Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. It's Unpacking Peanuts. Finally, a podcast where three white guys overthink something from their childhood. My name is Jimmy Gownley, and I'm the cartoonist behind the Amelia Rules series of graphic novels. And then my memoir is The Dumbest Idea Ever. And my latest book from Scholastic is called Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up. Joining me are my two co hosts. He's a playwright, he's a composer, both for this podcast and for his band, Complicated People. And he is the cartoonist behind such great strips as Strange Attractors, A Gathering of Spells, and Tangled River. Mr. Michael Cohen,
Michael: Hey there.
Jimmy: He’s the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, as well as the former vice president of Archie Comics and the current creator of the Instagram strip Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: So, guys, we got another great year coming up. at this point, I think it might be safe to say that Michael and I might have the next ten years of Peanuts memorized already. I think this is getting into the point where we could have selected pretty much every strip to talk about. It's an absolutely brilliant year of Peanuts. It's far and away my favorite, and it's the most existential year of Peanuts. We're getting into some really deep themes, some really exciting and thoughtful stuff, and I want to hear what you guys have to say about it, before we get into the nitty gritty. Michael, what's your take on 1958?
Michael: I think he's at a plateau at this point. I see ‘57 and ‘58 is pretty much equal. And he's introducing a few new themes, some of which are pretty long lasting, and some of which are just for this year and no new characters. So he's got his cast, and he's pretty much fleshing them out. They're getting deeper and deeper, and it's a great year. There are some that I'd never seen before, which means Schulz might have decided they weren't worthy of being reprinted. Other than that, yeah. Brilliant, brilliant year.
Jimmy: What do you think, Harold?
Harold: Yes, this year, a lot is going on in Schulz's life, and, I kind of agree it has a lot of echoes of the previous year. It does seem in a couple of these strips, I've, seen a looseness that we've never seen before, and that leads to something that I neglected to mention earlier that might be a little bit of a clue as to how Shultz got to the loosening of his style when, he did.
There was an additional project that Schulz took on. First came out in 1956, I believe, and it ran for almost ten years. And it was a biweekly every two weeks panel comic that he did for the, Church of God in Anderson, Indiana. Their teen magazine called, Young Pillars, which was essentially teenage versions of the Peanuts types of characters. But instead of being kind of short and squat, they were incredibly long and lanky. But it was a very loose style that he was using there. And he got an opportunity to experiment with that and getting stuff into print in this really loose style that starts around early, 1956, I believe. So maybe that was a place for him to experiment with, loosening up his line. And that was something that he was able to incorporate Peanuts by starting with something with maybe a little less high profile.
But the story behind Young Pillars was interesting. He got approached by Ken Hall to do this, I think around 1954, or really early ‘55. And Schulz, basically, these were single panel comics. Turns out that the main character is named Harold, like my name. So it's like, Oh, I like this. This is pretty cool. But, basically it was a comic of kids who were in some sort of a church setting. Not all of the strips had that theme, but it was definitely an interesting take on teen life in the fifties and sixties with kind of a church setting. It's very unique. And when he was approached by Hall, he said, yeah, I'd like to try to do that. I'd like to do that panel, for you every two weeks. But he went to the syndicate, and the syndicate said no. Syndicate said, you can't do this panel. When his five year contract rolled around a little bit later at the end of 1955, his note to Ken Hall says, this time I'm not asking them, I'm telling them. So this is one case where Schulz did renegotiate something in his contract to give himself a little more freedom to do things outside of Peanuts. And so, as a result, I think maybe what we're seeing in these strips over the last three years in the loosening of his style, that Young Pillars maybe had something to do with that.
Jimmy: It's interesting that that's something he would choose to take a stand on because he could have asked for anything probably by 1955, including a guarantee that the strip would be run at a certain size or at least at the same size as the other ones in the paper. It didn't have to be four panels anymore or whatever. He let all that stuff go.
Harold: Including his 50 50 split with the syndicate, apparently. At least what I had heard. He said, that was the deal I was given when I started. I'm not going to use my success and my popularity to negotiate for something more, which he could have easily done and many other cartoons did. But that was a matter of principle for him. Interestingly that he would not ask for more money, even though, United was making a tremendous amount of profit off of this, and they would have easily had to have given him more.
Jimmy: Oh, they would have given him anything he asked for absolutely at this point, because we're now moving into Peanuts being a cultural phenomenon. And by the end of the next decade, it's going to eclipse anything anyone has ever seen in comics.
Harold: Yeah, and as we're saying this year. So he's doing this Young Pillars thing. He is doing those comics we mentioned in last year's episodes, for the comic books with Jim Sasseville. And then he's, on January, taking a trip out to California with his wife, Joyce, to look for a place for them to move. Joyce was wanting to get out of Minnesota, get into a nicer climate, get some space to kind of grow the family. Which at this point, we've now added our fifth child, Jill, in April 20th. She is born, and her sister, Amy is two, Craig is five this year. Monty is six, and Meredith is eight. So this is a huge, huge family of seven that is looking for a new place to live. And that's a major, major thing for Schulz to move with a giant family and this burgeoning strip out to California. Maybe Michael, do you think that might be why he wasn't maybe innovating as much here? He was just running on the strengths he had because he was probably being pulled every direction, I would think, at this point.
Michael: I don’t know. I mean, there was no need to introduce another character. And he had a few characters that kind of flopped. So I don't think it was time pressure. There's really no need to do it.
Harold: Right. Yes. And this is the first year that any, like, three dimensional toys ever came out. The Hungerford plastic dolls come out this year that are highly collectible now.
They wind up buying a place just outside Sebastopol, California. It’s 28 acres. It, already has some buildings on it. But Joyce is essentially going to make this her project for the next decade, I think, of really trying to create a place for the family, and particularly the kids. That's almost like a personal Disneyland. She was an amazing designer, and planner, and she just systematically built this world for their family in Sebastopol.
