Jimmy: Hey everybody. This is Jimmy Gownley. Welcome back to the show. It's Unpacking Peanuts. We're here in 1957, talking about Charles Schulz's masterpiece comic strip Peanuts. I'm one of your hosts for this evening. You might know me from my comic book series, Amelia Rules or my two books, Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up or The Dumbest Idea Ever.
And joining me as always are my co-hosts. He's a composer for both the band Complicated People and this podcast, he's a playwright, he's co-creator of the original comic book price guide, the Argosy price guide to comics. And he's the cartoonist behind such great strips as Tangled River, A Gathering of Spells and Strange Attractors, Michael Cohen.
Michael: Hey there.
Jimmy: And he's the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the former vice president of Archie comics and current creator of Instagram strip Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: Guys,. It's 1957. This is really exciting. We have the opportunity for the first time ever to tell people where Peanuts takes place.
So how about we all take a trip back to Hennepin County, Minnesota.
Jimmy: Where Peanuts takes place, guys, what do you think that is that amazing or what. I don't know if anyone's ever figured this out or not, but that seems to be where it takes place.
Harold: Right. It's in there through Lucy gives it away because she has been named the fussbudget of the year for Hennepin county.
Jimmy: That is correct. Yeah. And that is a county outside of the Minneapolis St. Paul area in Minnesota, which makes total sense.
Harold: or in, in the, in Minneapolis, right?
Jimmy: Oh, is it?
Harold: Minneapolis is in Hennepin county
Jimmy: Oh yeah. I think it's the county seat, right. Or something like that. So,
Harold: yeah. Yeah.
In fact, I, when I, when I read that it's in the February 15th, 1957 strip, if anyone wants to look it up on gocomics or in your Fantagraphics volumes, Jimmy had mentioned in the 1956 edition that he had figured this out and he had read ahead. So. And when I saw that, I was like, oh, wow, that is so cool.
Because you can go onto Google. I I'm sorry. I do not have the address with me. You can look it up though. You can just write Charles Schulz address Minneapolis, Minnesota, and its will pop up on Google and you can go onto Google maps and you can see this beautiful home that's set way back off of Minnehaha Parkway in Minneapolis. And it's a, it's a large house. I mean, it it's quite impressive this, the size of house that they were in. Of course, they had a lot of kids. We've got Amy who's now one year old. Craig who's four, Monty's five, and Meredith is seven this year, 1957.
And I don't know what the size of the backyard was.I haven't looked at the lot lines, but the front yard was massive and right across the street was Minnehaha Creek. And so this Parkway isn't and you think of Parkway, you think, oh my gosh, the kids be carefulm loads of traffic. But if you look at the the Google maps pictures, like that's, that's a parkway. Hmm. Okay.
Michael: Is that where the bridge is?
Harold: I checed for the bridge, cuz you guys were talking about the bridge that you had figured out that those, the, the wall, the stone wall that you see. Usually Charlie Brown and Linus in later years, but I guess it's everybody over time, standing at and just kind of putting up their, their elbow and their hands was not just a wall. It was a bridge based on a couple of really beautiful angles he drew occasionally and I was like, is there a stone wall? Is there a stone bridge near this house. And if you go out of the house and turn left on Google maps, and you go about the equivalent of a block and then head off to the right there is a little beautiful wooden bridge.
And would, I guess it's wood and steel, but mostly wood that curves along the way he has it in the strip, but it's at least the version it is now is not a fancy-- And it's, it's a, it's a pedestrian bridge to across the creek to get to the other side of the Minnehaha Creek.
Jimmy: Amazing. That's very cool. It's, I love that's one of the great things about being able to look at this thing strip by strip, you know, day by day, because you find these little things that are not a part of the, the grand image of Peanuts in everybody's mind, the, but that when you're a huge fan, it just, it just delights you when you see that.
So, Michael, what are, what are your thoughts here on 1957?
Michael: I think we've got Schulz in absolute peak form. Everything's falling into place. He's not being as innovative, cuz I think he's got the cast he needs and doesn't feel there's some gap he has to fill in with a new character. He's got this family of kids a variety of ages, which corresponds to the characters somewhat.
So if he's probably got lots of inspiration at home and he's hitting home runs just about every day. It's-- this ‘56 and ‘57. I don't see any real radical changes, but I think generally it's slightly stronger in ‘57, which would make this the best.
Jimmy: Yeah, it, it is we're at a point now where he's, it's kind of a disservice to say settling into a groove because it's such a high level groove. They're all, like you said, they're all hits, they're all home runs, but it is interesting. We're also seeing the loosening up of the art style greatly.
Jimmy: And I, I, what, how do you guys feel about that? I, I, this is we're edging for me personally, toward more and more what I think of as the, the pinnacle of Peanuts that, that sort of looser look, but there is part of me now that's looking back and going, oh, there was a lot of really nice stuff about that, that early drawing.
I don't think it ever would've been the pop cultural success that it became, but there, but it does feel like there was some good stuff there early on.
Michael: I'm mostly seeing the art change in, in Snoopy. who's probably at his most flexible at this point,
Harold: It seems like Schulz is giving himself the, the freedom to be looser. And that it's actually a goal. I mean, there is something that we might wanna mention here in 1957. You know, he's settled in with his, his family and his home. This next year is gonna be a major change. But in 1957, this is a, about as settled as he's, he's been since the strip has started, but he adds to his workload this year.
