Jimmy: Hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. It's Unpacking Peanuts. It's 1961. We had a lot to talk about last time, so we just got up until April. So we're going to have a ton of comic strips to get through today. And spoiler alert, they're all really good.
Hi, how are you doing? I'm Jimmy Gownley. You might know me from Amelia Rules. Or graphic novels. Like the dumbest idea ever. Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow up. Joining me, as always, are my pals, co hosts and fellow cartoonists.
He's 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 for Amelia Rules, and he is the cartoonist behind such great comic books as Strange Attractors, Tangled River, and A, Gathering of Spells. It's 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: guys. 1961. It's a great year. I think we just got to get right to it.
Jimmy: All right, we are picking up at
April 21. Lucy and Linus are walking outside. Linus is wearing a very strange cap. Lucy says, “did you fill out that paper for the school office?” Linus reaches in his pocket and says, “I have it right here.” Linus, continues “my mother's name, my father's name, our address, and our telephone number.” Lucy asks, “what did you put down under family physician?” Linus says, “well, I wasn't sure, so I put down Dr. Seuss.”
Michael: One thing about Schulz, he's not thinking about this is going to be read by how many years afterwards?
Jimmy: No. Or the next day.
Michael: Or the next day. Yeah. I think these newspaper cartoonists going to be read today. It's going to be in the garbage tomorrow. And so there must have been a thing going on about Civil War. It was the 100th anniversary. Linus is wearing a weird hat. Unless you were kind of fairly knowledgeable, you wouldn't recognize this as a Civil War hat. It's just a weird hat. But Schulz doesn't need to say anything about it.
Harold: How old were you when this strip came out?
Michael: Eleven years.
Harold: And do you have any memory of kids walking around wearing these Civil War hats?
Michael: No. We, were in coonskin caps.
Harold: At eleven. Put some buttons on it, turned into a jughead cap or something.
Jimmy: Well, I remember when kids were in-- because I grew up in Pennsylvania, which I know is ridiculous, but it happens. And people, go to Gettysburg, of course, and they sell those hats. They still sell those hats. And I remember every time a kid would go and they'd get to go tour the battlefield or whatever. They always come back with one of those hats, and they'd wear it the day they came back, and then you'd never see it again.
Harold: Yeah. From this strip, you would think it was as big a phenomenon as Davy Crockett, but yeah, I guess maybe it was just happening in his own backyard.
Jimmy: Well, that could be it. Maybe his kids. A lot of times you find this I think your kids are into something, so I assume everybody's kids are into it. And that's not always the case.
Harold: Yeah. I mean, the hula hoop caught on.
April 26, Linus and Lucy are sitting in an easy chair in their living room. Lucy says to Linus, “you can't drift along forever.” She continues, “you have to direct your thinking. For instance, you have to decide whether you're going to be a liberal or conservative.” She continues, as Linus listens in his classic thumb and blanket position. “You have to take some sort of stand. You have to associate yourself with some sort of cause.” Linus says, “are there any openings in the lunatic fringe?”
Michael: Well, if Linus is still around today, there's, plenty of openings in the lunatic fringe.
Jimmy: It's an open door policy, I think.
Harold: And it seems like, again, this is the year when I was thinking Schulz maybe is just reading a lot and conversing with people less. And so this strip kind of makes me think of that world where he's thinking of big ideas, but maybe he's not getting a chance to bounce it off of people. A lot.
Jimmy: Okay, that's very interesting, because Schulz does something that very few cartoonists are able to pull off. He ages out without becoming a crank. And it happens a lot. Walt Kelly becomes a crank. Al Capp becomes a crank. It goes on and on and on. Lots of cartoonists that are still alive today that I won't slander become cranks. Because, like you're saying, they're completely isolated. You read something, and everybody's-- especially if in the mood to be irritated, then everybody's irritating. Right. And you kind of have to be irritated a little bit to be trying to make humor every day.
Jimmy: At least that's one source of humor. So you're suggesting that maybe in these little instances here, that's the seeds of.
Harold: What could happen yeah, exactly. Ten years in, there could be a branch going off, one fork in the road that would be going in that direction. And he doesn't really do it.
Jimmy: No, he doesn't. That's much to his credit and much to his success. And it goes back to the temperament. He has the perfect temperament to make the most successful comic strip of all time.
Harold: Yeah. I'll say this, I think, just from what little I know. I think you can also credit Jeannie for that. I think the nature of his second wife, she's got an even keel to her, and a warmth to her. That has to be a bastion for somebody who is digging deep every time he's working on a strip, trying to get somewhere and have someone to come back to every day who's got that level of warmth and, support for you. That's got to help.
April 30. Lucy has set up shop at the psychiatric stand. Charlie Brown looks defeated as he approaches it. He sits down in the patient's chair and says, “and so I can't help it. I feel lonely, depressed.” Lucy says, “this is ridiculous. You should be ashamed of yourself. Charlie Brown.” Charlie Brown is really taking these words to heart. Lucy actually stands out from behind the booth and is ranting at Charlie Brown. “You've got the whole world to live in. There's beauty all around you. There are things to do, great things to be accomplished.” She continues, “no man trods this earth alone. We are all together, one generation taking up where the other generation has left off.”Charlie Brown is galvanized. He says. “You're right, Lucy. You're right. You've made me see things differently.” He continues,” I realize now that I am part of this world. I am not, alone. I have friends.” Lucy says, “Name one.”
Jimmy: She is torn between the desire to create and the desire to describe.
Michael: I can't see it really well from this on the screen here, but this moment of confidence in the second to last panel is his mouth kind of shaky?
Michael: So he's trying to be confident.
