Jimmy: Hey everybody. Welcome back to Unpacking Peanuts. We're looking at 1952 in detail today. It's a bit of a, to be continued from last time. I'm Jimmy Gownley. If you know me at all, you might know me from my comic books series, Amelia Rules or my memoir, The Dumbest Idea Ever. My most recent book is called Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up and it's published by Scholastic books and I'll be your host for the evening.
Joining me as always are my pals and co-hosts. We have the composer for the band, Complicated People, as well as for this very podcast. And the cartoonist behind Strange Attractors, Tangled River, and A Gathering of Spells-- Michael Cohen.
Michael: Hello there.
Jimmy: Hey Michael. And from the classic television show, Mystery Science Theater 3000, we have executive producer and writer as well as former vice-president of Archie comics and the creator of the Instagram strip Sweetest Beasts-- Harold Buchholz.
Harold: Hello guys.
Jimmy: We're looking to 1952. We've got so caught up in the details and the excitement of the year that we had to make this a, to be continued episode.
So what do you think you guys want to get right to it today? All right. So picking up where we left.
June 22nd, Charlie Brown is walking towards a store entrance. He says, “I'm discouraged today. And when I get discouraged, the comic magazine is the only thing that will revive me.” He stands before a beautiful display of comic books from 1952 and says, what a beautiful gory layout. in panel three he is looking through the comics and then starts tossing the ones he's not interested in. He says, “This druggist is awfully fussy. He won't let you look at the comic magazines unless you buy one. In panel four, “Gee the cover came off this one, I hardly jerked it. In panel five. He's attempting to reach the books on the top of the shelf, but is actually causing a bit of an avalanche of the comics beneath and says, those in the top row look pretty good. Whoops.” Charlie Brown goes flying comic books everywhere. Charlie Brown sits among the comics on the floor and says,”he should sell these for half price. Who wants a magazine after it's been lying around on the floor.” And the next panel, he walks up to the druggist who we don't see and says, “I guess I'll take this one.” As he hands over his dime, Charlie Brown walks out of the store, looking over his shoulder and says, boy did he ever glare at me. He probably isn't feeling well.”
Michael: This is my pick of the year. It might be my pick of the decade. This is just so iconic. You do have to put it a little bit in perspective though, and we won't go too deep into comic book history, but there was a period starting after the war when comic books were not doing superheroes. And they were trying everything, you know, westerns and romance. And what really caught on around this period, 1952, was horror to the point where it got so bad that there was actually a congressional committee set up to investigate, you know, juvenile delinquency and comics.
So you have to see it when Charlie Brown-- Look at the strip. It's really, it's really beautiful when he's looking at the, the rack of comics, which says for the kiddies
Harold: in old English
Michael: Yeah, the titles are Mangle Terror, War ,Hate, Gouge, Kill, Murder, Stab, Ouch, another Murder, Choke, Slaughter, Throttle, Crush, Kill, Hit, Kick, Smash, Jab, Run Through, Blast, Killer, War. This is, this is not an exaggeration.
Jimmy: No, it's really not.
Michael: And the comics code, which came in two years later, basically outlawed that Congress can no longer have any titles that dealt with any kind of violence or bloodshed. So the fact that, you know, for the kiddies, this is true. The kids were buying this stuff and they were really horrifying.
So anyway, as a long time comic collector, though not quite this far back, you know, it's, it just sums up the whole experience.
Harold: Yeah when I was working on the Mystery Science Theater 3000, the comic book, graphic novel with Joel Hodson and we were going back through old golden age strips,one of the, one of the things we came upon was a comic called horrific. And so we had Crow T Robot as the Crow keeper, which is a parody of the crypt keeper, which is this old, old crone kind of character with, with saliva dripping from its lips where Crow was essentially telling these horror stories. And it's, it's a comic from this era as probably within a year or so of when this, this strip came out and they are, I mean, they are quite graphic. You’ve got severed hands and, and undead care coming up from the past, trying to pull people into the grave. I mean, it is really, really remarkably dark stuff that was, that was in the comics of that day. And it's hilarious that Schulz is bringing that into his little Peanuts world and that this is something given all of the titles, Charlie Brown must've chosen one of them unless he, his head was blocking the fuzzy bunny comic.
Michael: I think he's going for Throttle
Harold: He went for Throttle?
Michael: It looks like he's going for it
Harold: that's the one, that's the one he wanted most, but yeah. And Schulz, he tells stories about, he was quite the comic collector and reader in the forties when he was growing up. He said he was the, he was the local librarian. He had all of the Big Little Books.
And so kids would know to come to him to, to get the Big Little Books, which were essentially little, you know, two, 400 page four by five inch books, very similar to the comics that usually create contained cartoon characters on one side with a panel of what that old comic strip and the other's left side was, was written text.
But between the big little books and the comic books, he claimed, he was like, yeah, he was like, The librarian for comics, the kids wanted something. They knew to go to him because he, he had it all.
Jimmy: as a piece of cartooning, this is beautiful. I am a huge advocate of hand lettering. You know, every chance I get to, to hand letter my stuff I do. And he handled letters, all the little titles on all those comics.
