Jimmy: Hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. This is Unpacking, Peanuts, where we're discussing 1962, a banner year for Charles Schulz, who is riding high off the success of his book Happiness is a Warm Puppy, and his comic strip is going from strength to strength as it appears in newspapers all over the country and all over the world.
How are you guys doing out there? Are you doing good? I hope you are. I'm Jimmy Gownley, the cartoonist behind the Amelia Rules series of graphic novels, as well as my memoir, The Dumbest Idea Ever. My latest book is from Scholastic, and it's called Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up.
Joining me, as always, are my co hosts. He's a playwright and a composer, both for the band Complicated People, as well as for this podcast. He co-created the first Comic Book Price Guide, and was the original editor for Amelia Rules. And he's the cartoonist behind such great strips as Strange Attractors, Tangled River, and A Gathering of Spells. Michael Cohen.
Michael: Hey there
Jimmy: and he's the executive producer and writer for Mystery Science Theater 3000, a former vice president of Archie Comics and the creator of the instagram strips Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: Guys, we have so much to discuss, about half of 1962 strips to get through. How about we just get back to it?
Harold: Sounds great.
June 13. Lucy is flying a kite. Linus is behind her, and he's yelling, “you made a kite out of my blanket?” Linus is freaking out. “Do you mean to tell me that's my blanket flying around up there?” Now he's screaming at the top of his lungs, “how could you do such a thing?” Lucy says, “it was easy.” And she spreads her hands open wide to illustrate this. But as she does, she lets go of the string of the kite, which flies away into the sky. And Linus screams “AAAUGH” with his hair standing on the end. And Lucy says, “Good grief,” as we see the kite float away.
Michael: To be continued.
Jimmy: It's a long sequence where, Linus's blanket, in the shape of this kite goes missing. It's pretty interesting. I mean, I kind of like this as a story, and it gets kind of meta in places and almost feels almost like it's a bit of like, ah, a PR stunt almost, to get people to write in.
Harold: And apparently it was very successful.
Michael: But one has to question, why does he only have one blanket?
Jimmy: Well, forget that if you get into that, because clearly he's obsessed with one blanket. But that blanket gets cut up, buried, burned. It's a magic blanket. Clearly, it's been turned into a flannel graph where it's been cut up, and somehow it always comes back. But you were saying it was successful in getting people to write.
Harold: That's my understanding. I don't remember where I heard the story was probably in one of Schulz's books, anniversary books or something. But I did hear that a lot of people did write to their local newspaper and said, well, I just saw it floating over my town in Branson, Missouri.
So it really engaged the readers. They got involved, and, they were very into it and they were very concerned for Linus, and they were writing, please get Linus's blanket back. I'm cracking up.
Now, of course, all of this he wouldn't have known about, until after he'd finished the sequence because he's working four or six weeks ahead. But there is a specific strip that says that we'll get to like Jimmy says, it does sound like Schulz kind of knows what he's up to and that he's going to create quite a stir with this.
Jimmy: It's a brilliant idea. It is a brilliant idea to draw attention to the strip. And actually, it's the next strip that does it.
June 23. Charlie Brown is writing to his pencil pal. “Dear Pencil Pal, how, have you been?” He continues, “I have been fine. I've been getting good grades in school this year. The weather is nice. Well, I must close now. Please write soon. Your friend, Charlie Brown.” We see. Linus has sidled up to Charlie Brown as he closes the letter. And then Linus interjects, “PS. If you see a light blue kite in the air, write to Linus Van Pelt in care of your local newspaper.”
Harold: Apparently they did.
Harold: I think that is really brilliant on his part.
Jimmy: It is that every newspaper that has Peanuts would suddenly start getting letters about Linus's kite.
Harold: Yeah. And if they weren't aware of how big Peanuts was in their own newspaper at the end of this little segment, they would know how beloved it was.
Jimmy: It's such a strange thing to have one art form or one medium, I guess, completely subsumed inside another medium.
Jimmy: And they exist in this symbiotic relationship. But in some ways, it feels like the newspapers, I think, thought of it more as a parasitic relationship. From what I understand, at least from reading interviews with cartoonists, the newspaper people felt sometimes a little bit aggrieved about the comics and the popularity and the success of the comics because it wasn't the news. It was looked at as something less than.
Harold: Yeah. If you got into journalism, it probably wasn't because of comic strips. You were there because you wanted to report in your local community or you're trying to make a difference in a certain way. If you have any idealism in you, that's what you're there for. It's not to reprint something that every other newspaper in the country is printing that, you have really no say over other than you picked it up and now you're stuck with it. Because if you take it out of your paper, you will have an insurrection on your hands from your readers.
Jimmy: The reality, though, is that because those newspapers were sold by these comic strips, there's no question.
Harold: They did polls and clearly, the comics were the most read part of the newspaper.
Jimmy: Well, I mean, I don't know if this is the same, but when I worked in TV news, there was always a little bit, and we're going back 14-15 years now, but there was always a little bit of resentment towards the local sports. Right. Because at this point, now you can get it online, and then you would do a poll. What do you like? And it would be sports and weather. That was what drove people.
Harold: Yeah, it is pretty crazy. And it's so nice that this lasted as well as it did for over a century is pretty remarkable, given that it wasn't on its own feet, like you say. It was nestled into something else that relied on its success, that really had a different purpose. Things could have turned in history, and they are now, because newspapers themselves are going out of style in their own right. It's a physical thing that you're going to be able to read through and then find this page. Now everything that's online, they're starting to split away, and everything is splintered in its own thing, and we don't have the benefit of it going into millions of homes the way it used to. That world of comic strips was this golden age that had its day. And then as the newspapers were shrinking in size and shrinking in readership, the comics got smaller and smaller to fit the needs of the newspapers. It didn't serve the comic strips, and it was a slow and painful depth to watch.
Jimmy: Yeah, it really was.