Harold: He's kind of the wishy washy version.
Jimmy: Yes. I mean, the most minimal change to a cartoon expression that you can imagine. And he conveys a really subtle emotion.
Harold: He looks vulnerable.
Jimmy: Yeah. He's daring to risk this optimism, which, of course, Lucy takes full advantage of.
Harold: Yeah. And once again, Charlie Brown becomes very sympathetic based on how he's relating with these other characters.
Jimmy: Yeah. Lucy needs-- she has a way to, go if she's going to be a good therapist, but you got to start somewhere.
May 2. Snoopy is sitting up on top of his doghouse, looking at the stars. He thinks to himself, “I am always impressed by the constancy of the stars. It gives me a feeling of security to look up and know that the star I see will always be there and will--” Suddenly, of course, a star falls from the sky. In the last panel, Snoopy is lying on his stomach on top of the dog house, looking absolutely forlorn.
Harold: That is, again, a perfect drawing of the feelings that Snoopy must be feeling based on how he's just been utterly destroyed by the aligning of his thoughts with the reality of what he's just seeing. It's remarkable. And again, this kind of feels like 1961 to me, where there's just this little sense of unease in Schulz and in politics. This is the year of, I think or is it the year following? No, it's the year of-- when did the Bay of Pigs happen?
Jimmy: ‘61, I think, because I think the Cuban missile crisis is…
Michael: I get ‘em mixed up
Harold: That's where we are right now on an international scale. Someone's thinking the big thoughts. You're very concerned. You have two superpowers spying at each other as a cold war raging, and you're just not quite sure what's going to happen next. And this strip kind of embodies that in a way that I don't think any other artist or cartoonist was able to embody so succinctly and so effectively where people are at this time.
Jimmy: Yeah. Now, he couldn't have been referencing either of those things specifically because I looked it up. The Bay of Pigs is April, right?
Harold: But the general feeling-- I don't know. When did Khrushchev visit the United States? And…
Jimmy: it was a Tuesday.
Harold: Okay. And the banging of the shoe. But it's there. This is where the culture is right now. Kennedy came into some really heavy duty stuff, and I don't know if Russia, with the new presidency, was starting to be a little more aggressive, kind of kicking the shoes of Kennedy, I don't know. But that's the feeling I get for this year.
Jimmy: I may have mentioned once or twice that I sometimes get a little depressed. One thing that always cheers me up, have you ever seen the Hubble space photographs where two galaxies are actually colliding into each other?
Jimmy: Have you ever seen these? They're spectacular. It's gigantic. Galaxies clashing into each other, destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of planets must be destroyed every second. And I think, well, those are real problems. So Snoopy should look at this and go, hey, at least you're not on the site. Whatever that meteor was or whatever.
Harold: I thought you were going to go, that's pretty admirable to wind up there.
May 16. Frieda is back, and she's talking to Charlie Brown, who yells a cat. Frieda says, “sure, why not?” Freida continues, “I asked my mother if she'd buy me one, and she said she would.” Charlie Brown looks stricken by this and says, “but what about Snoopy? What will he do when he hears about this?” Suddenly we see Snoopy, a giant ball of black ink in a word balloon, hovers over his head. He looks absolutely devastated. Frieda says “he knows all about it.”
Michael: And I just looked at this and went, wait, I've seen that Snoopy picture recently. And then I just compared it to the Lucy thing where she's walking around with a big black blob after she's in. Frieda, he knows how to get, like, the depths of emotion.
Jimmy: I would like to know the idea of conveying sort of emotional despair and confusion with scribbled lines above a character's head, as Schulz didn't invent. But I wonder who did. I wonder how far back that goes. It is such an abstraction, and I'm sure it's not in every culture. I'm sure this is like an American comics thing. I use this all the time, and actually, fairly recently, a younger editor asked me, what is this?
Harold: That makes me nervous when an editor is like, what is this thing that's been a part of comics forever?
Jimmy: Oh, well, then if you should have my life, you would live in a state of existential terror every second. You know, DC Comics literally banned thought balloons for a decade. Or it actually might still be
Harold: that breaks my heart.
Jimmy: Yeah, it's idiotic. This episode of Unpacking, it's brought To you by Marvel Comics.
Harold: We think.
Jimmy: Oh, wow. That's, a great slogan.
Michael: So this is Frieda. This is actually another facet of Frieda's personality because this is part of the ongoing strip. She's out to shake up Snoopy because he's too self satisfied. She wants him to go out and chase rabbits, and he wants to lie on top of his doghouse. So she's purposely getting a cat just to screw with him.
Jimmy: Well, see, do you think, okay. I don't think so. I think she's getting a cat. And I think it's the same as the piano thing. Here's my take on it. And I could be wrong, because you can read these both ways. Frieda wanted to lean on the piano, and Frieda does not care if Lucy does, doesn’t want. Is there? Isn't there? Freda does what Frieda wants to do. Frieda is getting a cat because Frieda wants to get a cat. If Snoopy doesn't like it, well, Snoopy can pound sand. And I have to say I sort of admire that-- as a person who often is like, is everything okay? Are you guys okay? Or blowing up at people. I think Frieda has a really nice, even keel. This is what I'm doing. Live with it, don't live with it. Well, later, I think she becomes that.
Harold: I think you may have missed a strip. On May 18, they actually addressed this directly. Charlie Brown is asking, why are you stirring trouble? And she says, because it has to be done. Snoopy has had it too good around here for too long a time. He has to be stopped. Somebody has to put him in his place. So she show her hand.
Jimmy: I still stand by it as far as the piano, anyway.