Harold: Jim is a multiple Eisner award nominee for those listening in here for his lettering and, and for good reason, the work he did in Amelia Rules. Have you ever seen his graphic novel series? It's just some amazing, beautiful creative use of text, which you can do in comics that we often don't take advantage of as much, because we like to use computerized fonts and letters, and there's so much creatively you can do with the lettering and the text, but also sound effects and things along those lines.
Jimmy: Well, that's nice of you to say. One thing I would say, you know, if anyone out there is a, a young person and they're listening to this and thinking about becoming a cartoonist, obviously you're going to have to figure out a digital workflow.
That's just the way the world is now, and it's not going to change in the future. It'll just become more so. However, every chance you get to put your own personality in it, you have to take it. Hand lettering is a big, a big one. Everything you let the computer do for you is one thing that makes you slightly more ordinary.
So if you're going to use a font, make sure it's a really, really good font or make your own font. And if you can just hand letter it. And what I love about this is that he takes the time and make sure every one of those titles is in the right place. You know, panel after panel. The other thing, Charlie Brown, should've gone for Hate cause Pete Bagge's Hate is one of the greatest comic books of all time.
And I had no idea dated all the way back to this year. That would have been great. You know, and the other thing I find about this strip it or that I think that that struck me about this is this is one of the earliest strips I would have ever seen. I would have seen strips before this, but chronologically from Schulz creating it.
This would have been one of the earliest strips. A lot of those earlier, things that we talked about in the previous episodes were never seen by me, certainly. And really weren't reprinted until the Fantagraphics books came out in the, in the two thousands, but this one I read this is burned into my brain.
I've I've loved this strip since I was just a little boy that, that panel of him flying as all the comics get tossed everywhere. I just love it. It's beautifully drawn.
Harold: Yeah. I'm glad. Glad to know this is what Charlie Brown does to clear up his discouragement. Whenever he feels discouraged, he picks up a copy of of Throttle.
Jimmy: So you got to do .Hey, I also just real quick going and talking about that, putting your own personality. And if by doing it by hand, if you look at that middle panel, when you see a really nicely drawn drugstore behind Charlie Brown, including the counter with the soda fountain and stuff, there's not a ruler to be had there.
Those stools look like they could come out of, you know, 1968 Peanuts. I don't know how he did if they did a lot of under drawing. Or if he just kind of went for it, but it's, I love it. It looks really great. Yeah. That's,
Harold: that's true. I hadn't noticed that, but that, that really is cool. It's just got this living line, even for things that have hard edges and right angles.
And it's nice.
Jimmy: Yeah. You see his hand in everything in this strip.
June 29th, Patty and Charlie Brown are playing marbles. Patty is doing really well. Charlie Brown says, “luck, dumb luck, luck.” As Patty continues to knock marbles out of the ring. Charlie Brown “plain luck, just plain downright old fool luck. Luck luck Luck.”Patty says, “well, that ends the game. Charlie Brown, unless you've got some more marbles.” Charlie Brown drops his empty marble sack. “You know, I haven’t. You just can't beat fool luck.” Patty walks away whistling happily. Charlie Brown yells after her, “luck, luck, luck, luck.” then says to us “boy, can that girl ever play marbles.”
Michael: Schulz was onto something. Because my two, my two picks for the year or a week apart, the Sundays, I think he, he gets the Sundays up to like genius level before he gets to dailies up to genius level. This is really great. I mean, even if it's kids acting like kids, there’s nothing, you know, out of, at a place here at them being intellectual and we've all done this.
So we all understand exactly what's going on here, probably has a lot to do with the fact that she's a girl and she's beating him. He doesn't really emphasize that. And then he's talking to the reader, which is kind of odd in the last.
Jimmy: I love that. They do that throughout all the 50 years of Peanuts, a lot of the punchlines seemed, it's never explicitly stated that they're talking directly to the reader, like in Ferris Bueller's Day Off something, but they turn and look to the camera and deliver a punchline.
And I love that by the way, marbles was a game that children in the last century would play where they would have these glass round balls that they put in this circle. And you'd have to take your larger glass round ball and try to knock the smaller ones outside the circle. And then if you did, you were able to keep that person's marbles. That was the game.
Michael: I'm sure you can play virtual marbles.
Jimmy: There probably is an app. iMarbles.
July 14th, Charlie Brown and Lucy are outside. Charlie Brown is sitting on a tricycle. Lucy says, “I'll tell you what Charlie Brown, I've got a baby brother. I'll trade you him for your tricycle.” Charlie Brown turns his back on Lucy and peddles away saying “Absolutely not. What good would a baby brother do me?” Lucy says, “I knew you'd say that and I don't blame you at all. He's no good to me either.”
Jimmy: Lucy has a brother.
Harold: So we have a family dynamic going on here. That is the first mention of Linus. So again, just in terms of tiime, we have a verbal Meredith as his oldest child. And we have a second child in the family Monty born February 1st.
So let's say this was probably done around June 1st, so maybe four months old at the time that Schulz drew this strip and we have this dynamic now of not only kids in the neighborhood, all single, single child situations. We now have a family of kids, older sister, and a younger brother. And this is the first time we see that dynamic represented.
And it certainly is one that was part of the Schulz household at this time. So it's, it's really kind of fun to see there's this whole other level of siblings that we're getting to see here for the very time.
