Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. This is Unpacking Peanuts. We're talking about 1978. Today, I'm your host for the proceedings. My name is Jimmy Gownley. I'm also a cartoonist. I did books like Amelia Rules, Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up, and The Dumbest Idea Ever. Joining me, as always, are my pals co hosts and fellow cartoonists.
He's a playwright and a composer, both for the band Complicated People, as well as for this very podcast. He's the original editor of Amelia Rules, the co creator of the original Comic Book Price Guide, and the creator of such great strips as Strange Attractors, A Gathering of Spells, and Tangled River. It's Michael Cohen.
Michael: say hey.
Jimmy: And he is the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, former vice president of Archie Comics, and the creator of the Instagram sensation Sweetest Beasts. It's Harold Buchholz.
So, guys, I had a lot of fun reading 1978. For whatever reason, this one tickled my funny bone. and I really enjoyed it. So I'm really looking forward to talking, with you guys about this today. before we do, though, Harold, there is some Mystery Science Theater news afoot. Can you let us know what's going on? Let our listeners know?
Harold: Yeah. So, as Jimmy always says, at the beginning of each episode, I was a producer of the show, and now I'm a writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000. For those of you who are familiar with it, this is a big week for Mystery Science Theater. We are crowdfunding season 14, which I will get to write on if we make, the minimum that's needed for the crowdfunding. And you can go to MST3K.com to, become a part of that. You can pledge and get access to the episodes that are to come, as well as getting some pretty cool merch and fun things that go along with the crowdfunding. And this is also the weekend of the annual Turkey Day-- on Thanksgiving, we show multiple episodes of classic MST3K shows, and I've been a part of helping to select some of those for people to watch leading up to this time. So that's also available for you if you want to come in. And, of course, we're going to be telling all about the crowdfunding during Turkey Day. And Turkey Day again, go to MST3K.com. it's all over the Internet, streaming through multiple channels. So I hope you can join us for that.
Jimmy: Well, that sounds awesome. If you guys out there aren't familiar with Mystery Science Theater, I can't imagine there's many of you out there who aren't, who are listening to this podcast. But if you haven't ever given a chance, it is a really funny show. My pick is I Accuse My Parents. I don't think you can go wrong with that one. If you want to give it a shot. Yes, very funny. Okay, so that's what's going on with Mystery Science Theater. How about we discuss Peanuts? Harold, tell me, what are your initial thoughts about 1978? Like I said, I really enjoyed it.
Harold: Yeah, this is right around the time I stopped reading it on a regular basis. I'm about twelve years old this year and, give or take. it's still familiar Peanuts to me, but pretty much everything I was reading was new, with a couple of exceptions. And yeah, I enjoyed it as well. It had a similar vibe to last year's, you would expect. It seems to be going more and more, with this kind of stoic humor, which we'd seen, I think, more like quite a while ago. But, this kind of the deadpan responses to things seems to be common, as well as the flights of surrealism. it's an interesting mix.
Jimmy: Yeah, it really is, Michael. I noticed, I think, anyway, so maybe it's just me, Michael, putting this on the year, but it feels like we saw Linus in more varied roles and, maybe a little bit more often. We see him as either he is or is not Sally's sweet Babboo and protector. We see him as Lucy's brother. We see him as like a simp for Eudora. How do you feel about Linus's role in this year?
Michael: Well, the big change, of course, is the blanket, which is what I pointed out, maybe it was last episode, that the blanket has pretty much disappeared from the strip. There was like four strips with the blanket last year, and I think only one of them actually was a blanket joke. So, anyway, we're going to resolve the blanket mystery. Like where's the blanket and why are we not seeing it? It's going to get resolved, which was like probably the key to Linus's personality. He was a genius who was insecure. Yeah, and we're not seeing that anymore. He seems to have mellowed out a little bit more of a supporting character, I would have said clearly he was my favorite, but also clearly top four featured character. And now he sees his supporting character. He comes in and out and not given the big punchline so much.