Harold: Yeah, I do too.
May 28. Linus is singing what I believe is an old Civil War song. So something's going on in the Schulz household. I don't know the melody, so I'm just going to read it, “just before the battle. Mother, I am thinking of you tonight.” Picture it could be a Dylan song, actually. Suddenly, Lucy is annoyed by the singing and screams at Linus. “Can't you ever be quiet?” She continues. “You're the noisiest person who ever lived.” She's ranting. “Now, if you're not singing, you're knocking things over or running through the house like you're crazy.” Then Linus has apparently turned the television on, and she yells at him, and “turn that stupid TV down.” Linus sighs to himself and walks out to the kitchen, where he approaches a beautifully minimally drawn bread box. In the next panel, we see him, and he has some butter, a, butter knife and some bread. Lucy asks him, “what are you doing now?” Linus says, “Making myself a bread and butter sandwich.” Lucy watches for a moment as he does this. Then Linus says to Lucy, “am I buttering too loud for you?”
Michael: He's getting really good at the snide sarcasm thing.
Jimmy: Schulz very rarely would say he got an idea or something from his children. This is a direct quote.
Harold: one of his kids, this was Amy. Yeah, Amy actually did say this to the kids after she'd gotten in trouble multiple times for being noisy, I think, at the table or something.
Harold: And I think it's great, because as a little kid, one of those strips I just remember so well, and I so identified with Linus. Ad again, going back to them, how smart is he being, and how is he mixing this weird-- It's so apt what he's saying and how much jerkiness is in it is up to you to decide, because--
Jimmy: Yeah. The way I read it is, Linus is a genius of sarcasm that he moves it to the level of utter sincerity, and by being utterly sincere, it makes it that much more biased.
Harold: Yeah. It's like he doesn't take anything away from having a nasty attitude necessarily. He's just pointing out her absurdity.
Jimmy: If she said yes, he'd be like, oh, I will endeavor to butter softer. And that would just infuriate her more.
Harold: Dearest of all sisters, without whom I would never survive.
Jimmy: This dear sister, greatest of all sisters, without whom I would never survive. All right.
May 31. Charlie Brown and Sally are talking. Charlie Brown is very upset about something. He says,” no, that's not right.” He continues as he admonishes Sally, who looks upset by it. He says, “if you're going to learn to count Sally, you're going to have to pay attention.” Charlie Brown sits in front of Sally, opens up a book, and is showing it to her. She looks at it intently as he says ,”here's a picture with some boats in it.”Now tell me how many boats you see.” Sally says “all of them.”
Harold: There's not a lot of Sally this year.
Michael: Yeah, very little Sally. But is she frustrating him, or that's a good answer, but is she doing it to annoy him?
Jimmy: Again, we don't know. There's no indication. She looks really neutral in her expression, but she's happy. She has the exclamation point.
Harold: I don't know. It's impossible. If I were reading into it, I would think she's a little kid. She's obviously taking to heart what he's saying or seems to be taking to heart what he's saying and being chastised in the second panel. And I think she's just being Sally. And this is, I think, a piece of Sally that we haven't really seen a whole lot of yet where she has her own way, of seeing the world, which makes total sense to her. And she fine with the fact that she sees things differently than others.
Jimmy: And this causes her in the future to struggle with school.
Harold: Right. Which is adorable. It is adorable. That last picture of her is just a really sweet little picture of a more grown up Sally than what we saw when she was a baby a couple of years ago. And this strip makes me laugh. Sure, Charlie Brown is trying to do the right thing with her, and she's engaging with him, and, she's saying something that is logical and it's not what he was looking for.
June 4. Lucy scowling, sits at the psychiatric standard. It's still $0.05, but now the sign reads The Doctor Is In. Linus walks up. He sits down on the stool for patients, and Lucy asks, “what in the world are you doing here?” Linus says, “I'm in sad shape. My life is full of fear and anxiety. The only thing that keeps me going is this blanket. I need help.” Lucy again walks out from behind the booth and talks to Linus directly. “Well, as they say on TV, the mere fact that you realize you need help indicates that you are not too far gone.” She continues, “I think we had better try to pinpoint your fears. If we can find out what it is you're afraid of, we can label it. Are you afraid of responsibility? If you are, then you have hypengyophobia.” “I don't think that's quite it”, says Linus. Lucy continues “how about cats? If you're afraid, of cats, you have ailurophobia.” Linus answers, “well, sort of, but I'm not sure.” Lucy continues, “Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have climacophobia. Maybe you have Thilassophobia. This is a fear of the ocean or gephyrophobia, which is a fear of crossing bridges. Or maybe you have Pantophobia. Do you think you might have Pantophobia?” “ What's Pantophobia?” “The fear of everything” Linus yells, “that's it!”
Harold: We couldn't have asked you a harder strip to read this year.
Jimmy: Yeah, it's brutal, famous, obviously. Adapted, for the Christmas special,
Harold: But with Charlie.Brown replacing Linus. Interestingly.
Jimmy: Now that's an interesting yeah, that's another key to the success. Obviously, as you stated in, our last episode talking about the financial success, is that so much of it comes from things other than the strip. Probably foremost is the television specials, or at least way up there is television specials. And he is able to cherry pick all the gags from 15 years of Peanuts to put into that first special. But he's not precious about it. He'll switch it around a little bit. He'll change the word. All the Charlie Browns in the world. You're the Charlie Browniest was a change he made changing this from Linus to Charlie Brown. I think that's a positive change. But it calls into question our Shermy.
Harold: That's what I was just thinking. You're right.
Jimmy: Yeah, right.