August 16th. “How about a game of marbles, Charlie Brown?” says Shermy. Charlie Brown answers. “That would be fine if I could win, but I'd probably lose. Then I'd get depressed.” Charlie Brown continues. Then I’d be real grumpy. I wouldn't talk to anyone and I'd hate myself. Thanks. Anyway.”
Michael: Oh, depression is so funny. It is.
Jimmy: All right, moving on
August 24th, Charlie Brown looks outside his front door. “It's gone! Of all the nerve. Lucy's taken my baseball glove again.” He goes off looking for her. “Just because I leave it on the front sidewalk every night she thinks it's public property. I'm going to settle this once and for all.” “Hey you,” he shouts. As he sees Lucy playing with his glove, Lucy makes a spectacular catch.
She makes a second spectacular catch of a ground ball. She snatches a line drive from the air. She snatches a second line. From her opposite side, Charlie Brown watches it all. Lucy notices it and says, “oh, do you want your glove back Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown walks away saying, “no you might as well keep it Lucy. I'll probably never have use for it again.
Michael: Great. Great strip.
Jimmy: All right. Glad we read that one. Moving on. Anything else anybody has to say about that?
Michael: Clearly baseball is a source of pain for Charlie Brown the rest of his life.
Jimmy: Yeah, for sure. This is another one of the very earliest ones I would have seen. I think it was called like For the Love of Peanuts, I think was the collection I had that had these in ‘em. Really beautiful drawing.
August 26th, Charlie Brown and Violet are outside. Charlie Brown says, “I'm depressed because I feel you don't love me anymore.” Violet answers. “I never did love you. Charlie Brown.” Charlie Brown says, “Really? That makes me feel a lot better.”
Michael: Okay. This is so classic. This is, and that's, that's the marriage thing. I mean, it's pretty obvious.
Harold: Oh boy, if that's true. If that really came out of a conversation, that's pretty heartbreaking.
Jimmy: Yeah. And I do. I actually think we can go too far as to say, well, this is clearly a representation of something that's happening directly in his life, when we have no idea.
Michael: but we can make things up.
Michael: That's why we have a podcast. Isn't it?
Jimmy: I think it's about the red scare.
Harold: Well, that makes me feel a lot better. The Red Menace-- That's what it's all about Charlie Brown,
September 3rd, Charlie Brown comes up to Schroeder who was playing the piano. “Hey Schroeder, Beethoven's here to see you.” “Really?” says Schroeder “to see me? Gee, I'm so nervous.” Schroeder walks to the door and he sees Snoopy imitating Beethoven.
Michael: Not only imitating Beethoven. This is like genius cartooning, because Schulz does this.
This is the first of Snoopy being an imitator. Which was a big feature in the late fifties. He'd go around imitating everyone. And it always looked like Snoopy and it always looked like the person he's imitating. I don't know how he did that.
Jimmy: Although again, I still think this looks a little more like Larry fine, but yes, it's.
Harold: I could see that
September 19th, Lucy comes up to Charlie Brown and says, “my baby brother can sit up.” Charlie Brown says, “really all by himself?” as the two race off to see Lucy's brother. “Almost. I only had to prop him up a little bit” she says. Charlie Brown sees Lucy's brother for the first time. And there he sits propped up by a number of two by fours that Lucy has nailed into the ground.”
Jimmy: He seems very happy about it
Michael: This is so important because as you know, Linus is the most complex character in Western literature.
Jimmy: That's true.
Michael: And he starts off just a happy little baby, no blanket, nothing.
Jimmy: Recognizable as Linus, but the hair is, is more drawn as if it's sorting sort of attempting to describe something or a real child might have on top of his head, as opposed to what Linus ends up with, which is just a mass of frayed nerve endings,
October 1st, Schroder’s playing the piano. He hums the note while he hits a note on the piano, he's excited. He runs to Charlie Brown and says, “Hey, Charlie Brown, I've got perfect pitch.” Charlie Brown, reading a book doesn't even glance up and says, “you mean a perfect pitch.
Besides who cares? The baseball season is over.” Schroeder walks away in disgust saying, “Sometimes I think I should put in for a transfer to a new comic strip.”
Michael: Ooh, Meta, Meta. I think this is the first meta strip
Jimmy: It is not something that happens often outside of the characters, looking at the reader and speaking, but it does happen now and again, there are instances of the eyes being referred to as little dots of India ink later. So every once in a while, he goes as so far as to say that this isn't a comic strip.
October 3rd, Charlie Brown, “boy, am I ever depressed?” He sees Schroeder walking towards him. He looks sad too. Charlie Brown says, “somebody else is depressed too I see.” Charlie Brown continues walking now smiling. “That's the only thing that could possibly have cheered me up.”
Jimmy: So not even an issue of Throttle could have probably gone up at this point, but seeing Schroeder as equally miserable does the trick,
Michael: why is Schroeder miserable? Cause Snoopy looks like Beethoven?
Jimmy: and maybe that's the first appearance of Lucy by his by his piano off panel.
Michael: Well, this is a rare Schroeder, not at the piano strip.
Jimmy: Yeah. Usually you'll see Schroeder either at the piano or later on as catcher of the baseball team and not too many other places.
