Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. It's Unpacking Peanuts. I'm so excited to be here with my friends and my fellow cartoonists discussing our favorite comics strip. I hope you guys are doing good. Are you doing good?
If you're not doing good, hopefully you'll be doing better at the end of this because we get to spend an hour plus, just talking about the best comic strip of all time and our favorite cartoonist, Charles Schulz. I'm Jimmy Gownley. I'm the cartoonist of Amelia Rules, Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up, and The Dumbest Idea Ever, all of which you can purchase online right now, if you were so inclined. And then I also did a bunch of books for Disney. You could look for them, too.
Joining me, as always, are my pals, fellow cartoonists and cohosts. He is a playwright, he's 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 he is the cartoonist behind such great things as Strange Attractors,, A Gathering of Spells, and Tangled River, Mr. 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 current creator of the Instagram strip Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: How are you guys doing? Are you excited to get back into the world of Peanuts?
Michael: Oh, yeah, it's been a long time.
Jimmy: It has been a long time. We actually took a week off, so this is exciting to get back to it. My whole week goes wonky if I don't get to talk about Peanuts for a couple of hours every Tuesday. So I'm excited to get into this year, guys.
I think maybe because I had a little longer to read it, I really enjoyed just sort of immersing myself in the world of Peanuts this year. And I was really noticing. He's at the point now, and I think going for a long time into the future where he is having minimal change to his graphic identity. His style is really set.
And one of the things we're noticing he might be adding this year is like a super long shot in some dailies, especially in the ones where, Linus has lost his blanket. but that's like the big artistic innovation, visually anyway, for this year. And I was thinking it's evident to me how fast he's doing some of these, because he has the poses down, he has the characters down, the backgrounds are minimal. And when you compare this with other strips that were done even at this time, it's still leaning into minimalism and modernism more than most others.
And although in five years, he's about to get to the absolute top of his profession. It's also, I think, where we start seeing some maybe small amounts of jealousy. Something like, you would see, like, Al Capp doing a really vicious Schulz parody in a few years in L'il Abner. And I think it comes from the fact that this guy was able to turn out a comic strip. He was probably spending 25 minutes, maybe a half hour on some of these strips all by himself. And when you're a cartoonist who can do it all yourself, you have a huge advantage in that you don't have to pay assistance. Everybody else is paying assistance. And some of these assistants ended up being very famous and talented artists. Guys like Frank Frazetta were assistants to Al Capp.
So for people who don't necessarily know how a cartoonist is compensated, a daily cartoonist, anyway, in a newspaper like this at the time, I thought maybe we could a little bit, shed some light on how that's working with the day to day reality and economic reality of it is, for Schulz.
Harold, I'm going to guess that if I were to ask anyone on the planet earth to describe this, it, would be you. So I'm just going to go ahead. Harold, explain that to us.
Harold: Oh, thanks. I don't know if I'm the person on planet earth to do it, but there are lots of better people who have the big picture, including the artists themselves.
Jimmy: no, the artists don't know what's going on. I assure you that the artists have no idea.
Harold: Well, I'm going to kind of go into that a little bit as well when it comes to artists, because historically, we think of artists and business people as not being the same person, usually. And so you need some sort of a system to protect the artists. And sometimes that's just a standard in an industry, and sometimes it's a union. You never know what it's going to take for an artist to make money. Or they're just so amazingly good that there's someone who’ll get behind them and make them successful.
But the case of syndicated comics I do find really interesting, and it dates back, let's go, around to the turn of century, 1900. Newspapers were really competitive in big cities around this time. You had different points of view in the newspapers, and they were slugging out for people to buy newspapers, usually on the streets. So it's like a day to day choice to buy a newspaper. And comics and cartoons were becoming highly popular, right around that time.
And so most cartoonists were employed at that time at a single local newspaper, usually in a large city such as New York or Chicago. So you had to be the kind of person, the kind of artist who would be willing to work in, say, a newspaper office, which is bustling. It's crazy. The history of it is that these hard drinking people who are working incredibly hard, crazy hours, there might be some cynicism in the space because they're dealing with bad news every day.
Jimmy: in the news department? I find that unlikely. But go on. (I worked in news for eleven years).
Harold: And just for an illustration of kind of what was going on in newspapers where these syndicated strips were coming out of. In the 1910s in Chicago it was so intense in these circulation wars that it was said that the two main newspapers were fighting it out by hiring gangs to stop the other paper and to muscle in for the best street corners. And it got worse and worse and worse to the point where at one point, somebody estimated 27 people had been killed in the process of trying to get dominance on the newspaper on the streets. And it was what became gangsterism in Chicago that led to Al Capone during prohibition and all these other things. You can trace it back to somebody funding these gangs in the newspapers.
So that's the world of newspapers, where these cartoonists-- think of a mild mannered cartoonist like Charles Schulz. He's entering into a world that has this history. And in a less violent manner. Papers would start to pay large sums to steal away the most popular cartoonists from their rivals. So William Randolph Hearst was going to try to get The Yellow Kid from Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper, basically, just by paying the guy more money.
And so that's great for cartoonists, but for William Randall Hearst and Pulitzer, all of a sudden, their costs are going up. And so somebody got the bright idea that, well, if I have a way to not just make money on my newspaper comic artist in my city where he is, what if I have that artist to create something that's more general that could be enjoyed all over the country? It's not necessarily based on this neighborhood in New York city, but just do a general comic strip, and then we can sell that to other territories where we're not. And those newspapers would pay for that same amazing cartoonist.
And that's where syndication was born. And it really kind of took off in the 1920s and up until 1950, when Charles Schulz began Peanuts. Cartoonists became popular all over the country, as these local papers are carrying the same strips. And because the newspapers competed in cities and territories, if they bought the rights to print a strip, they got exclusivity, right, in their market. So newspaper editors had incentive to buy new strips early, before the rival paper got it. Because the way comics usually worked, if you buy it in and people liked it enough, you might have that strip in your paper for 20-30 years, and people will come back to your newspaper and buy it over and over again. If you don't make a commitment to something that you don't really know anything about when the salesperson comes around to the office, you could lose out to your competitor.
And so with this nationalization of comic strips, becoming a syndicated artist was highly prestigious. And many young cartoonists all around the country, now no longer just in the large cities, were experiencing these strips. And they were mailing their strips into syndicates for consideration in the big cities, say, Chicago and New York.
That's what Schulz did in 1950. And the syndicate typically would split the income with the artist 50 50, sometimes after some agreed upon expenses were covered. And one of those expenses that's the biggest at the launch of a strip is you've got to send these regional territorial salespeople all over the country to take the editor out to lunch and show him Peanuts.
This is, according to Mort Walker, who did Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois with Dik Browne. And he often embellishes the story. But he claims that when Schulz came to visit in, I think, 1951 to New York City, he met up with a bunch of cartoonists, including Walker. And Walker was kind of the leader of a bunch of fellow cartoonists. And they would work together, and they knew each other. And Walker was explaining he just started Beetle Bailey, I think the same year, 1950. And he was talking about the guarantee that he had been given by King Features Syndicate to create Beetle Bailey. And Schulz is like, what's a guarantee? A guarantee is when they'll pay you to create the strip while they're trying to build up your newspaper list so that you're making enough money during the time that it's growing. And Schulz had not heard of this, according to Walker. And Schulz was complaining, I haven't made a penny off of Peanuts, which would suggest that United did not offer any kind of a guarantee for Schulz. He started, as we know, at the very beginning of our podcast, with only seven newspapers. Some of them were pretty big, but some of them were Allentown, Pennsylvania. They were paying very little money.
So what happened was, apparently United also said, well, we're going to launch you, and we're going to run ads in Editor and Publisher, and we're going to try to get you going. Let's share that cost. If Walker's story is true, that's what happened. They said, basically, you've got to pay for part of our launch, and as soon as that fund is paid off, then you're going to get paid for the strip. So anyway, it looks like Schulz was kind of struggling because he was basically-- it's not a flat rate for somebody who's created their own character and their own comic. They are being paid based on the appeal of the strip to editors who buy that strip. And Schulz had a slow start.
Now, we do know he was catching on pretty fast, because it was originally, as we saw it, was Monday through Saturday. And then there was no Sunday strip for the first year up until January, I think of 19 52. And the way newspapers dealt with
Jimmy: And that's a huge change. Right. That's really important.