He adds that syndicated strip, It's Only A Game, which was a three times a week strip or a Sunday strip that you could buy that would have three panels, essentially. It was, it was not a strip. It was a panels comic about sports and games and bridge and these sorts of things. And he takes this on as a, an additional workload, even as Peanuts is, is exploding.
He doesn't need it for the money, I don't think, but it seems like he has ambitions to see where he can go with, you know, his, his, his overall workload. So It's Only A Game opens in 30 newspapers, which was more than the seven that he had for Peanuts, largely I think on the name of Charles Schulz, and Schulz writes and draws it for about one and a half months.
And then he hires, I don't know how you pronounce this, I think it's Jim Sasseville. Does anyone know?
Jimmy: That's how I always said it, but I, I don't know
Harold: to, to illustrate these. And at the same time this year is the year where original Peanuts comics are going into comic books. So that is interesting because all of a sudden Schulz is creating a little business around himself and he hires Jim to cover both of those things, the comic, the comic book, and It's Only A Game and he's, he's paying him,I think it starts at a hundred dollars a week, which is. It's like a 25% raise over what he had been paid at Art Instruction Schools where Schulz got to know Sasseville. And so they began this really great relationship in the beginning. And there's now this extra workload on Schulz. And you know, when I see this year and I see that this is what he's up to in this time, it seems like he might be taking some of his time away from Peanuts and he's streamlining his process.
Maybe that's why we're not seeing as much innovation this year is just because there's less of his time possibly going into Peanuts this year versus say the previous year or two. It's a guess, but just based on what he's working on, it seems like that might be a pretty safe bet to say.
Jimmy: Yeah, I think that's probably true, but it is also a clear artistic decision because he is, he is leaned into this new gestural style and it looks absolutely great.
It's still not really following any kind of animation template, but, but it's very lively, you know, particularly Snoopy dancing and, and stuff like that. It just, it has such a great bounce and life to it. I'm really enjoying just looking at the art. So there's so much great stuff in 1957, what do you think guys? Should we just kind of get right to it?
Harold and Michael: Sure. Sure.
Jimmy: All right. Let's look at the strips.
January 27th. It's a snowy day and we see Lucy outside making a tiny little snowman. She looks at it and then kicks it over. Then she remakes another tiny little snowman, which she then kicks over. She repeats this a third time with Charlie Brown watching, confused by the whole process. Then in the last panel, Lucy looks at the last destroyed snowman and says, “I feel torn between the desire to create and the desire to destroy.”
Michael: Well, we all are aren't we?
Jimmy: I wonder if Schulz could have related to something like that when he has to create something every single day. I can't see it.
Michael: I mean, I can see it. The first two strips we picked here both have to do with the creative process. And this might relate to his feelings about doing Peanuts every day. Cuz he probably didn't just draw one for each day.
He, he might have gone right through one and then got angry and tore it up and then started another one. Tore it up. So maybe this is a reflection on that.
Jimmy: Yeah, that's interesting because I remember reading a story. Schulz the way he would compose these strips. He would pull out a a yellow legal pad or whatever, and he would just doodle the characters on the yellow legal pad until something struck his fancy and, you know, he'd indicate dialogue or whatever. And when one didn't work out or just when he was finished with it, he would take them, crumple them up and throw them in the waste basket. And it wasn't until decades into the strip that his, his assistants started coming in at the end of the, or a secretary I believe it was. We come in at the end of the evening. And take all those drawings outta the trash and straighten them out and fold them away because, you know, by that point we wanna see everything including the stuff you were throwing away.
Michael: Huh? That's interesting. Has anyone ever published those or printed?
Jimmy: You see things-- Oh yeah, I was gonna, there is. Oh boy.
Harold: I thought you were gonna say that Chip Kidd has come out with a book where they have crumpled all of the paper to the exact folds as he had. And it's just this big wad bound together in a single volume.
Jimmy: Well, it's so funny that you should mention that, cuz I was gonna recommend a Chip Kidd book, but I can't-- what's it called? Like Only What's Necessary or something it's called. And it's it's really cool. I sort of didn't pay much attention to it cuz I thought of it as less than, let's say the Peanuts, The Art of Charles Schulz book that he put together, but I was looking at it recently and it's fantastic.
And it does have a lot of preliminary drawings that are, that are in there. And none of them that are, it's not a 3d art experience, but if Chip Kidd ever listens to this, maybe that'll be his next Peanuts project.
Harold: just for clarity, so is Only What's Necessary, a completely Schulz oriented book?
Jimmy: Oh, yes, it is like a behind the scenes, very Chip Kidd production, because it has gorgeous photography of original art and clippings that have never been reprinted including some of those ads from the launch of the strip and it has the original art for one of the greatest Sunday pages that we discussed, the comic rack, where Charlie Brown is reaching for the Throttle. And when you see it at, it's not quite the size of the original art, but it's much larger than you see it in any of the books. And you see it, his original pen lines and stuff, it's even more impressive.
There's one where Charlie Brown is sort of taking a, a comic off the rack. And so the comic itself is curved, and he draws the cover and the title along the curve to match it. It's really, really beautiful stuff. So yeah, if anybody it really wants to get into seeing what, what Schulz was putting on the page on a day to day basis. That's, that's a great book to look at.
February 6th Linus approaches Lucy holding out a coloring book for her to inspect. He says, “look, Lucy, look how nice I colored in my color book.” Lucy yells at him saying, “are you crazy? Do you wanna be frustrated and inhibited for the rest of your life? Good grief. Don't you know that if you color inside the lines in a color book, you'll become inhibited? Worse yet, you're liable to become good at it and end up as a commercial artist.” Linus recoils saying “horrors.”
