Jimmy: hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. We got a good one for you here today. It's Peanuts World, and I couldn't be more excited to talk to you about it. I'm Jimmy Gownley. If you know me from anything other than this podcast last week, you might know me from Amelia Rules or my graphic novels, Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up, or The Dumbest Idea Ever. Joining me, as always, are my pals, cohosts and fellow cartoonists. He's a playwright, a composer, both for the band Complicated People, as well as for this very podcast. He's the co-creator of the original comic book Price Guide, the original editor of Amelia Rules, and the cartoonist behind such great strips as Tangled River, a Gathering of Spells, and Strange Attractors, Michael Cohen.
Michael: Hey there.
Jimmy: And he is the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a former vice president of Archie Comics, and the creator of the instagram strip Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: Well, I'm so excited to get to talk to you guys today and thank all of you out there for listening. I can't believe how many-- we have international listeners. Guys, have you looked at the stats and seen where our listeners are hailing from? They're all over the world.
Harold: I saw some Australians,
Liz: Poland and Hong Kong
Jimmy: Canada, Ireland, Japan, all, over the place. It's fantastic. So, all of you out there, thanks for listening. And I think you'll be in for a good one today because this is a great year. A great year for Charles Schulz and the Peanuts gang. Hey, Michael, what do you think the people have to look forward to this year?
Michael: This is an amazing year. Schulz has been cruising the last three years. Of course, he's cruising it as the absolute peak of the field, but he hasn’t introduced characters. He's totally found his groove. And this year, he starts adding some interesting features, which become very important in the legend of Peanuts. So you'll see some firsts this year, including a new character, and we haven't seen a new character since Pig Pen showed up in 1954.
Jimmy: And a much more substantial new character than Pig Pen.
Michael: Definitely an A list character. He's relying a lot on, some of the scenarios he's used in the past, but he's come up with some new ones. And when I say scenarios, I mean strips that run for a week, maybe two. And he seems to be doing a lot more of that. More often when he hits the groove, he lets it run as long as he wants it. And I think this year the dailies are actually better than the Sundays, which hasn't been the case.
Jimmy: I've been shocked by the sort of discovery, looking at it this closely, that the Sundays really peaked earlier. I was really surprised by that. And I agree this is the first year since I think the Sundays existed that the dailies have outstripped them, in my estimation.
Michael: I'm glad you agree.
Jimmy: We do agree. We could stop the podcast right now.
Michael: Yeah. Anyway, so this is a great year. This might be the best year so far. And we're going, to go through it, picking some strips which we find interesting and especially funny. And I've picked one because it's kind of weird, and it seems like Schulz tried something, didn't work and never did it again. So we'll get to that later.
Jimmy: Very exciting. Very exciting.
I love the image of him just, at this plateau. It's just the highest plateau any cartoonist has ever achieved. And it is weird because I do agree with all of that. And suddenly we're now seeing that same energy that we saw a few years ago, where he's starting to try some stuff, and more often than not, they are working. It's really great. So, Harold, how are you doing?
Harold: I'm doing fine, thank you.
Jimmy: You want to tell us how Mr. Schulz was doing back here in 1959?
Harold: Well, I have to say, this year, 1959, this is the Peanuts I know and love. It's never been that for the previous years, it's never quite been that. But this has the groove and the feel and the mood and the overall tone as a year of the Peanuts that I just remember and I fell in love with. And maybe we can talk about that a little bit as we go into it, as to why I think this year he hits the tone that he's going to maintain probably for a good six or seven years.
I haven't read ahead, but this is just based on my memory, my childhood memory of what the strip was like.
But, yeah, this is their first full year in California in the little town of Sebastopol on this I think it's a 28-acre campus that they bought. And Joyce has jumped in his wife into making this place a campground, a playground for the kids and the family. She winds up putting on, this property a swimming pool, baseball fields, a park and a golf course and tennis courts. She's really determined to make this place a special enclave for the family.
And I get a sense of this. I don't know if you guys get a sense of this, but it seems like some of the pressure I feel on Schulz has just kind of opened up a little bit. It just feels like he's not quite as-- well I think I used the word strident for a year or so back in the strip. There seemed to be a lot of just, taught nerves. And it seems like that stuff is still in the strip, but it's smoothed out. And there's a lot more subtlety, I guess, in the jokes and a lot more breadth of the jokes as well.
Like Michael was saying, there's a lot of new things that are being introduced, and so many of them work. It's just amazing.
But as an update on the kids, we now, have Jill at the age of one. Amy is three, Craig is six, Monty is seven, and Meredith is nine. This is the perfect time for them to be moving to this amazing place in California where they can kind of run, free on their own property. Before, they were in Minneapolis in a, small maybe not from Minneapolis, but a single lot on the edge of a road. And it's just way different, the lifestyle that they're living now. And it seems like Schulz really takes to this.
And I'd like to share something that I found that Amy, who really loved being in Sebastopol, growing up in Sebastopol, she would have barely remembered anything of Minneapolis, having moved there when she was around two years old, coming to, Sebastopol. But she had this quote that I thought was really touching. And it kind of gives me a picture, at least through Amy's eyes, as to what it meant to be around this Schulz estate.
She said, some of my friends didn't tell me until they were in their forties, the things that were happening in their own homes. And she said, I can't really word this properly. But they said-- and this had everything to do with dad that coming to our home every weekend is what saved them emotionally.
Harold: Seeing a normal, nice dad who was a good person helped them survive what they were going through themselves. Our home was a shelter from the storm for them.
Jimmy: That's beautiful.