Harold: It absolutely is. Because the way newspapers and syndicates dealt with Monday through Saturday and Sunday is some small papers didn't have a Sunday section. So all they would buy or could buy was Monday through Saturday. And so the way they would sell the Sunday strip, which was the color strip, which was treated differently-- a different plant was printing and shipping those things to small newspapers who didn't have full color presses. It was all a different world. They would essentially sell the strip twice. So, you could buy Monday through Saturday and then you could also buy Sunday. And when they listed the roster of newspapers that you were in, they would count the same newspaper twice-- one for the Monday through Saturday and one for the Sunday. So if they said, I'm in 100 newspapers, that might mean you're in 50 newspapers, but you are in the weekday and the Sunday strips.
But what it did is it doubled the money because they would pay the same amount for the Sunday as they would for all six of the dailies. And that was an instant way for Schulz to increase his income for those newspapers who would take on the Sunday as well as the dailies.
So, pretty quickly, Schulz was doing quite okay. And then he started to really take off. I think he was on the cover of Time magazine by 1955, if I'm not mistaken. So that gives you a sense of how quickly he was growing in his field. I think he won the Reuben Award that same year.
Here's some financial ideas of what a cartoonist might make. So let's say you are in 100 newspapers. I got this information from 1995. They said that the average newspaper would pay $12 a week for the dailies and $12 a week for the Sundays. And let's say you got half of that. So there's $24 being paid a week. You're getting twelve as the artist, roughly. And then that $600 a year per paper that you're in. But then that would count as 200 newspapers if that were the case. So, if you're in 200 newspapers, which was a pretty successful strip, let's say, what can be considered a comfortable success would be 100 newspapers. You're making maybe $30,000 a year in 1995, which is a middle class income. Not a great income.
Jimmy: Lower middle class.
Harold: Yeah. Today that would be $50 some thousand dollars, which is a pretty typical household income. Schulz, I think, at his peak was in the 2000s of newspapers. And he probably had--
Jimmy: I've actually seen it as high as 3000.
Harold: Okay. And he went international. So it's hard to sell international strips because a lot of newspapers really weren't set up for comic strips. And it was a love hate relationship between the newspapers and the comics because the newspaper editors wanted to do news. And here they are providing entertainment, knowing it's the most popular thing in their newspaper. And they kind of begrudgingly, in most cases, and begrudgingly put this in the paper because they know it sells the news that they might not sell otherwise.
And so it was always this kind of weird situation where they put up with it, but they really didn't want to put a lot of passion into it, because that wasn't their thing.
And, in any case, Schulz was really growing fast. And if he got up to 3000 newspapers, let's take that. And so maybe at his peak, he was making a little over a million dollars for syndication. and there might have been some bidding between cities.
The problem was, and this would explain the decline of comic strips, which happened in Schulz's lifetime, is that newspapers after World War II became less competitive and became more-- as the country became a little more homogeneous in its politics. After World War II, we kind of brought the country together. Often what you'd see was there might be a progressive and a conservative newspaper, while both of them were kind of moving toward the center to try to reach everybody and appeal to all advertisers and all readers. And so often they would merge. One would go out of business, or you'd have a morning and an evening newspaper, maybe. But fewer and fewer cities had competing newspapers, which meant fewer and fewer cities had competition for comic strips, which meant they were a lot slower to pick up a new strip, because their rival might-- there's no rival to take it if they don't pick it up.
And then the papers are also shrinking in size, and they're shrinking the size of the newspaper comics that are in there. And so there's less room for artistry, and it's harder to sell into a newspaper. It's also harder to get kicked out of a newspaper because 15 people get mad when Mary Worth is canceled. Then you're going to keep it in.
And so there's kind of this stagnation in newspapers, starting in the late nineties, toward the end of Charles Schulz's run. And that kind of is the picture of where he was.
The other one I think I want to put in context is Charles Schulz was said to make, according to Forbes, they would do this entertainment list like the top paid entertainers in the country. And at the end, in the 90s, Schulz was like number two to Michael Jackson, according to them. He was making 40 some million dollars a year. And again, maybe a million of that was syndication. Maybe a million of that was books. And then 90% plus of it was MetLife commercials, where Snoopy's appearing, animated specials and series. Snoopy yoyos and comforters and throw pillows.
Jimmy: Oh, the yoyos, I would say, were 60%.
Harold: I had a Snoopy yoyo.
Jimmy: And the Snoopy snow cone machine. That was a huge hunk.
Harold: And this is really important for us to see that Schulz was primarily known and experienced, not for the strip that he singularly created, but for all of the success that other people attach themselves to the success of Peanuts by saying, I can sell more bedsheets if it has Snoopy on it. And everybody was doing that. I think Peanuts is a success. Peanuts is beloved. How can I make a pencil sharpener that I'm a manufacturer of pencil sharpeners that has a Peanuts character on it so I can sell more pencil sharpeners.
And United Feature, who Schulz made this 50 50 deal with back in 1950, being a man of honor in his own mind, he said, I made that deal. I'm pretty much going to stick with that deal. And I understand this is a commercial product. It's so successful. The syndicate, who is my partner, who gave me a chance back in 1950 when I started, they are saying, let's make the pencil sharpener. And I'm not going to say no unless I really think it's not appropriate to my characters. And so it just blew up. Schulz went with it. He supported the growth of Peanuts.
Most people know Peanuts for things that are not the strip. That's just the reality of it. Most people were experiencing Peanuts, and he was certainly making most of his money, as was the syndicate, for things that the strip made possible, but not the strip itself.
Jimmy: Wow. Well, first off, thank you for all of that. That is amazing. And it is fascinating to understand the really dark criminal world that, comics come out, and not just comic strips. I mean, if you go back to the newsstand, with the superhero comics, DC and more. Superman was essentially stolen from teenagers by the mob. DC was legitimately run by the mob. That's the title, by the way, of this episode. DC Comics was legitimately run by the mob.
Harold: Yes, the comic book industry, and not to go off on too much of a tangent, but we're talking about the gangs that got started by Chicago, and then all of a sudden, they have money. And so they're buying equipment, they're buying trucks. They get into the world of prohibition. 1919 then it was 1933. You can't sell alcohol legally. So who makes it? The criminals. Who distributes it? The criminals. They have to buy trucks to distribute those things they're illegally making. When prohibition comes in 1933, around the time the first comic book comes out, they got to do something with those trucks. Now that legitimate business can compete with them with alcohol. And so what do they do? They get into the magazine distribution business. And that's a territorial thing where you have an exclusive to drop magazines off at all the drugstores and any place that would sell a magazine, you as an entity, get that contract or you muscle into that territory, and it's yours. And so guess what? Comics are based on the gangsterism that in some part came out of the newspapers.
Jimmy: Well, this is great. Harold, I'm blown away, as always, by your depth of knowledge and research. For instance, today, I had no idea where syndication started and why it started. That makes so much sense. And it fills in a piece, and I'm very grateful to know it.
Jimmy: I feel like, I don't know, we haven't discussed this year yet, but I have a feeling that this is going to be a year that you're big on. I feel like this is going to be more of a 1959 year for you. And, you can tell me if I'm right or wrong, but this is why.
I've been trying to figure out there's a few elements, or what elements, I should say go into making this thing a success. I think his temperament is a huge part of it, because rather than fight against all the limitations and the indignities he has, he just kind of rolls with it and works it into it. There's got to be the schedule. The fact that he's doing it every day, that's a big success. There's obviously the distribution of being a newspaper so so many people can see it. there's the depth and the quality of the writing. But I think the depth and quality of the writing comes out of the depth and quality of the characters. I think that's your sweet spot. And for me, at least the way I'm looking at it, this seems like, a year where the characters are moving beyond comic strip characters and becoming almost real people, for lack of a better word. Real-er at least we know, than Harold's next door neighbor. That guy creeps me out.
Harold: What are you talking about?
Jimmy: Am I right?
Michael: About my feelings on this year?
Jimmy: You know what? This is breaking news. First time I've ever been wrong.
Michael: Breaking news. It's just an average year for Schulz, though, that means something else. It means 90% of the strips are utterly brilliant and absolutely no flaws whatsoever. But I'm not seeing the jump yet.
Jimmy: Well, do you think we are going to see that? Because, that's what I'm starting to I don't know that we're going to see that in the way that we might have it in our minds, because I think you know what I mean.
Michael: I see him on the verge of making some big changes. And of course, we know what the changes are because we lived through those years, or we've already read them.
But Schulz, he's not coasting. But this cast has pretty much been pretty stable since after maybe 1953 or 54. And I don't mean the entirety of the cast. Let me explain this in another way, because this is a Peanuts podcast. I'm going to begin by, talking about mathematics.
