Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. It's Unpacking Peanuts, where we're going to finish up the monumental year of 1958. I'm your host. Jimmy Gownley. You might know me from my comic book series Amelia Rules. Or my graphic novel Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up. And The Dumbest Idea Ever.
Joining me, as always, are my cohosts. He's a playwright, he's a composer, both for this podcast and for his band, Complicated People. And he's the cartoonist behind such great strips as Strange Attractors, A Gathering of Spells, and Tangled River, Michael Cohen.
Michael: Hey, there.
Jimmy: And he's the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000. He is a former vice president of Archie Comics, and he's the cartoonist behind the instagram strip Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: All right, so last week I left you with a cliffhanger. Let me tell you my grand theory of art. And, I asked you to contemplate how important happiness is. So just to tell you, you were speaking, Harold, to the fact that at this point, Schulz was able to capture many moods within a single comic strip. Right? Could you explain that again a little bit for people who just are tuning in this week?
Harold: Right. So I've been doing this Happiness Index against this Anger Index each year to see if there's a strip that has at least one character in one panel showing either anger or happiness as I can best determine, which is an art more than a science. And what we noticed this year versus last year is that the Anger Index and the Happiness Index increased markedly, particularly the Happiness Index. So, obviously, Schulz is putting more of emotion into this year's trips than last year’s, as far as I can tell.
Jimmy: How this ties into my grand theory of art, which I will not lay all on you at this point because that would bore everyone to tears.
Harold: That would be grand.
Jimmy: It would be grand. I think in a work of art. And it doesn't matter if it's a poem or if it's a TV show or if it's comic strip, whatever. When you can vary the moods and you could take someone from the absolute depths but then bring them up to the absolute heights. Or you could put cruelty right next to humor. Or you can take pain and actually turn it into humor or joy. That is the highest thing that art can do. And when you're able to vary those moments up and vary those moods up enough, it actually takes the reader or the consumer of the art off balance. It brings them out of their own comfort zone where they're trying, I think, to always stay within a certain range emotionally. They have to for their jobs and their families and stuff like this. But this takes them to a place that's a lot raw-er, that's a lot more like your first crush or something like that, where things are very highs and lows and they come together very quickly. And I think in those moments, you might actually be able to change someone. It's going to be subtle, but over a long period of time, I really think you can have that effect on people. And I think that's what we're seeing Schulz do. And I think that's amazing. It's the one thing I always try to do and wish I could do better in my own art, is to be able to, because that's how life is.
Harold: And I do see that in your work, Jim. I think that's one of the reasons I was attracted to it initially. For those of you who don't know, Jimmy and I worked together for a number of years, on his work, his comic, particularly Amelia Rules, his graphic novel series, and so did Michael. Michael and Jimmy worked together through creating Renaissance Press, which included works that Michael was compiling and contributing to, as well as Amelia Rules. So I'm very familiar with Jimmy's work, and I was attracted to it, I think, for the reasons Jimmy is describing.
There are not a lot of artists who are doing this, and I think there's two pieces to it. Jimmy, don't you think one of them is that, somebody can be taken to a raw place and that might lead them to change, but you're the creator of the world, and in essence you're the god of the story. And I think that's the other piece of it that I don't see very often in art is I placed myself in the hands of the creator. And if I'm going to go there, if I'm going to go to some raw place, I want to trust the person who's taking me there, that they're going to take me to a better place, ultimately.
And back to your point about happiness. Is happiness, overrated? And I think happiness is overrated. I think joy is greatly underrated. And, I feel that you have, in many cases, been able to get us to the place of joy in your, work. And that's what I really appreciate about what you do. It's not easy. It requires a level of commitment to your audience and to the story and the characters that you make to be true to them. And these are all things we see in Schulz's work that you have emulated. And I think that's and then brought your own unique take on that I hugely appreciate.
Jimmy: Well, that's very nice of you to say, and I'll send you a check for that. Let me ask you this, though. Can you describe what you said, joy, is underrated and happiness is overrated. Tell me what the distinction in your mind is between those two.
Harold: To me, happiness is a contentment of where things are at the moment. And I think, for example, the strip with the characters taunting Charlie Brown that we were featuring towards the, end of last week's session, those characters are happy. They're in a place where they feel comfortable taunting Charlie Brown. But it is not a place of joy. To me, joy is transcendent. Joy has to do with something that's bigger than yourself, that you're entrusting yourself to, that brings you to a place that you get outside of yourself and you're part of something bigger in a way that makes you live a better life. I guess that's the best way I could describe it.
Jimmy: What do you think, Michael? Is joy overrated, or is happiness rather overrated?
Michael: I'm not sure what it is. A lot of different emotions blended into it. There's satisfaction and security and a lot of things that Schulz deals with. If you're talking a work of art, I really agree with what you're saying about you need the two polar opposites to work against each other. I tend to dislike comedies that are just flat out trying to make you laugh no matter what.
Harold: Any examples you could give of something that people--.
Michael: Well, I don't like the Harvey Kurtzman strips we were talking about last week.
Jimmy: Like joke, joke, joke
Michael: It’s like he's doing everything to make you laugh. He's throwing everything against the wall to make you laugh. The stuff I really like is things that work on both at the same time, which is something the Beatles can do. Even a song like Day in the Life, which is probably one of the saddest songs. It still has that bridge where McCartney's, like, you're going like, this is stupid, but it really works against each other. And that's what Schulz does. He very rarely is just all out I'm going to do a funny comic.
Harold: Yeah. And one thing I noticed in Schulz's work is that he doesn't force an emotion.