Harold: Isn't that lovely? Yeah. And that's a theme, I think, of Amy, as she remembers and honors her father, is that she remembers him as somebody who was just kind of a warm, decent human being. And, because Joyce created such an amazing place for them to live, there were friends coming over all the time, and they were having visitors a lot, coming over to this beautiful open space. And Schulz is no longer traveling to a neighboring city to work out of an office. I think it was the photographer studio. I can't remember. But he was anyway, I think they built something special for him.
Jimmy: It was previously a photographer studio that he used as his studio. Yeah. And it was a separate building.
Harold: And did they gross at some point build something unique for him? I don't know. But anyway, it's a space on the property. He's just walking to his work, but he has the seclusion he needs. But it's on his own land, his own space with his family nearby. And I just get that kind of slightly sunnier vibe this year. I don't know if you guys felt anything like that.
Jimmy: As soon as you see the tennis racket come out. We're in California here. And the good news is, oh, that's all that sun fun energy is going to and then you think, oh, but we're also going to get some golf strips eventually.
Michael: And it still snows.
Jimmy: Yes, heavily. I'm really glad you brought that, Harold. That's great, to hear. It's nice to see someone he had more money than anyone would know what to do with, and he just made a private Disneyland and opened it to his kids’ friends. There are worse ways to spend money.
Harold: I mean, this is where Joyce really shines in the marriage. She's so into decorating and building. She is a dynamo. And so she is doing some amazing things to that space. Just as Schulz is very successful in what he does, she makes a project out of her own family and the space that they live, and what she did, from pretty much all accounts, is absolutely remarkable.
Jimmy: Yeah, it's pretty cool. You can see online, if you search around Coffee Grounds or Charles Schulz in the can see photos and stuff. And there is that great documentary the PBS did, American Masters with Charles Schulz, where you get to see some footage from there and you see, I think it was a three hole golf course and then an entire miniature golf course. It was quite a place to live.
Harold: With their horses and…It's pretty amazing.
Jimmy: I love, though, that Amy says, it was so nice for my friends to come and there was a nice, normal dad. Okay Amy. Just an average multimillionaire, making a Disneyland on his house. Great to see that.
So, all right, so we see California, we see some bold innovations, some new creations. There's so much to get to. why don't we just get to it?
Jimmy: Alright, so before I start, I just want to remind you guys, if you want to follow along with these, you can check out, GoComics.com, type in Peanuts, type in these dates, and you can follow along with us, because me reading it is about one 8th the appeal of the whole thing. So you can follow along there for free, or you can spring for those Fantagraphics books that reprint the whole run. Either way, if you, have the opportunity, definitely, read along with us. And you can even sign up for the great Peanuts reread at our website, unpackingpeanuts.com.
So here, we go,1959.
January 1. Linus is sitting in his house and Lucy approaches him, holding a slip of paper. Linus says, “what's this?” Lucy says, “This is something to help you be a better person next year.” Linus reads it. Lucy says, “This is a list I made up of all your faults.” Linus reading the list says, “Faults? You call these faults? These aren't faults.” As Lucy walks away, Linus calls after her. “These are character traits.”
Michael: He's defining Lucy. Here a little bit, as opposed to Violet, who's just mean for the sake of being mean. Lucy seems to be mean for the sake of trying to help people.
Jimmy: This is what William Pepper brought up in our interview with him that I thought was so interesting. And, then, Michael, you continued and said, well, it leads to the psychiatric booth, which is the perfect vehicle for her. And that conversation really did alter-- it didn't alter how I saw Lucy. It put words in my mouth that let me understand what I was seeing when I saw Lucy. And that's exactly what it is. She's being brutally honest, from her perspective, and she really does think she's going to help people.
Harold: Do you guys get a feel? So this year with Lucy, you're saying she's becoming something more than maybe what she has been before. Is that fair to say like Michael?
Michael: Well, I mean, you see her being nasty, mostly to Linus and Charlie Brown. And so it seemed like just plain that's her disposition. But leading up to the psychiatrist booth, that's the perfect definition of what she is. She thinks she’s helping people. And the best way to help people, of course, is to point out their faults.
Harold: Yeah. I think Lucy coming to this place, to me, helps define the Peanuts again, that I know, I'll just throw this out here as a thought. Who will ever know? But again, bringing up the fact that, Joyce now has a project to keep her busy. She's as ambitious as her husband is, and she now has this massive project to keep her involved and happy. And I think she maybe didn't have that so much in Minneapolis, which is one of the reasons why they moved. I think the main reason they moved was Joyce. She's like, let's go, let's go. And she gets this amazing space to work in. And if there is anything of Lucy in Joyce, and Joyce in Lucy, I can at least imagine that that is being shown in these strips, where she just seems a little bit more sure of herself, a little bit more at home with herself than I remember seeing in some of the earlier strips. And she's not as harsh to the characters in general, as I remember in the earlier strips. It's a little more sophisticated and subtle relationships.
Jimmy: I don't know what it perceived to be these days, but certainly when I was growing up in Pennsylvania in the seventies and into the eighties, California was a promised land even then. It's the most mythical of all the American states. So moving there, I think, is going to have to have some sort of effect, especially coming from Minnesota. I mean, I can't think of-- there'll be very few ways to make a more radical change moving in the United States than moving from snow laden Minnesota to sunny California.
January 12. Charlie Brown and Violet are walking down the sidewalk. Snoopy sits in the foreground, sleeping. Violet says, “Dogs are a stupid lot.” As they continue to walk. Charlie Brown says. “Oh, I don't think so. I think dogs are pretty smart. I think we're lucky to have dogs with us.” Violet continues, but Charlie Brown stops and calls after her. “I think having dogs around has made this a better world.” In panel four, we see Snoopy, who has rushed to Charlie Brown’s side and is throwing a big hug around him.
