The Art of the Cereal Box

April 5th, 2011 | Posted in General


Yesterday’s nostalgic post about kid’s breakfast cereals, and some of the comments, got me thinking about how influential the art on cereal boxes have been over the years in the world of cartooning. I did a quick internet search looking for a book on the subject, but it appears there is none. There is an out of print 1995 book called Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal by Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford, but I have no idea if it’s centralized on the cartoon character angle.¬¨‚Ć Somebody needs to do a “The Art of the Cereal Box” coffee table book. I suppose there might be a few trademark issues there, but you would figure “fair use” would cover a book about the history of cereal box mascots and characters. The creation of cartoon characters as advertising campaigns was and is serious business, worthy of an episode of “Mad Men”.

Animator Jay Ward and Bill Scott, of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” fame, not only designed the characters for “Cap’n Crunch”, “Quisp” and ‘Quake” cereals for Quaker Oats, but they produced a whole series of animated commercials for their advertising campaign. You can probably trace the beginning of cartoon characters on cereal boxes to the advent of television and, more specifically, the advent of Saturday morning kid’s programming. The folks at Quaker were no dummies… they went right to the source of some of the most popular cartoons and had their ad campaigns created in that same style. It must have been hard to tell the difference between the shows and the ads. It’s arguable that Cap’n Crunch is as strong a legacy for Ward as his other animated characters. BTW, legendary cartoon voice actors Daws Butler and June Foray did a lot of the voice work on the Cap’n Crunch ads.

There were a lot of additional characters that were originally part of the Cap’N Crunch cast. Anybody remember…

Jean LaFoote (Cinnamon Crunch):

Smedley the Elephant (Peanut Butter Crunch):

Crunchberry Beast (Crunchberries):

The “Monster Cereals” from General Mills were another campaign that really insinuated itself into pop culture. These characters were developed by General Mills through various illustrators and so the credits for “designing” them are unclear. I met a cartoonist/Illustrator named George Karn when an art student here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul who claimed to have been the original creator of the Trix Rabbit and Count Chocula, but I have never been able to independently confirm that. Lots of Twin Cities illustrators worked for General Mills, which is based here.

Everybody is familiar with Count Chocula, Frankenberry and Booberry:

But does anyone remember these two brief “Monster Cereals”?:

I don’t think ‘Yummy Mummy” was ever an “Official” monster cereal, the character was distinctly different from the others, but it was around for a short time.

The list goes on: Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle and Pop, Toucan Sam, The Cocoa Puffs Bird, Lucky the Leprechaun, licensed properties like the Flintstones… Cereal mascot characters have a part in cartooning history, that’s for sure. Somebody should do a book. In the meantime here’s a fun link I found on the many different cereal box characters: Topher’s Breakfast Cereal Character Guide. Enjoy the trip down memory lane.


  1. I lived in the cities for 5 years and I had the pleasure of meeting George Karn, he was on the tail end of his career. Studio One used him a few times and I recall telling him that I wanted to work for MAD someday. I guess my question is, is Paul Coker JR. still working, and did you ever meet Dave Berg? I am a MAD junkie and I could go on and on…+

    • Tom says:

      Paul Coker Jr. still does work for MAD on occasional… I have met him and he is as humble and unassuming as one can get despite his enormous talent and lengthy resume of accomplishments. I never did get to meet Dave Berg. Back when I first started for MAD in 2000 they continued to have a holiday party every December held at the Society of Illustrators, and that’s where I met some of the MAD legends like Coker, Frank Jacobs, Al Jaffee, Paul Peter Porges, Duck Edwing, Angelo Torres and a few others. Sadly they stopped doing that party years ago. 🙁

  2. Mike says:

    Earliest animated cereal commercial I can remember is, “I want my Maypo!” Anyone? Anyone? Had what sort of looked like a pre-UPA look. There was some seriously cool black and white commercial animation done in the 50s. And there was lot of it. It was like the animation community forgot Disney and merged with Jazz or something.

  3. Feggo says:

    Scott Bruce was a guy who bought up a slew of the metal lunchboxes kids used to bring to school (think Hopalong Cassidy or Evel Knievel). Then, he concocted a “price guide” and turned it into a publicity/merchandising effort.

    Reportedly, that invest-hype-sell cycle worked out well for him. So Bruce attempted the same thing with cereal boxes, but to much lesser effect. That book you found was part of his effort to flog his “collection” to speculators.

  4. julio cesar naranjo says:

    Hi Tom i think its very interesting how this characters affect humans life and most of the people even ask about who were behind of those incredible cartoons, no matter if some were more famous than others, its real cartoon history and should be important, cause they are in our lives everyday since….i dont know Adan and Eve?. Take care.

  5. Bruce Quast says:

    I don’t know if this is true, but I read that the Cap’n Crunch theme and characters were developed for Quaker first, then they created the cereal afterwards. I remember Quake cereal tasted just like Cap’n Crunch in a different shape. I think they were Q’s.

  6. Mark says:

    In the book “The Moose That Roared” it says that the tv commercials for Quaker were a much better and reliable source of income for Jay Ward & Co. than the tv shows they did–and is why they stopped doing them. They also had the money to do higher quality animation in the commercials, which had been a sore spot for them with the tv shows. It’s kind of a shame that they ended up doing their best work on something so ephemeral.

  7. Mark Hill says:

    I do remember “Fruit Brute”, one of those short-lived cereals that did not have the staying power, (or more likely, the flavor) of Count Chocula, Franken Berry and Boo Berry. (I have to admit not recalling “Yummy Mummy”.) –Great to see these after so long.

  8. Hey Tom,

    Longtime MAD and cereal fan here–when worlds collide, nothing can stop me!

    Interesting thing about Cap’n Crunch: there was some uproar on the internet a week or so ago over whether or not Quaker (or their parent company, Pepsico) was going to pull the plug on the cereal. It was much ado about nothing: they were only pulling back on PROMOTING Cap’n Crunch to children.

    Since I guess the direction they’re taking it now is a sort of nostalgic “kids’ cereal for adults” thing, you’d think they’d permanently switch back to the substantially-more-appealing Jay Ward style for the packaging and ads. They used the designs on “retro” boxes for the cereals a few months back, and it seemed popular enough. If Pepsi can make Pepsi Throwback a permanent part of their product line, why not?

    Some other cool, long-forgotten Cap’n Crunch characters from that era: Harry S. Hippo for Punch Crunch and Wilma the Whale for Vanilly Crunch–two long-defunct cereals I wish I’d been able to try!

    Anyway, great post, and if you’re into cereal “culture” (such as it is), be sure to check out my blog, which I’ve linked to in the name field.

    — Andrew


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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