Finally yes, finally, we tied this all together. The Unified Peanuts Theory.
My friend Mark Sherman, we were on a call a couple of weeks ago, and he-- there's four of us, old friends, and he posted the question is mathematics invented or discovered?
Jimmy: That's amazing. I read an article about it.
Michael: Yeah, well, it seems to be a popular theory now because it seems like nobody even thought about it. I mean, is it there before you and then we just found it, or is it just totally a fabrication of the human mind.
Relating to Peanuts-- Well, I came up with an idea for a chart which I proposed to the guys to see if they thought it was a good idea. And I don't think I made up the chart. I think it was there all along and we never saw it. But this year, we've got a new character coming in who even though usually, the new characters come in and it takes them a while to either grow up a little bit or find their place, a character comes in who right away fits right into the jigsaw puzzle of character interactions. And, I won't tell you who it is, but
Jimmy: we could if you wanted to.
Michael: No, let's have a little suspense in this show. People like mystery podcasts I hear.
Jimmy: All right.
Michael: But looking ahead, the lineup is going to change drastically. And not just the line up, but the characters who are the stars. And we've had this fairly consistent pattern, at least through the middle of the 50s, that there are four characters who clearly are either Schulz's favorite or fan favorites. And Schulz's leaning towards doing more with them because people want more.
I think it's just Schulz saying, these are the best characters, these are the ones that I'm interested, and I'm going to really develop these characters. And I started thinking, like, these four characters are in virtually every comic to the point where I am even wondering if there are any strips that don't feature any of these four. And we'd have to go back and check it out.
So I start thinking, okay, what do we have here is a hierarchy of characters. So I made a little chart with levels from A to F, and level A are the A list characters. And this is not in no necessary order. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and Linus, who I believe one of those are a combination of them is in every strip. And these characters have developed a lot. They're fairly complex, they're multifaceted, they have different interactions with different characters. So Linus is not the same with Lucy he as is with Charlie Brown.
And so this A list, I'm guessing, is Schulz's favorites. And going down from there, we have what I consider the B list. And these are characters who appear often but almost never, or almost never by themselves. And that would be Schroeder, Patty and Violet. The next tier down, which would be level C, are characters who occasionally appear a few times a year. And, at this point up to 1960, we have Sally and Pigpen. Then we have the next Level D, or characters who rarely appear and really don't have a lot of dialogue. And that's Shermy’s turf. He owns that.
Harold: The D list
Jimmy: Poor Shermy
Michael: Yeah. And Level E, next one down is characters-- I consider them characters, who are referred to but never seen. And it was, the parents early on. You'd hear their voices. In the last year or two. There's one character who gets discussed a lot and never appears, and that's Miss Othmar, Linus's teacher. And then finally, the bottom of the barrel, category F for characters who have been booted out of the strip. They've gone to comic strip heaven. And at this point, there's only one. Well, unless you can think of one, but that's Charlotte Braun.
Harold: That's crazy, considering how many years we're in, that he's only abandoned one character ever. That's amazing.
Michael: And this year is really interesting because Charlotte Braun was a one joke character. And I think Schulz realized that very quickly. She talked loud. That was it. And he introduces the new mystery character who is introduced as a one joke character. It's a good joke, and he uses it a lot early on, but she develops fast. And at that point I thought, well, boy, 1960, I had my list, which I thought was pretty clear. You cannot debate it. It's that right.
Michael: But here comes this other character who suddenly jumps up, not to the top, but somewhere in the upper levels. And this is going to be happening more and more. And some characters are going to start dropping and disappearing. And I'm not exactly sure what year, but two or three new characters are going to come in and they're going to jump right to the top and stay there to this day.
So I don't have a good name for this. And maybe we can have a contest. I just called this the Peanuts Hierarchy chart. That's kind of dull.
Jimmy: Oh, I got it. What about the batting order? Top of the order, middle of the order, bottom of the order. Bench.
Michael: Batting orders good except the top of the order is not necessarily the best player.
Jimmy: That's a good point.
Michael: Anyway, let's open up the discussion with our listeners, and see if anyone comes up with a genius idea. He wouldn't come up with a prize.
Harold: Maslow’s hierarchy of memes.
Michael: So right now we've got the Peanuts Hierarchy chart. What we're going to do is review it at the end of each year and see if we can come to an agreement on where we stand. At the end of each year, we do strip of the year, and we've been doing that. Last year, we introduced the most valuable Peanut, which is the character who we feel kind of had the biggest presence in the year. And so, at the end of each year, we'll review this little chart and watch, sadly, as some of our favorites descend and then vanish from sight.
Jimmy: Well, I think that's really interesting. And while you were talking, about the new characters coming on, why do you guys think that is? Because it does seem like for those first few years, he had this method of introducing the kid as a baby, letting them sort of work their way into the strip that way, and sort of feeling around and finding their personality. This year, when new character comes out, boom. Here's my joke. And also here's this other weird stuff about me. Do you think that's because, A, he's more familiar with the form and so these things are just arriving fully formed and he's putting them out there, or because there's been so long that we haven't had a new character, does he think about them a long time before he puts them in the strip? I mean, I don't think there's any way to know, but what's your speculation?
Michael: My theory with character X is he liked the looks and was working in the sketchbook a lot. It's a very distinctive character.
One thing that struck me about this year is he did introduce what was clearly an important character, which is Sally, who had a lot of play, and then she doesn't do much this year. It's like he grew her up fast, like he always does. She was a baby, and then suddenly she's walking. But I don't know if he ran out of energy with her because Sally clearly becomes a major character, you even an A-list character. But at this point, he throws her in, a couple of strips this year, and one of them is great, but she's definitely still way down on the list.
Jimmy: That happens again years later with Rerun, where he introduces Rerun, who ends up being a, spoiler alert, if you care for spoilers in this Linus and Lucy's younger brother. And he looks just like Linus, and he quickly runs out of things to do with this kid, and then 15 years later, suddenly he's the star of the strip. It's partly because it's a daily thing and you're just fishing around, I guess. But it really is interesting to look at why these things are happening.
Harold: Michael, one thing to point out is that two characters are introduced this year. One as a result of the main new character you're talking about.
Michael: Oh, yes. Is it a character or is it just an animal, like the birds?
Jimmy: No, it's a character. It's definitely a character because at least I don't know at this point if you would necessarily but, it grows into it.
Michael: It grows, but at this point, it doesn't have thought.
Harold: Well, it does have attitudes, occasionally.
Michael: Okay, well, we'll get there soon if we ever start.
Jimmy: All right. I don't know. I think we should-- let's go over these things one more time.
Harold: So newspaper comics started in 1803.
Jimmy: No no no hang on
Michael: Wait wait wait I haven't talked about my unified theory of Peanuts yet.
Jimmy: Let's ask ourselves, what is the newspaper? What is communication?
Harold: I'm going to talk about my Schroeder second string theory.
Michael: No, I think that has to do with the kite.
Jimmy: For those of you out there, listening, and you might be annoyed that we're not, this is why I do the podcast.
Harold: Those are you tolerating us right now.
Jimmy: All right, I'll tell you what, then why don't you give us a couple of minutes, we'll collect ourselves, and then we'll come back and we'll get into the strips. Before we break, I just want to remind you guys, you can follow us on social media, on Twitter and Instagram we are UnpackPeanuts. @unpackpeanuts. You can go to our website where you can vote on the strip of the year-- that is Unpacking Peanuts.com. And while we're having this little break, why don't you log on to Gocomics.com, where you can just type in the dates. We're doing 1961, and you can follow along with us. That would be great. Okay. We'll be right back.
VO: I just want to take a moment to remind you that all three hosts are cartoonists themselves and their work is available for sale. You can find links to purchase books by Jimmy, Harold, and Michael on our website. You can also support the show on Patreon or buy us a mud pie. Check out the store link on unpackingPeanuts.com.
Jimmy: We are back, and we're back here in 1961, where we're going to go strip by strip through another year of comic strip excellence with Charles Schulz and the gang. Remember, you can go to GoComics.com. You could, log on there, you could type in the dates and follow along with us. And I really encourage you to do that because me explaining it is about 1/100 of the actual experience of looking at these amazing comic strips. And if you're, like a Richie Rich, if you're making a million dollars a year with your comic strips, you can buy the books from Fantagraphics, because they're gorgeous. Anyway, you ready?
Harold and Michael: Yeah.