Jimmy: I love it when Schulz takes a good dig at the commercial artist.
Harold: is he throwing a bone to his art instruction school?
Jimmy: Yeah. And I assume he thought of himself as a commercial artist, obviously, if he, because he said things like you can't fault the salesman for selling out, or his job was to sell newspapers. So he definitely looked at himself in that tradition as well.
Michael: Yeah. But it seems like all the, the comic book artists in that period, who were pretty much disgusted with the comic code coming in and how little they were getting paid and how little work there was. They almost all dreamt of being a commercial artist, but the highest, the highest dream was to do like a newspaper strip. That was, and then if not, then become a commercial artist and the very bottom, the dregs would be doing comic books.
Jimmy: Yeah. At this point you would not even wanna tell your friends and family that you drew comic books in 1957. I I don't necessarily wanna tell people
Jimmy: I’m just kidding. I love being a cartoonist. I love-- it's like being a Jedi knight to me. The other thing I wanted to say about this-- This is the third time he used the phrase frustrated and inhibited, and it's years apart.
Michael: It flows.
Jimmy: It, it does flow so I Googled it just to see if it's from something else. And the only thing that comes up is Lucy. So I don't know if, if that was just something in the vernacular at the time.
Michael: No, we don't know, but it should be the title of this episode.
February 9th, Snoopy is out in the snow. He's on all fours and he looks very determined. He thinks “here comes the big polar bear stalking across the snow.” Snoopy watches as Charlie Brown walks by then he chases after him. In the last panel we see Snoopy tucked inside Charlie Brown's coat. And Charlie Brown says ”I'll bet real polar bears never get cold.”
Michael: So this is another new impersonation, animal impersonation for Snoopy. This is his polar bear.
Jimmy: It's a great drawing in that first panel. I think, where. If you just looked at it, you would think, oh, that's a drawing of Snoopy and he kind of looks intense or whatever. But the way he's drawn, the legs is different than the way he would normally draw them for Snoopy.
There's a different weight to the body. It's amazing that that indicates polar bear, somehow, even though it's a cartoon drawing of a dog, it does work as also a polar bear.
Michael: It works.
Harold: So I think every, every drawing of Snoopy in this, in this strip is, is gorgeous. Every panel is different. And just wonderful Schulz artwork.
The second panel in particular, where we see Snoopy at an angle, we don't always see as,
Jimmy: yeah, I love that
Harold: is just amazing against the snowy landscape. And the other thing I wanted to mention about this strip, that is something that I think Schulz introduced last year, but he does more and more as things go on is he, he has this world, where Charlie Brown knows what Snoopy is thinking.
So Snoopy's imagining that he's a polar bear. And then the, the punchline is Charlie Brown is the one who says I'll bet real polar bears never get cold. Just the idea that somehow there's this connection where sometimes Charlie Brown understands exactly what Snoopy's doing in his imagination, which I think is pretty magical.
Jimmy: Yeah. It's very cute. It's a great little relationship that's building there.
March 3rd, Lucy is sitting watching television. Linus is standing next to her. He says, “Why can't we ever watch what I wanna watch?” He continues to implore her. “Why can't we? Huh? Why can't we? I'm tired of always having to watch your programs.” Linus is getting more upset, but Lucy just sits and watches television. Linus continues. “In fact, I think I'll change the channel right now. I think I'll walk right over there and change the channel. That's just what I'll do. I'll walk right over there and turn the knob. I'll turn that knob and I'll change the channel. I'll just walk right over there and turn that knob and change the channel. That's just what I think I'll do. I think I'll walk right over there and turn that knob and change that channel.” In the last panel Linus sits down next to Lucy resigned and sighs to himself.
VO: It’s time for the Peanuts Time Machine
Jimmy: So do we need to go into the time machine to explain what a channel is?
Michael: Oh, well this does put me into that time machine, cuz I remember the TVs in that time, the screens were tiny and I definitely remember sitting on the floor really close to it. and if you look at Lucy, she's like totally hypnotized. She has no expression. She doesn't respond. She doesn't even notice Linus. This is just like the TV has sucked her in.
Jimmy: it's interesting because that would be the pose or that would be the expression we would see today on a kid with a cartoon kid with a phone. Right. That would be the thing that has the, that blank stare and hypnotized and not aware of what's going on around.
So everything old is new again, I always love this strip. This one. I remember I just love the rhythm of the language that Linus uses to complain about changing the channel.
Harold: I remember this strip when I was probably about seven years old, reading this and totally related to it as the younger brother and the older sister, and wanting to watch the different, the different programs and, and yet being the younger kid. You know, , there is some seniority there, there was, there was fairness in the house, but still, you know, you just get upset when there's something you really wanna watch. And there's, there's no way you're gonna get to do it. And, and the idea that he's thinking through exactly what he would do if he had the bravery with his older sister. I just, yeah, the, this is a little kid. I remember that resonated with me.
Jimmy: Yeah I was an only child, so I got to watch whatever I want, but it gives me such great respect for my dad who would sit there and watch like Dukes of Hazzard. And he hated the Dukes of Hazzard. He hated every single thing about the Dukes of Hazzard, but every Friday he would sit there with me and watch it.
Harold: That is so funny because my dad who normally did not watch television And was like, you know, he listened to classical music. He was that kind of person. He loved Dukes of Hazzard.
Jimmy: That’s so weird
Harold: He thought Boss Hogg was the most hilarious character.