June 28. Linus comes running up to Charlie Brown. He's brandishing a piece of paper, and he says, “look, Charlie Brown, I got a telegram from the air rescue service.” Linus continues, “they found my blanket floating in the ocean. Two paramedics dropped from an SC 54 and saved it.” Charlie Brown is looking at the telegram and says, “wow.” Charlie Brown says to Linus, “that air rescue service is right on the ball.” Linus says, “I'll say.” Then he walks away clutching his telegram close to his heart, and says, “Lieutenant Commander Carpenter and my blanket, both within five weeks.”
Jimmy: I sense an obscurity
VO: Peanuts Obscurities Explained
Harold: And it's interesting that he's ending this on what was extremely topical. Again, he's very much in trying to engage with the readers, and he ends with a topical joke that in a way, kind of diminishes the whole sequence, because if you're going to read it in a book later, the happy ending has a reference to something that most readers probably don't remember.
What it's about, this Lieutenant Commander Carpenter? So, from what I understand, he was the second American to orbit around the earth. He went up as part of a NASA program.
Michael, do you know more about this?
Michael: Well, unless my memory fails me, he was the first American, and it was a sub orbital flight.
Harold: so he's the first American.
Michael: John Glenn was the first to orbit.
Michael: So it was basically up and down. But he got into space. I think he was the first after Yuri Gagarin.
Harold: It was like a 164 miles. Right. And what I had heard was that basically what he was doing, he was kind of trying to test how an astronaut could maneuver in space, without the gravity, and just see what was possible. So he was kind of moving the whole space program forward by that. By what he did.
Michael: Yeah. And the capsule, of course, was parachuted into the ocean. It was on the news. It was like the biggest news. Everybody was watching the rescue of the capsule.
Harold: It was huge, and apparently it was really touch and go. I mean, a lot of things went wrong on that mission. He barely made it.
Michael: I think the airlock didn't work.
Harold: He spent a lot of the fuel, not realizing it. Every time he was pressing a button, he was releasing fuel, and he didn't know it. And once he figured it out, the amount of fuel that was left to safely get him back into the atmosphere, it was like, down to the fumes. It was very-- once the story I got out about it, I think people were like, oh, my gosh, this guy just made it.
Jimmy: if anybody out there hasn't read the book, The Right Stuff, that talks all about the early, space program, it is a crackling good read. And, boy, the life and death stakes that these guys lived with every single day, it's wild.
Interestingly. I wonder if this puts Peanuts and Snoopy on NASA's radar in a specific way, because seven years from now, Snoopy will be on the moon.
Jimmy: And he's an early booster. See, for you young people out there, we used to do things. We as a society, occasionally we would do a thing, and it would move us a little bit forward. It was nice. I don't think it'll ever catch on again, but it was a good time.
Harold: And for you young people out there, when we were young people, the old people were saying stuff like this to us as well.
Jimmy: Yeah, but they were wrong. That's the only difference.
Liz: I have to interrupt, because we would watch-- they would bring 400 little kids into the all purpose room to watch this on a 19-inch television screen and watch the splashdown. You couldn't see anything, but it was a big deal. And we would all come and watch.
Harold: So as kids, were they able to pretty much kind of paint the picture of what was going on and what the significance was? So even though you couldn't see it, you got the electricity or you just kind of sitting there like, why are we sitting in this room with 380 people in front of me?
Liz: Oh, it was cool. Michael was twelve. I was, like seven or eight when this was happening. So maybe it wasn't as cool when you're twelve.
Michael: It was cool. I mean, it was real life drama. This thing is bobbing in the water and they're racing these boats, trying to get there in time.
Harold: Yeah, because apparently he landed like a couple of hundred miles off where he was supposed to land. I mean, he's nowhere near, so he had to wait for them to catch up to him and hoping he was going to keep a capsule afloat and stay afloat himself.
Jimmy: Well, true, heroes, they were amazing guys.
June 29. Linus has his blanket back and he is walking away from Charlie Brown and Lucy in classic thumb and blanket position. Charlie Brown says, “well, Linus got his blanket back again, didn't he?” He continues talking to Lucy, saying, “you sure caused him a lot of trouble. How does it make you feel knowing that you've made him go through all that grief and anguish? Does it bother you, Lucy?” Lucy is already leaning down and looking intently at the ground and she says, “bugs are fascinating. I could watch them for hours.” Charlie Brown looks out at us and says, “no, I guess it doesn't.”
Michael: There's valuable lessons to be learned from Peanuts. Basically, if somebody's saying something makes you uncomfortable, just pretend they didn't say anything. That's my strategy.
Jimmy: So now, you know, if there's these big long pauses in the podcast, that's what's going on.
July 16. Sally is, standing outside and she's holding a balloon. In panel one she's just standing there holding it and kind of looking out with a thousand yard stare. Then in panel two, she looks up at the balloon. In panel three, she goes back to staring in panel four, she says, “so what's so much fun about a balloon?”
Michael: And balloon sales just plummeted all across the country because people finally realize this is boring.
Harold: We have better uses for helium.
Michael: Sally has a very slow start this year. Actually, she hardly appeared last year. She hardly appeared this year. And then from this point she starts moving up and she's going to become a major character. I think Schulz is getting a handle on what makes Sally funny, and especially when she has to go to kindergarten. It's like a brilliant sequence.
Jimmy: That's my favorite long sequence of the year, for sure. I'm looking at this and I'm thinking of Schulz, as someone who drew a cartoon character, Ronda Bleenie, whose hairstyle got away from them in the early episodes. You can see this is what's going on. When she was just little, it was little wings, right, that would come out on the side. But by the end, these will be full on, like Thor wings coming off of either side of her head, but it works great. Great cartoon design.