And they make that move in May, that's my understanding. There's just a lot going on in their life here. And not only are they moving, but his Aunt Marion, who had been there for his mom when she had cancer in the, 40s, she kind of became, a second mom to him after his mother passed and her husband, Bus Reed, Marion and Bus moved to Sebastopol to live with them. So there's nine people there. And then Schulz’s mom, Dina was the name. They were, very close. And so that's a big deal that they're now inviting other family members to live with them on this little compound. And then Joyce's mother, Dorothy, moves as well. So that's ten people that are now living in this place that they have to set up, they have to build the homes.
And I think Schulz is originally drawing out of an old photography studio that was on the grounds. So it's totally different. He's much more isolated from his friends and the church that he had in Minnesota. It's now just him and his family. So that must be a major shift as well. And I get the sense of the kids, the nature of kids in this year so strongly. Do you guys feel that just what it likes, actually kids be around you all the time?
Michael: I didn't realize he had such a big family, but I always felt that since these are my favorite strips this period, I thought he probably had at least some younger kids around his inspiration.
Harold: Yeah, I don't know. It just feels very intimate as far as some of the things that would be something that you would see or hear or observe a child doing in, this year. Maybe, I don't know if I'm reading into that, or I am reading into it, but I don't know exactly how, much that impacted him. But he seems to go to places that are a little bit deeper this year. And I think some of that may have to do with the fact that it's a part of his life to be around the kids more than ever before. And a family of five kids. And, there's a wonderful range of ages from newborn to eight. It's perfect for Peanuts.
Another, piece I did want to mention was Jim Sasseville. We mentioned him last time helping with the comic books, and he also had started that strip that's running this year, It's Only A Game, that's, essentially three times a week or three panels a week in addition, where Schulz is writing most of it, but Jim is drawing it in a Schulzian style. And Jim and his wife, I think it's Helga, they move to Sebastopol with Schulz. And the story goes that Helga did not, get along with Joyce, Schulz's wife. There was some friction there between, those two families. And ultimately, Helga and Jim Sassoville wind up going up to Berkeley, or down to Berkeley, I guess, San Francisco, about an hour's drive away from Sebastopol, which is near Santa Rosa.
And so they've been uprooted to follow the Schulz family. But in the process of all this happening, and I guess with some of this friction, Schulz is not happy with It's Only A Game. It's got his name on it. He's not drawing. I think he's probably a little uncomfortable with that. And so Schulz winds up without, consulting, Jim talking, with the syndicate. And basically the way Jim said it happened after they had moved to Berkeley and had done an all nighter trying to finish a bunch of comics for the comic books. Schulz said, well, you're off the hook, Jim. You don't have to do It's Only A Game anymore. Which totally threw Jim for a loop. And Sasseville, was dumbfounded. He was like, you didn't even talk to me about this. And we relocated, and I don't have a source of income.
And so Sassevile was out of work for about half a year trying to get reoriented in Berkeley, and he never did understand why Schulz did that, given that Schulz knew that he had and his wife had sacrificed quite a bit to go out with them, and that Schulz, for whatever reason, wanted to end that relationship or end that business dealing. And so Sasseville was on his own. Sasseville always really admired Schulz, said he was the greatest cartoonist who ever lived, but that was a sore spot for him, and something that maybe gives us a little hint into Schulz's character, and that he was uncomfortable ending a relationship and probably didn't know how to do it.
Michael: Yeah, that's the Pete Best syndrome. At some point, you got to fire your best friend.
Harold: Yeah, it's kind of rough, but yeah, it's, crazy. And then one last piece of this is the church again. Huge part of his life. He was going to this Church of God in Minnesota. That denomination doesn't exist in Sebastopol, so he's invited by the minister of the Methodist church to come out.
And so Schulz begins this process that I think lasts until probably the end of 1960s. He would attend, the Methodist church in Sebastopol, but he usually didn't attend the services. But he did volunteer to teach their Sunday school class, which was essentially going through the Bible. I think they said they, did it four times over the entire Bible, which is mind blowing. Four times over the course of just over ten years. And he was the leader, mostly just asking questions of people, not really trying to force his opinion on people.
But the funny thing is, he didn't attend the services. He would just lead this class of about 20 people and go home. And Stephen Lynde talks about this in his book, A Charlie Brown Religion, that it appears that Schulz was uncomfortable with a larger congregation, which this church definitely was compared to the intimate one he had. And so he liked the kind of the smaller group Bible study, but he wasn't attending anything else. He wasn't getting to know that larger community the way he certainly had when he was in Minnesota. So, lots of changes in Schulz experience, work life, family life, where he's living. There's just a huge amount of change going on underneath what these strips that we're seeing, this year.
Jimmy: Well, that's amazing. Well, first off, Harold, as always, thanks for bringing it with the research. It's so impressive I don't think there's much I can, add to that. So what do you think? Do you guys just want to get right to the strips?
Michael: Yeah. Can I, do a little presentation here?
Jimmy: Oh, I encourage it. Please. The floor is all yours.
Michael: Okay. I think it's possible that with all those diversions and Schulz being so busy, I was wondering if he might have kept a little notebook of ideas and if something worked, it's maybe something you can just go to and say, well, that schtick worked. I'll do it again, because I came up with, a list of 15 we call them themes or scenarios that he uses over and over again this year. Some of these last the entire strip through his entire career. Some of them he uses a lot this year, and then just kind of drops.
So if I go quickly through the list, it might familiarize you with some of these themes. Because we're picking between us, we're not doing the whole year. We're going to pick 20, 25, 30 strips to focus on. But these kept coming up. So here they are in no particular order.
Snoopy trying to get the blanket from Linus, which started a year or two ago. That keeps coming in.