Michael: I love this sequence. This is January 12. This goes to the 21st, except for the Sunday, of course. And it's not like a continuing story. It's Snoopy continues in this mode. He's so grateful and clingy that he's, like, hanging on when Charlie Brown walks away, he won't let go. But it made me think of something. I have a theory, and I probably shouldn't go there, but this is my theory.
Jimmy: Let’s hear it
Michael: Now Schulz created, I think, one of the first black characters who wasn't a parody when he created Franklin in the 60s. I'm now looking at Snoopy as a representation of a minority. He's essentially human. I mean, he doesn't talk, but he thinks he can think clearly. He walks on 2 ft and he feels really put down because he's not treated like everybody else. And there's a couple of strips later in the year that really emphasize the fact that why am I not equal to these people? Why, am I just because I'm a dog? And his gratitude of someone saying that dogs are made of a better world is so profound that Schulz uses it for a week and a half.
Jimmy: Well, the second animated special is called, Charlie Brown All Stars. And it's about they're promoted to the Little League or something like that. And they have a new sponsor for the team, and the sponsor won't sponsor them, unless they get rid of the girls and Snoopy.
And it's one of those things. I think there is some truth to what you're saying. I don't know that it's the most articulate way to express this, in a comic strip, but Snoopy is definitely an outsider who, when we see his interior world, is actually at least as rich, if not richer than any of the other characters. But the other characters don't see it that way. That's interesting to me, anyway.
Michael: Well, as we go through the year, there's a couple of strips I think that really emphasize this. So it might not have been conscious, but I think he's working out his thoughts about equality in the Snoopy character because Snoopy's been angry. We mentioned that a couple of times in the last few years. He's really angry at these kids, and he's trying to interrupt their games and sort of like, why is Snoopy so angry? well, he's treated like a dog.
Harold: And there's something about the way Schulz draws Snoopy hugging Charlie Brown and the other characters that I've not quite seen this before. It's like no, he had to really work to get the emotion he wanted across here. He's got these little uplifted slits for eyes and these high eyebrows. How would you describe this look?
Jimmy: But like, heavy gratitude. Like he's really moved by Charlie Brown.
Harold: And just to see this in this comic strip, it's unsettling and moving. And you just haven't seen this before in this strip, let's say, or any strip for that matter. And that he continues on with it for all these days. He really found something special.
Michael: Speaking of not seeing it, this whole hug thing sequence wasn't in the original reprints.
Jimmy: Yeah. I've never seen it. Yeah.
Harold: Well, that's interesting.
Jimmy: It's definitely a more human posture for Snoopy. Even though Snoopy has done human postures again and again, that one seems more human for some reason.
And of course, Snoopy is not a dog. Snoopy is an ink drawing. Right. So he is equal to all these other characters in his own reality. It really is only their perception that is keeping him down.
Harold: Yeah. It makes me love Snoopy all the more just to see this aspect of him. I'm surprised that they weren't reprinted.
Jimmy: Yeah, I think it's probably as prosaic as Michael's answer to why they didn't reprint those kites stuck in the tree strips, from a few years back. And I think it does come down to the fact that you can only put so many in the books. And if you remove one of those, you can remove the whole chunk. I think it's probably easier to remove entire sequences like this, which is a shame because it was a great one.
January 27. Lucy and Linus are standing out looking at the night sky. Lucy says, “Some stars are big and some stars are little.” “You sure know a lot about the stars, Lucy” says Linus. Lucy answers, “Well, I've done quite a bit of studying. One of my best subjects in school was agriculture.”
Michael: Well, it's like her ignorance is so profound.
Jimmy: Well, you know what I also find funny? She also wasn't studying agriculture. Do you know what I mean?
Jimmy: Not only did she get the thing wrong, but she made it up entirely that she was studying anything remotely like that.
Michael: She has no idea what agriculture is.
Jimmy: Exactly. So here's my question. Is this a-- no, it's not. But boy, that lettering in the first panel, it looks almost like it's a font to me. And maybe it's just the scan that I have, but it looks different than the other lettering. It looks fatter. Whereas if you look at the strip from, say, January 12th let's look at The O's. If you look at the O in world on the third panel of January 12, and then you look at The O in some stars yeah, it's really different.
Michael: Well, it's possible if the original wasn't available, you're going off a scan. Maybe the lettering was blurry and the scan. So they used a font.
Jimmy: That might be it.
Harold: I think this is hand lettered or manipulated. I see what you're saying. He's making the text larger, too, in the strips. He's been moving his way up, and then when he has the room to actually spread the text out. Schulz was famous for really squashing the text because he had a lot of things to say. He has some really long lines in a few of these strips of 1959. But he seems to be opening it up and using more room for the text when he has the room to do it, when the lines are shorter. And again, this is kind of the Peanuts I know. He sticks with this pretty much, I think, through the rest of his career, where the relationship of the text to the characters, the text becomes bigger and more prominent in these strips.
Jimmy: I'm going to have more to say about that in two strips, but we'll leave it for now.
February 10. Lucy is playing with some blocks, and Linus is sitting watching her. Linus says, “You just like to torment people. And I know why, too. It's because you're ill. You're ill, ill, ill.” Lucy responds, “you mean sick, sick, sick.” Linus walks away dejected. “I didn't think that sounded quite right.”
VO: Peanuts Obscurity Explained.
Harold: Yeah. So this is my Peanuts Obscurities Explained for 1959. Are you guys familiar with the Jules Feiffer book Sick Sick Sick?
Jimmy: Of course, and hey, I get to Google stomp you, you missed it. He did this last year.