Jimmy: All right, here we go.
January 11. Linus is sitting in bed. He looks very distraught. Charlie Brown is standing nearby. “I've got to find where Lucy buried my blanket,” Linus says as he gets out of bed he says, “I can't go through another night like last night again. Oh, the dreams I had.” Linus is putting on his shoes now as Charlie Brown watches. Linus says, “wow.”Then he walks out of his room saying, “that's the first time in my life I ever dreamed about Hyannis Port.”
Harold: Okay, so this is part of a three-week sequence in the dailies that is very memorable. Lucy steals away Linus's blanket, and buries it. And as you can imagine, Linus is distraught, and we're seeing a lot of different things come out of him in this strip that kind of continues to deepen his character.
But I selected this strip for us to talk about just briefly, because it's a Peanuts Obscurity. I can't fully understand this strip, and I haven't seen anybody else explain it. Now, Hyannis Port is where the Kennedy compound was. The election has just happened, and Kennedy, has not been inaugurated, I don't think. This is just early January, but Linus is having terrible dreams, and he's saying he's dreaming about Hyannis Port for the first time in his life. Now, is Schulz basically putting on Linus, his disappointment that Kennedy was elected? it's kind of surprising that it seems to be in kind of this negative light. At first, I thought, oh, was there a major hurricane in Hyannis Port, or some terrible disaster in Hyannis Port? The only thing I could find out about Hyannis Port that's famous about Hyannis Port is that it's the Kennedy compound. So is Schulz actually processing something here because he was politically wrapped up in something and he was disappointed?
Jimmy: I doubt it
Michael: I can see Schulz liking Eisenhower, but not Nixon. No.
Jimmy: Well, no. When I spoke to Mrs. Schulz, she described him as apolitical. And I can't remember the specifics of the story she told me. And actually, even if I did remember the specifics, I probably shouldn't tell them. But it was some sort of political discussion going around with the extended family. And she said it was going on and on, and it was getting a little bit heated. And finally someone looked at him and said, Sparky, what do you think? And he said, I think we should talk about something else.
Harold: Yeah, I think that is where he is. In this year in particular. I get the sense that Schulz is as isolated as he's ever been since he started this strip.
Jimmy: I think that's just a fact. You would have to agree, just by looking at his life, I mean, where he is, what he's doing,
Harold: and just for you guys catching up. He started the strip when he was in St. Paul, Minneapolis area. He had a pretty good family and church situation, and he knew the people at the Art Instruction School and hung out and had lunch with them. He worked at that office.
And then he moves and brings a bunch of people out with him to this compound of his own in Sebastopol, California. And he's raising his kids on this large acreage. He's getting his own studio built, which is away from the house. He was already working out of the house all the time. But, you get the sense he's reading a lot and he's reading a lot of newspapers. He's concerned about the future. He showed us he's concerned about the bomb. He's concerned about just a lot of issues. And it comes out in the strips, this strip. I don't think he would have done a strip like this even a year ago. The people he brought out, like the cartoonist he brought out, he lets go, like in 59, 60. That's the last there with him.
So now he's pretty much on his own in his creative world. He's not around other artists, and even theologically, he is teaching this school, Sunday school with this Methodist church, but he's not attending the church. So all he is is a leader. Being a leader is different than being part of a group. Right? If you're the teacher of a school and you have students,
Jimmy: you're not in the school.
Harold: Right. You're not getting fed from the people around you as much when you're the person who is considered the top dog. So I just get the sense that there's more on his shoulders and, he's going inward and processing things without getting a chance to play it off of people. That's the sense this year gives me. And this particular strip made me think of that, too.
Michael: That all may be true. I disagree on this one. I think maybe you had to be there. I'm talking like an old man. But there was just this Kennedy craze. It was so different from anything anybody had seen before. It really felt like a new beginning. And the media just went crazy, and they were talking about the Kennedys all the time and all the magazines, Hyannis Port, which no one had ever heard of before. Suddenly a phrase you'd hear all the time. I think this is a rare instance of a Peanuts strip which doesn't really make sense logically. I think it was just Linus is always bringing up pop culture trends. And here he does, and it doesn't relate to the fact that he's having this nightmare. I think it's just that Schulz-- I mean, he could have put anything in there.
Jimmy: So, like, for instance, if this was 1982 or whatever, he could say Rubik's Cube instead of Hyannis Port or Neverland Ranch or whatever.
Michael: And I think people go like, Ha ha. Yes, of course.
Harold: I'd agree with you. If it weren't in the context of him saying, I can't go through another night like last night again. Oh, the dreams.
Michael: I know, but actually, I don't think there's a the logic flows in this strip.
Harold: Okay, well, the only way the logic would flow as if he was not happy about what was coming out of his Hyannis Port. Maybe not. He was intending that I don't know.
Michael: I think he went for the joke rather than the ___.
Harold: He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would be putting down a president who has just been elected and hasn't even come into office. It doesn't seem like Schulz. But that was the logical conclusion I made from the strip, which kind of puzzled me.
Jimmy: Well, Harold, I hate to say this, but you're sleeping on it because you picked the wrong strip of the sequence. Because had you picked one two days previous, it would have shed huge light on a huge question and a communication gap you and I have had.
So if I can indulge you guys,
Jimmy: I'm going to go ahead and read 1/9 and we're going to discuss this. Or maybe not. Maybe I'll just say something about it. Okay, so this is great because Linus, as we said, his blanket has been stolen and buried. And now we see he's about to go to bed, only Charlie Brown, or he's actually in bed, and Charlie Brown is sitting with him. This is
January 9. Linus is in bed. Charlie Brown is reading a book next to Linus's bed. Linus says, “Is it morning yet?” Charlie Brown says “no. It's only 10:00.” Linus rolls over under the covers and says, “10:00. Good grief. This night is going to last forever. I'll never make it. Why did Lucy have to bury my blanket? Why? Anyway, Charlie Brown,” Linus continues,” it's nice of you to sit up with me this first night.” Charlie Brown smiles and says, “this is what friends are for.” Linus takes Charlie Brown's hand in both of his hands and says, “Good old Charlie Brown” as Charlie Brown blushes.
Jimmy: Now, here, Harold, is an instance of someone using the phrase good old Charlie Brown as a compliment, right?
Jimmy: And you're always questioning, why on earth would Patty use good old Charlie Brown as an insult? And I figured out the component that you are missing.
Jimmy: Patty's a jerk.
Michael: Wow. Stunning.
Jimmy: She's saying, oh, hey, handsome in the meanest possible. So hopefully that clears it up for it.
Harold: okay, I don't know what part of that has not been out there, but, you're right.
Jimmy: Well, you're always baffled. Like, why would she say that? Why would she say good old Charlie Brown like it's a bad thing? It's because she's horrible, that's why.
Harold: Well, if someone else was saying good old Charlie Brown in a positive way, I would get that. But it was, like, in its own isolation, in this weird place where nobody would say good old Charlie Brown in a good way. But I get what you're saying, and I think in this year in particular, Charlie Brown starts to settle into that place where he's kind of a spiritual bedrock of the comic, which he hasn't quite been yet, but I think maybe it's starting in the year prior. But he is the good character, even though he doesn't usually get rewarded for it. And when he does, it really pays off. Like in the strip you just read.
Jimmy: There's something about-- it may be just that it's a coincidence that it happens after he becomes a big brother. But it feels so natural.
Harold: Yeah. He's losing his edges, and usually that would make a character uninteresting, but instead, he's deepening into something, and Schulz is starting to show his hand a little bit, that he's kind of really starting to love and respect this character. Even as he's going through all these horrible things. He really is honoring him in this particular strip, and it comes up in his later strips, too.
Michael: So why don't Patty and Violet realize this? They hate him as much as ever.
Harold: Well, do you get the sense that Schulz has always been against bullies? He's always been against just the general cruelty of childhood, and he has all these memories that he just never forgot.
There's an upcoming strip. I don't know if I nominated it or not. I may have had to cut it, but I think it's Violet. She's just going, nyah, nyah, nyah. And Charlie Brown says, those nyahs get in your stomach and burn. It’s like, Schulz is so empathetic with the person who is being put down, and it doesn't matter if the character being put down doesn't have faults. He's like, it's wrong to put other people down. It's just not right. And that seems to start to come out of the strip instead of just going for humor, there seems to be an underlying statement that's building slowly and slowly so that you're asked to admire the biggest failure in comics, and that's pretty revolutionary.