Harold: Yeah. It was just like, Shermy is not, not an option here. He's got to use Schroeder.
Michael: As the leaves fall off the tree leaves are always significant in Peanuts.
October 19th. It's a Sunday strip. Snoopy is the life of the party. Schroeder's playing his piano. Everybody's happy watching Snoopy dance. He seems like he's doing some sort of kossack dance, but then it gets late and everyone has to go home and Snoopy's upset. He says, “there they go. Leaving me alone again.” “Do any of them ever invite me over to spend the night? No. All I'm good for is a few laughs. Rats.” Snoopy, continues thinking. “They're willing to have me entertain them during the day, but as soon as it starts getting dark, they all go off and leave me. Well, I'll show them I don't need their company.” Then we see Snoopy sitting inside his dog house with an antenna on the roof and says, “I can always sit at home and watch television.”
Michael: Is this the first dog house?
Harold: No, but it is the first special dog house probably, right,
Michael: I didn't note the first dog house
Harold: Earlier this year, there was a strip where he had put a little, like a little hotel awning over a walkway in front of his dog house. So there, there have been a couple of things along these lines, but he's gone. He's really moved up in the world with the TV and the antenna.
Jimmy: Yeah. We have definitely seen the dog house that he was on the back of Charlie Brown's little wagon at one point and stuff like that, but yeah, Snoopy's doghouse becomes one of the big motifs and big icons of the strip.
And this is as Harold saying, this is the first time we're seeing it's more than, than just a regular dog house. Although who made it for him we don't know still because clearly no one yet really owns Snoopy, even though he has a dog house with a TV inside.
Michael: Hmm, maybe a, he inherited some money.
November 5th. Patty is playing with a doll. Charlie Brown approaches, holding a new comic strip that he has just drawn and says, “how would you like to read a comic strip I just drew?” Patty is looking at it and Charlie Brown points out what he has drawn. “See this fellow pulls up in front of the zoo with this truck full of animals and says, got GNUS for you.” News is spelled G N U S. “Get it?” Charlie Brown walks away, the comic strip over his shoulder. “When it comes right down to it, my type of humor is too subtle for the comic strips.”
Michael: Self-referential I mean, this is a sequence of strips of him as a cartoonist. We only picked one to talk about. So clearly he, I mean, he's got ambitions be as rich and famous as his dad.
Jimmy: I really wonder if he thought this was going to be the kind of thing that could supply a long term, running a source of jokes and entertainment. It would have taken Peanuts in a really strange, and I think more insular direction.
November 7th. Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “my mother thinks I'm wonderful.” Charlie Brown answers. “I imagine she does Lucy.” Lucy says “she thinks I'll be a cinch to win the title.” Charlie Brown asks “what title?”Lucy says, “Miss Fussbudget of 1952.” Charlie Brown says “your mother is a shrewd judge of character. Lucy.” Lucy says, “she thinks I'm wonderful.”
Michael: This is strange, cause that's not really a gag. You think that the last line would be a joke of some kind, but it's just a reprise panel one.
Jimmy: Well what's the joke is though that fussbudget is an insult. But Lucy is happy that her mother is saying she'd be the best at it.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah. I understand the joke, but also in my entire life, I've never heard anyone use the word fussbudget.
Jimmy: I was going to ask that I've never heard it outside of Peanuts either.
Michael: Right. But it's totally understandable. Ah, I see. I mean, that was one of Lucy's major characteristics. She's a fussbudget.
Harold: I have to say. I only saw the, the televised, Miss Fussbudget of 1957.
Jimmy: I have a, yeah, I have a few of them on VHS
November 16, Charlie Brown and Lucy are sitting outside. Lucy is dressed in an old fashioned football helmet, holding a football. Charlie Brown says, “all you have to do is hold the ball, Lucy. Then I'll come running up and kick it.” Charlie Brown walks away happy. Lucy says, “I don't know if this is such a good idea.” Charlie Brown runs towards the football. Lucy pulls it away. Charlie Brown is shocked and lands flat his back WHOMP. As Charlie Brown sits there, recovering from the shock, Lucy says to him, “I was afraid your shoes might be dirty. Charlie Brown. I don't want anyone with dirty shoes kicking my new football.” Charlie Brown is irritated and he says to Lucy “don't ever do that again. Do you want to kill me this time? Hold it tight.” “Here we go,” he says, as he tries for kick number two. The next panel, we just see thump and a question over Lucy's head. As Charlie Brown flips head over heels, pass the football, Lucy still holding it tight. She says “I held it real tight, Charlie Brown.” Charlie Brown is again, flat on his back. “I'm not going to get up. I'm going to lie here for the rest of the day.”
Michael: Now is it true that he did one football thing a year every year?
Jimmy: I mean, I know it, he did it for decades and I know it was annual, I'm not a hundred percent certain if he does it, you know, the next year or two, but we did have one last year, although it was with Violet and now we have this one.
Michael: Yeah. And Violet, Violet was not doing it on purpose. Lucy seems to be. But she doesn't seem like really evil on this first one.
Jimmy: No. And she doesn't, she also, you know, he varies up the reasons that she does it over the decades some of them are selfish, some of them are mean, some of them are accidental.