Snoopy doing imitations, mostly animals, and this year he does a vulture imitation, and it keeps coming in. There's lots of those this year. I think that's his best imitation.
There's a cereal, non existent cereal, that gets introduced in the strip called Snicker Snacks. And there's a lot of strips with people buying their snicker snacks and looking for the little prizes in the snicker snack boxes.
We have an introduction of Snoopy on top of the dog house, which becomes kind of the classic Snoopy. But the very first one comes later this year.
There's one where they refer a lot to Grandma and Grandpa's experience versus the kids experience. Talking about in the old days, people used to do this as opposed to these modern kids who don't know what that is.
Then we have Linus and Lucy--Lucy being the dominant older sister, and Linus starting to fight back, to assert himself a little bit.
We have the classic Lucy and Schroeder music strips at the piano.
We have a lot of strips with Violet trying to one up Charlie Brown on how much better her dad is than his dad. A lot of those.
A big theme this, year, I think this is a big part of Linus's development, is he becomes a fanatic. That's part of his personality. He gets totally into it. Whether it's something about loving everybody and peace on earth, or just being a complete maniac, Linus goes very deep into whatever he's interested into.
Jimmy: Well, if you're going to be a fanatic, you, should be a fanatic about it.
Michael: He's fanatic about everything. There's a bunch of strips about Snoopy discovering that if he's lying down, he puts his head in the water dish t's relaxing. We have quite a few water dish themes.
We have the usual Lucy making up stuff about nature and trying to teach Linus things that are completely ridiculous.
We're introduced to Charlie Brown's pencil pal, which I think runs for years, doesn't it?
Michael: So we have the first pencil pals.
We have Linus using his blanket as a weapon, the fastest blanket in the west.
We have fads, and this year's fads are high fi and hula hoops.
And then, of course, we have the classic baseball strips, which are always brilliant. There's a lot of them this year.
Jimmy: Yeah. But now, interestingly, neither of you pick any baseball strips to focus on individually.
Michael: they seemed like variations on themes he's done before. I think they're all great. I love them. But there wasn't anything really new. And again, that weird thing about the championship game. How did they get to the championship?
Jimmy: I'm convinced it has to be Whiffle ball World Series rules, which is just whichever two teams are playing it's the championship.
Jimmy: I challenge you to the neighborhood championship.
Harold: Right. That makes sense. It always sounds like it's been predetermined. Never seen negotiations with these other teams.
Jimmy: One of the things that you mentioned, Michael, that I really noticed, and one of the places, the very, very few places where he falls a little short, it's the intergenerational thing you're talking about.
When he's on the sides of the kids, it works. When he's making fun of the kids, it doesn't. Like, I think the episode I'm thinking of where I can't remember, which character is reading something about how it says here kids have no attention span or whatever. And Charlie Brown is doing something different in every panel. He's, like, playing with it and like that stuff. It feels like a little bit of a betrayal of the characters, because the other ones, when he's embodying them so fully, he would understand why they're doing those things. So it's interesting because at this point now, he's doing it for almost a decade, eight years or whatever. Seven and a half years. He's getting older. He has kids. Now, this is the right moment where a cartoonist starts to turn into a crank. You'll see so many cartoonists who are eventually just they turn themselves into a crank.
Harold: They turn on their creations.
Jimmy: Yeah. And just become grumpy also about everything.
Michael: Well, this is the generation that lived through the Depression when they were young, fought World War II, had kids, and the kids are spoiled and the parents resent that.
Jimmy: Right. Even though they're the ones
Michael: spoiling the kids
Jimmy: facilitating it, of course. Right. It's really strange, though, but there are other moments, and we'll be talking about that as we go into some of the strips in depth. There's other moments where I think he does realize that that particular generation, which we now is the baby boomer generation, but those kids at the time were going through things that were unprecedented.
Jimmy: And it is true. You're right in the middle. You're 66 you were born. Right. Do you consider yourself a baby boomer or Gen X?
Harold: Gen X.
Jimmy: Okay. Because you're, like, on the cusp. So we're both Gen X, and Michael is a boomer. But we did not grow up with this existential cloud over our heads of nuclear war, which comes up this year, which is crazy. I think we briefly allowed millennials to not have that hang over their heads. Instead, they just got the war on terror. It was the same threat, just a different way. But now we're back.
Harold: 911 being a big deal..
Jimmy: Yes To say the least, right?
Harold: Yeah. So that was tense. It was not theoretical.
Jimmy: Yes. Well, that's right. It happens right on the TV screen. So now we're into what, the fourth generation, who really I mean, I keep using the word existential, but that's what it is. It's a threat to existence hanging over their heads. And it's amazing to see the amount of times Schulz gets what a kid feels like in regard to those things. It gets what a kid is feeling about those things and puts it on the page. And I don't think that's the kind of thing any editor was looking forward to. I think you had to have the kind of clout-- you had the kind of commercial clout Schulz had to be able to do the things he's doing.
Jimmy: I can't imagine another strip that would have some of these themes in them. And I just don't think that even if they had, the ideas, that they would be allowed to.
Michael: Well, why don't we go into the first one? Because it's a good example of that.
Jimmy: It's a great example of that. So, all right, let's go. We're going to go through the strips in 1958. And here we go.
January 5. Linus is calmly walking down the sidewalk. A light snow begins to fall. Suddenly, he looks extremely shocked and worried. He goes running to Charlie Brown and grabs him by the coat, shouting, “It's happening, Charlie Brown. It's happening just like they said it would.” Charlie Brown smiles and opens his arms wide and says, “of course it's happening. It's snowing. What else did you expect this time of year?” Linus looks up, confused “Snowing?” In the last panel, he says, “Good grief. I thought it was the fallout.”
Jimmy: Yeah. I could talk about this trip for the rest of this episode.
