If the old "you are what you eat" idiom is correct, then every human being in the Western world is probably about 40 percent Coco Pops and 20 percent all the other semi-edible things they stuck in their mouths when they were kids.
Because for many people, childhood was defined by a love of two things: sweets and really, really gross stuff. Looking back with rose-tinted nostalgia specs, it was place where each morning started with a gigantic bowl of sugary cereal and an episode of Goosebumps. There's something weirdly intoxicating about the mix of sweet and sour, delicious and disgusting, Sugar Puff and swamp monster …
This dichotomy is what artist Joe Simko aims to capture with his Cereal Killers project, a series of sticker cards featuring fictional cereal box designs. With names like "Tales from the Crisp," "Children of the Corn Flakes," and "Fiber the 13th," each sticker shows Simko's penchant not just for sugary carbohydrates and monsters, but good puns.
The link between food and art is nothing new (your mum probably still has a few of your "decorated" macaroni photo frames in the loft) but Simko turns the mundane cereal box into a technicolour horror movie. Each of his pieces is infused with 80s cartoon vibes, harking back to a time before artisan muesli, when cavities were nbd.
We got in touch with Joe to find out more about the interplay between cereal, horror movies, and art.
MUNCHIES: Hi Joe. I'm guessing, by the Cereal Killers series, that you think there's something a little grotesque and horrible in food? Joe Simko: Yes, the human saliva in food while being eaten.
Right. What were your inspirations for the artworks? When I started to design the look and feel of the Cereal Killers, I wanted to invoke a tribute to that 1980s collectible world of gross-out celebration for kids. Just like Garbage Pail Kids, Madballs, Boglins, and many others successfully achieved during that 80s time.
So it was sort of a combination between nostalgia for adolescence, gross-out horror, and puns? Going back to my childhood, I found that my favourite things that gave me the most joy were humour and horror. By around age ten or 11, I was obsessively collecting Mad Magazine and at the same time, needed to see every scary, gore-filled horror movie that came out on video.
But it took you a while to get to this point. When did you first realise you could turn these passions into art? The Cereal Killers sticker card series came out of a result of a few cereal parody paintings I was doing back in 2009. I was exhibiting the first five pieces I created, "Zomba Crunch," "Frosted Freeks," "Loco Puffs," "Space Krispies," and "The Excorcrisp" for a couple local galleries here in NYC. They—MF Gallery and Live Fast Underground Gallery—really helped get the artwork seen by a public audience instantly.
So they started out as individual pieces of art? Yes, but after selling a few of these paintings right away and hearing feedback of interest for more, I decided they need to be made into prints. But, actually, not just prints—collectible sticker cards. So I began working on a full sticker series with 55 different cereal brands being spoofed into a horror/monster theme. From there, my company, Wax Eye was formed to house the brand of Cereal Killers. The first series sold out and a second series was made.
How do you conceive a new character? I'm a big fan of Exorcrisp, for example. When I begin the process of creating a new Cereal Killers gag, I take a look at what cereal brands are out there on the market, from popular to sometimes local or regional brands. I also look at what horror films would make a great cereal. Pretty much all of them.
But really, it's just a going-back-and-forth type of process, playing on words and seeing what fits best to make that joke work.
So, it's mostly trying to have fun with food and words? Yeah, even though I am making a horror themed product, the end result of the piece has to have humour in it. The jokes are what make it sell.
How do you get inspiration for the cereal designs? Does the pun come first or is it the creature? Often times, I get the idea of a pun first, then try to fit it into the context of the appropriate cereal or horror film. As far as how I get my ideas, it happens the most when I am actually sleeping. Almost drifting off to sleep late at night, or slowly waking up the next morning.
What is your favourite design, and why? Ah, they are all my children. All my Children of the Corny.
Of course they are. Thanks for speaking with me, Joe.