Harold: Schulz, by himself, negates the strip as passing the Shermy test by moving it from one character to another.
Jimmy: Right. Interesting.
June 13. Linus is reading the newspaper as Lucy plays with a yoyo in the background. Probably one of those Peanuts branded yoyos you've heard so much about. And Linus says, “I never realized the world was in such sad shape.” He talks to Lucy, who is still playing with the yoyo. “Look at this newspaper. Look at what's happening. I never realized that such things went on today.” “ What are you reading? The front page?” asked Lucy. Linus says, “no, the movie ads.”
Harold: The reason I picked this is I just went to the Columbus Moving Picture Show, which was a festival of 16 millimeter film aficionados. And they had gigantic rooms of memorabilia. And one of the things I picked up were these Motion Picture Herald magazines from this very year. And in multiple issues in this magazine, they were talking about how the movies we had for about 25 plus years, this Hays code, which was essentially a self-censoring body within the movie industry that set very strict rules of what you could and couldn't do in films. Well, as television comes along, there's more competition for people's eyeballs. And the guys running the theaters are like, well, we need to get people in somehow.
And one of the things that really became popular right at this time were foreign films. A lot of French films and Scandinavian films that were pretty racy. And the growth of the art house theater as the movie theaters had to be divested by the owners of the studios starting in the late forties. And so now there are a lot of independent films show-ers, and they're like, well, we're going to show whatever is going to make us stand out. And so they were getting stuff that was much racier than the American public had seen since like for example.
Jimmy: Summer with Monica was a big one. And be prepared to be scandalized. You see a butt for about two and a half seconds. Pretty intense.
Harold: Yeah. So this is the thing. And again, this also plays into that whole idea that Schulz is reading a lot of stuff at this time and he's probably mulling over these things just like Linus is.
Jimmy: And you get to the point though, seriously, just with age in general, where you're like, I would not watch one of these movies or whatever they are, if my life depended on it. But it's just where the culture is at.
June 25, Snoopy is sitting on top of a rock and he's looking into the sky and he thinks to himself, “that's the life for me. All they have to do is flap their wings.” He continues looking up into the sky. He says,”I admire birds. They look so beautiful sailing around through the air.” Now we see Snoopy desperately trying to flap his ears as if they’re wings. He does, for a split second, terrifying himself and then going back to the rock where he's relieved. Then he yells at the birds. “Stupid birds.”
Michael: Okay, this is too far for me. He's gone too far. Now, not as bad as the helicopter, but I don't like this.
Jimmy: Now, how is this different than a plant growing 4ft in one panel?
Michael: It's a dog flying with his ears.
Jimmy: Right. But neither of those things can happen.
Michael: Plants can grow.
Michael: Maybe not. That's an exaggeration. This is a departure from the established physics of Peanuts.
Jimmy: It's absolutely not. You just mentioned, by the way yeah. There was another strip where he did this.
Harold: If I had one objection, it would be that he was a whirly dog a year or so ago and he can’t fly now. That, would be my problem.
Jimmy: That's my objection, 100%
Harold: Not that he’s flying at all.
Jimmy: Right. He flies. Snoopy can break gravity, and it's not a side thing. Snoopy is trying desperately not to be a comic strip character. That's my thesis on Snoopy. And he is working for 50 years to break it, and sometimes, lots of times, he's going to fly. And that weirdness, though, is baked in from, like, the third strip, I think, now. The dog house, right. The thousands of people going in the dog house.
Michael: Yeah, but you're not seeing it. I think it should be-- well, here am I telling Schulz what to do.
Jimmy: No, but you're from your viewpoint, that's ___ fair.
Michael: Yeah, I could see him imagining this, but I think if they actually showed the inside of the dog house with 50 people in there and a pool table.
Jimmy: well, yes, but they are going in there. I guess I don't see the difference.
Michael: But you're seeing it, so you got to deal with the fact. Is he really flying?
Michael: That means he can fly with his ears or helicopter with his ears. And then that changes the Peanuts-verse in a little way.
Harold: I mean, the Peanuts-verse is constantly changing, Michael. There's something unique about it. There's something specifically, it's breaking the laws of an ordinary world. Right. And this is, I think, goes back to when Jimmy was talking about the idea that Schulz is inserting himself in the strip, in essence, by allowing miracles to happen or performing a miracle, you could say, in some way, Schulz, because the idea of a miracle is something that normally doesn't happen based on natural law. Right. And then it happens, and Schulz is putting these things in there, and they do stand out when it happens. That's just a bridge too far for you. That's not the world of Peanuts that you've accepted.
Michael: I really can't describe it, but I feel when I read this, I kind of wish this didn't exist. I mean, Superman can fly by just by standing there and flying. That makes no sense.
Jimmy: Well, it makes no sense that they have Christmas every year and don't age.
Michael: Yeah, I know. I understand. People do these things.
Jimmy: No, but that is the point. But it's not just a comic strip. The point is that it's a comic strip, and Snoopy intuits that it's a comic strip. He can do different things because he is on the verge of knowing he's an ink drawing. There's three characters that are on the verge of knowing. They're an ink draw Schroeder, Snoopy, and Linus. And I think they're all the ones that get closest to an artist.
Michael: I like your theory, but for some reason, to me, Peanuts, because-- (I'm from New York) because it’s aimed, at adults. That yeah. You see this in a Looney Tunes you expect it. If Bugs Bunny did it, I'd say okay. That's making the kids laugh, because it's funny. But I think Schulz has established the strip as something beyond just making people laugh. Doing anything to make people laugh.
Jimmy: Yeah, I agree. But I don't think that's what this is. I think this is another example of Snoopy trying to break the bounds of being a cartoon character.