July 22. Lucy is standing, eating something out of a bag. Little pieces of candy. We assume Snoopy is sitting next to her, paying some attention. Lucy says to Snoopy, “sit up Snoopy, and I'll give you a nice piece of candy.” Snoopy turns up his nose and looks away, saying “hmmph.” Then he walks away thinking to himself, “sit up Snoopy, and I'll give you a nice piece of candy. Phooey. Who needs it? I get sick and tired of their condescending attitude.” He climbs up on top of his dog house, still scowling and being grumpy about this. “Why should I have to beg for everything? I'm as good as they are. I don't need them. I can get along by myself.” And he lies down in his dog house in classic Snoopy position. But then he gets up and says, “or can I?” Last panel. He is back by Lucy's side in a perfect good puppy position, sitting on his haunches and begging for candy with a very knowing and sly smile on his face.
Michael: Yeah, he's still a dog, unfortunately. He's really offended.
Jimmy: He's trying his best to bridge this world.
August 3. It's Shermy. Shermy comes up to Charlie Brown and throws his bat to the ground. He says, “I'm sorry, Charlie Brown, but I guess I'll quit, too.” (Because we're in the middle of a long sequence where everybody is quitting Charlie Brown's baseball team.) Shermy says, “It's hard to play on a team that always loses. It's depressing. I'm the kind who needs to win now and then. With you it's different. I think you get sort of a neurotic pleasure out of losing all the time.” Charlie Brown, shaken by this, I would say, looks out at us and says, “Little League psychiatry.”
Michael: He should have the booth.
VO: Let's check the Shermometer, Charlie Brown.
Jimmy: Alright, well now, what do you think? Does this add something to Shermy? Is he a quitter?
Harold: I don't know. This is like the 1960s. This was probably one of the more annoying things people did in the 1960s. Everyone becomes the armchair psychologist for everybody else. And they try to explain away everybody else's actions, based on what they understand about psychology. As if that changes anything.
Jimmy: The first book I ever read with Peanuts, What's It All About, Charlie Brown is basically that, it's just 60s pop psychology gobbledygook.
Harold: There are so many movies and television shows where this is the plot, where, there's some major revelation that oh, this is because I'm this way because of this. And it doesn't really add anything to the movie or the character because it's like, okay, so you've labeled it, but why are we focusing on this?
Jimmy: Do you think he's right though? Do you think there's any truth to that with Charlie Brown?
Jimmy: What about you, Michael?
Jimmy: I think he genuinely loves baseball, and it has nothing to do with whether he wins or loses. He would much rather win. I think he would much rather win, but he doesn't, it doesn't affect the game, though. And I think that's also a little bit of Schulz and how he would feel about cartooning. You know, Schulz would have sat cartooning for his own pleasure for decades if he had to be a barber or whatever.
Harold: Yeah. And this is a really good use of Shermy, I think, in the strip, because he's an older kid, he has been kind of the voice of reason, in previous strips now and then. But the fact that he's older and is speaking something that's untrue to Charlie Brown even as he's quitting him, I think there's no other character that could have this much half to what he's doing to Charlie Brown than Shermy, because he is the older kid on the block.
Jimmy: Well this begs the question, does this add something to the Shermometer? And if so, what is it?
Harold: How do you put a name to this?
Harold: He's a pop psychologist. Explainer away or well, it's condescending, but.
Jimmy: We have, I believe maybe we don't have condescending. We have pedantic, we have knowledgeable, patient, compatible. Maybe we don't have condescending.
Harold: What's the word for that? Someone who has, someone who has pat answers about other people. What do you call that?
Jimmy: Glib? Is it glib? No, not quite glib. No.
Harold: That's a tough one.
Harold: Maybe our listeners could help, us out here.
Michael: Well, he's a complex character, so you can't label him.
Jimmy: All right, you know what, there's no rule. We could just say that Shermy's holding steady. He does not have a new character trait. So that just leaves him as an ombrophobic, cynical, philosophical, history loving, empathetic, aggressive, compassionate, patient, pedantic, knowledgeable, emotional, good listening, vain, friendly, hypocrite.
Harold: That will do.
Michael: And he has two strips this year.
Harold: Maybe it's another chance at adding something.
Michael: which is double his usual.
Jimmy: Oh, he's coming back, coming back. Going to finish out strong. But first we got to visit Linus and Snoopy for a bit first
August 5, Linus is playing second base. He says, “okay, Snoopy, let's take two this time.” We're now out a little bit wider, and we see that Snoopy is in fact set up at short stop. Linus says to him, “we can do it ol’ buddy. And the next panel, Snoopy is ready. Then in the panel after that, he fields a ground ball. He spits it out of his mouth “PTUI,” to Linus, who catches it at second, who turns and makes the play the first. Then Linus and Snoopy walk off the field. Linus saying, “well, that ended the game, Snoopy. You and I are getting to be a great double play combination. We really work together. By the way, would you like to come over to my house? I've asked Charlie Brown and Frieda and Violet. And I thought we could--” Snoopy walks away, leaving Linus a little surprised by this. Snoopy gets on top of his dog house, lays down and thinks, off the field, I make my own friends.
Jimmy: Jeeze Snoopy.
Harold: This is that Snoopy cool attitude that we have really not seen before so much this year. He's just kind of aloof and above it all and too cool for school kind of character. That's something new and there's something about it that's kind of electric.
Again, I think Schulz is kind of pioneering some attitudes in the comics. I'm trying to think of a comic where this type of character this type of attitude is where a character actually gets away with it. I can't think of one. There are characters who are iconoclastic and their own thing, but in their own weird way, like Wimpy is kind of like that. He's this moocher who is unfazed by things. But there's this kind of cool to Snoopy where he's above the characters of the strip and he's above you and me too, huh. And we still like him for sure.
Michael: Well, he's been put down as a dog, and he's dealing with it by actually feeling superior to them in some way because this is a snobby thing to do. So rather than feeling I'm just a dog, he's using that to his advantage by thinking, well, I'm not going to associate with you off the field. you're not on my level. That's what it reads like to me.