Jimmy: The only, the only show my dad refused, refused to watch with me was Mork and Mindy
when they brought on Jonathan Winters, he was like, absolutely not.
Harold: it's a matter of principle there.
Jimmy: Yeah. There's only so far you can go.
But this is a different world really is like all kidding aside. I mean, no kid has a TV with a knob on it of any kind. Their primary source of entertainment, isn't television at all. And it would never even occur to you to have to fight about what you're watching right this moment, because you can watch anything you want at any time you want.
But at this point, if, if you missed Howdy Doody that was it. You were never seeing Howdy Doody, that episode of Howdy Doody again.
Michael: Yeah. And it was like three channels, but basically you notice she's not, nobody's multitasking here.
I mean, because now you'd, you'd be, you know, checking your phone and, and, you know, people are so restless cuz there there's lots of things to do or you know, flipping channels or whatever. But no, that TV has just got her a hundred percent.
Jimmy: One of the things I've really been enjoying about reading these strips is just, I read them in the Fantagraphics books, but hey, if you're out there and you wanna follow along with this, you can just do it by going to gocomics.com and typing in Peanuts and all the strips are there for free, which is amazing.
Or you could, could you know, splurge and buy the Fantagraphics hard cover collections. I actually think they might have them in soft cover now, too. But those are beautiful and I've really just been enjoying, just sitting with a book, making sure I don't have any distractions and just being immersed in it.
It's hard to make time to do that these days, which it's too bad because it's a great one of life's great pleasures
Michael: Brought to you by the reading council.
March 4th, Charlie Brown is standing outside. In the background is Shermy. Charlie Brown says “Nobody likes me. Nobody really likes me.” He hangs his head and Shermy approaches him and says, “I know how you feel, Charlie Brown. I think I know just how you must feel.” Shermy continues. “You don't want pity. All you want is a little understanding.” Charlie Brown looks at Shermy and says, “On the contrary. I'll take all the pity I can get.”
Okay, so guys, it's Shermy can we, can we add something? Let's let's check Shermometer.
What can we add to, to our pal Shermy?
Michael: Is it possible that Shermy also thinks people don't like him?
Jimmy: It’s possible, I guess. Yeah, because he does. Yeah, he does understand. So that's that's interesting. I don't know.
Michael: Maybe he thinks Charles Schulz doesn't like him. He never gives me any good lines.
Jimmy: I don't even have a personality trait, although we are proving that myth wrong.
What, what are we gonna add though? Now for this year, we have to add a character trait,
Jimmy: Empathy. All right. That's the, okay, so Harold is picking empathy. So that's the 1957 Look at Shermometer. I think Shermy is, is really shaping up to be quite, quite a compelling character.
March 11. Lucy is reading the newspaper. She says, “The earth is overpopulated. Families are getting too big. There are too many babies being born.” Now Linus is looking at the paper. Lucy is ranting at Linus. She says “the earth can't feed this many people.” Then Linus says, “why don't you leave?”
Michael: Have we ever seen Linus give Lucy a smart aleck remark?
Jimmy: I don't think so
Michael: ‘Cause the last panel should be her punching him in the mouth.
Jimmy: I think she's stunned. She was absolutely stunned.
Harold:I think she's briefly considering it. She doesn't know what it means yet.
Jimmy: I like the look on Linus’s face as he casually tosses the paper aside in panel three knows, you know, that he has that one in the chamber just ready to go. He is just waiting for her to finish.
Now coming, starting the next day, we have one of these, which is March 12th, we have one of these long sequences, not quite a story, but we're, we're getting variations on the fact that Charlie Brown has insulted Snoopy. I'll read the first one for you.
March 12th, Charlie Brown walks by Snoopy. He says, “Hi, fuzzy face.” Snoopy thinks to himself “fuzzy face?!” In panel two he looks even more concerned as he thinks “fuzzy face?!” In panel three, Snoopy is very upset. He thinks to himself, “I must be getting old and sensitive.” He walks away looking downcast, thinking “a few years ago, something like that never would've bothered me.”
Jimmy: So we have now a whole week almost of Snoopy having an existential crisis about being called fuzzy face
March 13. Snoopy thinks to himself Fuzzy face. He called me fuzzy face. It's wrong to be upset by such a little thing. I'll have to get hold of myself.” Snoopy walks off, a ridiculous look of forced confidence and happiness on his face. Then he hangs his head and says “Fuzzy face. Good Grief.”
The next one, we just see Snoopy at night. He can't sleep, even though he's sleeping inside, not on top of the doghouse that hasn't happened yet. Then he walks out into a field and just thinks to himself “fuzzy face.”
Harold: One of the things that I'm noticing here that Schulz has not been doing before, he has the boldness to put a strip in, in a sequence that makes really not much sense,
Jimmy: none, no sense
Harold: by itself, without the context of the previous strips. That's a real boldness to do that. I don't know how many other cartoonists of this style of, you know, kind of a comic comedy strip gave themselves that permission. The idea that, you know, he must be aware that more and more and more people are reading his strips outside of this, the newspaper and would see this sequence.
And he might be balancing in his mind. Okay. I've got one audience that will experience it this way. I'll have another audience that will experience it the other way. And maybe I'm adding a little bit of intrigue to the strip when I do something in the newspaper that says, Hey, someone says, what, what what's this all about?