Harold: Sometimes you can't tell at all what her motives are.
Jimmy: Right. And this again goes back to his, his Krazy Kat influence where, you know, Krazy Kat was basically about a mouse that hated a cat. The cat loved the mouse. There was a dog that was a police officer who hated the mouse and loved the cat. And the mouse would hit the cat in the head with a brick, every single strip.
And the art of it, the genius of it was how many different ways you could rearrange those very basic elements so that it was something new in each strip. And how deep you could go with that and how high you can go with that. So Schulz is definitely looking for themes and motifs like that. And he has a great one here that, that goes right through towards the end.
I can't wait till we get to the last one. I don't know if you guys know the last strip off the top of your head, but the last pulling over the way the football is a great ending to a 50-year run of them.
Harold: One thing that strikes me in this strip is that Charles Schulz is a great cartoonist and an illustrator, but he doesn't come from the school of say animation, where you have the squash and stretch and the line of action and all of things that artists will talk among themselves about in order to get the most fluid or pseudo logical movement of these rubbery characters. These characters are very compact and they're very they're very solid. And it's, it's only in later times when Schulz starts to play with the shapes a little bit more particularly with Snoopy.
But one of the things that strikes me in this really early strip of something that's going to go on for years and years is the logic of Charlie Brown, trying to kick a football, and if that football is there or not there, the idea that if the football is not there, you are going to fly up in the air and land on your back. There's no logic to that, but it's something that builds into the strip and it's something that becomes a part of our shared human experience. That that's what happens when you, someone pulls the football away that it's not there. That's, what's going to happen to you physically, which makes no sense. And then the second time in this strip, Lucy's holding the football with her finger, her, her index finger, supposedly so hard that Charlie Brown not only swings his leg up to kick it. But in that swing, he then goes head over heels over the, over the football, which again makes no real logical physical sense, but Schulz is not at all, does not at all, have a problem with that.
And he's, he's, he's willing to, to do something that makes cartoon sense in a Schulz world that-- I don’t know any other cartoonist would have thought that these are the outcomes of these physical acts. And yet we, we buy into it and it's a part of our culture.
Michael: We should have a physicist guest come explain the physics of falling when you're trying to kick a football.
Harold: Yes. We'll get a physicist to give us the scoop on it
Jimmy: One of the things that I was thinking about as you're talking about that is someone like Dan DeCarlo actually. It's a different style, but he does things that are sort of similar. He doesn't seem like he comes out of that squash and stretch animation style either.
And for some reason, this approach works better for me than something that is too heavily indebted to animation. When it's drawn that way, I've become aware of it as a drawing when it's drawn this way, when it's basically just icons, you know, each panel is its own little composition. There's not a lot of squash and stretch to me.
They become people that I get more invested in them as characters than I do in the drawing. I, and I have to sort of think about it as a drawn object later.
Harold: I think I agree with you in that there were rules that didn't exist in drawing animation didn't exist until the 1900s and the rules of the, of animation. Over time. There was like best practices of animation where you had cartoonists looking at other cartoonists and saying how did you get something that's visually where you're drawing a series of drawings together makes it work so that it reads the best. And it took, you know, it took decades for them to figure this out, but once you figure it out, the downside of everybody learning the best practices is that people can tend to all do the same thing.
And they can tend to do the version of this is the way a character looks when they, when they go flying in the air. This is the way a character looks when they're quizzical, you know, and, and Cal Arts was a school where many animators went through their animation program. And so all of a sudden, every time you saw a character looking annoyed or, or curious, you were seeing the same look, it was like the perfect curious look, which meant it had no personality anymore because every single character looked the same way.
And Schulz here is creating his own iconography. And nobody, very few people bothered to try to duplicate it because it was so iconic, classic. It was so unique? I think that's one of the things that really made his work stand out is he made choices that no other cartoonists could make sense of for the way they drew the characters drew except for a few very unique situations where they were really, really trying to do Charles Schulz as little kid style .
Jimmy: Yeah, absolutely. You know, each cartoon, the best cartoonists anyway, make their own visual language. And that's why it's magical to step into each different world because it's, unique. Walt Kelly's Pogo does not look anything like Charles Schulz's Peanuts and they don't look like anything else either.
And that's an amazing thing that comics can do, but you really, you either have to be a just a talented visionary who can p ull it out from the get go, which basically Walt Kelly kind of was, or it's someone who can, who sticks at it and, and tries different things until they arrive at, at the things that work, which is, seems a little bit more what Schulz was doing visually.
But I absolutely love that. I think it's such a beautiful, drawn strip and I'm real-- this is where it's really starting to just sing for me.
December 3rd, Charlie Brown is walking by. He sees Patty and Violet sitting on the curb who're talking. Patty says, “Charlie Brown is an easygoing sort of fellow isn't he?” Charlie Brown is eavesdropping and he smiles. Violet says, “I'll say he is. Good Ol’ Charlie Brown.” Patty says, “he seems to get along with everybody.” Violet says, “nobody hates him.”. Patty says, “everybody likes him.” And Patty says, “what a wishy-washy character.” And Charlie Brown is despondent.
Michael: That’s pretty classic.