Harold: Yeah. To do that in a character that people genuinely like is a little surprising. There is this whole concept of cool. There was a book called The Birth and Death of Cool. And there is this era starting in the think it dovetails very closely with, the rise of the Beatles, who could kind of keep their cool in the maelstrom of publicity that went around them. If you hear them interviewed, they were somehow able to stay above it all. And, Snoopy seems to predate that he's like he sees where things are going in the he's presaging what's about to happen in the country.
In the US. In particular, there's this concept of cool that really kicks in. You see it from the Beatnik era, which is really kind of on the fringes of things. And then it's maybe parodied in television shows and movies. But the actual Beat movement is not really mainstream. But Snoopy is mainstream. And Snoopy is introducing this concept of cool. And you see it in jazz. You see it and there's all these different things that are kind of coming together. And then there's the cool rock star. It's like Snoopy. He's on the cutting edge of something that's about to take over the country for about 20 years.
Jimmy: Does the term cool come from jazz? Cool jazz. Is that predate the concept of cool?
Michael: Well, Birth of the Cool is the Miles Davis album sessions because jazz was before was classified as hot. That's really hot. And he kind of just lowered the temperature and made it fashionable to be kind of distant.
Harold: kind of laid back and above it all.
Jimmy: Yeah, that's something that well, and as someone who never fully, was able to appreciate jazz, that album is the way to get people interested in it because it's approachable. Because it's laid back. It's not crazy time signatures and insane solos that you're really listening intently. You can actually just sort of vibe with that record.
The other thing, like you said, Snoopy and these Peanuts strips is looking forward in a way and presaging some stuff. It's contrasted by the fact that really the other gigantic comic strips that were going around at the time are all based on essentially stereotypes that are now 30 and 40 years old. Yes. L’il Abner seems to make sense up to a point. And then suddenly it becomes not like a little out of fashion. It becomes something that looks ancient in its attitudes and, the drawing style strange line thing. Yeah. And Peanuts just feels of the moment, whatever that moment is.
Harold: It's like it's making the moment.
Jimmy: That's what's so crazy. Yeah. Well, and that goes back to the Beatles, too. Were they leading it? Were they reflecting it? Both it's very weird position to be in I would imagine.
Harold: And we do know that Schulz is listening to jazz, or at least around this time. We know he was hugely into classical. And I think that's where Schroeder comes from. But then people like Vince Guaraldi come out, a musician who kind of has his own thing going with an intellectual kind of approach to jazz. Obviously, Schulz is into that because Schulz is the one who says, hey, if we're going to use music for our, animated specials, let's use Vince Guaraldi music.
Jimmy: Although that was actually Mendelson's call.
Harold: Now did Mendelson introduce him? Because I do know that, I mean, Schulz was into Guaraldi, right? or did that happen through Mendelson in the first place?
Jimmy: I believe I read this in that Schulz and Peanuts book. But it's definitely somewhere Mendelson was driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was probably in 1962 because that's the year the song came out. And he heard Cast Your Fate to the Wind by Vince Guaraldi
Harold: Beautiful song,
Jimmy: which is beautiful and eventually used in Easter Beagle. And he pulled over to the side of the road after he got across the bridge and called the radio station and said, who is that? What is it? And then I think he hired him to work on the Charles Schulz documentary. That didn't come out for years. But yeah, like that Cast Your Fate to the Wind has exactly the vibe that Guaraldi’s Peanuts stuff goes on to have.
Harold: It's beautiful. So I'm wondering if Schulz, with this version of Snoopy that we're seeing how that dovetails with his first exposure to Guaraldi.
Michael: The next strip, actually. Continuation of that theme of Snoopy being super cool because it's really hot.
August 16. Lucy comes up to Snoopy. She's wearing a little bathing suit, which is absolutely ridiculous and adorable. She says, “good grief.” And she walks past him saying, “anyone who would wear a fur coat on a hot day like this must be crazy.” In panel three.Snoopy silently contemplates this and then says, “some of us prefer to sacrifice comfort for style.”
Michael: That's cool.
Harold: And the little closed eyes with the high eyebrows. Again, that's the look that's so classic from the 1960s era and into the 70s. Just so Snoopy. And it's like, yeah, it's just so new and fresh and funny. I can see people seeing this attitude and wanting to kind of embody it themselves and imitate it. There's something about it. To certain people, it would be incredibly like, what the heck is this attitude? I've not seen this before. This is like, you get to be above it all and apart from it, and you can't be hurt by it. It was really attractive for certain people to see this. And you definitely see it in musicians and rock musicians. At a certain point, it just goes in this direction. You see all the angst of Schulz in the early 60s where he's worried about the bomb he's worried about, and all of a sudden it's like people hit some tipping point. And then they're like, okay, I'm not going to be fazed by this. And he's playing with it, with Snoopy, with the snowman, the idea that I can't be hurt by this, it's too much to want to lean into something because it's so easy to be hurt. and then after a while, Snoopy kind of moves into the space where he's above it. He's aloof, and yet he's kind of mysterious at the same time.
Jimmy: And if you raise the eyebrows a 32nd of an inch, you change the angle of the eye two degrees and it's aloof. It's snobby.
Jimmy: But this is cool. It's just he's not phased by it.
Harold: He's invented something here, as far as I can tell. I can't think of where he would have gotten it from. The closest I can think is Wimpy. I just think of Wimpy. He's such an odd character, mooching off of everybody.
Jimmy: And he would have the eyes closed look too.
Harold: Absolutely. And he's unfazed that he is basically mooching off of everybody and, he doesn't care.
Michael: Didn’t Jughead have his eyes closed all the time?
Jimmy: Oh, yeah.
Harold: Jughead is definitely another iconic character that I think is probably the most-- having worked at Archie, we thought about this stuff a lot. Jughead was the most original character of the bunch. To try to go and find a Jughead before Jughead, I think Bob Montana captured something. And, yeah, there's definitely some of that feel to Jughead that he's outside of things and he's kind of judging them on his own terms and yeah, Jughead is like that.