Jimmy: What I think is interesting, about Linus in particular this year and just sort of Schulz's relationship with Linus. I actually feel that there's probably three characters that Schulz puts on, sort of a pedestal that he treats as special and slightly, above the others, you know Linus, Snoopy and Charlie Brown. And I feel know this thing with the security blanket disappearing. I think this thing with him becoming less of the insecure genius is somehow Schulz's way of honoring this character and letting him become a more grounded and rounded person. And I think that's what he's also doing with Charlie Brown. It's a very difficult thing to do, though, because a cartoon character, I mean, Beetle Bailey is lazy, Sarge is angry-- it's usually such simple things. I think what he's trying to do with Linus at least, or I'm putting on it, who knows what he really was trying to do. But it feels like he's trying to go for something really subtle. And I feel like this year was his most successful attempt at that in the 70s. But that's just me. I could be wrong.
Harold: I've been wrong.
Michael: At least he's not trying to be a fascist dictator anymore. He was leaning in that direction. When was it, ten years ago?
Jimmy: It is very weird that that was a recurring thing. Every once in a while, he would make some troops up and want to rule. Well, who hasn't in their day?
Harold: You got to work it out of your system.
Jimmy: Yeah. And hopefully you work it out early with snowmen and it doesn't get any further. That's the value of having Lucy, because you're not going to become a fascist dictator. If Lucy is your older sister, she'll prevent that for sure.
Harold: Yeah, you have to stick the snowman if you have Lucy.
Jimmy: Absolutely. So, all right, if, that's all we have to say by way of preamble, I say we get right to the strips. Now, if you guys are out there listening, first off, if you're a new listener, hey, welcome. It's so nice to have you. and here's how you can, make this a little more interactive for yourself. If you want, you could go onto our website, unpackingpeanuts.com, and you could sign up for the Great Peanuts Reread. When you do that, once a month, you'll get an email from us, a little newsletter put together by my good pal Harold. And that'll give you a heads up on what's coming up that month on the podcast. So you'll be able to read ahead and know what strips we'll be discussing.
And if you want to read those strips, of course, you can always go to good old Amazon or your local bookstore and buy those Fantagraphics books, which are absolutely beautiful. But, if you're not bougie like that, you could just go to gocomics.com. They have, every Peanuts strip ever made there. So you just type in the date in the search bar, and away you go. Okay, so that's how you can do it. And, let's do it.
January 18. We start off, there's a sequence we're in the middle of where Sally has borrowed another student's ruler, and it has unfortunately come to a bad end, and this kid wants his ruler back. So this has put Sally in a very awkward position, and that's where we pick it up. So Sally is outside school, and she's watching as Linus walks towards her. Sally says, “will you walk home from school with me, Linus? I think the powers of darkness are out to get me.” And she says that she holds on to him and looks around furtively. Then, as they continue to walk on their way, Linus says, “I doubt if I could ever protect you from the powers of darkness.” And Sally says, “how about a third grader who claims I broke his ruler?”
Michael: Okay. You realize we're in the middle of the Satanic panic in 1978, is it? Are you aware of that?
Jimmy: well, I didn't think it happened that early, but okay
Michael: No, it's going on. People are terrified of Satanic cults and towers of darkness and all of that, and it's infecting the schools. Teachers are getting accused of doing weird rituals with babies. So it's out there in the zeitgeist at this point.
Jimmy: Yeah, I do, sort of. My parents were strict in many ways, and not strict, in other words. It was a very strange mix. And as far as all of my reading artistic endeavors, they didn't care one way or the other for the most part, except for Dungeons and Dragons.
Michael: Oh, my God.
Jimmy: Right? That is the biggest satanic thing in the world. So my dad's like, we're going to play dungeons and dragons. So it was the day of Live Aid, and it was the first time we're going to play dungeons and dragons. And my dad's like, you're not playing that, and I can watch you, all right? I don't care. So he watched, and these games go on for hours and hours and hours, and by the end, he's like, look, I guess if you want to play this, you can go ahead and play it, because it just seems really boring and has a lot of math in it. So whatever it was, he lasted one day of monitoring, it, and then was like, I think you're fine.
Harold: Who are you playing with?
Jimmy: Me, Frankie O'Neill, Mike Nando, and Todd Selgrade. All characters who are in The Dumbest Idea ever.
Harold: Wow. And they didn't mind dad hanging out in the background listening?