Right. If a character, he will tend toward neutrality. Like even no mouth on the character. Just an open eye that's just kind of staring. It's like he wants to make those moves count, and he doesn't want to distract you from the things that don't count. Where you see a lot of cartoonists, and I've been guilty of this, in some of the stuff I've done, where I'm going to make characters overreact to something that really doesn't deserve it. And therefore, you're taking the direction of where you're focusing emotionally in the strip, and you're amping up something that shouldn't be amped up. And so when you do get to something that should be amped up, you're already there. and so the contrast isn't there. And Schulz is great about the contrast.
Michael: The strips I hate are the ones where in the last panel, someone makes a joke and all the people around him are laughing.
Jimmy: Well, we've actually talked about that a lot. There's, like, a whole subgenre of comics where the characters are smiling insanely in every panel, no matter what is happening in the story.
Harold: Yeah. Although I am a fan of the joke at the end when the legs are up in the air and they've gone back and plopped backward based on whatever the other person said..
Jimmy: In regards to what you're just talking about, about the subtlety that he does in expression and how effective that is. I think that perfectly leads us into our next strip.
Oh, wait, hold on. Record scratch sound. I skipped one. let's go back for a second.
March 17. Charlie Brown and Shermy are sitting in Charlie Brown's living room, looking at some sort of strange contraption. Charlie Brown says, “look, my dad gave me a toy printing press.” Shermy examines it as Charlie Brown continues, “now I can put out my own newspaper. This is a complete outfit. Ink type, newsprint, everything. Oh, and here's the most important item of all.” Charlie Brown pulls out a slip of paper that says, “a little slip of paper which entitles me to an appointment with Jim Hagerty.”
Harold: A knee slapper
Michael: Ha ha
Jimmy: That is a knee slapper. Tell us who Hagerty is. I'm assuming you know Harold.
VO: Peanuts obscurities explained.
Harold: Yeah, Peanuts obscurity explained here. So Jim Hagerty is the only person who has ever done both terms of a two-term president as press secretary under Eisenhower.
Jimmy: Wow, that is insurance man.
Jimmy: I love the little, miniature printing press. I would have loved to have something like this as a kid.
Harold: Yes, I had a mimeograph machine that we bought cheap at some antique store in the morning.
Jimmy: Of course you did.
Harold: Loved it. Loved it. We would make tickets for the Jerry Lewis muscular dystrophy telethon stuff. They got everybody involved in the community. Made, little newspapers and things. It was fun.
Jimmy: Harold, I could just picture you in your crib with your mimeograph machine.
Harold: Oh, that's a beautiful spirit duplicator smell.
Jimmy: That's a good smell.
Harold: Do not try that at home.
March 23. Lucy is watching television. Linus comes up behind her and asks, “what are you watching?” Lucy says, “none of your business.” Linus says, “I want to watch my program.” Lucy's angry. She shouts, “Get out of here.” Linus continues, “you always get to watch your programs, and I never get to watch my programs.” Lucy stands up and clenches her fist. “Do you want to get hit? I'll slug you a good one. Brother or no brother, I'll run rough shod over you.” Linus walks past Lucy and begins adjusting the TV set. Lucy says, “what are you doing?” Linus says, “I'm turning off your program and turning on mine.” He turns to Lucy, a look of complete confidence and disdain on his face, and says, “you don't frighten me one bit.” Linus sits in front of the TV, a big smile on his face, and Lucy cries to the heavens, “Wah!”
Michael: the worm turns.
Michael: Well, I don't know if Linus continues this trend of standing up for himself, but it's good to see it.
Jimmy: Talking about a subtlety of expression. The next to last panel with Linus confronting Lucy just by the placement, of his eyebrows and his eyelid. It's a masterful version of that type of just contempt to look on someone's face. and I've never seen as good a version of it basically anywhere.
Harold: Yeah. And again, what Schulz does really well, actors are told when you've got your line and someone you're in the same shot with somebody and you don't have a line, you need to not make a move to pull the audience away from the character who's got the main moment. And he does that here. I mean, Lucy's yelling right in Linus's face, and he is just deadpan staring at her, and her nose is maybe three inches from his. And then when he does it back to her, her response is totally deadpan when he says, you don't bite me one bit. It's not until the next panel that we see her response. Really smart choices in taking you all across the map in terms of emotion in this one.
Jimmy: Hey, and if you're listening to us and you want to actually be able to see these strips, you can just go to GoComics.com and type in Peanuts. It'll have every single strip that Charles Schulz ever created in the 50-year run of this comic strip. Or if you want to get a little fancy about it, treat yourself to the Fantagraphics Complete Peanuts collections. they are beautiful books, but either way, you can follow along with us. And it's really worth doing because you're only getting half of, it. If you hear the dialogue, the artwork is just a joy to behold.
April 6. Schroeder is standing in front of a huge display of classical music LPs. He leaves the store and, is proudly walking home with one. He comes upon Lucy who says “what's that Schroeder?” Schroeder says “this, is a new recording of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony.” Lucy asks, “what are you going to do with it?” Schroeder says, “I'm going to take it home and listen to it.” Lucy starts doing a little dance and asks, “you mean you're going to dance to it?” Schroeder says, “no, I'm just going to listen to it.” Lucy is marching around and says, “Are you going to march around the room while you listen to it?” Schroeder says, “no, I'm just going to sit and listen to it.” Lucy asks, “you mean you're going to whistle or sing while you listen to it?” Schroeder says, “no, I'm just going to listen to it, and walks away.” Lucy looks after him and, says, “that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.”
Michael: There are people out there who don't get music. I've run into some of them. To them music is a purpose music. You need it for this, you need it for that. But just the music itself is like, why would you listen to it?