Harold: He did Sick Sick Sick last year?
Jimmy: Yes. Charlie Brown is in bed and he's like, I'm the manager and I don't get to play because I'm in bed. I'm in bed sick. Sick. Sick. Sick.
Harold: Oh, right.
Jimmy: Yeah. It's weird that it is the only cartoonist he's referenced directly at this point. But anyway, go ahead. Yeah.
Harold: So Jules Feiffer comes out with his first collection of comics. He'd been publishing these, I think, weekly in the Village Voice starting in 1956. And Schulz would have seen them around this era. It becomes a big bestseller. Interestingly, the day before this strip appeared, there was this really fascinating Time magazine article on it. And it says that:
“Just a year ago, the work of Jules Feiffer, who is 29 years old, is a slight, introspective cartoonist, was appearing only and without pay in the Village Voice. A furrowed brow Greenwich Village Weekly. Now cartoonist Feiffer is up to his clean button down collar and offers from publishers. One book of his cartoons is a best seller, selling 5000 copies a week. He appears in the London Observer. He dashes off magazine ads and features for Playboy and Sports Illustrated, is discussing a screenplay with director Stanley Kubrick. His income tax for 1958 will be more than his entire income for 1957, which was about $7500. And his 1959 gross promises to run into six figures.”
And then they quote him, saying,
“I'm against the misuse of power of all kinds. I'm against people who use their views and authority as a ploy against others. He draws with sticks, the kind that you use to stir coffee as pens. And then they quote him as saying, I'm not frustrated anymore.”
Jimmy: All right
Harold: So it's interesting because Feiffer, in a way, seems to be playing off maybe some of the things he's seeing in Schulz. Would you guys agree with that?
Jimmy: He’s a devotee of comics in general, and a Schulz fan to the point that he's interviewed, in that American Masters documentary. I think it's pretty wild that Schulz called him out of all people. But I do see a kindred spirit in the terms of high minded philosophy in a funny comic strip. Loose modern drawing. By the way, I think that's wrong. It wasn't coffee sticks that he inked with. It was actually like, the sticks on, like, a shish kebab. He is interviewed in a comic journal years later, and he talked about finding that, stick to ink with and how that unlocked his art style, which is one of the weirdest stories I've ever heard of a cartoonist and their tool.
Harold: Wow. Jimmy, how would you describe his humor? Or how would you describe what made Feiffer unique and how he was, in some ways, like Schulz?
Jimmy: A neurotic, intellectual, more overtly those things than Schulz, because Schulz was able to put it in the mouths of these kid characters, and it becomes something much more pop. But Feiffer is the template for what goes on to become the early Doonesbury, where it's really rough, really gestural drawing. And he's talking about both current events. There's also a lot of politics in it, but when he talks about some particularly controversial or difficult kind of current events in the strip, he'll bring out his dancer character, who will just do this beautiful ballet while talking about it.
So he's an interesting guy. He started out as Will Eisner's assistant on the Spirit. And by the way, Will Eisner is a fantastic writer when he is Jules Feiffer. That is the best version of Will Eisner is the Jules Feiffer Will Eisner. He went on and he wrote the Popeye screenplay for Robert Altman. He wrote Carnal Knowledge, which I think he was nominated for screenplay Oscar for. He's a children's book author, and he's alive to this day. 93.
Michael: He published something last year, too.
Jimmy: He did. He had, like, a trilogy, like, of graphic novels. And he actually also is one of the real pioneers of the graphic novel. Eisner did a Contract with God in 1978, which Eisner claims is the first graphic novel. It's actually not even close. And it's also not a novel. It's four short stories. But Feiffer published a book called Tantrum in 1979, which is about a 40 year old guy who wills, himself back to being two years old. And, to me, of his cartooning books, that's his best. That's the most readable one. And his other work that's a favorite of mine is a children's book called The Man in the Ceiling. That’s my take on Jules Feiffer.
Michael: I’ve got that. I tried reading it in Italian.
Jimmy: Oh, did you really?
Michael: Yeah. Couldn't get through it.
Jimmy: Because of Italian or because of Feiffer?
Michael: Because it's an Italian.
Michael: Actually, this strip, I like it because it's funny.
Jimmy: That's a radical take. Can you expand on that?
Jimmy: All right. Well, some people are just weird like that. Like it because it's funny. All right.
Harold: Yeah. I was actually a little surprised that now you pointed out there's two specific references to Feiffer. So obviously, I don't know if they were carrying on correspondence or they hit it off at the National Cartoonist Society annual events or whatever. But yeah, in some ways, they're so alike. In other ways, they're quite different. Schulz goes on to be very critical of, say, Gary Trudeau, who you said was, kind of a disciple of Feiffer. and yet Feiffer himself, you can tell he's rooting for Feiffer and really likes happy that Feiffer is succeeding with that book.
Jimmy: Well, Feiffer and Trudeau, I think you would look at Trudeau if you're a Feiffer devotee from way back, and you'd probably think those early Trudeau's are a rip off. I think there's probably part of that.
Harold: Yeah for me, as somebody who's not qualified to say much about it, I see that the early Trudeaus to be highly superior to Feiffer.
Jimmy: OH MY GOD! I don't care. That's fine.I don’t actually have an opinion.
Harold: It's rougher. As an artist, he's not as good. But as a writer and character developer, I thought Trudeau was pretty remarkable in his early, early years.