Michael: What I can't quite see it that way, but I won’t argue it further.
Jimmy: That’s fine. You don’t have to.
Michael All right. Good. I'm right. You’re wrong.
July 2. Linus is seen drawing on some pieces of paper with some crayons, he says. “A little blue in the sky and a little orange for good flesh tones.”
Michael: Politically incorrect, for sure.
“Sometimes there is no doubt in my mind that I am a true artist.” Then Linus sees Lucy, who is putting something in the waste paper basket. Linus goes over to inspect it. “What's this?” He says. He pulls something out of the basket and been all crumpled. Linus says, “hey, this was one of my best drawings. You mushed it all up.” He's outraged. Lucy doesn't seem to care. She says, “well, you shouldn't have left it lying around.” Linus continues after her thing, “but you didn't have to mush it up.” Lucy says, “When Mom tells me to clean house, I clean house. Everything goes.” Linus is now kneeling amid the crumpled ruins of his art. He says, “here's another one of my drawings. Good grief. Don't you realize that these drawings of mine are art?” Then Linus, face to face with Lucy, points his finger to the sky and “yells, great art should never be mushed up.”
Harold: Well, I have memories of this as a kid. I totally related to Linus here. And, this is also the first. Is this the first appearance of the dreaded incinerator in the backyard of the Van Pelt home?
Jimmy: I don't know if it's the first appearance, but it always amazes me. Like we saw with the bottle warmer, like we saw with the bread box. Now with an incinerator. He has these unbelievable minimal drawings that if you're familiar with the thing is, you'll recognize it instantly.
Jimmy: I don’t know how many people are familiar with incinerators these days.
Michael: His language is really so good because when describing this strip, you use the word crumbled all the time. Crumbled is not funny. Mushed up is funny. So if the, final balloon was great art should never be crumbled-- that’s not funny.
Jimmy: No, not me. No. But what's strange is that with the rule being the hard K sound is usually funny. You would think crumbled would be funny. By the way, I have to think about how I'm going to do these things before we do it. I had to think of another word because I couldn't say much because then it would conflict with what Linus is doing. That's just the kind of prep work that goes into my part.
Harold: That's just the kind of guy you are.
Jimmy: You guys think maybe it's possible I'm just listening to other people's podcasts for the other six days a week, but no. No.
July 23. It's a baseball game. Shermy says “it's a high fly ball.” Charlie Brown says “it's going right to Lucy.” Linus says, “if she catches it, we win the game.” Charlie Brown says, “catch it, Lucy. Please catch it. Please, please.” We then see Lucy standing oblivious in right field. The ball lands right next to her. Bonk. Charlie Brown screams to the heavens “AAUGH,” throws his mitt down and takes his hat off, yelling, “I can't stand it.” Then he goes back out in the outfield to yell at Lucy. “What kind of an outfielder are you? That ball only missed you by a foot. Can't you see? What were you thinking about? What's wrong with you?” Through all of this, Lucy remains unmoved. Charlie Brown is still ranting. “You're getting worse all the time. What do you want them to do? Come out here and hand you the ball? What in the world made you miss that one?” Lucy says, “I was having my quiet time.”
Michael: Keep in mind these are boomers. And Lucy here is not the me decade, but she is definitely getting there. Where your own personal space is the most important thing in the world, and you have to control it.
Harold: yeah. And the term quiet time, I know, again, came to have some religious connotation. I don't know if it was the case in 1961 that was like a buzzword in evangelical church circles that you have your quiet time, with the Lord, and that might be reading the Bible or praying or whatever. And, I did go in and check that whatever that word thing is that shows when words are used more. And quiet time, as a term, is just starting to jump a little bit around this era. And then it drops it a little and then skyrockets in later years.
Jimmy: Well, I'm pro quiet time, so I'm on Lucy's side.
Harold: And Charlie Brown's really, really upset with, Lucy in this strip. And the obliviousness of Lucy, when everything matters to Charlie Brown. He's just hoping she's going to catch that. Got his eyes closed. Just catch a catch. A catch. And it's so funny to see that classic drawing of Lucy looking in the middle of nowhere and the ball landing right next to her. It's just classic. Schulz, great stuff.
Is this a good time for the anger index?
Jimmy: Let's do it.
Harold: All right. Okay, so 1961, as we've been doing every year for the past many years, we look at the number, of strips that show at least one character in one panel showing anger. And how many strips in the year have at least one character in the strip showing some form of happiness. And we're kind of contrasting the two, and seeing what the trends are. So how does this year feel to you guys? Does this feel like an angry…?
Michael: Feels like a 90 to me.
Jimmy: This is the first time I actually have a real opinion on this. I don't know how many there were last year, but it's way up this year.
Michael: Really, you think so?
Jimmy: I think it's 15% higher. 15% angrier.
Jimmy: But with fewer calories, so it's trade off.
Harold: So do you have any thoughts on it, Michael? You think it's pretty even keel for the year?
Michael: I would have thought a little--I mean, there's fear, there's anger, there's despair. We have a variety of negative emotions.
Harold: Yeah. So this year, last year was 116 angry strips. 32% of the strips, about a third of them. This year, there's ten more. So it's more 35% for anger.
Happiness was beating anger pretty handily last year, 135 to 116, 37%. This year, it was only one more strip, 127 to 126, with also 35%. So little more anger, a little less happiness is more evened out in 1961.
Michael: I like to have a balanced year.