Jimmy: Music is in a situation in the same way as, comics, really, in that when we were younger, back in the day, when we were younger, most comics were just out of print. Even something like Peanuts, as we were understanding. a large percentage of them weren't reprinted. And even if they were, they were reprinted in a paperback. You'd have to hunt down, you'd have to find it. You wouldn't have any kind of context, for it. Records were the same way. I mean, it took me forever to find a copy of Pet Sounds, which is absurd, because now everything is available all the time. But I don't know that people have a richer appreciation of anything. In some ways, they might have less.
Harold: Yeah. Because everything is instantly available and at hand. The thrill of the hunt is certainly gone for finding things that you've heard you want to check out.
Michael: I love the thrill of the hunt, especially with comics, too. And, now, of course, everything's available everywhere.
Jimmy: Yeah. The other thing about it is, it's not just the hunt, but there was an economic thing where you had a limited amount of money to spend, and you'd have to pick something, and then that was your entertainment until the next amount of money. You were able to save up that amount of money.
Jimmy: So if it was a record that you spent your money on, you're going to spend a lot of time with that record. You're just going to listen to it and enjoy it more than when you could just make a playlist. 80s hits or whatever, and you don't even think about it.
Beautiful drawing of all the records. I bet those are real record covers. Because we know he was a major classical music, fan. And Brahms, by the way, is his favorite composer, not Beethoven.
Harold: And I wouldn't be surprised if every single one of those is from his collection.
Jimmy: Oh, I assume it is. 100%.
April 30. Charlie Brown and Violet, are standing on the sidewalk. Violet says, “my dad has a better job than your dad. My dad has a bigger car than your dad.” The third panel is silent as Charlie Brown thinks for a second. Then he says, “my dad has a son.”
Michael: I would not touch this one with a ten foot pole. I did not pick this one.
Harold: I love the third panel. I was the one who nominated this one because Charlie Brown has been pummeled with these things for days. By the, time we get to this strip between Violet and him, I love the next to last panel where he's giving-- talk about happiness. you got a big old smile, closed eyed smile, wide grin on Violet just feels, like she's superior in every way to Charlie Brown. And given all the things that Charlie Brown could say, that there's something about this that is, actually kind of touching to me, because it's not just that his dad has a son. And because Violet’s is a girl, he doesn't have a son. He's almost saying that that's of value to his dad. It's Charlie Brown standing up for something, potentially, depending on how you read it. It's true. He's not rubbing anything in. He's giving something that on her terms. She loses.
Michael: Yeah. I think in that third panel, Charlie Brown is thinking, boy, I've got a great rejoinder, but I'll probably get canceled.
Harold: because he doesn't have a big grin on his face. He's just saying very matter of fact. And the look on Violet's face is priceless. Where she's got the Lucy eyes with the parentheses around them and that slightly wiggly line where she's yeah, I can't even describe what that emotion is. You'd have to go and look on April 30, but she's hunched slightly forward. It's very subtle stuff.
Jimmy: Well, yeah. He moves in on the characters a little bit. They're much larger in the panel. And just that last one.
Harold: Yeah. And this gets slightly bigger, for first panel smallest.
Jimmy: Well, speaking of things that could get us canceled, full disclosure I'm a 50-year-old white man, and I'm going to read this next strip, and it contains a word that I think now is bad. It's an old fashioned word for an indigenous person, but I'm just going to say it. If you don't want to hear it, skip 15 seconds ahead, and we can talk about it on the other side.
May 2. Charlie Brown is watching Linus, who's running around in the yard with his finger guns blazing. “Bang, bang.” yells Linus. Charlie Brown runs after him. “Cops and robbers?” “Nope,” says Linus. “Cowboys and Indians?” says Charlie Brown. “Nope” says Linus. Linus continues running and yells, “liberals and conservatives.”
Michael: I'm pretty sure this is the first time I heard those words. I remember not understanding this one.
Jimmy: Yeah, I don't remember seeing this one reprinted.
Michael: I, might be wrong.
Jimmy: I'm not saying it isn't. It certainly may have. Thankfully, this is a moment we're able to look at something from far back in the past and go, well, luckily, we don't have to worry about things like that today.
Harold: It’s an obscurity
Jimmy: The Peanuts time machine-- to last week. Ten minutes ago.
May 15. Charlie Brown and Schroeder are playing marbles. There are two silent panels. In the first, they're playing marbles. In the second, they seem to be aware of something, although we don't see what. In the third panel, we see they're playing next to a tree. And in the tree is perched Snoopy in his vulture guise., they both yell at Snoopy, “Get out of here.” Sending Snoopy flying from the tree.
Michael: Yes. No joke here, except that’s Snoopy's greatest impersonation. He's done a lot, but the Vulture is, like, classic.
Jimmy: Such a great drawing. I love when he does the Vulture Snoopy. Clearly, that has to be coming from his process of working by doodling something on a notepad without regards to a script first. Draw it, it's suddenly a version of Snoopy looks like a vulture. Next thing you know, you have a few years worth of comic strips about it.
May 25. Linus, decked in his full baseball gear, is standing in the outfield. He is, of course, sucking his thumb and holding his blanket behind, him. Hiding behind a rock is perched Snoopy. Snoopy slowly begins to sneak up on Linus. Suddenly, Linus spots a high fly ball. At just the same moment, Snoopy attacks, grabbing Linus's blanket in his jaws. Snoopy spins Linus around, then goes running, dragging Linus behind him. As Linus is being dragged behind Snoopy, he reaches out and makes a spectacular catch of the fly ball. On the bench sits Charlie Brown, the manager, who says, “no manager in the history of baseball has ever had to go through what I have to go through.”