February 18. Linus is sitting out on the curb outside his house. Charlie Brown is talking to him. Linus says, “I'm going to try to give up this blanket, Charlie Brown.” In the next panel, we see Charlie Brown holding the blanket, and Linus says, “I want you to take care of it for me, but no matter how much I plead, don't give it back to me.” Then Linus begs Charlie Brown in the very next panel. “Good grief. I can't do it. I think I've changed my mind. Please give it back.” Charlie Brown, very nonchalantly, says, “okay, here,” and hands the blanket back to Linus. Linus screams at Charlie Brown. “You're weaker than I am” sending Charlie Brown flying.
Michael: Look how clearly this defines the two characters.
Jimmy: Very much.
Michael: You think the strip was about Linus, but actually it's about Charlie Brown just having no gumption. It's just like, oh, someone's telling me to do something, I better do it.
Jimmy: Even if it directly contradicts the last thing they asked me to do.
Michael: Schulz apparently like this so much, it's, pretty much the next day. It's almost the exact same thing.
Jimmy: Here we see that weird situation with the O again, in panel one, and then if you compare it to the O's in panel three, they're completely different. And I understand that he's putting more words in panel three. But I don't actually know if that's true.
Harold: The way a lot of people did these lettering. They would line it up with a ruler, and then they would go across the entire strip. And so wherever the fourth line within the word balloon fell in panel one, it would be exactly the same place in panel four. Schulz, with his limited space, doesn't do that. You look at, like, panel two compared to panel three. Line four is significantly lower than, panel three. And is it true that Schulz did not at some point, even where he was doing he prehanded his letters later.
Jimmy: I think, but, yeah, he did give up ruling them out.
Harold: Interesting that some of his earliest work he ever did was as a letterer. Yeah, he starts to play fast and loose with his lettering, and it doesn't seem to matter. There's all these rules of lettering, and he seems to break some of them, and it, doesn't make a difference.
Jimmy: Yeah. I mean, all those rules are basically meant to make it readable fast and able to be done by an assistant with the most minimal training. Right? He could just have someone take a class and drafting and learn how to do, the draftsman's, lettering or whatever. And that's fine. people did just lettering as a career in comics for decades. Schulz is making it part of the art in a subtle way. It's not like he's going over the top like Pogo or anything like that. But it does have the same gestural bouncy quality that the art has.
Harold: Yeah. It's not always consistent. So when we notice it being consistently one way or another, like, yeah, that way. What's wrong with this? And one of the things that he starts to do a little bit more,I think, as he goes on an example is like the letter G. One of the rules of the G is you want to have as much space around it. Including when you swoop back up and then do that little 90 degree turn into the circle of the G, All of that space has to have white space around it. And he starts to run his G's right back into the curve of the line. You see it in panel three here on one of the gives. And that's a no no, according to people who are experts in lettering. But he does it all the time. And you just accept it. It works. You still read it, reads just as well.
Jimmy: I got a note from an editor not that long ago saying, can you adjust the kerning to make it consistent throughout? It's not kerning, my friend. It's not kerning. It's my hand.
February 24. Lucy is reading a book to Linus, who sits listening in his classic thumb and blanket pose. Lucy says,” Jane sees Tom. Tom can skip. Jane can skip.” Lucy continues. “Rex sees Jane and Tom. Rex runs to Jane and Tom.” Lucy asks Linus, “How do you like it so far?” Linus says, “Great. Don't stop now.” Lucy continues, “I'm glad you like it. Later on, the suspense becomes almost unbearable.”
Michael: Well, I'm from the Dick and Jane generation. This is the junk they gave us to read in schools. I mean, he's being super sarcastic here. These things are so moronic.
Jimmy: Yeah. We still had Dick and Jane when I was in first grade. That had to be the tail end. That would have been, like, 1979. Well, it was a poor Catholic school.
Harold: All beat up.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah, right. They were ancient..
Harold: I did not enjoy the exploits of Dick and Jane.
Jimmy: The well, you might not have been able to take the suspense, apparently.
February 26. Snoopy is lying atop his dog house on a full moon clear night. He looks up at the moon and ponders. “I wonder if there are any dogs on the moon. Maybe there are, and maybe up there, the dogs are in charge, and the people have to do whatever the dogs say.” Snoopy lies back down on his back, the moon above him. He contemplates it for a moment and then says, “I shouldn't think about things like that. I get all worked up, and then I can't sleep.”
Michael: I rest my case.
Jimmy: That’s such a funny strip.
Harold: That's amazing. Yeah. Michael, your theory here has some interesting…
Michael: Even more important is the fact that Snoopy seems to be longer than the top of the dog house. Doesn't he shrink considerably later on?
Harold: Yeah. And I think this may be the first strip where we see the dog house straight on with Snoopy on top of it. That's why I picked it. This is the first as far as I can remember. We have three panels of the angle we had them seeing, which were you see the entrance to Snoopy's dog house, which has been the way it's been in 1958. But for some reason, the third panel, he has Snoopy, where you see you just see it straight on, the way you do in virtually every strip in the later years,
Jimmy: And it instantly works better. The point of the dog house. It's shocking to me that he did the Snoopy on top of the dog house in three quarter view first. Because it works--. It almost seems like you would have to have the drawing of him in profile in mind to even want to do the drawing. If that makes any sense. Because it's clear a dog could not possibly it looks like the most uncomfortable thing in the world. But as soon as it's in profile. You never think about that at all.
Harold: Yeah. I do love to see the angle. You see both ears in the first panel on either side. That's kind of cool. And then the weirdness of Snoopy’s spine is if it's like a piece of paper that's just lined up on the top of the strip and it's kind of cool to see it that way. And he pulls it off as well as he does. It's pretty remarkable. He's switching between two and three dimensions.
Jimmy: I think if you're going to do the three quarter view, I think that last panel is the way to do it. Where he's leaning over. I think that looks really good.