Harold: This is pure Charles Schulz. Nobody, nobody would do this gag except for Charles Schulz. Here, you have a character who is being spoken well of for three panels, and yet he's described as, as wishy-washy 'cause nobody like hates him. Everybody likes him. It's such, it's just so Charles Schulz. Talk about, you know, iconography of an artist. This is thematically. Who else goes to a place like this? Who else would think of someone speaking well of somebody and then turning it into judgment of that character, which goes into the heart of that character, just like a knife.
It's just, there's nobody, nobody who, who sees the world the way Schulz does and is able to share it so uniquely and cleanly and clearly with people.
Michael: I second that.
Jimmy: You know, the other thing that's interesting is Charlie Brown in his despair in the last panel, after hearing that he's a wishy washy character, he doesn't just look, sad to himself. He turns to us, he specifically his body and his head turned to the reader to show that he is sad. So he invites us into that moment.
Michael: But are we laughing at him at this point or feeling sorry for him
Jimmy: I think you're feeling sorry for him
Harold: him. Well, I think you're feeling sorry, but this is also interesting.
Both of you guys have described the strip, which anybody who's familiar with Peanuts, I think knows what we're talking about when the character is looking at the audience. To me, this shot, this angle is not the character looking at the audience. This is the character showing a very close to looking. If it's like in a movie in the movie, Oliver Hardy he looks into the camera, you know, he’s looking at the camera is looking at you.
But most of the famous shots in a movie, you don't look into the tomato can. You don't look into the lens of the camera because you're breaking the fourth wall. To me, this little drawing is just off enough that we get to see the full, the full on expression, but it's not him looking at the audience.
Now, there are times, there are times like when Snoopy has the little, little curlycue eye and it's like, you can see the edge of the eye line, the Charles Schultz chooses to draw in. And he really is looking at you. There's no question he’s looking at you. But to me, this is him having it both ways. He's not really looking into the camera. He's not, he's not breaking the 4th wall.
Jimmy: That's funny. To me this is the one where he most obviously is because of the turn of the body. I mean, if I think if he was just despondent first off, he would still be facing them or he would at best be facing right 90 degrees. He stops his body, turns away from them and he's looking directly out. But I understand what you're saying as well.
So I think it's certainly enough, enough gray area that you could have at both,
Michael: because we're all wishy-washy. That's why. You're right. Harold and Jimmy you're right. Even though you said the opposite.
Harold: no wonder we relate to it
December 21st, Charlie Brown is outside. It is a beautiful, clear day. He says, “here it is the first day of winter, and there's not a bit of snow on the ground.” He leans contemplatively on his tricycle. “I can't think of anything more disgusting.” Suddenly a single snowflake falls from the sky. “A snowflake, it starting to snow.” He runs to alert his friends. “Hey everybody, it's snowing. Get your sleds. Get your skis. Get your toboggans. Winter is here. It's snowing.” Everyone runs to follow after him. Patty and Lucy shouting. “Winter is here. Winter is here.” The final panel has the whole gang Schroeder, Patty Violet, Lucy, Shermy, Snoopy, and Charlie Brown, all dressed in their winter clothes with all their winter accoutrements, looking at the one single snowflake that has landed on the ground.
Michael: It's beautiful.
Jimmy: It's a beautifully drawn strip. This is another iconic one from, from when I was little in that same book.
Harold: It's wonderful. Yeah, just the expressions everyone's got. The only character who has a mouth line is, is Charlie Brown. And it's just a little, little straight line and everyone else's just staring intently at that little snowflake. It's a masterpiece of cartooning.
Jimmy: It really is. He, at this point is not ever putting a line wrong in the drawing, which is amazing. You know, when you think about the fact that he is now with this Sunday page, he has to do 365 of these things a year. And these Sunday pages are, he's not, there's no shortcuts.
You know, he's really using them as an opportunity to flex his drawing muscles, or you get these crowd scenes and these action scenes. It's amazing that it's as consistently well-drawn as it is with no assistance.
Michael: In his 3rd year, well, two and a half years in the, sort of the Sundays in particular, or I think they're all masterpieces at this point. These are like 10 out of tens, like consistently.
Jimmy: I think you’re right. I never thought about it that way, Michael, until you said it today, but I think you're right. I think that it's crazy how good the Sundays are so fast. This is the first year of having them.
Harold: I’dlove to know how much time he spent on these strips. Particularly the Sundays. It just looks like he's spending more time with more care than in any other time in the 50 year history of the strip. It just because he really does get into a groove later on that you can tell. A little more loosey goosey, and yet he's still so brilliant. You know, that, that loose, quick style just pays off over and over.
But at this point he's working, he is really, really working hard. You can tell the lines and the choices and the, you know, that he penciled this thing out. The angles he's just getting everything right. And something you can't just make up in your head. I don't think you can. He is putting a tremendous amount of work into making these strips.
Like you say Michael like little mini masterpieces.
Jimmy: You know going back to the lettering thing. The one thing I will say about the early lettering, this is the one part that, I mean, it's flawless. It's it's great hand lettering. It doesn't have the, the. the handwritten feel that his later stuff has where he's using rounded curves on the M's and W's and stuff like that instead of the points, this feels much more alike. A kind of a rigorous, almost drafted draftsman-like in a lettering, like you'd see for an architect or something like that, but it works really well. It still looks beautiful. It's just a little more pedestrian than the other parts of it.