Harold: Here's a baseball strip.
Michael: and it's also one of Linus making a great catch while these other things are going on. I think this might be the third one of those.
Harold: Yeah. What do you think of the image of Snoopy seated on all fours with Linus in four different angles of being twisted around by Snoopy?
Jimmy: that's basically like a futurist art. That's like Nude Descending A Staircase
Harold: It’s crazy.
Jimmy: And it's funny because this is clearly he developed this technique of loosely sketched multiple, figures, I think, last year. And he really gets into it because there's a number of times he repeats that. And here he's pushing it to the point of like I said, it, completely looks like just a modern art composition.
June 4, Charlie Brown and Lucy are talking. Charlie Brown says, “I guess one of the things we all have to learn is to live just one day at a time.” Lucy says, ” I do better than that. I live just 1 second at a time. There, that was a good one. Here comes another one-- there. I lived pretty good during that one there. Oh, that was a happy second. There. Oh, I was real good during that one. Here comes another one.” Charlie Brown says “I can't stand it.”
Harold: I was real good during that one.
Michael: This one seems a little awkward to me. This was not reprinted. Yeah, it seems that's not really Lucy's character.
Harold: You don't think so?
Michael: I just thought this one seems a little clumsy, but that's one out of 365.
Harold: I kind of liked it because Lucy is just, playing off of Charlie Brown, trying to think of some way to one up him in some inane way. And then she totally buys into it for herself. I think that's classic Lucy for me.
June 6, Linus and Lucy are walking down the street. Linus says to Lucy, “I have a lot of love in my heart. I love everybody. I love every living creature.” Lucy asks, “do you love snakes?” Linus is indignant. He shouts, back. “Of course I love snakes.” Lucy says, “do you love gila monsters?” Linus, fist raised to the air, shouts, “I never heard of a gila monster, but if I knew what it was, I'd love it.”
Michael: This is the fanatic. Linus just goes to fanatic mode. He can't just say, I like things. He loves every living creature in the world.
Jimmy: Right. I love that aspect of Linus. I think it's very, fun. And it comes you see it a little bit earlier, where he's doing his I’m steadfast, unalterable, unyielding sort of fanaticism. And I like that he's able to branch it out into various other disciplines.
June 22. Charlie Brown turns on the television set. Snoopy is asleep on top of the television set. He notices that Charlie Brown is watching the TV. Slowly, Snoopy maneuvers himself so that he is hanging off the edge of the top of the television set and watching the show upside down. Charlie Brown is annoyed that Snoopy is blocking his view. So he walks over to a little transistor radio and turns that on instead. As he sits enjoying the music, slowly, Snoopy sneaks up again and this time covers the speaker with his ear.
Harold: This is wonderful wordless comic by Schulz. He hasn't been doing a ton of them this year, but this is classic cute Snoopy. It gives us a little bit of a precursor to Snoopy sleeping on top of the doghouse, where he's on top of this gigantic console, asleep. But it's, just adorable. Snoopy is milking his cuteness for all it's worth in this strip.
Jimmy: Harold, what's a transistor radio?
Michael: Yeah, It was the hot thing.
Harold: Why don't you google it? You blockhead.
Jimmy: Here's a funny thing. Iron Man's suit in the original comics, was all powered by transistors.
Jimmy: It was the hot thing. Yeah. One of Iron Man's little contraptions in his suit in the early issues is transistor powered roller skates.
Harold: Dick Tracy would be proud
July 4 Charlie Brown is lying with his head in a dog's water dish. Snoopy looks on. In panel two, Snoopy walks by Schroeder, also lying with his head in the dog's water dish. Finally, in panel three, Snoopy notices Linus and Lucy both lying on the ground, their head in a dog's water dish. Snoopy thinks to himself in the last panel. “Good grief. I think I’ve founded a new movement.”
Michael: This would not make sense out of context because we've had a whole week or probably more of Snoopy discovering that if he lies with his head in the water dish, he's, like, blissfully happy. And this is kind of the finale of that whole sequence where everybody else is doing it after mocking him. Everybody was making fun of him for doing this. Now they're all doing it.
Harold: Yeah. What's going on with the first panel there? Maybe this is never reprinted.
Michael: That ear?
Harold: Looks like it was redrawn by a warm Hershey bar.
Jimmy: You know, it's funny. We had some interaction with one of our listeners who was asking about seeing some of the panels that look, different, or it looks like maybe somebody went in and tried to thicken up a line. I think in instances, like this, it probably was something where it wasn't reprinted. The original art is gone, and all you're getting it sourced from is, like, a microfiche or a microfilm of one of the papers that ran on if that's the case, because apparently Seth and Chris Ware, the cartoonists, donated a lot of their own collections to the Fantagraphics Project to have this complete series reprinted, because a lot of these things were lost. But these guys are fanatics. Seth would just go to the library and just look through newspapers and find a Peanuts strip that he'd never seen before and print it out.
So if that's the case, and this was taken from a microfiche of the Harrisburg Patriot or whatever, it could be the person in the art department there that made those lines. We have no way of knowing, but it certainly is, I don't think, what Schulz drew.
Seth is a cartoonist who also he's very famous for drawing in the New Yorker style, but he also is the, designer who designed the Complete Peanuts, books for Fantagraphics. He wrote, such things as It's A Good Life if You Don't Weaken. And my personal favorite, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists.
July 7. Schroeder is holding a toy gun with a bayonet and showing it to Linus and Charlie Brown. Linus says, “a wooden rifle with a rubber bayonet. Boy, is that ever slick.” Shermy rushes off playing army with it. A look of violence on his face as he yells, “Arrgh.”. Linus looks off after Shermy and says, “gee, I wish I had one of those.” Then he turns to Charlie Brown and says, “I'm always intrigued by educational toys.”