Harold: Yeah, this is beautiful.
Jimmy: And the profile view in panel three isn't still the version that gets codified later on.
Nine times out of ten, when you see Snoopy on his dog house, you don't even see the base of the doghouse. You're really just seeing the top of it.
Harold: Yeah. And the third panel, it almost looks like both of his ears are on the left on our side. Yes.
Jimmy: I think that's the way he was trying to just scribble in the black.
March 9, Charlie Brown is sitting in his living room. He says to himself, “I think I'll just call up the library and tell them I've lost their book.” We then see a beautiful drawing of a late 1950s telephone. And Charlie Brown says, “I think I'll go right over to the phone and call them up.” In panel three, we see Charlie Brown approaching the phone even closer. His hands are almost touching it. And he says, “I think I'll just pick up the phone, call the library, and tell them that I've lost their book.” In panel four, he sits back down on his little cushion, turns away from the phone, head in hands, and says, “I think I'll drop dead.”
Michael: This is the one I referred to earlier as being exceedingly weird. Peanuts is usually presented like a stage play where the characters are arrayed horizontally. Occasionally, they'll have a deep background. But he tried something really different in this strip. I don't think it works at all. Where he pushes Charlie Brown into the-- the second panel where he pushes Charlie Brown into the background, does zipatone on the phone to make it stand out. Panel two just does not even look like Peanuts. Does not look like Schulz at all.
Jimmy: Charlie Brown doesn't look like he's drawn in perspective. He looks like he's a tiny little smurf or something that's like crawling up to talk on the giant phone.
Michael: We're not seeing zipatone.
Jimmy: honestly, so few and far between.
Harold: Yeah. I didn't think twice about this, but yeah, it's interesting that this really is a jarring, negative way, for you guys.
Jimmy: Yes. I mean, the other thing, though, is if you would have seen this in the newspaper, you would have read it and never thought about it again. That is one of the great things about this art form for Schulz. It was that he was able to try one offs now and again, and discard the techniques that didn't work and keep the ones that did and it just keeps getting refined. What he does keep from this is that I think I'll do this. I think I'll do this. I'm definitely going to do this. No, I won't. He uses that pattern of speech for Charlie Brown a lot later. One of my favorite strips is, I'm going to go up and talk to that little red haired girl. I'm definitely going to do it. I think I'll flap my arms and fly to the moon.
Michael: Yeah, right
Jimmy: Yeah. Just great. So it's interesting that's, like, he's batting 500 on this strip. Right. Not going to do the weird perspective anymore.
Michael: Well, 500. This strip runs for a couple of weeks,I think, this sequence oh, that's true. I think it's great because it shows how kids, especially, are so intimidated by any sort of authority. Suddenly, the library becomes this thing of terror.
Harold: It rings true.
Michael: I only put in 2 of the panels. The next one kind of sums it up.
March 12, Charlie Brown is writing a letter. We are able to read it. He says, “Dear library, I have lost your book. I cannot find it anywhere. I will come to the library and turn myself in. Please do not harm my mother and father.”
Jimmy: Oh, that's just so funny. Yeah. I mean, well, any type of trauma or any type of interaction with authority, like you say, is a trauma when you're that old.
Harold: Yeah. He does it really well with the principal's office in later years.
Jimmy: Yeah, absolutely. I love it when Charlie Brown does the writing and we can see, his handwriting above it. I think it works really well. And considering this is something that has to be read by people who are not deeply interested in the art form or the craft of comics, it's a really cool and graphically fun and just instantly understandable way to relate that someone is writing. And I think if I would have seen this in other strips, it probably would have been something where there would be the character writing, and then there'd be an Inset panel, maybe like an arrow pointing to what the paper is, and then a blow up to see what the person's writing. But this works.
Harold: Is that a Schulz innovation?
Jimmy: That's what I'm trying to get at. I don't know if it is, but I can't think of seeing it anywhere before this.
Harold: Yeah. Because I grew up with it with Schulz. I just think it's a normal thing. But you could be very well right. You may have just made this concept up, and it's so brilliant that it's just now a standard idea.
Jimmy: What were you saying, Michael?
Michael: He used it first, I think, in the pencil pal stuff,
Jimmy: And again, if you want to see what we're talking about, go check these things out at gocomics.com. And if you're enjoying the podcast, why don't you take a moment and rate and review us on your favorite podcast app. That would really help us out. And if you're feeling generous and you're in a mood and you're having a great time here in 1959 you can also check us out at unpacking peanuts.com, where you can vote on your favorite strip of the year. And if you wanted to, you could buy one of our books. That'd be great. If not, we'll just continue here in March.
March 22. Linus is playing in what appears to be the world's largest sandbox. He is sculpting piles of sand into various shapes. By panel three, we see he has made an epic fortress that just expands an entire panel that's almost three quarters of the length of the entire tier. But in the next panel, a few drops of rain started falling. Suddenly, it starts raining harder. By the final panel, it's a downpour. Linus, sitting there being rained upon, says, “there's a lesson to be learned here somewhere, but I don't know what it is.”
Harold: To me, this is a classic Peanuts strip. Certainly when I remember a lot reading as a little kid, and it's kind of going back to the be of good cheer strip that you mentioned, Jim, that kind of struck you, like, I don't know what that means. It's got to mean something. And I understand that things are going to be great.