Maybe he thinks it's creating some sort of mystique around the strip. I think it works great. Most of the times I was reading it out of the context, but by that time I understood what Schulz was about. You know, I wasn't in the newspaper, I was reading it in the books, but anyway, I, I just think it's, it's cool that he does this and it somehow does add something again, a little magical to the strip that you come into a world sometimes and you don't exactly know what's going on, but it's, it's somehow compelling.
Jimmy: And he only does it in one strip. He doesn't do it in all the others. There's always a call back in the others too. He called me fuzzy face. So even if you didn't see it, you get okay. Someone insulted Snoopy in his mind.
This one is just there. Like Harold says, there is no, no context at all, but boy, those silhouette drawings look amazing. I mean, so we were talking about spotting blacks last episode. I mean, that is a perfect example of just a gorgeously composed panel that's essentially abstract art. It's just some black shapes on the bottom and some white space at the top and it looks amazing.
VO: Can I interrupt here for a second?
VO: The movie Funny Face came out in 1957.
Jimmy: oh, there you go. Maybe it's a reference to that.
Michael: Hmm. Could be, could be
Harold: that's pretty cool. Hmm. Snoopy obscurity explained
Jimmy: All right. So we have two more left here. Snoopy is still just thinking it's now the next day. And he's thinking to himself, “fuzzy face.” He walked by and he said, “hi, fuzzy face.” Sniff, Snoopy, sniffs away a tear. He's even more forlorn in the next panel. “I can't remember when anything has upset me, so. Still, I don't know why it should. After all, what does he expect me to be? Clean shaven?
And now here's the big finale. Snoopy with a stern look on his face sees Charlie Brown coming and says, “Here comes Charlie Brown. If he calls me fuzzy face again, I don't know what I'll do.” Charlie Brown says “hi, fuzzy face.” Snoopy’s ears, shoot up in surprise. Then he watches Charlie Brown walkby. And then it finishes with Snoopy thinking to himself. “I was right. I didn't know what to do.”
Harold: I think Liz is right because the premier date of Funny Face was February 13th, 1957, just one month prior to this. So the word about, out about that, you know, was it probably in trailers at the time he was, you know, he was writing these strips. So it might have been top of mind.
Jimmy: It could even be the type of thing where, Hey, let's go see that movie funny face and you mishear it right? Fuzzy face? No, no funny. Oh, oh, fuzzy face. That’s funny.
Michael: This last one's another case of Schulz using a, a phrase, a fairly common phrase and someone taking it, literally where you'd say like, if you do that, I don't know what I'll do.
Jimmy: Right. And. I was right. I don't know what I'll do.
Harold: yeah. And I would like to add that he, that Snoopy looks like Audrey Hepburn in the third panel
Jimmy: oh, that is 100% Audrey Hepburn.
March 22nd. Charlie Brown is outside reading a book. He reads, “Animals, feel the coming of spring in much the same way that humans do. Somehow they sense the feeling of newness of life, which spring has to offer.” Charlie Brown continues reading. “During this time of year is not unusual to see an animal bounding galley through the underbrush. And then we see Snoopy bounding. like a kangaroo and literally over Charlie Brown's head in the last panel, a huge smile on his face.
Jimmy: on Snoopy's face. That is, not Charlie Brown.
Harold: Yeah, that is, that is Snoopy bliss. Just amazing, amazing stuff.
Michael: Snoopy seems happy. He got over the fuzzy face thing now he's he seems to be rather happy.
Harold: oh, and speaking of that, I did want to bring up the, I had mentioned the angerometer. This is not an angry strip, but I've been asking you guys every year what your sense is as I count through all of the strips, wherever there is a character who appears to be angry. At least one character in one panel, I will count that as a strip that has anger in it, out of 365 strips. And I added this year a hap-ometer to see, you know, cuz you know, Those for some reason, those are the two things at the moment that seem to really intrigue me in terms, in terms of what, how Schulz is kind of measuring the lay of the emotional landscape of the strip.
So, first off, I'd like to ask you guys, we had a, an all time high of 162 angry strips last year, and full 44% of the strips had somebody who was angry. How do you feel this year stacks up against 1956 in terms of anger in this strip?
Michael: I think it’s down.
Jimmy: Yeah, my impulse to say it's down. So I'm gonna say it's up.
Michael: I'm gonna say it's 42.
Jimmy: 42% or just 42. The answer to…
Michael: 42 strips.
Jimmy: 42 strips. I'm gonna say 212 .
Harold: Okay. Well, my count was 129 down from 162. So that's pretty significantly down. 35% of the strips have somebody who's angry. Now, if we're 129 strips, had somebody angry in at least one panel.
How many strips do you think has someone happy like this blissful Snoopy who just show-- Happiness could be someone is just talking with a, with a, a happy mouth, you know,
Jimmy: and does the hot happy mouth talk back?
Jimmy: I'm gonna go 212.
Harold: Wow. It's 124.
Jimmy: Wow, Michael, that was amazing.
Harold: That really that's pretty good. But it's almost identical with the anger. So I was just thinking about that in terms of the balance of what Schulz puts into this strip.
Michael: Well, there's a lot of desperation this year, which isn't quite anger.
Harold: Yeah. There's all these other things you could, you could look for like, I think chagrin was a term that, that Jim was using-- the chagrin-ometer and, you know, nonplussed. Each of these would have their own level of difficulty in interpreting. But that, I thought that was interesting, that, that there's just a little, even though the anger is way down, there's a little more anger than happiness in 1957.
Jimmy: I would be curious to see what it, what this type of thing would look like in other strips, because frankly, I don't think it would be that different in anger, because I do think anger lends itself to comedy. Either the person has a punchline thrown at them in their angry, or they're the angry person who starts off the thing in the beginning, just as a bit, right. Because it's the, the grit that starts the joke or whatever.