Jimmy: This is Shermy. Is this going to give us a chance to visit the Shermometer?
Michael: Oh, absolutely.
VO: Let's check the Shermometer Charlie Brown.
Jimmy: Fire it up. What do we got?
Michael: What is it? Is it aggression? Managing aggression?
Jimmy: I could see that, yes.
Jimmy: I say aggression more than violence, because he's not doing it. We don't see what he does, but he's definitely being aggressive. I have to make a slight confession here. I have not been 100% up to snuff on my record keeping in regards, to the Shermometer. So I'm going to need to make a motion for unanimous consent, that we will, officially add whatever this trait is to the Shermometer. And then if you both agree to it, we will sign off on the official list of Shermy traits and then take it from there. Does that make sense?
Michael: I don't like signing things without checking with my lawyer.
Jimmy: All right, so this is I've pieced together what we've said about Shermy and thus far. Well, first off, tell me what this is. Are we going to go with aggression?
Michael: Yeah, I like aggression. But don't forget, we have another hypocrite thing from one of the previous strips.
Jimmy: So that is reinforcing hypocrite. This interesting, too, because maybe as we go forward, maybe things will be removed from the Shermometer!
Jimmy: as things change. Who knows? There's a lot that can happen here. All right, so we're going to go with aggressive. We are adding aggressive to the list of Shermy's character traits, which makes him an aggressive, compassionate, patient, pedantic, emotional, good listening, vain, friendly, hypocrite.
Haroldl: That's a pretty rich
Michael: A recipe for a popular comic strip character.
Harold: It's kind of like is it Maritz of the Katzenjammer kids
Jimmy: We have got to update our references.
Harold: It's only 118 years old.
Jimmy: I believe that we have mentioned one pop culture thing from this century. Doja cat. There you go. Now we're current.
Harold: Good job. Got us off the hook.
July 12. Lucy is hanging out at Schroeder's piano. She sighs to herself. She's looking at a little piece of paper. Schroeder questions what she's looking at. Lucy, turns to him and says, “you're not the only fish in the sea.” Tthen she holds up the piece of paper, which it turns out to, in fact, be a photograph, and says, Van Cliburn.
Jimmy:. I don't think we need to explain that at all. That speaks for itself.
Harold: No. Did you guys know the story behind this? I did not know.
Jimmy: Well, I know the story of Van Cliburn. Of course I do. But I'll let you tell it.
Harold: Well, yeah, I wouldn't want to steal my thunder. I appreciate that.
Michael: He was the Elvis Presley of classical music.
Harold: Yeah. Well, he was and this is not just Schulz giving a nod to classical music and doing something obscure. This was actually a thing. And I had no idea.
So Van Cliburn was 23 years old in 1958, and he signed up to compete in the International Tchaikovsky Competition, which was set up in the Soviet Union because he's a Russian composer. To essentially as a cultural outreach for the Soviet Union an international cultural outreach with the thought that most likely, given how huge Tchaikovsky was in the Soviet Union, that the winner would be a Soviet Union artist. Right. Well, Van Cliburn is from Texas. 23 year old. He comes and he totally charms the socks off of all the people at this competition, and he blows everybody out of the water. Nobody had ever heard of this guy. And he has is this amazing performance. And then he winds up, I think, playing another traditional Russian piece. And everyone just falls in love with him there.
And the story goes that the judges went to Khrushchev himself and said, what should we do? The best performance was by an American. And he said, Was he the best? And he said, yeah. He says, well, then give him the award. And so Van Cliburn wins the first international Tchaikovsky competition and makes headline news all over the world. I don't know if this was a coincidence, but this strip came out on Van Cliburn's 24th birthday.
Jimmy: Wow. Actually, I was teasing it at the top. But I do know a lot about this, and I don't think people understand how hugely important this whole contest was and how different music could have gone if he hadn't won. Do you know who came, in second? Not a lot of people...
Jimmy: No. Albert Payson Terhune.
Harold: That's remarkable. Well, he was a multi talented...
Jimmy: What’s going, on with the sigh in the first panel? Why is it not centered in the word balloon?
Harold: That's a good question.
Jimmy: I think it looks to me like there was a word above it, that was whited out
Harold: Could be
Jimmy: He had something like it's just better with just the sigh. Just very strange, because he never does. I mean, his lettering is flawless every day, so it's just weird to see one where it's not 100%.
Harold: And I don't know if you guys are noticing around this time in the second half of the year, again, a lot going on in their lives. This is right at the time of their move, probably when he's doing this. But look at Lucy in the first panel, and in the second panel, both totally readable as Lucy. They're in the same pose, but two very different Lucy drawings. He seems to be doing that more in this period, and I'm guessing maybe, he is just a little bit rushed, a little bit harried at this point in his life, because I think it's another strip. I'll point it out as well.
July 28, Linus and Lucy are out in the field. Lucy is down on her knees, looking at the ground intently. Linus says, “Lucy, what's the difference between a bug and an insect?” Lucy stands up and explains, “well, physically there's no difference at all. It's mostly a matter of class distinction, birth, breeding, that sort of thing.” Both kids get on their knees now and are looking at the bugs. Linus turns to Lucy and says, “I sure envy you your knowledge of nature.”
Michael: I've learned a lot from these strips because I just make stuff up when I don't know the answer to a question.
Harold: That works for you pretty well?
Michael: Works very well.
Jimmy: Nobody knows the other thing before you could google it, you blockhead, you could get away with saying a lot more outlandish stuff. I miss that.