And this is Schulz still kind of being oblique about referencing something that he's probably studying in his own life. This is probably pretty obviously a reference to Matthew, the book of Matthew in the new testament, where basically Jesus is talking about how the person who builds his house on the sand is a foolish man. And, the rains come down, and the streams rose, and the winds blow and beat against the house, and it fell with a great crash. But it's interesting that he's still in this place where he's not going to call it out. In fact, the joke is that if you know the reference, you have to know the reference. And Linus is obliquely referencing it to take you there if you know, what he's talking about. But if you don't--
Jimmy: But if you don't, it works fine.
Harold: Yeah, it still has its own meaning, and it kind of is still true to Linus, who's looking for meaning. And I would say that this year, 1959, it feels like the first philosophical year of Peanuts, if that makes sense. Like, very philosophical compared to the previous years, the characters seem, to be going into that direction. And again, that's why it makes it feel like Peanuts to me that I remember as a kid.
Jimmy: Yeah, I feel like last year we got a little bit of that-- I called it the existential year because it really was worried about terms of existence and stuff like this. But I can definitely see we're moving more into philosophy here.
You know what this strip is about to me, that's it making a comic strip. Here's this guy, right? He has a terrible medium, just loose sand, and through his sheer diligence, talent, and will he create something absolutely beautiful which is also completely ephemeral.
Harold: Yeah, that's cool. I like that. I also would say this feels like one of the first very California strips where he's in his sand.
Jimmy: It's like a beach.
Harold: He's working an unending world of sand.
Jimmy: But, see, what threw me off is, A, you don't see any water. B, whenever they're at the beach, they're not wearing their regular clothes. They're usually in beach clothes. And there's just Linus in his regular shorts.
Harold: What I was thinking is maybe Joyce created a giant sandpit for the kids to play in, and it wasn't like, a little sandbox, because, like, the previous week, they do this is the first. And to your point about the dailies being better than the Sundays, this is, I think, the first Sunday we've mentioned. And we're into March, which is super interesting.
Jimmy: That is interesting
Harold: But, yeah, the previous week, he did another sand one. But in that case, you see two houses side by side with each other, which I thought is interesting. And then this time, there are no homes. It just looks like it's Linus and sand.
Jimmy: Yeah. Beautifully drawn. This resonates with me in that kind of thing. like, oh, boy, I would have loved to make a sandcastle like that. The closest I remember is going to a lake with my cousins once, and we made, like, a giant sand village. And in my mind, it looked like this. I'm sure it looked considerably sadder.
Harold: It also makes me think of Disneyland.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah. Definitely has that Disney princess castle vibe. I want to know how Linus did the things where he has the cones on top of the towers. How did he make those wider at the top? The turrets, for that matter. He's good. You've got to give the kid something. He is good.
All right, that brings us to March 27, and I would like everyone to prepare. We are going to talk about this strip for the next 20 minutes because I have a lot of questions and thoughts.
March 27. Lucy is seated behind one of the classic little booths that they made years ago in the strip for selling bones and flowers. Only now the booth says, Psychiatric Help Five cents. The first patient comes up and sits down. It is, of course, Charlie Brown. Lucy, with a stern look on her face, listens, as Charlie Brown says, “I have deep feelings of depression. What can I do about this?” Lucy is contemplative in that panel, but in the fourth panel, she just turns to Charlie Brown hand out and says, “Snap out of it. Five cents please. “
Jimmy: Psychiatric-- So before we say anything about this, I have a question. There are certain things-- look, I'm a reasonable person. I try to keep a chill vibe for you kids, but there are a few things that will if someone just says them to me, will send me into a blind rage. One is, there's no such thing, as a new idea. People say that all the time. And to me, I go, well, that's what an idea is.
This is a new idea. I can understand a lot of what we've seen so far intellectually, and I can look at it-- when it starts getting to this level, I start to think, I don't know how you put those two things together to make this new thing that is so iconic that everyone in the world understands it.
Michael: It's so iconic, it's so brilliant. And the weirdest thing is, he does it once and doesn’t do it again, at least for the rest of this year.
Michael: In a year full of two-week-long sequences, this is a one shot.
Harold: do you think this may be one of those things where Schulz revisited it because people were writing him and people were asking for the strip, and it was one of those deals where he didn't know he had done the amazing thing that, you're just saying, Jimmy. It's like he was doing something and then it was one off, and then he's like, oh, the people tell you there's something into this. I'm just guessing. I don't know.
Michael: It’s possible. You’d think he'd stretch this out. I mean, essentially, this gag is repeated often. Not much different. I mean, her advice is always shape up, basically.
Jimmy: Right. Yeah.
Michael: So maybe he thought he nailed it and there's nowhere else to go.
Jimmy: Yeah, it's interesting. He does not have the classic version of the booth yet. It doesn't have the top portion of it. The sign that says Psychiatric, Help. And then the classic version, then on the base says, the doctor is in or out. I guess she's not there. So this is just a little table, really. So he doesn't have the visual look. But going with what I think we have to call, as we'll call, Pepper's Paradigm of Lucy wanting to be help, this is where it all comes together.
Michael: Yeah. Clearly one of the most important Peanuts strips, I think.
Jimmy: Oh, for sure.
Harold: An earlier, Lucy, I think you could say sometimes, you could assume that what she is putting across as an attempt to help is a complete ruse. It seems like this year you're getting more senses that she believes in herself and she's kind of settling into herself. And she really does think she's helping. She says she wants to help. I remember, like, last year, I think she talks about how she wants to help Charlie Brown, but in this case, you actually see her doing some things, like the end of the gag sequence, at least for Charlie Brown, when Snoopy is hanging on to Charlie Brown, Lucy comes up with a fake article talking about how if someone hangs onto your arm, it can cause damage. And Snoopy, who's been showing all of this love to Charlie Brown, just walks away because he doesn't want to hurt Charlie Brown. And Lucy says something like, don't ever say I didn't do something for you.