Now you'd have to go back and see when certain aspects of Jughead really kick in because there's a little bit of a Sad Sack to him as well.
The thing that really stands out to me about Snoopy is that Snoopy is its aspirational character. All of a sudden it's like, I want to be like Snoopy. There are some, maybe some people say I want to be like Jughead. But Snoopy is like somehow creating this universal aspirational character out of a dog.
Jimmy: Well, the dog is part of it. The fact that it is a dog Is one of the secrets.
Harold: the underdog.
Jimmy: Yeah. Well, ah, just the fact that he's not a race, he's not really a gender. really anybody could project themselves into Snooping and that works really, really well. And this idea of an animal character that has this level of complexity to it that's existing within a comic strip that's primarily humans, that's totally unique. Right. I mean, there's funny animals in human strips, but they're not anything like this.
Harold: Yeah. Another cool character, I think, when you're mentioning animals is Bugs Bunny. Right. So Bugs Bunny is a character who usually won't give anybody their comeuppance unless they've entered his world and start causing him trouble. Not always. And that predates I think this Snoopy cool, but there's also, I don't know, there's something about Bugs that is a little less accessible, maybe as Snoopy is to a reader. Bugs Bunny is not us.
Jimmy: No. Snoopy is a masterpiece of design. There's just no way to get around that. That is a beautifully designed character that we got to watch just emerge just through repetition and slow, subtle adjustments. And genius, little bit of genius goes a long way.
August 21. Linus and Sally are hanging out at the thinking wall. Sally says, “isn't there any way I can get out of starting kindergarten?” Linus says, “I doubt it's, Sally. Everybody has to go to school.” Sally is not having it. She says “there must be some way of getting around it.” Then she asked Linus, “do you think maybe I could get a deferment?”
Jimmy: bone spurs Sally, that's what you need.
Michael: this is probably the first time I saw that word. I probably did not know that word.
Harold: Can you explain what deferment means to maybe some of our younger listeners?
Jimmy: If you are going to be drafted into the military, but you have some extenuating reason as to why you cannot like flat feet or bone spurs or a psychological condition or whatever it is, you can get a deferment that says you do not have to be in the military.
Harold: So in the 1962, what is the state of the military for a young person?
Michael: The draft was coming up soon. It was coming up soon because of Vietnam. I don't think it started yet, but people were talking about it. The irony here is you go to school to get out of the army, and she wants a deferment to get out of going to school.
Jimmy: Yeah, it's two years. The draft for Vietnam started in 1964. It went between 64 and 73. So he's two years ahead of this. But also he would have been thinking as a World War II guy. A lot of guys wanted to sign up for World War II, and, they got deferments for whatever. If anyone has seen the Captain America movie, I'm sure you're familiar with that.
Harold: Are you saying that there was not an active draft, say, throughout the 50s or during the Korean War?
Jimmy: Wait, no, hold on. Maybe I am wrong. Okay, hold on.
Harold: Because I thought it continued out of World War Two and young men were, at the age of 18, had to register for the draft and they would go to basic training. Is that right?
Jimmy: Well, you still have to, register for conscripted service even though there is no draft.
Here is, according to Michigan World History, Resistance and the Revolution, the Anti Vietnam war movement, it says conscription during the 1960s took place under the legal authority of the peacetime draft because the United States never formally declared war in North Vietnam. Legal authority for peacetime draft came from the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in order to mobilize American civilian soldiers in anticipation of entering into World War II. During the Korean War, the selective service began the policy of granting deferments to college students with an academic ranking in the top half of their classes, but also, medical reasons would be considered. So it was a peace time draft, that inducted 1.4 million Americans. Wow. It did grow out of World War II, but, the bulk of the actual people being drafted and sent to Vietnam occurred between 1964 and 1973.
Harold: So there was a draft in the early 50s when the strip started, where people were being sent to Korea. go. Sally, she's thinking of all of her options here.
Jimmy: She is a very interesting character because she's very smart. Even though she does not do well in school, it's established that she does terrible in school. She hates school, but she's clever and thinking, and she seems to also know herself. I really like that.
Harold: Yes. She has a very strong sense of self.
Jimmy: Here she is talking to her brother.
August 22, Sally says to Charlie Brown, “I think I can get out of going to kindergarten, Charlie Brown, if you'll write this letter for me.” She hands him a piece of paper and a pencil. She begins to dictate “to whom it may concern. Please excuse Sally Brown from kindergarten. She is needed at home.” Charlie Brown says “I can't write that. Don't you realize that this is what is wrong with society today? This is evasion of responsibility. This is what is eroding our society.” Charlie Brown is doing a Jimmy Gownley impersonation. Then Sally says, “I don't know what you're talking about. I'm too young and innocent.”
Harold: Charlie Brown rolls his eyes. I love this strip.
Michael: yeah. She's a smart cookie. She's working the system. She absolutely is. Yeah. Just moving up. She's becoming a real major character.
Harold: And she is so distinct from the other characters. She's kind of in her own world, in her own head. seeing this final joke here with Sally where she's saying, I don't know what you're talking about. I'm too young and innocent, with this kind of blank stare. It brought me back to that famous statement, or famous for me, anyway, from Charles Schulz. He said, I wanted to prove that there was a market for innocence when he was making Peanuts. And I was thinking about that in light of this strip where he's not talking about the characters, the kids, he's talking about himself. He approached these little sinful characters with his own innocence. It's like he was practicing innocence in his strip. There were certain places he wouldn't go with the strip and certain content. There were certain things that were just not appropriate in his world. And he's not talking about the characters. The characters are we know, but we're seeing all these different facets of them. They're very rich, they're very complex. They have their dark sides, they have their light sides. He's talking about himself. And I didn't realize that until I was reading the strip.
Jimmy: Oh, I completely see it that way. I've always felt that. I really feel the strong presence of him in all these strips.