Jimmy: let's do it. This is Unpacking January 5th,
Michael: panel one, upper left corner. No, this one I, really have a strong memory of, because I read this, either in the paper or in the book that came out that year, and this was the first time I heard the word fallout, and I did not get the joke.
Jimmy: Oh, wow.
Jimmy: Did you go and ask somebody?
Michael: I didn't talk to adults, I figured out myself later. But it seems strange because we were doing drop drills, which I don't know if anybody knows what those are, but you'd be sitting in your classroom and the teacher would shout Drop. And everybody had a duck under the desk and protect their necks from the flying glass that was going to kill everyone at any minute. So I was totally aware of the nuclear, threat, but I didn't know what fallout was when I read this.
Jimmy: Okay, so this is the year of existential themes. I have a huge question for, you guys, and I don't know if you have an answer for this, but I've been thinking this strip made me think about it. What's the purpose of art? Can you describe why it's important or interesting or what would compel someone to write a comic strip like this?
Michael: Well, it certainly gets into the mindset of a kid.
Michael: They often talk like adults. They're still fairly ignorant of the world, so every day they have to figure out what's going on and why is it going on.
Jimmy: And I think that is really putting your finger on something that does make Peanuts special. It's not that they're little adults. They have the language of adults, but they have the interior world of the kid, which maybe every adult does too. You know, maybe that's part of what he's saying.
But yeah. I don't know about you guys, but I remember being just terrified of nuclear war. At the time there was a movie that came out one year called The Day After, which was just this cheesy TV movie about what would happen if the nuclear bomb was dropped, but they hyped it up for weeks ahead of time. Like, this is the most troubling, disturbing this could really happen. And I was rattled by it to the point when I go to sleep at night and if I'd hear a plane going overboard, overhead, rather, I would think, oh, well, that's it. It's the missile.
Harold: Oh, wow.
Jimmy: And I thought, well, maybe I'm nuts. And then I was talking to a friend, this girl in my class named Sherry, and she said she felt the same way. And I don't even know how it came up. And I thought, well, that should make-- this is an adult looking back, that should have made me feel worse, right? Because it's not oh, it's not just a crazy thought in my head. This is something other people are worried about. So that therefore makes it actually slightly more real. But just the fact that other people were thinking of the same thing actually hugely helped. I don't particularly remember seeing this strip for some reason. And I think if I had seen it in one of the books I had, I would have remembered it because this is amazing. I think as a kid, if I was worried about it, I would feel relieved that Linus was worried about it, too. I think that's an amazing thing, like empathy that art can do.
Harold: Yeah. To your question about art, the thing that came to my mind was, why do I create art? I'm trying to share a truth that I see that I don't see being shared otherwise, you know, trying to magnify something that you see or at least speak out. something that you don't see other people seeing or talking about. Which kind of, I think, goes to your point that Schulz-- nobody, but nobody would have done this trip. And I was shocked when I saw it. I'd never seen it before that he went there, because it's so dark when you think about its implications. But it's so true to this character that it doesn't seem morbid, it doesn't seem irresponsible. I don't know who else could, have made this strip.
I think that people who did read it must have had myriad responses to it. There wasn't, like, any universal theme to it in terms of how people responded. And that's what Schulz was very good at, actually. He would often put out a strip and then people from both sides of an issue would then ask for copies of it because he didn't take a stance on what it meant politically or this or that, but he is talking about what it means to somebody internally. That is probably fairly common.
And it's true for Linus. That's the important thing. It's not just the truth, but it's a truth for this character that he is, over time, meticulously creating. And it resonates for me because of Linus. And I think that's why this works. Again, I can't see anybody else. There are no, other characters in the Sunday comics that you would see them doing this without it seeming crass or insensitive or just, why on earth did you go there? But in Linus's case, it makes sense.
Jimmy: It completely makes sense. First off, you have to be just a great cartoonist to be able to draw and conceive of the idea. You have to have the commercial clout to be able to pull it off that your editor's not going to say, no way are you going to do this. You have to have the character that can carry it, that people already have a relationship with and understand. And that character has to be nuanced enough that they can handle a joke like this.
Michael: Well, it's not out of the blue, because why does he need a security blanket?
Michael: He's terrified of the world.
Jimmy: That's a good point. That's a really good point. Right? Wow. And you'll notice, actually, here, he does not have the security blanket and he is freaking out.
Harold: Yeah. And you just care that much more about-- your heart goes out to this little cartoon pen and ink character because you now know something about him that you normally don't know about cartoon characters.
Jimmy: Yeah. And I think if you're an adult, reading it and you're sort of engaged in the news of the day, like Harold was saying, like, on one side of an issue or the other side, of an issue, Schulz is able to get to something that is beyond that, so beyond that. And that makes you think differently. Which is another reason art exists. Right.
I doubt highly that any actual political cartoon has ever changed anyone's mind in the history of political cartooning. Right. There's a great actual Peanuts strip about this where Linus is trying to draw a comic strip or an editorial cartoon that will solve all the world's problems. Charlie Brown says something like, I think it’lll add a few more to it. That mostly when people try to do this, somehow he is able to rise above it or get deeper into it or whatever that it makes it poetry. It's an amazing piece.
Harold: He finds something universal in something that's so divisive that is the deepest issue.
Michael: But also, it might be an adult reading this and going, gee, I never thought how scared my kid might be.
Jimmy: That's a great point. Right.
Harold: Yeah. And yet I don't know that Schulz is thinking about that at all. He is channeling Linus, and that's what Linus has to say.
Michael: But the parents, maybe some parents do parents didn't sit down and explain to their kids what fallout was.
Michael: They didn't talk to their kids. I was convinced the world was going to be destroyed in a nuclear war. For ten years I just didn't think there was any future, which certainly would influence the way I grew up.