I think happiness having a hundred and whatever strips is rarer and harder, frankly.
Harold: Are you saying that he uses it more or less?
Jimmy: I think more than the average strip. Even though you think of strip of Peanuts as like a, a dark and depressing-- that's a terrible way to put it. That's not it, but that deals with darker.
It's a dark and depressing strip with Snoopy and Woodstock. It's a, psychological
Harold: The Easter beagle this breaks my heart.
Jimmy: The April fool. You'll send you out. No, but, but you do think it, it deals with some of the heavier emotions. You think of Charlie Brown’s sadness, you think of Lucy raging and stuff like that.
But that's part of humor. Like you can see that in the sitcom easily. It's harder, I think, to translate joy into any kind of art than it is to translate anger. So I'm really surprised that there's that many happy strips or, or strips with happiness.
Harold: That's interesting cuz my, my tendency was to think the opposite. So it'd be interesting. I could probably pull up some collections that I have of just random collections of, you know, BC and , you know, Hi and Lois or something and just, and see, see how it, how it how it shakes out with the other strips.
Jimmy: Yeah. And then of course you also get into the, the fact that those other strips a lot of times aren't expressing anything, you know?
Harold: Well, that's, that's a really interesting point, you know, like I always think of, I don't want to keep ganging up on Tumbleweeds.
Jimmy: No, let's take tumbleweeds down. I don’t think I ever…
Harold: The strip Tumbleweeds absolutely made no sense to me, but basically it was like a photo. It was like a photo stat. It had like eight drawings of each character. They're completely static. They're very designy. And, and it's, it's said in, I guess, this western village or something, but it's, everything's deadpan. And it was like, I tried to read it as a kid ‘cause I was going through all the strips. It was in my newspaper.
And I, you know, you can't tell anything from the characters in terms of, I mean, you look at this gorgeous, gorgeous image of Snoopy bounding through, the grass. And then I think of tumbleweeds where tumbleweeds did not in its design, have the ability to express anything like this. It was impossible based on the way the guy created it and designed it. They're just static images of deadpan characters with half open eyes.
Jimmy: Joy and, and happiness. It's it's a, it's definitely a difficult thing to convey. When you can do it I think it does open up the world to you. The Beatles could do it. If you think of those early Beatles songs, they're all really joyful and, and they hit you and you don't feel that they're shallow, even though, even if it's just about, I wanna hold your hand, you, you feel that there's creativity and excitement to it, but it's a very,
Harold: it's an amazing thing to aspire to.
Jimmy: Yeah. It, it's very, very difficult. And I think that's what makes it special when you do see it.
Harold: Yes. And because I think Schulz doesn't mind going to extremes. When you, when you get that moment of bliss from Snoopy, after he goes through a week of sadness or fuzzy face, all of a sudden, it's just that much more amazing just to see him blissing out like that.
Jimmy: And you have to also take into account that he is a great cartoonist. And if you can't draw Snoopy looking that happy that, well, it's not gonna convey.
Harold: That's absolutely true. I mean, I'm trying to do it in Sweetest Beasts. So there's, I have lots of these, these little moments of, of, of joy and you know, I'm just that much more aware of, of Schulz's genius when I, when I attempt to, to capture an extreme like that, that is, is honest.
Jimmy: Yeah. And a, a lot of this has to be keys to unlocking why this strip is actually so funny because I mean, I love, I love co-- this'll be a little behind the scenes, but one of the things Michael said to me about 20 years ago that I have never stopped thinking about, I literally think about it every day I'm working. Michael said, “I hate humor.” Which I think by the way, if I had a t-shirt to give to each of these guys, I would give Michael and that says, “I hate humor.” And I would give one Harold that says “Really? I thought the opposite.”
Michael: You gotta balance off, I mean, it plays off of drama. I mean, that's what Schulz is doing. I mean, if, if the idea was to make people laugh, In the fourth panel every day. Right? I don't think I'd like the strip that much.
Jimmy: No, no, never. You couldn't. It, it, because, because like, again, like Harold was saying it's that balance and that going to extremes.
But, but I wanted to say about you saying that is cuz you said something like, because we had been laughing and talking for like an hour and you said, because humor, if you read a comic book or whatever, it's never gonna be as funny as just hanging out with your friends.
And that really struck with me. I'm like, every time I write something funny, I think it has to be that funny cause I don't wanna let Michael down,
Harold: And a lot of the humor that you put into, like Amelia was people hanging out with their friends and, and you, you captured, you captured that in, in the comic by setting it up, that it is just people sometimes in conversation and enjoying one another.
Michael: I was thinking in terms of movies, cuz people you go to you go to a comedy movie with your friends and if there's like four belly laughs you go that was pretty good. And I remember just driving in the car with my friend Mark to go to a movie and Mark's like funniest person in the world, I'd be like hysterical in the car. And then we'd go to the pay to see a comedy sit in the dark in the corner.
Jimmy: and be silent
Jimmy: right. Well, you know, that's an interesting thing too, that ties in with the comic strip is that when you go see a movie, it's a communal experience. When you read a comic strip, it's presumably a solitary experience.
But I, I remember going to see the movie There's Something About Mary in a packed theater and crying, laughing. The place was rocking. I mean, it was just, you could, everybody was laughing from beginning to end at this movie and the minute it came out on DVD, or maybe even VHS, whatever it was back then, I was like, I gotta get this movie. This is the funniest movie anyone's ever made. And I put it in and I just watched it alone. Stone faced. I was like, what was the big deal?