Jimmy: I also think, though, the anger is, when it appears this year, is more pronounced, I think it's back to…
Harold: I think it's more varied. When I was looking at and counting through them, I was surprised all the different versions of them. When I count this again, Jimmy, if you counted this. Michael, if you counted it. Liz, if you counted this, we'd all come up with a different number, because anger is in the eye of the beholder. And you see that little line going down over an eye. Is that determination? Is that conviction? Is that anger? The one constant is that I'm the one counting these.
But it seems like Schulz is finding more sophisticated ways to deal with anger. That's what I got when I was going through these. The variety of anger. Jimmy is, I think, probably the most he's ever gotten, because he's getting more subtle, he's getting more and there are definitely moments like this with Charlie Brown. He's, like, screaming, screaming at Lucy.
Michael: I don't see Snoopy as angry as he was when he was running around, knocking everybody over.
Harold: Yeah, I think it's okay. I think it's trading. Yeah. The characters are shifting and moving around. It's not staying in place for sure. He's, doing it in different ways.
Jimmy: Snoopy is moving into his own world, so he has, less to be anxious or angry about because he's controlling his own destiny more.
Harold: That's true.
July 24, Baseball time. Charlie Brown is speaking with Schroeder. Charlie Brown says “you're what?” Schroeder says, “I'm going home to play the piano.” Charlie Brown says “you're what? Schroeder takes, off all of his catchers gear and says, “I've decided that I'm more interested in Beethoven than baseball.” Charlie Brown says “you're what?” As Linus comes up to witness what's going on, Schroder says, “So I'm going to give up baseball and go home and play my, piano.” Charlie Brown says YOU’RE WHAT?! Linus says, “Why do you keep saying the same thing over and over Charlie Brown?”
Michael: Schulz is so good at this word play and lettering play.
Harold: What stands out for you here Michael, in the word play.
Michael: Well, I mean, he's getting more and more emphatic, but basically that sums it up, right? What else could you say?
Jimmy: yeah, I love that. To describe what happens. You’re what is the same thing repeated three times. First time, though, it's just lettered, as if it's standard dialogue, because it is. Then only what is emphasized. That's the only difference. In the next panel, you're and what are both emphasized, and they're both larger than the last one. All the words are emphasized. It's larger still. And now there's an exclamation point at the end and it makes a really nice looking strip because that's another thing I think we don't talk about very much. But he composes panels so beautifully. There's no other place you would want any of these characters to be, ever. It's just so nice.
Michael: That's something they cannot teach in art school.
Jimmy: I don't think you can. No. No. You either got it or you don't.
August 6. Snoopy, completely logically, realistically, and no questions about it, is perched on top of a tree, bent over at an absurd angle, mimicking a vulture. No reality is being harmed in this. Linus is underneath it, playing with the toy truck in the sand. He senses something. He looks up. It's Snoopy, the vulture on top of the tree. Linus walks back into the house. He finds Lucy and says, “I suppose if I told you there's a vulture outside that's bothering me, you'd say I was crazy, wouldn't you?” “Yes, I would,” says Lucy. Without even turning away from the TV, Linus goes back out, where he sees Snoopy still perched in the tree as the vulture. Linus shakes the heck out of the tree. Snoopy hangs on, but is visibly, literally shaking. Then Linus goes back inside, and Lucy says to him, “what happened to your vulture?” Linus says, “he's not bothering me anymore. He got tree sick.”
Michael: The Vulture is, I think, Snoopy's greatest performance. I always enjoy it.
Harold: And talking about Schulz, how he does panels, there's so many subtle things going on here in the strip. When Linus is walking away from the tree to go talk to Lucy, we see the grass beneath him and behind him, and you see the edge of the house that he's about to go into. Just suggest he's moving toward the house. Then when he talks to Lucy and she basically is saying, yes, I'd agree. You're crazy. The second panel, Linus going back, only has the ground beneath him, and there's no other background there. And he's smaller in the panel, like he's all alone. I mean, this is really subtle stuff.
Jimmy: But, his ability to compose these panels yeah. How much of that do you think is conscious? How much of is him just vibing while he's drawing?
Harold: He must be thinking some of this stuff through. I get the sense he was the kind of a student of this sort of thing. And being an art instruction school, not only student, but teacher, I think he had to think about what made something work and not work. And I think he had that ingrained into himself because he was constantly teaching others how to get an idea across.
Jimmy: Yeah. He is the master of that. And I think at the time when realistically drawn strips were still pretty much a rage-- Rip Kirby, Mary Worth, whatever Heart of Julia Jones, I don't know that they would 100% be able to see the subtlety and the sophistication of his staging and how it's related to the drawing and the part that plays in putting his stories over to the people.
Harold: Yeah. And one thing, I don't know if this is just the reproduction of this strip. It's reasonably well reproduced, but in the last panel, the famous little parentheses around Linus's eyes are gone. Is that because the lines didn't reproduce?
Jimmy: I think it has to be a reproduction issue. Maybe he inked it and it was pencil or whatever. But, yeah, no, it looks completely wrong. And no, I don't think he would make that. Let me put it this way. It's a mistake. Somehow. I don't think it's an intentional okay thing.
The other thing I just wanted to point out, he's doing this thing where he's changing locations on a Sunday strip again and again, which I think is pretty cool. A lot of them are obviously one location. One set up, the one with the cow where he goes to the movies, and stuff. And then this where he's going inside and outside. It's really a neat way to do a Sunday page and make it feel like it's bigger than it actually is.