Harold: Yes. I can't say that I saw the world this way, but again, when I saw it through Linus's eyes, I at the very least felt for Linus. You just had this deep, oh, my gosh, there's something this little kid has nothing to do with, nothing that you can do about it. Which is such a kid thing, right? Yeah. Life is just being lived all around you and you don't understand a lot of it and there's nothing you can do about it. Except you're basically, in some ways, enduring childhood or enjoying childhood, depending on your personality. When things are not in your control, they just are.
For Linus to be this kind of little deep thinker who's trying to make sense of his world, and when he sees snow, he thinks it's nuclear fallout is pretty sobering, to say the least.
Jimmy: I could talk about this for another half hour, but what do you say we'll move on to something completely different?
January 12. Snoopy and Lucy approach each other across a grassy field. As Snoopy comes close to her, they greet each other and immediately engage in a very festive and happy dance that lasts for 1,2,3,4,5 six, panels. And in the 6th panel, they bow low to each other, having enjoyed their time dancing. Snoopy, big smile on his face, walks back to his dog house, thinking, “boy, how that girl can dance. She's really a ball of fire. Yes, sir, she's quite a girl.” Then in the final panel, sitting in his doghouse rather than on top of it, he thinks to himself, “too bad she isn't a dog.”
Jimmy: That's another, great thing here that is from one extreme to the other. And are these consecutive Sundays?
Michael: Yeah, you're right.
Jimmy: That's amazing that one week can do those two things. That's amazing.
Michael: One thing Schulz does is he keeps evolving the relationships between the characters. Because I would have defined up to this point, Lucy's relationship to Snoopy was she bossing him around, and he really resents it. So it's fairly hostile. And so here we see them actually liking each other for the first time. The punchline is great, but basically it says, dance scenes are so great. This is like, the happiest you've ever seen, Lucy.
Harold: And it's really interesting how he sets it up. So the initial panel is an extra long panel with the Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz logo, and Lucy's on the left hand side walking towards Snoopy. And Snoopy's got his eyes closed, and he's doing the happy dance, kind of the river dance style with his little arm down. And the next panel, interestingly, is her closer to him with no expression on her face. And Snoopy looks down at his feet.
Jimmy: Yes, he does.
Harold: This is a really unique choice. It's almost suggesting that Snoopy is aware-- this is the way I'd read it. Snoopy is aware that she's there. He's looking down to kind of show her what she's doing and hopefully for her to consider it. And then the next panel is Lucy all of a sudden, it's like she gets something, and she has this big, happy, open mouth, and she has her arms extended to Snoopy, and there's a mirror image of Snoopy doing the same thing. It's almost like he found a way to connect to Lucy so that Lucy's worst side wouldn't take over here. She's been invited into his dance. And then you have these joyous drawings of them in various poses that is just so transcendent and so lovely and so fun.
Again, what other strip would have embodied happiness this way? I can't think of one. And you're just sucked into these characters, and you want to be in this world, you want to be with these guys.
Jimmy: And we are into basically full on gestural drawing in Peanuts. He's obviously drawing this very quickly. He's become super facile with the Radio 914. I am actually not 100% sure when he started using that pen, but clearly, by this point, he is. I mean, there's video of him around this time drawing it using that pen, and as we said before, give him just a different look. And this is the point where, to me, the drawing becomes like handwriting, and there's no words in it, but I still see Schulz's hand in every single panel. It's beautiful drawing.
Jimmy: Anyone have a favorite? My favorite is the first panel on the last year. It's with Snoopy. The look on, Snoopy's face and that panel just really delights me.
Harold: I like them when they have their arms extended, and while they're holding each other and they're leaning backwards. They're pulling the arms with a big smiles on their face.
Jimmy: And guys, if you're out there listening and you're thinking, well, I want to see this comic strip, what you need to do is follow along with us. And you could do that at gocomics.com. You just go there. Gocomics.com, type in, Peanuts, and you'll be able to read every single Peanuts comic strip from 1950 to 2000. Just type in the date you want, and away you go. This one, as I said, January 12, 1958.
January 31. Linus is walking down the street. He comes across Snoopy, who is standing on his hind legs, leaning against a lamppost. Linus regards him for a moment. Then, as he walks on, sternly says, “the worst thing a person can do is waste his life hanging around street corners.”
Michael: I picked this one because it's one of the few Peanuts I know that has an urban setting, even though it's just one line for the sidewalk and two lines for the pole But it's clearly not out with the neighborhood.
Harold: That's a Sebasto pole.
Jimmy: So this has been Unpacking Peanuts. I'm sorry.
Michael: anyway, the hanging on the street corner is the kind of thing that supposedly juvenile delinquents were doing in those days,
Harold: and, like, ten years later, he's doing Joe Cool. I just think of Joe Cool when I see you in his little arms crossed
Jimmy: Completely Joe Cool. Yeah.
Harold: And it's just so fun to see it this early on. It's like the classic cliche of the street toughs in the movies and stuff.
Jimmy: So I know the answer to this, but have either of you hung out on street corners in your life? I was a world class street corner hanger outer.
Michael: Did you sing harmony with your gang?
Jimmy: Just the thought of that is delightful, but no, we did not. Yeah. No. In Chendo this town called Shenandoah, or what we would call Chendo. Of course, half the crews, would be driving around in their cars, and the other half would be standing on street corners. And each high school had their own street corner hang out on. And if you made the mistake of going to another school's corner, you might get beaten up. I was Catholic school, so I had to share my corner, with North Schuykill because of local public school.
Michael: Did you whistle at the girls when they walked by?
Jimmy: I actually was thinking about this once. One time I actually got in a girl's car who was driving by and got a date out of it.
Jimmy: Nowadays, boy, that would be different. I can't imagine having the-- a) I can't imagine that I had the nerve to do that, and b) that she didn't just mace me.