Harold: Well, you can just quote Wikipedia, and you’ll be good.
Jimmy: that's true.
August 5. In the foreground, Snoopy is dancing wildly. Charlie Brown and Linus look on from the background, and Linus says, “my grandma says that we live in a veil of tears.” Charlie Brown agrees. “She's right, this is a sad world.” Snoopy continues to dance happily. In the third panel. Charlie Brown continues, “this is a world filled with sorrow.” We now see Snoopy, who's still dancing, but it's starting to hit him. In the fourth panel, Charlie Brown continues speaking. “Sorrow, sadness and despair. Grief, agony and woe.” This has reduced Snoopy to just a morose, pile of a dog lying on his stomach on the ground.
Harold: Talk about going from a range of emotion here. He really plays taking Snoopy down and down, through this one. And also, this is an interesting strip for me because have they had the grandma quoted before? I'm not sure. But there is a grandma now. Just moved to Sebastopol, so I don't know if there's anything going. And I do know that I believe Joyce's mom was going with Schulz. I think just the only two people from their family going to those Sunday school things that he was teaching or at least leading, was Joyce's mom.
So the Veil of Tears reference is kind of an indirect biblical reference, as we were saying before. Schulz really is, not going there at this point in his career. Although he is now doing these religious strips.
And this is also the year that the first mass market paperback collection of those young pillar strips is coming out. So a lot of people are seeing a side of Schulz outside of Peanuts that they didn't know about before. So it's interesting. There's a famous hymn. I guess it's called Be Still My Soul. and veil is misspelled here. This is one of those terms that people get mixed up because the version that everybody thinks is the right way actually seems better than the real thing.
Veil of tears is such an amazing and amazing evocative statement, but it actually is V-A-L-E which is Valley of Tears is what it's supposed to mean. And it is a very obscure translation, like, the bishops of Bible of 1568 uses it, but it's not like in the King James or whatever might have been popular in the 50s, but the VALE of Tears is featured. And there's a famous hymn called Be Still My Soul by Kathrina von Schlagel.
Jimmy: She dated Albert Payson Terhune.
Harold: I think so, yeah. and Van Cliburn did a beautiful version of her tune. His third album.
Jimmy: Another side of Van Cliburn. Veil of Tears makes me think of Tolkien. Isn't there some description?
Michael: Magical veil.
Jimmy: Yeah, right over swift, the sun rises over whatever. I don't know. Anyway, it reminds me of Tolkien.
August 14. Linus is staring up at the sky. He asks his sister ”Lucy, why is the sky blue?” Lucy already looks annoyed, by the way. Then she just turns and yells at Linus, “because it isn't green.” And she storms off, a scowl on her face. Linus looks back up the sky and says, “that just shows how stupid I am. I thought there'd be a more complicated reason.”
Michael: To this day, whenever anybody asks me, why is the sky blue? I say, Because it isn't green. Seems reasonable to me.
Jimmy: It does.
August 24, Linus is sitting in his classic pose, sucking his thumb, holding his blanket. Snoopy is staring at him and looks annoyed. Snoopy, rushes at him, and this time he's able to yank the blanket away from Linus, who chases Snoopy, who has gone into his dog house. Snoopy peeks out from inside the doghouse as Linus is hiding and perched on top, waiting to spring. When Snoopy comes out, Linus makes his move and jumps, tackles Snoopy, grabs his blanket back, and hauls Snoopy along with them. But Snoopy doesn't give up, so Linus does instead. And he is now back in his regular old sitting position, thumb in mouth blanket up the cheek. But Snoopy is still hanging onto the blanket.
Michael: Look, he's done this a bunch of times, this Snoopy versus Linus's blanket thing. But it's just that Snoopy in the last panel, clinging there while Linus is down.
Harold: And isn't that picture of Snoopy in the doghouse looking out intently with unbeknownst to him, Linus is on top of the dog house looking down. It's just priceless. I love that.
August 28, Charlie Brown is holding an envelope. Lucy asks him, “what do you and this pencil pal of yours, write about?” Charlie Brown puts the letter in the mailbox. He says to Lucy, “oh, he tells me about his country, and I tell him about ours.” Lucy watches as Charlie Brown walks away. Then she yells, “You sound like a couple of spies to me.”
Michael: This is going to be a long sequence because actually starts with him trying to be a pen pal, and being unable to write with a pen without blotching the paper. So he tries that a bunch of times. So this is already well into this sequence.
Jimmy: I actually have a question about this. Michael, you are contemporary of Charlie Brown. Were you writing with dip pens in school?
Michael: No, never.
Jimmy: Never. Right. So who, is he talking about doing this? Why is Charlie Brown trying to use a dip pen?
Michael: Well, because it's a pen pal.
Jimmy: What were you using?
Michael: Pencils. I mean, kids wrote with pencils.
Harold: Yeah, Ball points were around in ‘58, right? I would have thought they were. Maybe they were just as common as, like, fountain pens and stuff. I don't know.
August 29, Charlie Brown is sitting, writing to his pencil pal. He begins, “dear Pencil pal, you are my only friend. Not counting you, I am friendless. I have no other friends. Your friend, Charlie Brown.” He then thinks for a moment and adds, “PS. Everybody hates me.”
Jimmy:I love this. I love that strip. I just think it's hilariously funny. Can you imagine being Charlie Brown's pen pal and getting that? Like, what do you write?
Harold: You don't write back.
Jimmy: Yeah, I'm not crazy about you either, kid.
Michael: His penpal in Russia, listening to Van Clyburn records.