Harold: Well, it's iinteresting. I mean, it plays into the detail and the precision that he's going for. With so much of what he's drawing. I have some of the strips, he used to do lettering for a Catholic kids magazine called Topics, but what's fascinating to me is in the 1940 and 1952 to earn a living, working in comics, other than just doing the teaching he was doing at the the art school. After a while he was lettering, apparently was by the hour he was paid by the hour. And yet he was he's lettering a whole 32-page comic which was coming out every month. And the lettering he's doing for that comic book is surprisingly more idiosyncratic than what we see at the early Peanuts strips.
And he's working fast. You can tell he's working fast and since he's being paid by the hour, I'm guessing that that means he's a very conscientious person trying to help out this low budget magazine, but he's, you know, he's, he's working closer to the, some of the style we see say in the sixties, late fifties, early sixties, where he's loosened his art, his lettering style and made it very unique and idiosyncratic.
Here what I see as somebody who is going for precision all the way through, and there's a right way to do lettering. And he's trying to get closer to the right way, which takes more time. And that kind of matches to me the line lines that you see here, even though, like you were saying, Jim, he's, he's not using a ruler very much at all for any of the elements, including building edges and that sort of thing.
Jimmy: Well guys that is that's 1952 for Peanuts and Charles Schulz. I mean, what are our last, our overall impressions?
Michael: Second half of the year he's, he's totally in there. He's in the he's in the slot. I don't think we have anything to worry about except some really horrible things coming up next year.
Is that next year, the golf tournament?
Jimmy: Oh, it might be, yes. Yes, they are all boy. There are some, there are some weird left turns that he I'm sure he was more than happy to excise from everybody's memory until the Fantagraphics books came out. But yeah, it's very exciting stuff coming up.
Harold: Yeah. I, this year it's, it's almost like a switch has turned on on January 1st and there's, there's something that is just richer, deeper, less forced. I think I used the word bland to describe some of the jokes that he had in the previous year. I don't get that feeling at all this year. This year, I feel like he's living a life and his life experience is rich enough to give him some ideas to put in here where the relationships feel real.
They don't feel forced. They don't feel gaggy or, or rooted in other, other comics he might've read five or 10 years before. This is all uniquely him and this rich life that he's building for himself. It it's, it's a world that I feel happy to live in with him. It's just so beautifully rendered. He's finding a way to put so much of himself into this strip so quickly.
I'm, I'm really in awe of what he’s doing.
Jimmy: Yeah. And, you know, I always think, well, of course, you're going to have to put so much of yourself into it because you're doing it on a daily basis. Right? Every day you have to have a new gag in the newspaper, 365 days, it goes on and on, and yet you don't see anyone else doing it.
Harold: Right. It's like people, people get into this zone where they're, they're drawing in that world. And it's almost like they've detached from that world. You know, we’ve all seen strips that in the first year or so you go back to its origins Oh, I see why a syndicate editor bought this. I see why this showed such promise.
And then in many cases, it it's like the artists in whatever, for whatever reason, they kind of divorce themselves from the heart of the strip. And it's a really sad thing to see, and they're just going through, maybe they had high hopes for it. Maybe they thought he was going to earn them more money, maybe who knows, or maybe they just got tired of the characters and they didn't know where to go with them.
Michael: I think, well, Kelly would be a distant second from Schulz. And even that his focus was more on current events than digging deep into the characters, but I think he consistently was doing great stuff.
Harold: Yeah. I think Schulz is different in that he he's investing himself into the strip. I don't think that Kelly was investing himself in the later strips.
I think he was, well, he, he was certainly putting in the time to make a masterpiece that was that know, and he had helped to do it. It wasn't just, just Schulz by himself. Kelly had letterers and people working underneath him. And he knew how to work as a, as a team, but it becomes less about, I think the heart of Walt Kelly as he goes along.
And that's the thing about Schulz that, you know, we can argue this as we go forward in the years that Schulz himself is obviously changing and growing as a person all through the 50 years, since he's living his life. You know, these early years, a long, long run, it just seems like he finds a way to put one more piece of his soul into this strip that even like a Walt Kelly, who, whose work I love and who cared deeply about his politics and tried to kind of share that in ways that were being resisted by newspaper editors and readers, so different things, you know there's some brilliant stuff in Kelly's work, but it's, it's a little bit arms distance in some cases but you know, but more so than like somebody who was doing Grin and Bear it or strip, like, I mean, even something like the Far Side where he got into a kind of strange world zone that he could recreate over and over again.
But you know, how much of that is Gary Larson? I don’t know.
Jimmy: Well, yeah, and I think you're right. I think Kelly's strip is primarily intellectual. You know, he always strikes me as like your funny, smart uncle that comes and visits. It's always like pulling your leg and he has there's word play and all that kind of stuff.
And frankly, It's a lot easier to read a book of Peanuts these days than it is to read a book of Pogo or a book of Krazy Kat. Well, it's impossible to read a book of Krazy Kat. They weren't designed to be read that way.
Michael: Yeah. I never managed to read more than one.