Harold: And I think it was, that was the magic of, of going yeah. Magic of going to movies. You know, back when you had movie palaces would have like 5,000 seats when the Fox Theater opened in St. Louis, after they had renovated in the eighties, they were showing these classic movies on, on, I think it was on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and people were so excited that the theater had been renovated. They did such a beautiful job. This was like a Fox theater similar to say, Radio City, Music Hall. Just a gorgeous space.
And every, they sold out. They were showing like they were showing Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes from 1934. And the thing was sold out. 5,000 people had come to see this movie and it was amazing. And we saw Dangerous When Wet with Red Skelton and Esther Williams, which is considered, you know, an okay comedy from the forties. With an audience, absolutely fantastic. It was so much fun. Everyone was just into it. And that was amazing.
And, and, you know, Schulz doesn't get that opportunity here. He is talking to one person and I think he, he kind of tones his, his humor to match the way he interacts with you. It is a solitary experience. I think he tapped into something that nobody else had ever tapped into in terms of that one on one with both visual and, you know, in verbal elements, like just nobody had ever done before he somehow was able to speak directly to people in this kind of quiet way.
Jimmy: Do you think the black and white adds to something like that. Now, when you're doing sweet of space, you're doing it in color because I think I, I don't think you could even, I think it would look insane if you put it out in black and white today. Right? Wait, I don't, I guess some people do, but it just, it seems like color is part of the equation. And I wonder if that changes it.
Harold: I think so. I think it, it, it, it definitely, you know, and I also think of the silent comedies of the 1920s. That somehow it seems to work better when things are, are starker and more contrasted and you take, you take information out that is really not gonna play into the comedy. And, you know, color is an information that you usually don't need for comedy. I think there is something to that.
And, and also with, with the sketchiness, I, I heard was it Frank Mancuso who is an amazing artist cartoonist talking about somebody I think at the university that he knew who said, you know, cartooning needs to be quick and sketchy looking. You lose something if you put too much polish on it. And this is where Schulz is heading. you were talking about it earlier and I don't quite understand it, but I think there is truth to that.
There, if there is this sense that it's kind of dashed off or it could all fly into space because it's so loose instead of it just being absolutely. Perfect that there is some, I don't know. It's almost like we lean into the strip because the strip yeah. Is, is, is you have to, you have to put the lines together.
You're more involved somehow.
Jimmy: Yeah. And that also leads back to the idea of him on some is not telling you the context. Yeah. Because he he's now in the early days, you're required to bring nothing. He just has his little space saver strip, and he's gonna give you a little as they call it nugget of humor
But now he's an artist and I think he knows that. And he's gonna require a little bit from you, you know? Yeah. You might, you're gonna have to read it every day or if not, you're gonna, you're gonna miss a couple things and he's willing to let that go, which is pretty cool. And do also in, in repetition, cuz basically we have the same joke the very next day, the difference being how he draws Snoopy dancing. But that difference is enough.
Harold: Yeah, yeah. Theme and variation and that very next strip.
Jimmy: Would you like me to read it?
Harold You can, if you like, that'd be lovely.
March 23rd, Charlie Brown continues to read his book “For animals, spring is the best time of the year. Spring releases them from the confinement of winter and it brings to them as it brings to us a wonderful feeling of wellbeing.” Snoopy dances by in his classic Snoopy happy dance pose, also whistling or singing, it looks like.
Michael: Is this the, the first happy dance with his head up like that?
Harold: I think it's the first ultimate happy dance
Jimmy: Ultimate. Yeah, for sure.
Harold: Boy is Snoopy's little neck, so stretched out and the big bulbous nose and that little smile, which is way high up on the, on the the snout. It's just, it's just magical.
Nobody had ever figured out how to do something like that. And you know, it's talk about squash and stretch. He's taking these characters and finding these amazing iconic poses that are not on model. It doesn't matter in Schulz's world if it embodies the thing that he's trying to get across, that's what he's going for.
He can-- you know, you try to put Snoopy together, all the different versions of Snoopy when he's sitting, when he is lying on the doghouse, on his back, they don't add up. You know, he has tiny little paws sometimes in the front and the giant hind legs in the back. It just depends on what his needs are.
With the polar bear he's playing with the idea that I've got these thick, these thick legs and stiff legs, like a polar bear and it, it just works. Yeah. And that's been a huge lesson to me, is that go for the emotion and try to do it in the most iconic way. And that is way more important than whether the, the back foot's a little bit larger than it should be this, you know, versus the last pane.
Jimmy: Yeah. Because it can't, I think another trick of humor is it can't look labored. You're talking about the, the looseness of those drawings. And I love, I love Harvey Kurtzman's work, but I love Harvey Kurtzman's work, particularly when he draws it. When you see the roughs for the original Mad stories and stuff like that, even though the, the, the final Mad comic books are the most, some of the most beautifully drawn comics ever done, I think they look they're funnier when you just see Kurtzman drawing with a grease pencil on a, on, in a newsprint.
Harold: I agree when, when you like the Hey Look strips that he did in the forties for Marvel, for the Marvel Atlas comics. They're just single page comics with these characters and they're done incredibly bold brush strokes and really rough. Yeah, I agree. I find those way funnier than the ones he spent a lot more time on in those Mad magazines.
Jimmy: Yeah. It's also like Peter Buck said of music. A lot of your best, your favorite albums were recorded in a few days and a lot of ones you hate took years.