Jimmy: I wonder partly if Michael was talking about he was cruising along for so long. I wonder if some of these things were just bubbling away in the background, and maybe he might have had this idea for a long time, as we see Lucy becoming more the character that we know and more having this purpose to her meanness. And maybe the fact that he had all of those other long sequences just keeps pushing-- I guess he just has a surplus of good ideas, is what I'm saying. Right. He could take the Hug strip and play it out for days. He can take the library strip and play it out for days and days. So maybe it's just like I'll get to that when I get to that.
Michael: Sometimes you just released a single and it's not on the album.
Jimmy: Right. That's right. Well, that is the other thing here, is that this could have been just one brilliant strip, and most cartoonists might have left it at that, because it's a risk.
Michael: Can I change the subject slightly? Something else I've been thinking about.
Michael: Okay. What are some of the classic kids strips? You have Calvin and Hobbes. You have little Lulu.
Jimmy: You have Nancy.
Michael: Who are the two little babies?
Jimmy: Oh, Sugar and Spike
Michael: Dennis the Menace, Sugar and Spike. I was thinking of this, this is why Schulz is so far above all those, clearly.
Jimmy: all right, hit me.
Michael: All right. Charlie Brown is the main character. You could do a book, a Peanuts book from 1959, there was no Charlie Brown in it at all. And it would be absolutely brilliant.
Michael: You couldn't do that with Calvin and Hobbes.
Michael: You couldn't do that with any other strip.
Jimmy: No. That's really great. And, if you think about it, Lucy could carry her own strip, Linus could carry his own strip, Snoopy could carry his own strip. You could separate these characters out, and they would not all equal the greatness of Peanuts, but they're all professional-- I think that would be successful comic strips. That's insane to think about.
Michael: He's got this amazing cast, and it's so rich because their interactions between each other are so deep.
Harold: Yes. And Schulz would kind of pontificate on that when he was looking back on his strip and what made his success. And then he'd talk about having the keys of a piano, that each of the characters is a different key. And you have to create a whole cast to be able to play, the more complex tunes. I don't know if it was what he was thinking when he was creating initially, but he certainly looked back on his strip and said, that's what you have to do to make a successful strip that's going to last for years.
Jimmy: Well, that's true, because you can have the idea for this psychiatry booth. When he was asked about it. He said, well, it's a parody of the lemonade stands that you used to be able to see everywhere.
Well, that's fine. OK. Like, if you just had that thought as a cartoonist, you're like, oh, yeah. Nowadays, I guess it would be a psychiatrist booth but if you don't have the character to do it, it's not going to have the resonance. If you create a character because of that, the character is going to be limited, I think. Right. That's all that character is. But he has already built up this richness of character in Lucy, and it really just coalesces. That's the word I was trying to think of earlier. It just coalesces right here.
Harold: Yeah. It took a lot of steps to get to that strip.
Jimmy: Yes, it sure did.
Harold: No question.
March 31. Schroeder is playing the piano. Lucy is hanging out and reading a book. She says “it says in this book, that Beethoven liked girls.” Schroeder stops playing to listen as Lucy turns and continues. “If Beethoven likes girls, then why don't, you like girls? Huh?” A silent panel, as Schroeder just contemplates it. Then Lucy, in the final panel, yells, “Touche!”
Michael: For me, this strip is a set up for the next day, which I think is one of the funniest strips of the year and just a great visual.
Jimmy: And here it is,
April 1. They're still hanging out at the old piano. Lucy is kind of giving Schroeder the side eye. Then she stares at him intently. Then in panel three, even more intently as she cradles her cheeks in both hands. Then in the fourth panel, she has now completely sprawled herself out on top of Schroeder's toy piano, much to his annoyance. And she says, “Beethoven liked girls.”
Michael: It's a classic vamp on the piano.
Jimmy: It is. She's the proto Michelle Pfeiffer. Oh, wait, that's a reference from the 90s. we are getting closer.
Harold: That's why I didn't get it.
Jimmy: Shout out to Michelle Pfeiffer.
Harold: It's so cool here that almost all of the strips leading to this with Lucy is constantly trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing with Schroeder. And it's interesting that this is the time where Schulz gives Lucy in her own mind and an angle that is not just insanity or stupidity. It's as simple as it is Beethoven liked girls. And she's a girl. She's got something.
Jimmy: That's not nothing. It’s a toe hold.
Harold: And I think that makes this little series get it, start to get a little more interesting, because it's not just one sided constant, just being beaten down over and over and over again. Now Lucy has a .5% chance, and there's something there that's fleshing out the characters and the possibilities a little bit more.
Jimmy: Both of these strips really hinge on good drawing. In 3/31 I love the panel, the contemplative panel three with just looking, out at us. That's a great blank expression that implies so much. He's thinking, she has a point. She's thinking. But her point is absurd. It's so stupid. I don't know how to respond to it. But he stuns silent for a second, and that's enough for Lucy.
And then all of the drawing in April 1 is great, but the last, panel is just fantastic. Lucy, how she's lying there makes no sense. I mean, she's going to need see a chiropractor after that.
Harold: Yeah, she's lying on her back, looking up into Schroeder’s face.
Jimmy: And the expression on Schroeder's face again is just completely fantastic.
May 11. Lucy and Charlie Brown are standing outside. Lucy says to Charlie Brown “you're wishy washy Charlie Brown.” Lucy continues as Violet approaches from behind. “And besides that, you're spineless and cowardly.” Violet asks, “what's going on here?” Lucy says, “Nothing much. I'm just trying to give Charlie Brown a little destructive criticism.”