Jimmy: Well all you can do is read one at a time.
That's how they were supposed to be read. I mean, they're not, not like this, but this, you could just go page after page after page and it's a delight it's constantly a delight.
Michael: It's so far beyond anything else. Pogo is kind of a vaudeville show in a way. We're going to entertain you with banjos and things.
Harold: We're also going to take on pretensions so that we have a greater insight into the political nature of the country than anybody else. I mean, it's, it's such an interesting mix of what Kelly was doing at different points in his career. And I was just reading in the back. Those of you who have the the Fantagraphics collections.
There is a particularly excellent interview between Charles Schulz, Gary Groth. And I think it's Richard Marshall that was done in the late eighties, I believe. And it's one of the more definitive interviews later on in his career. And they talked specifically about Walt Kelly and Peanuts and, and basically Schulz.
I mean, he hasn't, he has almost nothing good to say about Gary Trudeau and Doonesbury. Brutally direct that he doesn't think he's professional, this and that. But when it came to Kelly, he said, I used to buy all the books. I used to collect everything. I used to read the comic books when they came out, which would have been around the time that this strip was started.
When in this era Walt Kelly was still doing comic books and, you know, Schulz would seek that stuff out. But he said, I buy all the paperback books, but over time I would just look at pictures and I'd start to read it. And I just had to close it. I couldn't read the Walt Kelly Pogo anymore, strip reprints, because it was just getting so esoteric for him, the politics and all of that.
And he couldn't relate to it.
Jimmy: Yeah. I mean, the thing, the other thing about when you're writing about current events and politics is. And pretty short order, they will not be very current events. They don't have legs and then, you know, not to get into a whole, this is now the officially, the Pogo and Walt Kelly podcast.
But, and then you complicate that with adding a dialect on top of it. I mean, there's a ton of borders of barriers are out there for a new reader to enter the world of Pogo. And that just doesn't exist with Peanuts.
Harold: Yeah. You're so right. I mean, even just did that little, that little ache and pain thing I mentioned that the unique wording that Violet was using to describe eating too much candy, even that is just such a rarity it's it stands out when somebody is using some form of of a dialect of, of a character. Having said that, I'm so imprinted to things that Schulz did saying rats and good grief. And that I, yeah, but that's just life to me even though only Schulz said those things, it seems
Jimmy: Yeah. But there's simpler. Like Michael said, like we were talking earlier about that fussbudget. Never heard the word before. Never saw it anywhere else, but instantly know what it is. Yeah. That's a level of genius. It’s quite remarkable.
Harold: Yeah. He had, he had a good year for, for things that would resonate even when he uses things like the term, like not unlike that's socials and it's so it's so measured, but it, I totally imprinted to it as a little kid reading it.
Jimmy: And there's no attempt to mimic slang of the. Right. I mean, even later on, I can think of a couple of instances where someone like Peppermint Patty might say groovy or whatever, but they're very, very few and
Harold: far between, I think he's using mostly the dialect of Albert Payson Terhune.
Jimmy: For sure. Guys, I think that is as good a place as any to leave 1952, before we sign off, do you guys want to put forth your nominees for strip of the year.
Jimmy: Alright, Michael, you go then.
Michael: Well, I already mentioned that was my fave, June 22nd. The comic book rack.
Jimmy: The comic book rack, June 22nd, a classic. Harold, how about you?
Harold: I would go with June 1st.
I just love the the flow of the comic timing of the strip, where Patty is counseling, Charlie Brown on how to keep Snoopy from jumping up on him when he has an icecream. That strip to me is just a joy. It's it's just this perfect little piece wrapped up in a bow and other Sunday strip is just firing on all cylinders here.
Jimmy: Well, I would have picked the comic strip rack as well. However, since Michael already picked that one, I am going to pick 12/21, the last one we discussed and I'm picking it, which is Winter is here. I'm picking it entirely for the drawing. I love the drawing of all the little kids running. I love it.
When you get one panel with the whole gang together, just beautiful drawing. And it's one of my earliest memories of the strip. So that is what I'm going with.
Harold: This is the year of the Sundays. He can't came out of the gate, raging with fire.
Jimmy: I was shocked at how strong the Sundays are absolutely mind blowing stuff. All right. So guys we want you back here next episode. In the meantime, if you want to follow along with this discussion, you can follow us at our social media accounts, either on Twitter or on Instagram, you can get us at @unpackPeanuts, unpack Peanuts. That's where you can go to a vote for your favorite strip too.
And find out which one of us. I had the right one. I think eventually we're going to be able to come up with hopefully a top 50-- 1 for each year. What you, the Unpacking Peanuts listeners have, have decided is, is the strip of the year for every year of the strip. This has been Unpacking Peanuts. I'm Jimmy Gownley. For Michael Cohen and Harold Buckholtz. We'll see you next time. Thanks
Unpacking Peanuts is copyright Jimmy Gownley, Michael Cohen, and Harold Buchholz produced by Liz Sumner, music by Michael Cohen. For more from the show follow unpack Peanuts on Instagram and Twitter. For more about Jimmy Michael and Harold visit Unpacking Peanuts.com. Have a wonderful day. And thanks for listening, you blockhead.