And if actually you want the complete story of me hanging out on street corners, go to Living the Line on YouTube. And I talk all about a Love and Rockets comic there and how them hanging out on street corners really mirrored my hanging out on street corners.
Michael: Secret side of Jimmy Gownley.
Harold: And Michael, I think this is also one of those situations. I think you've mentioned that one of the devices, Schulz started to use, and he was using maybe less than he did when we originally were looking at the strip in the early years was that he would just take a concept and then take it literally. The fact that Snoopy I'm sure there are people who would just hang out on street corners, but Snoopy has nothing to do there. He's not hanging out with anybody. He's not doing anything. He's just literally leaning up against a light pole and that's it. That's what he's doing. And that's what hanging around street corners is all about Charlie Brown.
Jimmy: It really is.
February 1. Linus and Lucy are looking at a newspaper. Lucy says to Linus, this sounds like a good movie. “I Was a Teenage Warmonger.” She continues to peruse the paper. “Or how about this one? I Was a Teenage Camel Driver.” She turns to Linus and asks, “which one would you like to see?” Linus answers,”I don't know. It's difficult to make a decision when you have a choice between two such obviously fine pictures.”
Jimmy: this is an iconic one for me.
Michael: And he's not being sarcastic.
Jimmy: Not at all.
VO: Peanuts Obscurities Explained
Harold: I nominated this one as a Peanuts obscurity. I don't know how obscure it is to the people listening. It must vary from person to person. But this ties into something that was going on in movies around this time. In 1954, American International Pictures was formed and their specialty was teenage movies. And their specialty was selling into drive ins, double features and this sort of thing. But they were really good at promoting. And movie theaters had been owned by the really big-- the big city movie theaters were owned by the studios, and then that was illegal as of 1948. And so the playing field starts to level in movie theaters where somebody who's got a movie with a high concept or a big idea that they can draw an audience, they can get into bigger theaters just by the concept. American International is famous for high concept pictures, titles that would get you thinking, wow, what is in that movie? Like Beach Blanket Bingo. But in 1957 they came out with this I Was a Teenage Werewolf with Michael Landon, and huge surprise success because it was just such a goofy title that it got people interested. And they went to see the film. It was huge. And they turned around very quickly. By the end of the year, around the time that Schulz would have been perusing his newspaper was a follow up. I was a Teenage Frankenstein. So this was a thing, this was a trend. It was a fad that Schulz is referring to here because of all of this amazing youth culture that was now taking over these movie theaters.
Jimmy: The language in this last panel, it reminds me of the question we had from someone last season where they were talking about the language being stilted. and I don't-- it's not stilted, but it's definitely formal. And it's an element of Schulz's style that is really unique, to him, and I think adds to part of what seems sophisticated about the strip. It's difficult to make a decision when you have a choice between two such obviously fine pictures. It's such a great way to, express that when you're talking about especially these two ridiculous movies. And it sort of punctures, because there's no snobs like a film snob. And using that language to describe these movies, I think is really funny.
And if I could just go back to the fallout one, too. There is one great secret of comedy writing that he uses in that one where the punchline is, good grief, I thought it was the fallout. he doesn't say, I thought it was fall out. It's the fallout. If you add the to something that normally doesn't have it, it's funny. Always funny.
Harold: there's no question that Linus's cadence and the way he speaks, I must have just picked up and emulated because I thought it was great, my formal, stilted language, particularly when I'm, doing something deadpan, which I'm intending for humor. I think I can go back to Linus and say, I think I learned that from Charles Schulz.
Michael: Yeah, well, our next strip has another example of that.
Jimmy: Oh, good. And that leads me to another question I want to ask you guys. So this is very exciting.
February 2. We're inside someone's home. Linus’s, I guess, and he is walking around, dragging his blanket behind him. Snoopy looks at him, sort of annoyed. Snoopy thinks to himself, “there's something about seeing that stupid kid with that blanket that galls me.” After a moment, Snoopy attacks and grabs the blanket in his teeth. He spins Linus around his head, sends Linus flying into the furniture, knocking everything over. Then Snoopy, a ferocious, fang-like growl on his face, leaps on top of Linus, and the two go tumbling down the stairs. Then in the last panel, Linus emerges victorious, saying, “Security, like liberty, has to be won, and re-won many times.” And Snoopy thinks, “Beat again.”
Michael: I wonder if that's a quote.
VO: Why don't you Google it, you blockhead?
Jimmy: Harold why don’t you Google that?
Michael: It’s gotta be someone like Tom Paine or something like that.
Harold: It's probably going to be-- Charles Schulz , Peanuts 1958.
Jimmy: Yeah, I actually Googled “frustrated and inhibited” because it came up three times. Schulz'll use those exact terms in three different years. But it only comes up as relating to Peanuts.
Harold: Yeah. well, there you go. Number one reference back to Charles Schulz.
Michael: Holy shit.
Jimmy: Sounds like it's an actual quote, but apparently it was just made up.
Harold: Yeah, I'm just seeing Schulz through here. So it may have been, an obscure thing he read that he thought was important, but certainly not something that was, taken from his book of 1001 quotes.
Jimmy: It could certainly be something he would have heard in the military. Not security, but just liberty has to be one and re-won many times. I'm sure someone could have said that to him in his army career.
Harold: Right, that sounds that's a good point. Just look it up for liberty without security and see if.
Jimmy: Liberty has to be one and re-won many times.
Harold: It's still going back to Peanuts.
Jimmy: All right, well, let me ask you this, because as Michael pointed out, this is another example of that type of language. And, Harold, you mentioned you think you picked up some of Linus's cadences and just incorporate-- I know there are so many things that I've said over the years that I've just lifted directly from Peanuts to the point that I don't even when I'm saying, I don't even think that they're from Peanuts anymore. It's just something I say. But you know what I never picked up I never used any of the actual catch phrases. I would have never said good grief.