April 7th, it's a Sunday and Linus is up to the plate, but of course he comes holding his blanket. He looks very determined and as the pitch comes in, he actually slugs it pretty good. Unfortunately, he's wrapped up in the blanket and there's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 panels of him struggling as Shroeder than tags him out. He never got to leave the batters box. He then goes back to the bench sitting next to Charlie Brown. He's holding his blanket and Charlie Brown says, “You and that stupid blanket.
Michael: I wouldn't have the slightest idea how to draw this. If someone described this to me, I mean, just the visual imagination of this blanket wrapping around him. And it looks fairly realistic.
Jimmy: It does.
Michael: He's struggling on, he's like a mummy struggling on the ground.
Jimmy: yeah. Can you imagine, if you were just over just a penciler or whatever, and you got a script that tried to tell you to do this, I
Michael: I'd go look for photo reference
Jimmy: Right. Child with blanket playing baseball.
Michael: and then does that count as an angry strip ‘cause Charlie Brown's angry in the last panel.
Michael: it is anger. It's more frustration though.
Okay. I have to interject something before the next strip. Yeah, go ahead. We we're gonna have a guest commentator.
Jimmy: commentator. Oh, okay. A guest. Very exciting. Okay.
Michael: You're you're the guest commentator on this one.
Liz: I'm a guest commentator on what? It's this-- it's oh! This is my favorite strip of all time!
Jimmy: All right. Well with that kind of introduction, here we go,
April 8th, Patty and Violet are standing outside. Linus comes up to them, holding something, and he says “here, Violet, these are for you because I like you.” Linus walks away, blushing, a goofy smile on his face. Violet looks very happy and calls after him. Why, how nice. Thank you, Linus. Thank you very much.” Patty looks at Violet holding her bundle of something and says, “What did he give you?” Violet answers “Some french fries with a rubber band around them.”
Liz: I, I just think that is the funniest thing. I have remembered that for 50 years. I, I, it is just the silliest thing in the world. That's all I have to say.
Harold: Makes you love Linus all the more.
Jimmy: Yeah. And you know what?
Harold: He walks away with that blush and he's got his little tongue sticking out of his face.
Jimmy: It's just so adorable. Well, talk about drawing something too. French fries with a rubber band tied around them and they're, they're tiny and he has to draw it in a way that you can tell it's something bundled up. But you can't tell what it is, but then when she says French fries, you have to be able to look at it and go, oh, of course that's what it's .
Harold: And, and the fact that, you know, once she discovers what it is, there's no disdain. There's no, like,
Jimmy: that's what I wanted.
Harold: this is gross. So it's, she's just got a nice little pleasant look on her face
Jimmy: Can you imagine-- the medium is the message, I guess. Can you imagine if, if Charlie Brown gave her some French fries tied in a rubber band.
Harold: that would not go over so well
Jimmy: I know, right? But with Linus it's like, oh, that's so sweet.
Harold: Yeah. He's definitely playing off the characters he's created and, and doing a beautiful job of building out their unique personalities and relationships to each other.
Michael:That's critical. I mean, you think a good comic strip has to have really strong characters. Which is true, but his characters are different in relationship to each other. Like Lucy's relationship to Linus is different than her relationship to Charlie Brown, different from her relationship with, with, with Schroeder.
So he's got these, these, these pairs where you rarely see Violet--usually see her reacting to Charlie Brown, right. But her relationship to line is here is she likes it. Right. She's even though he is little she's, she thinks he's really sweet.
Harold: but, and you wouldn't know which way it's gonna go, you know?
Jimmy: Yeah. But you wouldn't look at it when she's nice to him and go, oh, that's out of character. And I wonder, I mean, that's a real magic to be able to do that where you're you're like you say, adjusting their personalities based on who they're interacting with.
Harold: Well, well, like even Snoopy, I was just thinking about that this morning, that Snoopy-- He has these strips last year and this year where he's talking about, oh, I hate that stupid kid. Right. I hate Linus. I hate Lucy, stupid sister. And then, you know, we got a, a strip that's on the front page of the Fantagraphics collection for ‘57 ‘58, with Snoopy reaching out to hug a, a Schroeder and Charlie Brown with this just like hail fellow, well met kind of look on his face and the punchline is he loves people.
It's like, and it's the same character. Right. And it still makes sense. I mean, the complexity that you can have, where in one moment, you're just, the world is terrible and I can't stand any everybody or anybody. And all of a sudden, all of a sudden you're, you're out there. Sentimentalist.
Michael: like Snoopy relates to Linus an enemy, and he's always like trying to get the blanket. Whereas he relates to Lucy, like really kind of sarcastically, like why are you trying to boss me around.
Jimmy: Although in both instances, In both instances. I also though feel that Snoopy's like he, Linus is a play enemy. Right? I mean, he's, he's goofing around, I think a lot with Linus.
Harold: I think he gets there, but he starts out actually genuinely feeling contempt for him, with his blanket.
Jimmy: All right guys. Clearly there is so much here in 1957, we're gonna need another episode to to get to it. So how about we we break it off here and we ask everybody to come back next week.
Michael: Sounds good.
Jimmy: All right. Hey guys, if you're out there and you want to follow along, you can always reach out to us at UnpackingPeanuts.com. That's where you can sign up for the great Peanuts Reread and you'll get a weekly email from us, letting you know when or what comic strips we're gonna be reading. You can also interact with us on social media. We are unpack Peanuts at both Instagram and Twitter.