August 13. Charlie Brown is walking away from the psychiatry booth. He says to himself, “Somehow I feel worse now than before I came.” Lucy placidly sits behind the desk saying, “Next case. Come on, step right up. Don't be bashful.” Linus steps up. He says, “I have a problem, but I'm not sure you can help me.” He continues, “Wouldn't it be difficult for you to treat someone in your own family?” Lucy looks annoyed at the very thought. “Nonsense. I have learned to be completely objective.” She continues, “once I take my position at this desk, I leave all my personal prejudices behind me.” Linus says, “that's very commendable.” Lucy says to him, “now you just sit right there and tell me what your trouble is. Don't be afraid to pour out your heart.” Lucy goes back behind the booth and is listening intently as Linus says, “well, most of the time I'm a pretty happy person. I mean, I'm usually quite content. My only problem is the sister of mine who--” Lucy reaches right out from behind the booth and punches Linus straight in the face.
Michael: I don't know what to say.
Harold: That's great.
August 21. Linus is standing in front of a TV. He looks pretty excited. He's talking to the TV, saying, “Speak up. Tell him. Refute his arguments.” Linus raises his hands to the sky and says, “show him where he's wrong. Use quotations from Rattner, Olsen and Letness. Now use sarcasm. That's it.” Linus is now ranting. “Now you've got him. Use more sarcasm. That's the way. Now you've really got him.” The last panel, Linus is lying, flattened his back in front of the TV. He looks drained and weakly says, “these panel discussions on art wear me out.”
Michael: I can't think of anyone except Schulz would come up with something like this. Totally understandable what it is, even if you've never seen one of these intellectual panel discussions.
Jimmy: Right? Yeah.
Michael: I mean, to root for somebody like it's a wrestling match.
Jimmy: It's just so funny.
Harold: And this does go to the argument that Linus may be a little more aware of his sarcasm than he sometimes lets on.
Jimmy: Oh, for sure. Because he's calling it out as a tactic here.
I picture Schulz having had this type of discussion on a daily basis with his art instruction pals. This is now an example of the isolation you're talking about a little bit, Harold. Right. So that he has to get his kicks out by just watching them on TV and yelling.
Harold: Yes. And I did try to see if I could find a connection for Rattner Olsen and Letness. Olsen is absolutely a Minnesota name, but I could not find the connection.
Jimmy: Rattner Olsen and Letness-- they'll also take care of your DUIs if you get…. Rattner Olsen and Letness
Harold: Let Letness do it
Michael: There were these late night because the budget was zero, basically, late night TV would have a desk and three local people arguing.
Harold: Sometimes a potted plant in the back. Yeah.
Michael: Just to fill up an hour. So I'm guessing these are local art critics or something.
Jimmy: And you just know they're smoking. You can see all the smoke.
Jimmy: You know, Gaugain, like I know Pizzaro.
Harold: It's all El Greco to me.
August 30. Violet is being Violet to Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown looks pretty upset by this. Violet says, “So there smarty. Nyah nyah nyah.” Violet sticks her tongue out at Charlie Brown. Then she walks away looking calm and aloof. Charlie Brown looks very upset. Then he holds his stomach and says to us, “those nyah's get down into your stomach, and then they just lay there and burn.”
Michael: I wonder if you were looking at a translation of this into other languages. If the nyahs would translate.
Harold: Every language.
Michael: What would they say? They've got to have a word.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah, of course. Yeah. No, it's, just a sound effect onomatopeia No, I guess it doesn't technically qualify.
Michael: It's not any of those.
Jimmy: Yes. No, you're right. It's just a nonsense word, really. Yeah. I'm sure there's nonsense words that indicate that sort of teasing, taunting, mockery in every language. There's a book for you. Just get the nyahs in every language.
Michael: I'm interested now, but maybe it's an anagram. No, you are a
Jimmy: I'm don't think it's an anagram.
Harold: That is so well written. That last line that those nyahs get down into your stomach and then they just lay there and burn. That is so well said. And again, seems to be pulling us into this place where somebody is on the receiving end of cruelty. Again, old comics usually would make fun of the person who's causing the trouble for somebody else, and here he's siding with the person and the troubles being made, and you're asked to empathize with them. And I really appreciate that in Schulz. And I think it's that quiet kind of sit with the loser for a little bit that makes the strip so special.
Michael: Is it possible that Schulz had, like, an ulcer dealing with their editors? Because Charlie Brown manifests everything in his stomach?
Jimmy: Yeah, that's very true. Could be to what you were saying, Harold. It's almost like, what would be the climax of a normal strip, or a normal storytelling scenario is actually the first panel we come into. Whatever. This scene is super late, after basically Violet has delivered the coup de gras, and we just hear her taunting him at the end. Then the whole strip is aftermath. And that's not something that gets done a lot in comics that I could think of.
Harold: Yeah, as a kid reading this, I remember this strip. I think it's in a special as well. So it's been magnified from the strip itself. But, it's asking you it's inviting you into somebody who's hurting. And as an artist, that was very much what Schulz was trying to do. I mean, he did say to Lee Mendelson, I think Lee said toward the last weeks of his life, he was reflecting on the strip. And he said, when I was thinking what Peanuts was all about, I ultimately decided it was a strip about bullying especially given what I know of the later years, where it wasn't always about that. You know more about that than I do, Jimmy. But that was something that was very near and dear to his heart. And you don't think of it as moralizing or anything.
He's just taking you within the strip to a certain character and asking you to be in their shoes. And that's usually not the character who you would be identifying with and kind of sitting with. Right. You might have a brief moment of empathy for a character, but we're hanging out with Charlie Brown in this space of pain, and that is unique, I think.