Jimmy: And you wouldn't have either
Harold: Did you say rats?
Jimmy: Not much, but I probably would have said rats once, A few times. Yeah, I guess I said rats, but not a lot.
Harold: I can't stand it.
Jimmy: I can't stand that. I would have said but even things, “At least I don't have yellow hair.” Or, like, the most obscure things I would just somehow work in all the time. But not the actual catchphrases.
Harold: Yes, none of those famous ones. But I don't know how many times I've referenced that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown in some form or another. I think I just did it.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah, that's what blank is all about, Charlie Brown. It comes up a lot. I'll give you five good reasons.
Harold: Yes, those are good reasons. definitely.
Jimmy: So how about we take a break now, come back in a few and go through some more of these great strips.
Michael and Harold Sounds, good.
VO: Hi, everyone. I just want to take a moment to remind you that all three hosts are cartoonists themselves and their work is available for sale. You can find links to purchase books by Jimmy, Harold, and Michael on our website. UnpackingPeanuts.com.
Jimmy: Okay, we're back. Let's get back to it.
February 6. Charlie Brown is eating a bowl of cereal and conversing with Shermy. He says to Shermy, “I've had five bowls of Snicker snacks today. I keep thinking of those poor people working at the Snicker Snack plant. They must work very hard.” Charlie Brown thinks and then sniffs back a tear. Then he turns to Shermy and says, “I feel obligated to eat all the Snicker Snacks I can.”
Michael: This makes me think about how kids sort of build loyalty to brands, like part of their identity, and how these can be kind of fickle. But I remember you get into the Sugar Smacks, and for three years, you eat nothing but sugar smacks, and then suddenly you're not eating sugar snacks anymore. You're eating Sugar Pops.
Harold: And the idea that cereal boxes became the this text that children read all around the country, and that that was this common experience that was, like, the literature of children was reading cereal boxes, during your breakfast time.
Jimmy: It was all about those premiums. I was very mercurial. I wasn't going to be loyal to a cereal. I wanted to get the toy. That's what I was, really.
Michael: One of the ones we didn't feature this year is he gets-- there’ supposed to be a marble or something in the box of Snicker snacks, and he gets, like, 500 marbles and one Snicker Snack.
Jimmy: Right. And one Snicker Snack. If this was done today, and Peanuts was this big, there would be Snicker Snack cereal next month. And it would be the corn based corn pop cereal that they always just make into a new shape or whatever the fad is. It's the C3PO cereal, then the ET cereal, then it’s The Batman serial.
Harold: I think the modern art that he does on the box is great. If that's what a box of cereal looked like, that would, be pretty cool. It's like a ___ esque thing that has no shape or form. I can't exactly tell what it is.
Jimmy: And I'd want it in black and white, too, so it looks like the cover to Revolver. That would be the greatest cereal box ever.
Harold: Yeah. And here's panel two. Shermy's taking his coat off. This is something that I noticed that maybe two years, three years ago, you wouldn't have this particular thing. This is just a tiny little observation. Maybe you guys disagree, but when he's taking the jacket off, that sleeve around the wrist is huge, and it's not in the previous panel. So it's one of those things where Schulz is trying to make it clear he's taking his coat off, and I think he exaggerates things a little bit, but I don't know that he would have done something that loose a couple of years ago.
Jimmy: No. And I noticed something in one of the other strips, and I can't remember which one it is now, so maybe it's one of the ones that you guys called out, but it's a similar thing with one of Snoopy's arms being, like, three times as long and as wide as the other one. But because it's so brilliantly designed and, strategically used, it took the 500th time I saw it to ever notice.
Harold: Yeah. And that's the genius of Schulz, that Snoopy characters look at his paws from pose to pose as he gets more of these classic poses. And it's crazy how the little paw changes in size and interpretation. It doesn't matter. That's the huge lesson. It doesn't matter. As long as it makes sense in the pose.
February 23, Charlie Brown is walking outside. Shermy and Pig-Pen call out to him. Shermy yells, “Hi, Charlie Brown. How's the friend of all mankind?” Pig-Pen laughs. “Ha ha ha.” “Good grief,” says Charlie Brown. He walks away as the boys continue to laugh. Then he comes across Patty and Violet. (So this should go well.) Patty says, “Well, if it isn't Charlie Brown.” Then Violet says, “Good old wishy washy Charlie Brown.” And they both laugh at him as well. Then he comes upon Lucy, who says, “Hi, Charlie Brown. Is that your head or are you hiding behind a balloon?” She laughs her head off at this. Dejected, Charlie Brown walks home, takes off his coat, turns on the radio, and a voice on the radio, says, “and what in all this world is more delightful than the gay, wonderful laughter of little children.” This causes Charlie Brown to kick the radio across the room.
Michael: This has got to be one of the cruelest strips he's ever done. Cause even Shermy, who is a hypocrite, we know from the very first Peanut strip, is mocking Charlie Brown.
Jimmy: Turns on him. But this is interesting because this is like splitting that difference that I was talking about, where he is looking at the kids behavior and saying it's bad, but because he's still on Charlie Brown’s side, it has the ring of truth to it, because Charlie Brown is feeling how bad it is.
Harold: Yeah. And the other thing that makes me sad about this strip is this is the only time I've ever seen Pig-Pen being really cruel. He's going right along with it, even though he's the iconic classic outsider.
Jimmy: Okay, well, I'm going to pull a Harold, and just for the sake of it, be contrary.
