continuing to hone his joke-writing skills, Weiner’s work on SMBC has become richer and far more incisive. The Most Dangerous Game draws mostly from these later comics, giving us sharp, single-panel gags about cultural norms, mathematics, religion and some very scary romantic prospects. Plus, there’s the occasional touch of Batman and Superman.

Weiner has also started to experiment with multi-panel strips, including some spectacularly intellectual, yet accessible, comics about the Paradox of the Court and the theological concept of theodicy. Other times, he spins these brief but brilliant science fiction stories. One, about a society that becomes physically, intellectually and ethically fitter by assigning game points to healthy activities, seems ripe for a film adaptation. Another, in which a company capitalizes on employee rage by capturing and selling its energy, could explain every office job I’ve ever held. And then there’s the fabulous “Who’s on First?” gag involving a student who’s trying to cheat on his periodic table exam:

I swear, this joke goes on for sixty panels and it never gets old. Weiner also answer’s some of life’s greatest questions, such as what is the most efficient use of Superman’s incredible strength, and how Bruce Wayne might have turned out if he wasn’t rich.

The Most Dangerous Game and the first SMBC collection, Save Yourself, Mammal! are both published by Breadpig, a charity-focused publisher started by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. (Incidentally, Breadpig also published the first xkcd collection.) Breadpig donates its publisher profits to organizations that, according to the publisher’s mission statement, “make the world less sucky.” Profits from Save Yourself, Mammal go to DonorsChoose.org, and profits from The Most Dangerous Game go to the Khan Academy, a non-profit organization that offers free academic learning tools online.

I don’t envy the person whose job it was to design the layout for The Most Dangerous Game. Some webcomics use the same page size for every single update, making the print layout a fairly straightforward task. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is not one of those webcomics, and unfortunately the book designer never figured out a design solution to deal with the mix of single-panel comics and longer strips. In some places multiple comics are awkwardly squished together on the same page, and some strips are shrunk down to the point that they’re actually difficult to read. It’s not an ideal way to experience the comics.

It’s also a weirdly incomplete collection. One of the neat features of SMBC is the “bonus comic.” If you click the red button at the bottom of many of the SMBC comics online, you’ll see an extra joke about the comic (often featuring a shirtless Mr. Weiner and occasionally his eye-rolling wife). None of these bonus comics appear in The Most Dangerous Game, meaning you actually experience less of each individual comic in print than you do online.

Leaving aside design flaws, however, The Most Dangerous Game is a great collection from an artist in transition. Weiner’s one-panel comics are sharp, but the longer comics in this volume blow them out of the water. Those little seeds of fantastical stories he planted in his earlier comics have begun to sprout in a big way, and I hope Weiner keeps dreaming up these speculative scenarios and working with longer gags. Hopefully, by the time the next volume comes out, Breadpig will have figured out a better way to display Weiner’s comics.

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