That actually makes me sort of-- I have this weird question. When you're remembering a comic that you have read many times of your life, when you try to whatever, and I say to you, do you remember that, comic strip where, Sally said, she's too young and innocent to understand what Charlie Brown is saying? What do you remember? Do you remember it as a platonic ideal of this comic strip? As if it's an event that's occurring that you could recall? Do you remember yourself sitting and reading it in a book? Do you remember it if it was in the newspaper? Like, what do you remember? Do you remember the meta part of you reading it? Or you do just remember the content?
Michael: A lot of the strips around this time and for the next few years, I remember because, like I mentioned before, me and my, friends used to meet at school during lunch, and we discussed that day's Peanuts. And quite often the punchline got into our, lingo, and we’d parrot the punchline all the time. So for me, it's generally the punchlines.
Jimmy: I remember things because I've said them my whole life. Your memory of Peanuts, then, is inextricably linked to not just as a part of your life, but inexplicably as a work of art that you've experienced to the fact that you were talking about it with your friends. That's, like, right there next to it. Right?
Michael: Yeah, I mean, there was part of every group has its little dynamic, and our dynamic was we were the Peanuts fanatics, and that was the one thing we wanted to talk about when we got together for lunch.
Jimmy: Harold, what about you?
Harold: I mostly remember reading them in a solitary way. It's just me with these characters, and when I haven't read a strip since I was maybe ten years old. I love when I encounter something that there's been a gap of decades between the time I read it, because that's when I uniquely have the sense of who I was at that age. There's nothing that triggers it better than to read something that I read or experienced at that age and haven't since. Because all of the additional memories that kind of pile up as you experience it over and over again, mute that one experience. But if I know I haven't read this since I'm ten, I'm taken back to the memory of what I was thinking and feeling at the age of ten, and that's a huge gift for me.
I mean, Jimmy, you've often said you pretty much remember exactly what it was like to be ten years old. I'm not that way. I have to be triggered to kind of go back there, and the only way I know how to do it is to find something that I haven't looked at for 40 years or whatever and experience it again. And that takes me back.
Jimmy: The reason I'm sort of asking about this, because this goes back to what you were saying about Schulz talking about himself. If I were to think of a narrative or an art form, not an art form, but a piece of art that, I experienced and was immersed in and believed in it as a world and completely became engrossed in it, it would be like the first Star Wars movie at age five. What, I'm thinking about when I'm seeing these strips is I really did think of it as drawings that Charles Schulz made for me in a way I didn't think of, like, oh, I never thought Star Wars as a movie George Lucas made for me. You know what I mean?
Harold: No, explain that more. What do you mean by made for me?
Jimmy: Well, maybe it's just that I'm an egomaniac, but I felt like there was something, like, in the first round when I was a kid, look at this and go, oh, there is Sally and Charlie Brown hanging out in their living room. I mean, I would but I would be aware that this is a drawing of Sally that Charles Schulz made. And I'm, probably not explaining this well. And all these words are also what Charles Schulz wants to say to me. But this does not make it less immersive for me. It makes it more immersive for me because for some reason, there is. And it might just have to do with the fact that I found out there were cartoonists at the same time I found out that there was a thing called Peanuts. And that just got stuck in my head together that these are drawings by this guy. But that extra narrative on top of it makes me weirdly, more involved than if it was just a well told story, beautifully drawn.
Harold: Well, I can relate to what you're saying. I just wrote down something, a couple of weeks ago that I was trying to process again, after having read some Peanuts and thinking about why this had such a huge impact on me. And one of the things that came to me, I just wrote it down. I said, everybody who read Peanuts felt seen. Yeah. it's like they saw themselves in the characters and with the struggles, and they were given dignity. there was like a gift of dignity that Schulz was giving to readers who could relate to these characters. And I think maybe if you experience that as a child, when you're seeing child characters who are speaking with such a level of insight, sometimes there's something about that where there's something in you that no one else has yet acknowledged. And Schulz was somehow doing it. And even your follies acknowledged they're not celebrated, but they're understood.
Jimmy: It's like he's constantly which is more important for you as a kid? You know, when you make a mistake or you do something wrong or you just have some sort of horrible, embarrassing accident or whatever.
Jimmy: you know, it's not something that you want celebrated, but you do want to be understood, right?
Harold: And so he's just constantly saying, I see you with this respect and this dignity that I think attracted audiences in a way that didn't diminish, them, but built them up. And all our art, in a way, says I see you sometimes. It says, I see you as a sucker. someone who wants a cheap thrill or who wants their brokenness to be celebrated because that's all they think they have. But good art says, I think I see you. The potential, the good in you. I love you, even if you consider me your enemy. I mean, I see you. I witness you. And so we witnessed the art back, and we honor it for honoring us.
And I think Schulz did that to a remarkable extent. I think if I said this to Schulz, he'd probably look at me with a blank Sally stare. But I really think he was doing something like this in a way that very few other artists ever did, and it's just a part of who he is. He was constantly dealing with his own memories of his rejection, trying to redeem something from his past in a way that was done with goodwill and innocence. And I'm just in awe of it.
Jimmy: Absolutely. Me too.
August 26. A little bird approaches Linus, who's sitting outside. Suddenly, Linus is patting the bird on his head. Charlie Brown looks on, in confusion. He goes back to Lucy and says, “your brother pats birds on the head.” Lucy, who is skipping rope, says, “what?” She confronts Linus, yelling, “are you out of your mind? Are you trying to make us the laughingstock of the whole community? At this scene the bird walks off, a little embarrassed by the whole thing. Lucy continues, “how long do you think will last round here if word gets out that you pat birds on the head? Now cut it out.” Then we have a solitary panel of Linus thinking about it. And then another panel as Snoopy walks past him. Linus then yells to Lucy, “well, how about dogs?” And Lucy says “dogs are all right. You can pat all the dogs you want. In fact, society approves of patting dogs on the head.” Linus kneels next to Snoopy and pats him on the head, saying, “there are many things I don't understand,” while the bird stands off, neglected, sighing.