Jimmy: Yeah, it is. That makes me think of something else. When we were talking about influences-- Thurber. Did we talk about James Thurber?
Harold: No, I don't think we did.
Jimmy: I think that is probably got to be a component in there, because he has often talked about how much he admired Thurber's drawing, which is funny. Thurber was almost blind and drew really primitive, abstract drawings.
Harold: but amazingly loose like Schulz was trying to do. Yeah
Jimmy: Yeah. So I wonder if that's a component in there.
Harold: Could be
Jimmy: So anyway, I just wanted to go back to that.
January 15. Charlie Brown and Linus are walking past Lucy, who is dropping a comic book and annoyed that they just passed by too close. She says, “hey, why don't you watch what you're doing?” “Oh, be quiet,” says Linus. Lucy yells after him, “clumsy ox”. Charlie Brown and Linus are at the window looking out. It's pouring rain. Charlie Brown says, “boy, look at it rain.” Linus says, “we'll have to stay in the house all day.” Charlie Brown and Linus walk up to Lucy, who is adjusting the channels on the TV. Linus says, “say, Lucy, we're going to play this game. Do you want to join us?” Lucy angrily says, “no, I don't want to join you”. Lucy asks the others “say, have you seen the paper with the TV programs in it?” Linus screams at Lucy, saying, “no, I haven't seen your stupid old paper.” Linus and Charlie Brown are putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Linus says, “I think there's a piece missing here Charlie Brown.” Linus approaches Lucy and asks “Lucy, is that a piece of a puzzle there by your foot?” Lucy now screams at Linus, saying, “how can I watch TV with your stomping through here all the time?” Then Lucy gets up and walks over to the boys saying, “Say, maybe I will play that game with you guys. There's nothing good on TV.” Now Linus blows up, saying, “well, maybe we didn't want you to play. Did you ever think of that?” Then Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy all kneel together and are working on the puzzle and/or game. And then Lucy says, “in this house, Charlie Brown tempers wear thin on rainy days.”
Michael: Funny. Last week or two weeks ago, my sister was here, my older sister. So there was a similar relationship as Linus and Lucy. And I was telling her about our podcast and she admitted to being Lucy. That was good.
Harold: I thought she was saying she said, “What do you think I care about your stupid podcast.” That’s fun.
Jimmy: Yes, I enjoy this strip from the point of view of Charlie Brown. Because having been an only child, whenever I go to my friend's house, any of my friends-- I had an anecdote of a horror story of two of my friends siblings and how they would torture each other. And then it was instantly pushed out by another, worse anecdote from some other friends. So, frankly, I don't know how you people ever survived with siblings. Where do you get your 5 hours a day of me time.
Harold: This is another great example of what we were talking about, of Charlie Brown's changing role in the strip. He's a witness to the blow ups of the brother and the sister. And he's kind of this quiet moral ground. You see him kind of his eyes look to heaven when Linus is yelling back at Lucy. He's there. He's a witness. He's not being really judgmental, not certainly to them, but he's kind of the anchor for an opinion on it's not just kids yelling at each other. It's kids yelling at each other in the presence of somebody who would like there to be peace. But it's very quiet on his part.
Jimmy: Yeah, well, that's because that's all he can do in those situations. The most awkward.
Harold: Right. But I don't think I've seen this before in Peanuts in the ten years he's kind of this witness to wrongdoing. He's just there almost as a reader. I don't know what you call that term when you're not advocate, but
Jimmy: You're the witness. What's it like, the Greek--
Harold: Yeah, it's a very quiet editorial that doesn't let them yell at each other. And that's that there's something else to this that's saying with Charlie Brown as a witness, that changes the nature of how you read the strip and what Schulz is saying.
Jimmy: It really does. That makes me think of something else that I wanted to bring up about just the nature of these punchlines. I was listening to some of the earlier episodes and there were moments in certain strips where we would all like them and go, oh, that's really funny. Right?
Harold: um hmm.
Jimmy: But then we would all have different or there would be at least two different takes on why it was funny or what the person's intent was when saying it right.
I can't remember the specifics of it, but one of them we were talking about, I was listening to a few days ago and I went back and I looked at the strip and it's impossible to tell who's right. It's such an interesting way to write. The joke happens. It is clearly hilariously funny, but you can read it from almost diametrically opposed viewpoints. And I'm not talking about like, philosophical or political viewpoints, just for things like, is that character being sarcastic or sincere? It's funny either way, but it's a different kind of funny. I don't know that you could teach someone to write like that.
Harold: yeah, it's almost like it's an odd fairness with his characters, too, that he's letting you take in the characters and he's not necessarily telegraphing to you how you should feel about those characters.
There were a lot of comic strips that I remember. They were put down comics strips. I mean, we remember those kinds of things, where a character is slamming another character. Schulz does it sometimes, too, and that is the punchline. And the whole point is you've got to get in the shoes of the person giving the punchline to really get the laugh. And Schulz doesn't do that so much. He's letting you kind of stay a little arms distance with the characters, where he's not asking you to use one character to judge the other character. And I think that uniquely makes the characters ultimately-- we have empathy for them because we see all sides. Sometimes one person is getting the brunt of it, sometimes the other is. And the joke is not that, hey, let's put this guy down because he's out of line. The joke is that they're all trying to kind of survive in a world where they have their ups and downs.
Jimmy: Well, yeah, I mean, the same exact strip, except that instead of Lucy having a moment of revelation about herself at the end, of her family, at the end in this house, Charlie Brown tempers wear thin and rainy days. If you just had Charlie Brown stay in that house, like as he's leaving with, walking home or whatever, tempers wear thin on rainy days. They're both funny, they would both work fine, but this way is so much better and so much richer. And I don't think it's the most obvious way to do it.
Harold: I agree. I think the other version you said would be by far the most likely thing. And even for Schulz two years ago, I think that's how he would have done the strip, but he's gone to the new level where there's some self awareness among the people who are being terrible. And you've got this nonjudgmental character who's experiencing it with us. It is much richer. It's not the place we usually get taken to by a comic strip.
Jimmy: This goes back to our earlier discussion, too, about Charles Schulz sitting in the middle of the family discussion, just listening while people are yelling back and forth at each other. We actually could have used panels from this strip to illustrate that story.
Observations great, joke is great. Art is great, dialogue is great, characters are great. you know what? I give it, five out of 10.
January 23. Snoopy is sitting in the grass. A very stern look upon his face. He thinks to himself, “nothing is more fierce than my hatred for cats. I despise the very ground on which they walk.” And he leans over and sniffs twice. Then he walks along the grass, thinking to himself, “I do believe a cat has walked along here. Yes, I'm sure of it.” Then he scowls and thinks loudly to himself, “I hereby despise this ground.”
Jimmy: I love that. That just makes me laugh. I hereby despise this ground.
Michael: That last drawing of Snoopy is-- couldn't be angrier. Hatred. Pure hatred.
Harold: I love the first drawing, too, is priceless. This little scowl on his face that you've never quite seen before, unless he's trying to play a vulture or something.
Michael: Yeah, right. That's the vulture look.
Jimmy: It's also, spoiler alert for 90s Peanuts. His Joe Torre impression. Joe Torre, the manager of the Yankees
Harold: Looking forward to that.
Jimmy: Oh, it's a high point.
January 24. Violet is being Violet to Charlie Brown. Linus looks on. Violet says, “and you're weak and spineless and wishy washy.” Then Violet walks away, leaving Charlie Brown shaken. Linus says, “she really took you apart, didn't she, Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown says, “step by step, verse by verse and line by line.” Linus says, “you sound like a victim of higher criticism.”
Harold: This is another Peanuts Obscurity.
VO: Peanuts Obscurities Explained.
Jimmy: Any time we get to have a Peanuts Obscurity explained, I'm happy.
Harold: So, as we were saying, Schulz is teaching, basically going through the Bible with the Sunday school class. And higher criticism is a term that's usually, but not solely applied to biblical writings, where you're basically you're trying to look at the literary methods and the sources that you can pull out of what you're reading. So essentially, he's throwing in a Bible study joke. Again, it's one of those deals where the term higher criticism, you can kind of get what it's about, but he's being specific to his own experience here.
Jimmy: Oh, well, you know what? I never got that.
Michael: I didn't get that either.
Jimmy: But now, verse by verse and line by line, it actually makes a total sense.
Michael: Yeah, it makes more sense. To me, the humor wasn't the fact that criticism is an ambiguous word and he's using it. She's criticizing him in one sense. And then in the panel three, he's talking about it as in literary criticism, which is a totally different word.