Jimmy: Well, this brings up a cartooning point. And like I said, I've tried, and actually, Michael, will be talking about the Peanuts cast and where they rank, and this sort of ties in with that as well. But I've sort of been, thinking, about all the secret sauce, what it is that makes Peanuts Peanuts. And in some ways, why the later decades do feel different. And one of them seems prosaic, but it's huge. He had to do this in four panels. okay. In 1990, if he has this idea, he does not have to have the two middle panels, because he can arrange the panels any way he wants. Right. And it's more economical, and it's much less drawing to do this in two panels. Right. Or at the most, three, maybe. Violet walks away, and you cut out to Charlie Brown just looking after her panel. But having the four panels, like you say, you sit with Charlie Brown for three quarters of this strip by himself, contemplating it, and that little regular beat of those four panels just really works well. And he's mastered it by this point.
Harold: Yeah, he knows exactly how to use those four panels. You're right. It could have been a two panel. But you get the feeling that he would have still done a four panel if he had the choice at this stage.
Jimmy: But I don't think he would have later.
Harold: Well, that'll be interesting to take a look at that maybe way down the line, we can remember that and bring that up again and say, you know, I think this would have benefited from another panel.
Jimmy: When it happens, I think it's 1984, when the switch happens. I definitely want to take some time and just talk about it in the context of that first year, because it's amazing how big an impact that regular four panel rhythm has on the strip.
The other thing I want to say about bullying and later years not being about bullying, because the other thing I've been thinking about, how would you do this? You have to have these different types of creativity, kind of percolating, all at the same time. You have to have the one that's, like, go and always constantly pushing things forward.
Jimmy: But then you also have to be able to have, like Michael describes in the I think in the 1960 episode it's this cruising altitude. Like maybe you're not introducing a lot of new stuff. Or maybe you're not exploring some of the extremes. But as it goes on. You don't have to.
Because Charlie Brown brings with him all of this previous insults. Every strip about Charlie Brown in the later years. You carry with you all of the stuff you know about Charlie Brown. All of his failures. All of them not received Valentine's. All that sort of stuff. But it's almost implicit you don't even have to go into it in the strip.
Harold: That's interesting. Yeah.
Jimmy: And I think that's the same way with the bullying.
Harold: And again, I wonder if, like, somebody who was introduced to Peanuts in Charlie Brown, if they were just reading the strip, would they have a completely different take on the characters because they don't remember, the history. They don't know the history.
Jimmy: Well, you would have to look at the different take that I have from you and that you have from Michael. And it all has to do with where we were when we saw it, not where we were when we saw it. Sort of where the strip was when our lives collided with it. Michael's a contemporary with it. Michael had stopped reading it by the time I was born because Michael's, like, frigging old. But that just makes it this it always comes back to that. How did one person do this for 50 years?
September 1. Linus looks super excited, and Charlie Brown sees him coming up outside with a big smile on his face. And Linus says “Ms. Othmar is coming back.” He continues, talking to Charlie Brown. “My favorite teacher is coming back to our school this year. She's coming back. She's coming back.” Then in the last panel, Linus floats away on waves of love, saying, “Miss Othmar is coming back.” And Charlie Brown watches as he floats away.
Jimmy: That sound is Michael having a stroke.
Michael: No no no no no
Jimmy: this one counts?
Michael: I accept this one because I don't, think he's actually floating. Charlie Brown's looking a little he's going, like, looking. If Linus actually floated, Charlie Brown would be, like, stunned. I think it's just symbolism, comic book symbolism. He's not actually floating.
Jimmy: Well, we tell ourselves all kinds of things to get through the night. Michael.
Michael: He didn’t-- If he had a little propeller on his head and he started flying away, Charlie Brown would look.
Jimmy: Why is, Charlie Brown leaning like that?
Michael: He's just looking at Linus like this kid is a little weird. This is fine. This is fine.
September 3. The phone is ringing in Charlie Brown's house. He picks it up. “Hello?” He speaks to the other voice on the end of the line saying, “huh? Snoopy? yes, I guess so. But why? Sure. All right, hold the line. I'll get him.” Charlie Brown runs outside and get Snoopy, who's lying on top of the doghouse. “It's for you, you're wanted on the telephone.” They both run back. Charlie Brown is now on the receiver saying, “hello, operator, I have him right here. Just a moment, please.” Charlie Brown puts the phone up to Snoopy's ear. Snoopy listens for a moment. then he clearly bursts out laughing, much to Charlie Brown's consternation and confusion. Snoopy walks away giggling to himself. Charlie, Brown stands silently for a moment, then yells to the heavens, “I'll never know what that was all about.”
Michael: You guys got any theories?
Harold: I think it's Lee Mendelson.
Jimmy: I think there's some sort of beagle revolution being plotted.
Michael: I don't know.
Harold: I love the little innocent, dot eyed version of Snoopy while he's sitting next to Charlie Brown when he's saying Operator. So it's an operator who’s connecting this call. Snoopy is just like, just so innocent. And then when he bursts into the laughter, I remember again, this strip as a kid. This one just cracks me up. And again, we're being pulled into Charlie Brown's world where he's the one, who's the anchor of the strip and you're seeing some crazy stuff. And Charlie Brown is the one that we're kind of able to view all of this with some sort of point of, I don't know, of reference. As the Peanuts roll starts to get a little bit crazier as what Michael's kind of been bringing up, Charlie Brown seems to become more and more of an anchor.
September 15. It's another day at the psychiatric booth. Lucy has a new patient and he looks very upset. It's Snoopy. Lucy seems to be very interested in what Snoopy is doing. There she sits with her hands folded, very patiently waiting. Then the second panel, Snoopy has sort of an embarrassed grin on his face. And the third panel, he just walks away on all fours, looking very sad. And Lucy says, “what can you do? When the patient doesn't say anything.”