Jimmy: He's laughing, he's not making fun of it. And laughter is an involuntary response. So maybe he just found Shermy’s “How’s, the friend of all mankind” so uproariously funny that he just couldn’t…
Harold: Well, this goes back to what we were talking about regarding these little panels where somebody is saying he's wishy washy or-- these never rang true to me when I was reading these strips where I never saw kids doing this thing where this guy is good old Charlie Brown, he's wishy washy. Haha. What a jerk. People making fun of somebody being pleasant or trying to embrace humanity. I never saw that. And yet he's so insistent about it that you have to just kind of accept it in the world. Even though it's not my experience that this was a thing, but it was obviously important to Schulz and it was almost like the unspoken thing he was maybe thinking, everybody was saying maybe about himself. I don't know, but it doesn't ring true to my experience. But it rings true in the sense that Schulz is so consistent.
Jimmy: You know, this is bringing back a strange memory for me, because I feel the same way about that, that it doesn't ring true. But, boy, I actually did have an experience like this, walking around town with someone. I won't say who, but someone. And kids were cat calling to them and making fun of them as we walked.
It only happened once, but, boy, it did make an impression. So I don't know, maybe it is the kind of thing, even if Schulz only experienced it once, he's walking down the street and it scarred him. I will say this, though. Lucy's is legitimately funny. Lucy is a better character because everybody else is just trying to insult Charlie Brown. Lucy at least has a little flare with him.
Harold: Well, even there, it's not really a funny-- it's kind of obvious or I don't know. You wouldn't think that standalone, that that would be a funny joke, right?
Jimmy: Well, no, but compared to, like, good old wishy washy Charlie Brown it’s Mark Twain.
Harold: She's actually trying to set up a gag. The one thing I can, think of in my experience, was in Philadelphia. I was at a comic book convention.
Jimmy: Well, say no more.
Harold: Baltimore and Philadelphia. Right. Those are the two places where you're going to experience just about anything. Well I was staying, a guy who was working with my wife, he very kindly gave the key to his apartment that he had not been in, for months for me to stay there. It was in downtown Philadelphia.
So I was going from the comic book convention to a deserted downtown Philadelphia because it's the weekend and it's this business area.
And I remember driving my clunker car and this larger vehicle with a bunch of guys, in it pulled up to, me. And the guy was like, motioning, roll down your window. I'm like, what am I supposed to do in downtown Philadelphia? I don't know these guys. So I roll down the window, and these guys look kind of menacing. And so I roll the window down, against my better judgment. The guy, rolls his window down, and he goes, “pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” And then they just break into laughter and peel out.
Which I thought was actually very funny. But it kind of reminds me that they knew that they might be menacing, but they were just going to totally turn it on its ear and have a laugh out of it. I thought that was great.
Jimmy: That is laugh-- Okay. I grew up in the coal regions in Pennsylvania, and there's this town, Centralia, which has literally been on fire for about 60 years now. Google Centralia, Pennsylvania.
Anyway, when I was a kid, there was still a town that hadn't burned to the ground yet or been bulldozed, and they would have, ironically, bonfires every 4 July. And my cousins live there, so I would go to their bonfire, and we were walking from their bonfire to their neighbors bonfire. and a car pulled up against the curb right up to us, rolled his window down halfway, yelled, "Hey," then lit a pack of firecrackers off the cigarette in his mouth and threw them at our direction, gave us the finger and drove away.
However, he had only rolled his window halfway down. It bounced off the window, landed on his lap. As he's driving away, they start going off. It was the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life. I would laugh like Shermy and Pig-Pen. It was the greatest.
Harold: It's so funny because when we were doing the hanging around street corners strip, I was going to ask you if you ever hung out in Centralia before the fire.
Jimmy: Were you really?
Harold: Yeah. For some reason, that made me think about it. I just thought of a small town that was near where you guys were that you might have been hanging out.
Jimmy: Centralia is one of the great tragedies in American history. It was a beautiful little town. So fun. And it was just destroyed by a coal mining fire that lasted. It's still burning to this day, just underground because it's the world's largest coal vein.
Harold: Yeah, it is crazy to go. I mean, the highway has been diverted around it. It's to this deserted area. And I think we're about there's less than ten people living.
Jimmy: I think there's five people now.
Harold: It's an amazing documentary on it if anyone wants to check it out.
Jimmy: Yeah, it's definitely worth seeing. it's one of the places I grew up, and that's the site of the famous firecracker incident.
March 15. Schroeder and Linus are chatting. Schroeder says, “my grandfather says that in his day, kids didn't drag blankets around.” Linus is indignant. “Your grandfather didn't have to worry about being run down in the street by blockheads. He didn't have to worry about being bombed from outer space. He didn't have to worry about…” Schroeder runs away. “Good grief” covering his ears.
Michael: Now, there's a fanatic for you.
Jimmy: And there's another great example, though, of Schulz getting this generation's anxieties. He's right about all of these things.
Michael: Yeah, there's blockheads all over the place nowadays.
Harold: Yeah, this is the case where he's siding with the kids.
Jimmy: And of course, it's true of every generation and every time. You're always at the front of history. It's always uncertain, it's always rough, sometimes rougher than others. And never before do people have to be worried about being bombed from outer space.
Harold: Yeah. And this year, I think ‘56. And we had a little respite in ‘57, but it seems like there's a lot more shouting.
Jimmy: That brings up a question, so where does this year rank on the anger indexes? Do you look at it again?
Harold: Yes. So for those of you who are joining us, for the first time. The last number of years, I've been going back and just flipping through the strips each year to, see how many of the strips have a character, at least one character in one panel showing anger. And, then just last year, I think I started also checking to see, how many strips have at least one character in them who displaying some form of happiness or contentment.
And last year, we had 129 angry strips. 35% of them had anger in them, and almost identical 124 strips, or 34%, where there was happiness. What is your guy's take on whether this is an angrier or less angry year than last year?
Michael: It’s less angry. 123
Jimmy: That's what I think. I think it's less angry, too. All right, I'm going to go again with Price is Right rules and say 3.