Michael: It's so hard to learn the rules because there's no book. So Lucy is doing him a favor by showing him, telling him, society expects certain things of you, and you can't violate the rules or you'll be ostracized. That's what it's all about, conforming.
Jimmy: This goes back to my worry, about the Van Pelt parents, because that sounds like something Lucy's picking up at home that got, to keep up with the Joneses, or not even keep up with the Joneses. Just keep your head down, don't get noticed.
Harold: Yeah. And yet this strip is also heartbreaking again, just like Snoopy with the snowman. It's like someone makes this really strong argument against why you shouldn't do this thing, and he doesn't understand why it should be. And he would have continued patting birds on the head if someone hadn't come along and told them that it shouldn't be done. And you see that the impact on this little bird, who shows up again in the last panel to sigh with us that he's not going to get patted on the head anymore. It's like, oh, my gosh, it's tragic.
Jimmy: Love it. A great last panel. Snoopy getting patted on the head. It's just a great drawing with a blank look on his face.
August 30. Charlie Brown and Linus, are discussing Sally, who stands in the foreground, looking very upset. Linus says, “I think your sister needs help. Charlie Brown.” He continues, “this fear she has of starting kindergarten is beyond the normal fears of preschool children. I really think she needs professional help.” Charlie Brown looking at Sally looking forlorn says, “Perhaps you're right.” The last panel, of course, we see the help that Sally is getting. She's at the psychiatric care stand with Lucy.
Michael: Wow. Do you think insurance covers this?
Jimmy: You would have to be on the phone for a long time explaining it. Lucy's definitely out of network.
Michael: You know that he's in the black.
Jimmy: That's a joke only our American listeners will get to--
Michael: Well, I want to see, how the session goes.
Harold: But I'm thinking is if Lucy had to do a lot of paperwork if she was with some insurance company, it would be much more than 5 cents.
Jimmy: That's true. It would get pricey quickly, like 7 or 8.
September 2. Linus is excited about something. He says, “this is the big day.” He's looking at a calendar and he's saying, “999 days, one to go. This is it.” Linus and walks up to Lucy, who is watching television and he says, “Lucy, may I read your new comic book?” Lucy says, “no, you can't, and stop bothering me.” Linus is jubilant. He says “you did it. You did it.” He shakes Lucy's hand, saying, “My heartiest congratulations. You did it.” Lucy doesn't understand what's happening. Linus continues, “you have been crabby for 1000 days in a row. You have just set an all time record. I knew you could do it.” Linus points at the calendar saying, “see, I've been keeping track on this calendar since Tuesday, December 8, 1959. Remember that day you threw an apple core at me? Since then, you have gone 1000 days without failing once to be crabby. Let me shake your hand again.” Then Linus presents her with a scrolled up piece of paper and he says, “I'd also like to present you with a specially inscribed scroll commemorating this historical event.” He shakes her hand one last time, saying again, “May I say congratulations? You are an inspiration to all the crabby people in this world.” Lucy, holding her scroll, looks out at us and says “one rarely gets a chance to see such carefully prepared sarcasm.”
Michael: It is brilliant. It's a great strip. It's like the Beethoven's 9th of sarcasm.
Jimmy: It is a masterpiece for sure.
Harold: We were talking about how Snoopy kind of kicks into this remarkable level in 1962. I kind of get the feeling that Lucy does as well. It seems for years we've seen Lucy the humor is from Lucy being crabby or doing something, that's a little outlandish. And there seems to be a shift now where Lucy's personality is established and it's kind of a matter of fact element of Lucy. And it's not necessarily the joke itself anymore. It's baked in. People know Lucy's personality. And so Schulz isn't going for the obvious gag. It's just now a part of the fabric of the strip. And I think that's, again, what kind of adds to the subtlety of 1962. There's, even like a little bit of stoicism in Snoopy is embodying. And it's not as much of these people just kind of going at each other. They're just living their lives. And Lucy's Crabbiness is just a piece of the whole puzzle.
September 5. Charlie Brown is putting on his coat. Sally is already dressed up and ready to go outside. Charlie Brown says, “well, Sally, today is the first day of school.” Charlie Brown continues with Sally as they're walking to school. He says, “we'll soon be there. Just a little way to go now.” Sally looks completely horrified by this. Then in panel three, they arrive, and Charlie Brown says, “there it is. There's your school.” This sends Sally running in the opposite direction, screaming.
Michael: People forget well, at least I forget what it was actually like to go to school for the first day. But it's really like one of the major breaks in your life. It's an absolutely major event. More so than graduating high school, I think. Suddenly you're not a free person anymore. For the next 15 years, people are going to be telling you what to do. You have to be here. You have to do this. And I don't recall being prepared for it. I didn't go to kindergarten, but I don't think anybody sat down and said, here's what you do in school. This is what it's like. It's just like, there's the door. You have no idea. It's like you're going in the army.
Jimmy: What's going to happen? I remember the first day at kindergarten like it was yesterday. I wore a powder blue leisure suit my first day in kindergarten.
Harold: Jimmy: That was your choice, right?
Jimmy: Absolutely. And, my dad that morning because I didn't have a lunch can because we were just going to put it in my book bag. I was only there, like, 2 hours or whatever, but I looked and saw the morning classes because I lived right across the street from the school. I saw the kids had lunch boxes, too. And I was very upset by this. And my dad went out and he bought me a Snoopy lunch box so I could have one for my first day at kindergarten in my powder blue leisure suit, which I'm sure there are pictures of.
Harold: You said lunch can. Is lunch can a thing? Actually, you would reuse a can. Some people would. I never heard that term.
Jimmy: Oh, lunch can. Yeah. Maybe that's just a, coal region thing. But a lunch box, a regular metal latched box that you put your lunch in and has a thermos.
Harold: I could imagine a can. It's like a paint can type of thing before they had, like, licensed lunchbox product that you could buy with a thermos and all that.