Jimmy: Well, this is, again, a little bit like be of good cheer. Right? Where the more you know, the richer perhaps the laugh is, but you're not punished for not knowing. That's also great writing.
People mock the idea of writing for a general audience, but that's what you're able to do at the highest level. Writing for a general audience is write something that a five year old could understand, and someone who has a PhD in whatever you're talking about could also get something out of.
January 28. It's the psychiatric booth again. Lucy is just scowling behind it. And it's officially Psychiatric Help 5¢. We see it written twice on the booth. This time, Charlie Brown comes up and sits down. He says to her, “I've been very nervous lately. Everything seems to upset me. I'm nervous all the time.” Lucy puts out her palm and says, “Learn to relax. five cents, please.”
Michael: Finally, Schulz realizes what he had. Is it two years since he introduced the psychiatric booth?
Jimmy: Not two years, but yeah, he went a year without ever redoing it. After a one shot.
Michael: It could have disappeared. Yeah, there was one. He brings it back, and it keeps coming back. I think he finally realized it was, like, the perfect vehicle for Lucy.
Jimmy: Yeah. And he has the design of the booth down. Previously he was using just the box on the ground without the sign at the top that says Psychiatric Help. He was using it more like those flowers and bone stands that they sold in the early strips. For this one she has five since twice. So she's really all about the money here.
Harold: Yeah, I think the zoning laws are less in Sebastopol. You can have a higher sign.
Jimmy: Higher Sign. Here's what I think about this. Schulz never did therapy or analysis, either of them, and they are different. So this is clearly someone who's never been to therapy, thinking what therapy is and being completely wrong, and yet also kind of being completely right.
And he does that again and again with this. It is the perfect vehicle for Lucy.
January 29. Snoopy is lying on top of his dog house. He is thinking to himself, in quotes, “the first mate is calling, sir, you're wanted on deck.” He rolls over and thinks to himself again and quotes, “ah, me. Is there no rest for the weary?” Snoopy is now sitting up on all fours and looking out from his dog house. He thinks to himself, “it's a stormy night at sea.” He stands up on his hind legs and thinks, “the captain realizes his ship is in trouble. The crew is frightened.” Suddenly, Snoopy looks shocked. “The storm rages as the hundred foot waves smash against the ship.” Now Snoopy is standing on top of the doghouse. He looks brave and determined and thinks to himself “what an inspiration it is to the men to see their captain standing bravely on the bridge.” At this point, Linus walks up seeing Snoopy bravely standing on the doghouse with his arms folded across his chest. And Linus yells “abandon ship.” Which sends Snoopy jumping off the dog house and into the snow. Then Snoopy pops up from the snow and looks in lines the direction thinking “wise guy.”
Michael: I think this is really an important strip. This really looks forward to what Snoopy is going to become. And correct me if I'm wrong, but up to this point Snoopy has been imitating, pretending he's different animals or even people occasionally. This, I think, starts the thing where he's narrating adventures and sort of acting them out.
Harold: I think you're right.
Michael: This leads straight to the Red Baron stuff.
Harold: And there's another first here, I think. This is the first time to my knowledge that someone other than Charlie Brown knows what Snoopy is thinking.
Michael: hmm really?
Jimmy: Right. That's really interesting because somehow he clearly groks that Snoopy is pretending he is a captain on a ship because he yells abandon ship.
Harold: The findings, you can totally miss that because we've been hearing his thoughts the whole time. And you think, the first time I read it, I didn't think anything of him yelling at course, because Snoopy is a captain of a ship. But wait a second, how would they know just because he's posing on top of his dog house?
Jimmy: Right. So maybe this means, this is another example of us drifting into the Snoopy strip that I propose is a separate sub-strip within Peanuts.
Michael: below it.
Jimmy: You know?
Michael: Or this might be Linus manifesting more magical powers.
Jimmy: No, because then it would be everybody. So it has to be Snoopy. I think that's the one that's magical. The other thing is I was thinking about this because this is the point where he starts creating new stuff and Snoopy, his journey has been to not be Snoopy. Right?
He doesn't want to be the good old dog. Right? He wants to be something else. And he first starts doing that through imitation and then he starts creating his own stuff. It's really the path of the artist, right? The first thing you do is you start copying the drawings that you like, right. And then you start coming up with your own stuff. So we'll see if that keeps going. Spoiler alert, that will keep going.
February 1, Linus and Lucy are walking outside. Lucy says “this is the healthiest time of the year.” She raises her mitten covered hands to the sky and says, “you know why? Because there's more calcium in the air this time of year, that's why.” Then she looks at Linus and says, “you should know things like that, Linus.” She looks a little annoyed when she says that. Then they continue walking and she says, “well informed laymen make up the foundation of a healthy society.”
Michael: She's a very complex character.
Harold: Yeah, and here's another Bible study reference, right? Dealing with--
Jimmy: well informed laymen.
Harold: and I'm sure that there's lots of calcium references in the Old Testament.
Jimmy: Look, I'll tell you guys this, and our listeners out there, but keep it amongst ourselves because it's really embarrassing for me. When I was reading this the first time or not the first time, I was reading it for this podcast, and she's like, because there's more calcium in the air this year. And I, for a moment, went, really?
Harold: It’s white like milk, snow.
Jimmy: Don't say that out loud, Jimmy. So keep that amongst yourselves, okay?
February 4, Snoopy is lying on top of his doghouse. Suddenly, a little bird comes up and lands on his feet. Snoopy then lifts his legs so that he could bring the bird face to face with him and says and thinks, actually, I should say, “well, hi.”
Harold: This Is the new Hallmark card-y. Schulz that is pretty adorable. This one just made me smile. I had to pick it because it's one of the small, pleasant moments among some of the more angsty things in this year's strips.
Michael: But wouldn't we all think that if a bird landed on our feet? I’d certainly think that.
Jimmy: There is a viral video going on at the time we're recording this where a paraglider comes upon, I think some sort of vulture. I can't remember. And the vulture just, like, sidles up to them, hundreds of feet, in the air, 2000ft in the air, whatever it is. And then the vulture lands on the paraglider's feet.
Harold: Oh, wow.
Jimmy: It's incredible. Everyone in the world may have seen it by the time this podcast comes out, but if you haven't, it's really nifty.
Harold: And I just want to ask you guys, because this is literally Snoopy lying on his dog house and bird lands on his feet and he says hi. Can you think of other strips in 1960 that would have done this gag where it's just him saying hi to a bird that landed on his feet?
Jimmy: I can't think of,
Harold: I can think of ones that would come later, like Hi and Lois-- Trixie would have done it. But I think Trixie is inspired by Sally and Peanuts.
Jimmy: This is the type of sentiment that feels early 70s or late 60s-- you know, sunshine pop, kind of it reminds me just of my very early childhood. So I love it. This is a proto Woodstock. Obviously. It's not Woodstock, but it'll end up being Woodstock.
Harold: The difference here is the bird's not smiling back. It's just like looking at him like a bird would.
Jimmy: Yeah it’s much more-- it's not realistic, but it's more identifiable as a bird than Woodstock. I mean, literally, if you had never seen a comic strip before and someone showed you a picture of Woodstock and made you identify what this creature is, you would not say bird, right? I don't know what you'd say, but I don't think it looks like a bird.
February 12. Pig Pen is playing in a sandbox. Even though he is in the sandbox, you can still see his own personal dirt cloud around him in the form of kind of gross dots. Violet looks at him in disgust and says, “good grief.” Pig Pen asks, “what's the matter?” Violet, disgusted, says, “what's the matter, he asks.” Then she angrily says, “Pig Pen, you're a disgrace. No girl could ever like anyone as dirty as you.” Then she walks away saying “girls like boys who are clean and neat and who keep their shoelaces tied.” Then she walks up to Charlie Brown, who is walking in the opposite direction and seems happy, has a little smile on his face. Then they both stop. Violet contemplating something and Charlie Brown contemplating Violet Then Violet looks at Charlie Brown and screams, “but there are a lot of things more important than just being clean.” Then Violet walks away, leaving Charlie Brown shaken. Then Charlie Brown says, “somehow I never quite know what's going on.”
Michael: And he's used that punchline a bunch of times.
Michael: Not always for Charlie Brown.
Harold: Now we're getting to see more and more of these kind of strips where Charlie Brown is just being Charlie Brown and something happens around him and we identify with him. But he's not the instigator of something, he's just the brunt of something that he had nothing to do with. And it creates this sympathy for him.