September 2, Charlie Brown is posting another letter, licking the envelope. Linus says, “I wish I had a pencil pal like you, Charlie Brown.” Charlie Brown says, “well, it doesn't do much good if you can't read nor write.” Linus contemplatively says, “that's very true,” then walks away saying, “only five years old, and already I'm illiterate.”
Michael: Now, is this true? Because Linus is some kind of genius and can do everything. Have we seen him reading or writing?
Jimmy: He's still getting people to read him stories at this point.
Michael: He says he's five, so he should be able to read by now.
Harold: He's up at the five, so he was four last year. So he's moving up in the ranks he's tracking with Craig.
Jimmy: Yeah, basically, Craig being Schulz's son, who eventually went on to write the Peanuts movie that came out a few years ago. Right? Which, I think they did a great job on
September 3, Again, Charlie Brown is writing to his pencil pal. “Dear pencil pal, how do you go to school? I ride in a school bus. I go to a big school. We learn a lot in our school. They teach us science, English, geography, arithmetic, history and spelling. When I get big, I would like to drive a school bus.”
Michael: That's very typical of a little kid. I remember we did a little session in grammar school on the difference between retail and wholesale, and there was some kind of picture in the book about a big truck that was delivering to a store. And I thought, that's the coolest thing in the world. Back of the store, there's a place to park a truck.
Harold: So funny he hadn't been exposed to E.D. White's Elements of Style, or Strunk and White. At this point.
Jimmy: He wants to be a school bus driver. Every once in awhile, I think about how weird my childhood is. And then I think, oh, it's so much weirder than I ever even allow people to know. We used to wear hunting knives, big buck knives on our belts, to Catholic school. Just wouldn't even think of it. And you think, well, that's the weirdest part of that story. And then you go, no, no, no. Because the weirdest part is they were sold to us by our bus driver. And then you think, well, that's the weirdest part. And you go, no, they were sold to us by our bus driver, who was also the local police officer. So the police chief, who was a part-time bus driver, was selling us weapons that we then wore to school to.
Michael: Fight off the demons.
Jimmy: I would just like to say this. My childhood, I don't think, is something that we should all judge future childhoods on. I'm not using all these stories as, Boy, wasn't it good back then? I'm just telling you the way it was.
September 4, Charlie Brown's writing to his pencil pal. He says, “Dear Pencil Pal, what are the girls like in your country?” At that moment, Lucy comes in, dabbing her head. She's sweating. “Boy, is it ever hot for this time of year? How can you write letters on a hot day like this? You must be out of your mind.” She continues to rant. “What this city needs is more swimming pools. Those city councilmen better get on the ball.” Charlie Brown turns back to his letter and writes, “do you have many fuss budgets?”
Jimmy: Let's talk a little bit about the lettering on here. It's an interesting example of him varying the lettering so that we can see Charlie Brown's handwriting. And he has this technique which is now kind of ubiquitous for someone who's writing a letter or writing anything that the letters just appear above the characters head. But I don't know that I've ever seen it previous to Schulz
Harold: Yeah, I don't know. I'm not sure.
Michael: But there was another one in this sequence where he his lettering is all over the place and he buys some line stationery and then the lettering is still all over the place.
Jimmy: Yeah. I relate to, as someone who has been nominated for best letterer at the Eisners. If, you looked at my notebooks, you would just think, oh, this is an interesting artifact of some sort of outsider art. It does not look like a human is actually trying to convey information. It’s just a scrawl.
Harold: Yeah. I can't help but think there's a little bit of that California heat first getting into the strip.
Jimmy: That's probably true, coming from Minnesota. Suddenly you're like, wow, still warm in September.
September 7. Lucy is hanging out at Schroeder's piano. She thinks to herself, “sigh, there's nobody as fascinating as a musician. Well, it's now or never.” “Ahem,” she says. Then she, starts to flirt with Schroeder by saying, “you know, Schroeder (hee hee hee hee), if you ever wanted to (hee hee hee) lean over and kiss me (hee hee hee), I wouldn't mind.” Schroeder gets up, he's sickened by whole thing. He thinks, “Good grief.” “I mean (hee hee hee) If you really wanted to (hee hee hee hee hee) I mean, after all, there's nothing wrong with a little kiss between friends.” As she says this, Snoopy walks up and kisses her on the ear. Lucy says “On the ear, Why, how quaint. How like a musician.” She then turns and sees Snoopy. She yells “Germs! Disease!! Infection!!!” as she runs away. Snoopy is insulted and says, “I've never been so insulted in all my life.”
Michael: I have to insist. We call this episode, germs disease infection.
September 19. Linus is sitting in this classic blanket pose, sucking its thumb, when suddenly a fly buzzes by. Like lightning, Linus strikes it out of the air with his blanket, then says to himself, “fastest blanket in the west.”
Michael: this is part of a sequence.
Jimmy: It is.
Harold: Did I tell you guys the thing when we went to the PCA, the Pop Culture Association, which is usually like doctoral candidates having to, give presentations to beef up their resumes. Diane did one of these things. My wife Diane, while she was working on her, dissertation and I just had, free range to run around whatever of these hundreds of presentations that were available in this sprawling complex, and I think it was in San Antonio. But some of them were, like, incredibly erudite. And they're talking about things. I have no idea what they're referring to. But there was this one guy, I don't know how he got into the festival. He just showed up and said, here's some comics I like. Here's another funny one.
Jimmy: Can we get him on the show?
Harold: I like this one. And that was, like, his whole presentation.