Jimmy: My daughter, Anna, for her art supplies, uses my dad's lunch can we call her lunch pail from when he was in the mines. It's like just a silver tin, like just looks like a little bread box with a leather handle.
Here's something about this strip, in the aaugh the line that's in the middle of the I think that's actually the first evidence of the hand tremor.
Harold: Oh, you're kidding.
Jimmy: No. I don't think that is a scribble. I think that is the first instance of it. And as we go through the 60s, it's very rare, but you will see it, and it occurs in certain ways. And he would be holding the pen at an almost 90 degree angle from the way he would be normally to go inside those if he did the lettering first and then decided to put the little lines inside, which is, I think, what happened. And that put that pressure right on that point in the wrist. And I think that's what causes it.
Harold: Wow. Well, that's an insight boy, because that is going to be a big part of this comic strip going forward.
Jimmy: Yeah. As Art Spiegelman once put it, a literal mark of dedication to his craft. Very true.
September 11. Linus and Charlie Brown are looking at a little sapling. Charlie Brown says, “It's a beautiful little tree, isn't it?” They kneel down and look at it. Linus says, “yes, it is.” Charlie Brown says, “It's a shame that we won't be around to see it when it's fully grown.” Linus says, “Why? Where are we going?”
Michael: This is really profound. I mean, how do you explain this to a little kid?
Jimmy: Linus, you’re going to die one day.
Michael: Why is this funny?
Harold: Yeah. And yet Charlie Brown is philosophical enough to think about it and say it again. There's this level of maturity to Charlie Brown that even though it's not recognized or appreciated by the people around him, he is a very thoughtful guy. He's not the smart alec we knew when this all started.
Jimmy: No I would think that maybe the constant beat downs and beratings and all that he has gone through has given him this more contemplative side because he spent more time thinking about things and he certainly probably spent more time alone. And it's actually served, him well.
Harold: Yeah. And again, that's relating to Charles Schulz again, that you're seeing all of these hurts and slights that he's never forgotten that he's turning it over into the strip, into something that's golden.
September 21. Charlie Brown and Shermy are walking along outside. Shermy says, “Nothing makes me more mad than wasting a good haircut.” He continues, “Last Saturday I got a haircut so I'd look nice for school Monday morning.” Then he continues at the thinking wall saying to Charlie Brown, “then on Monday I got sick and I couldn't go to school for three days.” With frustration, he leans on the wall and says, “I wasted a good haircut.”
Jimmy: Shermy gets to talk four panels in a row.
Michael: I know. This is really unusual, but Schulz must have remembered that very early strip where Shermy was really concerned about his appearance and was kind of a natty dresser. Now Shermy hardly ever does anything. He's usually just a sidekick and maybe set up a joke. But yeah, here he gets his own strip and Schulz remembered the personality trait. He's the one who would think about this.
Jimmy: That is 100% true. And not only that did he think about this and notice this. So did we, because we put it as his third personality trait. Shermy is vain. I think that confirms the validity of the Shermometer. Right? This is not just us making stuff up, right? Just to talk, just to hear ourselves talk.
Michael: We are going to publish our thesis here. Yeah, we will publish it in Science News.
Harold: Good old Shermy.
Jimmy: Good old Shermy.
October 15, Charlie Brown says to Lucy, “well, did you take your feeding of Sabin oral polio vaccine?” “Oh, yes,” says Lucy. “They put the drops on a sugar cube and I chewed it right up. Of course, this was after I got into the argument with the nurse.” Lucy continues, “well, it wasn't exactly an argument, it was more of a discussion.” She concludes by saying, “my dentist is against eating sugar cubes.”
Harold: Now, do you have any memory of this, Michael? Do you remember taking a sugar cube?
Michael: Oh, yeah, sure.
Harold: This was not developed until 1961. So this is like a big new thing. Yeah. And was used.
Michael: getting a shot was like the worst.
Michael: It means you didn't have to get the shot anymore.
Jimmy: I have never heard of this. That you would eat sugar cubes with medicine on it. Never heard that.
Michael: Yeah, this little drop of it on it. And I used to like sugar cubes. Because I'd eat them just raw.
Harold: Raw Sugar cubes?
Michael: Yeah. So this was great.
Jimmy: I may have once stuck a stick of butter and sugar and licked the sugar off, which I think I may have gotten from Peanuts or maybe a Peanuts special or something. Or maybe not
Harold: Yeah, well, I'm guessing whoever developed this probably got the idea from absinthe.
Jimmy: I don't know, if I was going to guess which of us was going to make an absinthe reference, it would not have been Harold.
Harold: Yes, but you always have to say absinthe makes the heart go fonder.
Jimmy: I knew that was coming. I was trying to get to the next strip before you could get.
Harold: Well, that's why we have a wonderful editor.
Jimmy: I don't know what's in there now.
October 21. Snoopy is lying atop his doghouse. He thinks to himself, “I hear footsteps.” And he sits up and looks off panel left and says, “oh, good grief.” It's Charlie Brown who's coming up and he has a leash in the next panel. He puts the leash on Snoopy, who is making a very put upon and shocked look that this is occurring. Panel after that, Charlie Brown is walking Snoopy on a leash. But Snoopy is walking on his hind legs, and it looks like he's in a chain gang. He looks very upset. The next panel, he's literally howling at the heavens as he grasps the collar, waving his arms in anguish. Patty looks on at this whole scene, wondering what's going on. The panel after that. Now Snoopy is just lying on his back on the ground, gasping for air. Gasp. Choke. Aack. Finally, Charlie Brown gives up and he says, “all right, have it your way. We'll forget the leash.” He takes the leash off, and Snoopy starts walking like a dog in front of Charlie Brown and looks super happy about it. Then in the last panel, he's back on his dog house, lying down, and says, “I'm the kind who'll do anything to prove a point.”
Jimmy: Amen Snoopy