Michael: But notice this starts out as a Pig Pen Violet strip. And I was saying this wouldn't happen and it doesn't happen because someone has to deliver the punchline and neither of them are developed enough to do it.
Jimmy: If Violet just delivered the punchline and you didn't, see Charlie Brown. And I'm not certain if I'm saying this because of what your observation is, or if I would have felt but it feels like it would have felt like a throwback strip, like you could have seen this in 1953 or whatever year Pig Pen came out. But somehow I never quite know what's going on with Charlie Brown.
Again, it's the same way as that when Snoopy we discussed this, I think with Lex. Like Snoopy has a certain ironic distance that allows him to do the corn ball jokes and Charlie Brown has this sort of distance that he's allowed to just, again, like we saw with the Linus and Lucy argument, just be in the thing, but slightly separate on from it and enable to comment on it. And that makes it again, it makes it richer.
Michael: It only works because he's established the Violet - Charlie Brown relationship. So if that was Shermy, because-- who's very clean also, it wouldn't work. There's no Shermy-Violet relationship.
Jimmy: So this is the Shermy test?
Jimmy: Are we going to be able to even have the Shermometer this year?
Michael: Yes, there is one.
Jimmy: All right, as long as we can have the Shermometer, then life is okay.
Harold: I just wanted to ask you, you mentioned that Charlie Brown is somehow distanced from what we've seen at the beginning of the strip between Pig Pen and Violet. It's almost like if this were 3D, Charlie Brown has popped out, a few inches from the strip we just saw toward us. That's kind of the feeling I get. And so, again, that creates this connection with him that is pretty powerful because we're on the outside looking into the strip, and then all of a sudden, he's kind of on the outside looking in. And somehow Schulz is doing some amazing alchemy to get us to closer to this character, even though he's passively experiencing this just like we are as a reader.
Jimmy: Right. For sure.
February 26. Charlie Brown and Snoopy are going to sleep in Charlie Brown's room, in Charlie Brown's bed. They're both tucked in up to their neck, one silent panel before Snoopy starts to snore. Suddenly, he's snoring quite loudly, and Charlie Brown throws him out of his house. Snoopy, very disappointed and embarrassed, goes back and lies on his doghouse. Then Charlie Brown seems to be thinking it over. Then he goes back out after putting on his natty little bathrobe and says to Snoopy, “all right, come on back in. I'll give you a second chance.” Then we see them both back in bed, asleep, smiles on their face before Charlie Brown starts snoring very loudly, waking Snoopy. And in the last panel, we see Charlie Brown out sleeping, or trying to sleep anyway, on top of Snoopy's doghouse. And he sighs to himself.
Harold: This is a perfect strip to me. And it's all centering around one of the most perfect panels I've ever seen with Charlie Brown in his pajamas and his bare feet outside the house, with a beautiful, perfect circle moon behind him and the outline of a house. And this perfect drawing of Snoopy walking away in utter disgrace with his ears forward.
Michael: that's one of the best Snoopys I’ve ever seen.
Harold: oh, it's amazing, this whole strip. And it goes through this lovely little.
Michael: It's almost like a throwback. I think artistically, the Snoopys-- it looks like a little throwback to like a 1930s kind of thing.
Harold: And I love that he takes us through this progression of thought and emotion, very little dialogue. The very fact that Snoopy's with Charlie Brown, right, he's in the bed. We've not seen this before, have we? And Snoopy's, got the little side eye to Charlie Brown. He's got his own pillow. And then Charlie Brown's upset. And then Charlie Brown feels guilty after Snoopy is so embarrassed. And then he does come out with the beautiful robe and slippers to formally invite him back in. And then just the total happiness on both of their faces is great until Charlie Brown snores. And Snoopy again, that feels like 1920s. Right?
Michael: Or Krazy Kat
Harold: it's gorgeous. And then the last panel again, it's just perfect. I mean, this strip works so incredibly well. And again, Charlie Brown, again, I'm just building this empathy for Charlie Brown like I haven't had before in the strips. He's been put upon. But now he's like, you really kind of start to love this little guy. He gets upset, but then he thinks better of it and he makes amends for it. And then at the end, he's thrown out himself. And nobody's there to give him that empathy except us, the reader.
Jimmy: Here's an interesting thought experiment. This concept, right, that the dog is sleeping inside, the dog snores. You put the dog out, you feel bad, you bring the dog back in, you snore, then you have to go out. Could be done in any comic strip ever that has a dog and human, basically, right? But the things that make this different is when Charlie Brown sends Snoopy out. Snoopy goes out and lies on top of the doghouse, right? That's absurd and funny and weird and unique to this strip. And you have to know a little bit about Snoopy. Otherwise it's a bizarre, surreal, non sequitur-- Why is the dog on top of the dog house? We just know Snoopy does this, right?
But then it adds to you because you draw the picture of Charlie Brown on top of the doghouse as well. Because he's working-- And, then adding all the stuff that you're saying about the characters and how you feel about them from seeing all this previous stuff. And it takes what's, like a basic, ordinary kind of gag that really anyone could use and elevates it to something no one else could do.
Harold: Yeah, you're absolutely right. As Michael was saying before with like Pig pen and Violet and Charlie Brown, it's because we've experienced these characters before that we can really take this in. And it becomes this elevated experience that another cartoonist would not have had the opportunity to, or if they did, they wasted it to build this relationship with these characters that are so iconic and so fun and in their own right. So that when you see that last panel, Charlie Brown sighing on top of the dog house, it is an absurd but totally logical final panel.
Hey, Michael, we're meeting your mystery character.
Michael: Mystery character is revealed.
March 6. Charlie Brown, Linus and a new girl are standing outside. Linus says to Charlie Brown. “Charlie Brown, I would like very much to have you meet Frieda.” Charlie Brown says, “how do you do? Frieda?” Frieda says, “how do you do Charlie Brown. I have naturally curly hair.” Freda continues, “do you feel that spring will be here soon? I belong to twelve record clubs. Now that we're getting a good picture on our TV, the programs are lousy.” Frieda walks away. Linus with a ridiculous grin on his face, says to Charlie Brown. “Frieda prides herself on being a good conversationalist.”
Michael: Now, Frieda has two schticks, whereas Charlotte Braun only had one. So this is twice as developed as Charlotte Braun right at the beginning.
Harold: First strip
Michael: talks too much. And she has curly hair. Naturally curly hair.
Jimmy: This is a cartoonist impersonation of anybody they meet, out in the world. What the hell are you talking about? Just stop. I have been staring at a piece of paper for four months. Please.
Harold: That's so true.
Jimmy: I really enjoy Frieda. I really enjoy Frieda's naturally curly hair. And that was what I had to look at to try to get Michael's hair right on our cartoon.
Michael: Thank you. I do have naturally curly hair.
Jimmy: You do. I had naturally curly hair.
Michael: And we had spaghetti at our house three times this month.
Michael: I like Frieda. She comes out slugging.
Jimmy: Love Frieda.
Michael: I think he knows this character. She's just right from the get go. She's like a part of the gang.
Harold: I think he likes her. And I think you're right, Michael, that she probably came out of a doodle and he was like, this is something. This is special.
Jimmy: Well, now, you know, she's named after someone in Schulz's life.
Harold: And who's that?
Michael: Frieda Lawrence, D.H. Lawrence’s wife?
Harold: Frito Lay?
Jimmy: Yeah, of course. No, Frieda was a woman who worked with Schulz at the Art Instruction School, and she was actually a little person, and she adored Charles Schulz. And so he named this fantastic character after, which is really nice.
March 9. Frieda is back. Linus is now introducing her to his sister, Lucy. “Frieda, this is my sister Lucy,” says Linus. Frieda says to Lucy, “how do you do? Lucy, have you ever met anyone before who has naturally curly hair? Actually, I'm very grateful for it.” Linus whispers to Lucy, “she's kind of a friend of mine, Lucy. And she sits behind me at school.” A murderous look is on Lucy's face. Then Linus says to Lucy, “please don't slug her.”
Michael: So now look at this. Well, there's a couple of strips in between because they're all Frieda for a while. She's developed a relationship between Lucy. You see the hint of a relationship between her and Linus. Yeah. So she's taking on the aspect of a major character. She's not the same to everybody.
Michael: Linus is embarrassed by her. Lucy wants to kill her. And there's a strip coming up which is, like, so brilliant, which you'll see that defines the Lucy Frieda relationship.