September 28. Linus is lying on the floor and looking at a book. He picks it up and takes it to his sister Lucy and says, “Lucy, will you read this book to me?” Lucy, who is playing with blocks, angrily says, “no.” Linus follows Lucy around, saying, “aw, c’mon.” But Lucy is adamant. “No.” “Please,” begs Linus. Lucy is beyond frustrated, but she takes the book and says, “A man was born, he lived, and he died. The end.” She says as she tosses the book over her shoulder back to Linus. Linus looks at it and says, “What a fascinating account. It almost makes you wish you had known the fellow.”
Jimmy: This is one of my all time favorite strips. I've said,
Michael: Mine too.
Jimmy: What a fascinating account. Almost makes you wish you had known the fellow. A lot of times in my life.
October 12. After a beautiful panel of Linus and Lucy illustrated as if they are part of a jigsaw puzzle, we then see Lucy, who is just about finishing putting together a jigsaw puzzle, when Linus comes up and he says, “may I help you with your puzzle, Lucy”? Lucy says, “No. Besides, I'm almost done.” “Please.” “Oh, good grief. All right. Here, you can put in the last, piece.” Linus is thrilled as she tosses him the last piece of the puzzle. He says, “Good. Now, let me see. How does it go? Does it fit like this? Or does it fit like this? Or maybe does it fit this way? Let's see now. Does it fit this way? Or this way? Or this way? Or maybe does it fit that way? Maybe it fits like this? Or around this way? Or maybe it fits this way? Or like this? Or maybe…” Lucy has had enough and screams, “Give me that piece” as she snatches it back to him. Linus sits there alone at the end and says, “she never lets me help with anything.”
Michael: I actually know people like this.
Jimmy: I do podcasts with people like this.
Michael: It’s frightening.
Michael: Rather than actually do something, they sit there and think about how they could do something for hours. And then they never do it.
Jimmy: By the way, that is one of the two most things that really I read this year and thought, oh, boy, is that Harold? Coming up is another one in a little bit. But before that, we have to have Linus, become a fanatic. so
October 20. Linus is hanging out in this classic blanket pose talking with Violet. Violet looks up at the sky, and, she says, “when I get big, I think I'll try to be an airplane hostess. Maybe I'll get to fly all over the world.” Then she asked Linus, “what do you want to be when you grow up, Linus?” “A fanatic.”
October 21. Charlie Brown and Linus are walking down the street. Linus says, “When I get big, I'm going to be a real fanatic.” Charlie Brown asks, “what are you going to be fanatical about, Linus?” Linus says. “I don't know. It doesn't really matter. I'll be sort of a wishy washy fanatic.”
October 23. Charlie Brown and Linus are standing out in the woods. Charlie Brown says “it's a beautiful day, isn't it Linus?” Linus yells at him, “what about yesterday? And how about the day before? What was wrong with the day before?” Linus walks away, a scowl on his face. “A good fanatic is always ready for an argument.”
And then it wraps up. October 24. Back with Violet, who's looking at a picture of a movie star. And she says, “look at the picture of this movie star. Doesn't he have nice hair?” Linus yells, “oh, I suppose you think I don't have nice hair. We can't all be movie stars, you know. I can't help with the way I look. I can't help with the way I was born.” Then Linus turns to Charlie Brown and says, “we fanatics are real touchy.”
Michael: I like this side of Linus.
Jimmy: I do, too. Now, what do you think, Harold? Because this is not like your personality at all. What do you think when Linus goes off like this?
Harold: He's trying something on for size. It doesn't have the nuance that we're used to with Linus, but he finds out how to be fanatical later with more subtlety.
Jimmy: Yeah, because he's trying now, so it's not going to work. He's going to naturally become a fanatic around the Great Pumpkin and things.
Harold: And speaking of Great Pumpkin, we got a great Halloween strip here.
October 31. It’s a pitch black night, and Linus and Lucy are out trick or treating. Lucy says, “all you have to do is go up to the house, ring the bell, and say tricks or treats.” Linus says, “I'm scared. What if somebody knifes me?” Lucy says, “Nobody's going to knife you. Now get going.” And she shoves him towards the house. As he's off trick or treating Lucy's behind and says, “Good grief, what a coward.” Linus returns a smile on his face and says, “you were right. It was real easy. There wasn't anybody home.”
Harold: This is also so me-- what if somebody knifes me. Those are the kind of objections I had as a small child when I was being pushed into things that I, thought were unreasonable.
Jimmy: Yeah, Peanuts is so often white space. I love it when we get a few night strips, because I think the characters just look so great against that all black background.
Hey, so maybe you're out there, you're an Unpacking Peanuts listener, and you think, gosh, what's it like to like, hang out with, say, Harold and Jimmy some day? What would it be like to have be a fly on the wall of one of their conversations? So I give you…
November 2. Linus is walking away from the table and he says, “wow, I've never eaten so much chicken before in all my life.” He's smiling. And then he goes to his sister Lucy, who's sitting on her chair, and she says, “this is a wishbone, Linus.” She holds it up and explains to him, “we both make our wishes and then we pull it apart. Whoever breaks off the biggest part gets his wish.” Linus says, “do we wish out loud?” Lucy says, “of course we wish out loud,”( which I actually don't think is correct, but for the sake of the joke, we have to wish out loud). So Lucy continues, “if you don't wish out loud, the wish answerer won't know what to bring you.” Linus says, “I apologize for being so stupid” as he holds his part of the wishbone. Then they both hold it, and Lucy says, “Let's see now. I wish for a new doll, a new bicycle, four new sweaters, some new saddle shoes, a wristwatch and about $100.” Linus says, “I wish for a long life for all my friends. I wish for peace in the world. I wish for greater advancements in the fields of science and medicine, and I…” And Lucy tosses the wishbone over her shoulder and says, “you seem to have a knack for spoiling everything.”
Michael: Which one is Harold?