Harold: And I will say this is probably the sluggingest Lucy we've seen so far this year. So this is an actual, real threat to Frieda.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah. Oh, boy. And when we get there, it's so great. Just why you become a cartoonist.
March 17. St. Patty's Day. Frieda is watching Linus in his classic thumb and blanket position. She does not look impressed by this. She says, “the blanket I can see, but the thumb no.” Frieda has a disgusted look on her face, and she continues, “that constant slurping simply nauseates me.” Then she says, “I don't think I'm going to be able to stand it.” Linus very calmly says to her, “there must be hundreds of travel agents who would be only too glad to guide you to the other side of the world.”
Michael: Oh, Linus, I mean, he rarely gets that snide, but he's good at it.
Jimmy: I have used that joke as my own seven, eight, nine times in my life, easily.
Michael: So okay, here's Frieda in her first week. Three characteristics. She's just, like, super critical of everybody.
Jimmy: What I learned is that Linus isn't just sort of calmly resting his thumb in his mouth, which is, I guess, how I always sort of pictured it, but I think the constant slurping would nauseate me, too. That sounds awful.
Harold: Yeah, you can't say you're unsympathetic to Frieda here.
Jimmy: Yeah. A great drawing, by the way, of her looking nauseated.
March 26. Charlie Brown is wearing a little cowboy hat that might be getting a little too old for. Snoopy is with him. Charlie Brown says, “all right, let's hear how you sound.” Snoopy says, “Moo.” Charlie Brown says that's pretty good. Charlie Brown continues talking to Snoopy. “Now you'll be the lost calf, and I'll be the cowboy who comes to find you. Okay?” Snoopy says, “Moo.” Charlie Brown runs away. Snoopy is out in the field, fully becoming a cow, saying, “Moo.” Suddenly, Charlie Brown sees Linus and Lucy walking by. He says, “Where are you two going?” Linus says “To the free kiddie show. Didn't you hear about it? Four monster pictures. Come on.” Suddenly, Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy are at the pictures, eyes wide with horror, at least in the case of Charlie Brown and Lucy. Linus says. “Pretty good, huh Charlie Brown? Real science fiction stuff.” Then they're walking home. Linus says, “I may not sleep well tonight, but it was worth it.” Charlie Brown is now back in his room. He still looks shaken from the monster movies. He's taking off his shoes and saying, “boy, what a day. That was a long show. Those monster pictures wear me out.” Charlie Brown is now tucked in bed, and he says to himself, “somehow I have the feeling that I've forgotten something, but I can't imagine what it could be” In the last panel, we see Snoopy standing on top of Charlie Brown in bed, and Snoopy just yells at Charlie Brown. “Moo.”
Harold: Oh this is one, I think, one of the funniest Peanuts strips of all time. It's just beautifully done. And again, if I had to guess where this came from, is that beautiful center panel of Snoopy giving a long moo out in the field. I just think that he was probably messing around.
Jimmy: Yeah, probably looking maybe for an imitation for Snoopy to do.
Harold: Love this Strip. It's so funny and so well done, I forget I get sucked into the monster movie, and so when Snoopy shows up it’s like oh yeah.
Jimmy: Yeah. Hey, rare drawing fail, though. Check out the hat from panel one to panel two, Charlie Brown's head moves underneath the hat. The hat itself doesn't move, so he's wearing the hat sideways suddenly, in panel two.
Harold: that is iconic Schulz boy, whatever reads best in a particular pose, that's what he gets.
Michael: He has a slippery head too.
Harold: He goes off model and he creates a model of off model. I guess that's the way I can put it. And he gets away with it.
Jimmy: Well, cowboy hats and fedoras are notoriously difficult to draw. I've been practicing them since I read my first Spirit comic. I have to say, I'm, pretty good at this.
Michael: And we're soon coming up to the weird Civil War hats. Everybody's wearing.
Jimmy: Yes. The centenary is upon us.
April 16. Schroeder is practicing away at the piano.
Michael: Sorry I shouldn’t laugh in advance
And a femme fatale is, of course, leaning on his piano, only this time, it's Frieda. Unbeknownst to what is going on, Lucy, with a huge grin on her face, walks up to Schroeder's door and lets herself in. She comes into the room. Schroeder continues to play away at his piano. Frieda, leaning on the piano, smiles at Lucy. Lucy looks shaken to her core. She is shocked and devastated. She is a hollow shell of a human as she walks out, leaving Schroeder and Frieda behind. She just looks so upset. She sits on a curb next to Snoopy. She is so upset. Snoopy shares in it, and he is equally upset, as we can see through the word balloons, which are just filled with black marks, representing just absolute despair.
Harold: And connected to one another.
Jimmy: And they are connected. Yes. They are both speaking this.
Then suddenly, Snoopy looks at Lucy as if he has an idea. The next panel, we see Snoopy's idea. Snoopy has launched himself through the air, fangs bared. Lucy watches this and takes it all in. The next panel, she considers it. Then she walks back to Schroeder's house. Suddenly, she launches herself upon Frieda in exactly the manner Snoopy prescribed. There's a panel of what appears to be a knock down, drag out brawl. And then it ends with Lucy. A little worse for wear, but happy. Back with Snoopy shaking hands.
Michael: Boy, is this good.
Jimmy: That’s amazing
Michael: Wordless strip. It's so amazing.
Harold: Yeah. April 16. You look it up if you can. April 16, 1961. If you can find that online, it's worth checking out.
Jimmy: Yes. I mean, this me reading it gives you 1/1000 of what it is. It's just---
Michael: Panel 4. Frieda is out to get Lucy.You could tell.
Jimmy: Okay, here's a great example, though, of what I was talking about earlier. [Yeah.] Is she or is she just sitting there? [No] This is a master cartoonist. He, at this point has one line for an eyebrow, a dot for one eye, and one line for a mouth. And it is somehow conveying am I messing with you? Am I not, right? Yeah, that's amazing.
Harold: Yes. We don't know if Frieda knows anything about Schroeder and Lucy at this point.
Jimmy: But what also is amazing, and this adds depth to the character thing, is Lucy doesn't go to this right away. Because she's actually hurt. Lucy is always all bluff, and no one's really ever gotten to her, or it's very difficult anyway, to get there. This just cuts her to the quick. And that drawing of her looking-- at seeing Frieda there is just hilariously funny. And also, I totally feel for Lucy. Great drawing. I love, also the real abstract iconography for the fight, and of course, the picture of Lucy flying at Frieda. Those panels are just great. Yes.
Harold: You get a different angle of Schroeder and his piano with this crazy iconography of the fight, as he's just looking on. again, he's now the innocent bystander of something going on. Lots of innocent bystanders this year, I guess.
Michael: Do the Bystander Index.
Jimmy: All right, well, what do you think? Should we call that for episode one?
Michael: End on a strong note. That's pretty amazing.
Jimmy: That's a strong note. All right. That's a great way to end it. So, listen, we'll be back next week to discuss the rest of this classic year of Peanuts.
Michael: And higher mathematics
Jimmy: And higher mathematics and biblical criticism, and whatever else we come up with, and which characters are jerks or aren't jerks.
Until then, if, you could do me a couple of favors, that would be great. One, I would love to hear from you. So why don't you, if you have some time, follow us on social media. You could follow us on Twitter and Instagram. We are at UnpackPeanuts. If you have more time, why don't you drop us a line? You can email us through our website, unpackingPeanuts.com. You could also go there to vote for Strip of the Year. Plus, we have features like there’s transcripts of every episode, and some of the obscurities that need explaining get explained there as well. So we would love to see you there.
Personally here's what I would love. We are doing great. We have thousands of downloads now from all over the world, and I'm so happy to see the enthusiasm for Charles Schulz and his work. But we have a sorry lack of reviews. So if you have a minute, if you could give us one of them their five star reviews on Apple, because that's how their algorithm makes sure people see our podcast. So that would be hugely helpful.
Until then, I just hope you have a great week. That's it. So until next week, for Michael and Harold, I'm Jimmy, be of good cheer.
Michael and Harold: Yes. Be of good cheer.
VO: Unpacking Peanuts is copyright Jimmy Gownley, Michael Cohen and Harold Buchholz. Produced and edited by Liz Sumner. Music by Michael Cohen. Additional voiceover by Aziza Shukralla Clark. For more from the show, follow UnpackPeanuts on Instagram and Twitter. For more about Jimmy, Michael and Harold, visit unpackingpeanutscom. Have a wonderful day and thanks for listening.