Jimmy: Oh, no, he was cool. He was fine. He was watching live aid. I have to say, he was a very nice guy, and my friends were always welcome in our house, which I was very grateful for. and that's the way to do it. If you're going to be parent, don't just shut it down. Don't just ban things. Don't just say no. Look into it a little bit, see what it's about. Because there was also a 50 50 chance he would have taken the box and thrown it out, and that would have been the end of it. But at least he would have known what he was doing.
Harold: Yeah, he gave it a chance and seemed okay.
Jimmy: And, here's my other confession about dungeons and dragons. I ran that campaign, game or whatever, for two years, maybe after that. And I played dungeons and dragons, always as a dungeon master, for decades. I really have no Idea how to play dungeons and dragons, and it really doesn't seem to hamper the game.
Harold: Yeah, it's like a game, improv, right?
Jimmy: Yeah, totally.
Michael: I have to interject. I ran a 15 year campaign.
Jimmy: well, talk a little bit about that. Even though you once said you can't talk about it because it's as bad as someone talking about their dreams. I've invited it.
Michael: Nothing more boring than listening to somebody else's dungeons and dragons adventures.
Harold: Well, as someone who's never done it, I'm always wondering what, on earth?
Michael: DMing it, No, come on. If you're with a group of creative players, it's like a group fantasy. You're participating in a group storytelling and an acting class.
Harold: Yeah, it is like improv. It's fantasy improv.
Michael: It's totally improv. Anyway...
Liz: isn't A Gathering of Spells part of that story?
Michael: yeah, but we don't have to talk about that.
Liz: Yes, we do.
Michael: No, we don't.
Harold: You did a comic called A Gathering of Spells. How long did that run? How many pages of story did you do?
Michael: It's 130 pages, but it's basically in those 15 years I developed just a really intensely detailed world. So I basically set a story in that world, but years after the game, the campaign. So I was familiar with the geography and the history. So it's a standalone, but that provided the background. Like Tolkien had to invent a language and spend 20 years thinking about his world before he even put a character in it.
Harold: And now you can just take someone else's world and you call it fan fiction.
Jimmy: Yeah, right. I will tell you this. It is a strange dichotomy that you have to put that much thought and reality into the fantasy one. Otherwise it'll fall apart and slice of life stuff, you could have as much fantasy as you want and people don't even seem to notice it. It's very strange.
Michael: That's true. But I think imaginary worlds are as valid as real ones.
Jimmy: All right, expand on that.
Michael: No. All right, but Peanuts is an imaginary world. But is it consistent? That's my question.
Jimmy: I didn't hear what you said.
Michael: I'm saying the Peanuts world, the neighborhood here is, an imaginary world and it's a fantasy world, but.
Michael: I guess part of my problems is it's not consistent because it's a comic strip and it took 50 years to develop. So things that, I mean, there is no canon here. If Snoopy can fly like a helicopter, it doesn't mean he can always fly like a helicopter.
Harold: That is true. Now, how do you feel about, do you feel like if he made a decision in 1953, by gum, he's got to follow it in 1998 and that's better than him, say reinventing?
Michael: No, but if he would have spent five years planning to do a 50 year strip plotting it, it would have been completely different.
Harold: Better, you think?
Michael: I don't know. There's no way of knowing
Jimmy: that's true.
Harold: Yeah, but if he's stuck with the concepts of 1955, I would think, I, personally would want to see where he is, even if he is changing the rules as he goes. Because as a person, maybe he presents something that he created in 1955 and wished...
Michael: well, that's the thing with comics and, maybe serialized books, but it's an autobiography in a way, and that's why you cannot read Cerebus as a graphic novel. It makes no sense, but it's definitely an autobiography of Dave's head.
Harold: Yeah, right.
Michael: And I think that's what this is too.
Harold: And that is wonderful about fiction. You're a guest in someone else's mind. And that is an honor to be able to do that. Especially when they've boiled it down. It's not necessarily just like straight improv. They're thinking it through, they're deciding what they want to share. And Jimmy, you and I have talked about this. When we've seen other people's work and we say that's what you want to share of yourself? If you're going to spend 10 hours a page that's going to be read in 15 seconds by somebody, I'm surprised how little people put into kind of, I guess, sharing their best. That's probably unfair to say that way, but, I guess maybe because their focus really is not on the story, it's on how to draw better. It's how to figure out a storytelling technique. And they're not so interested in what the story says. And maybe that comes later. I don't know.
Michael: You'll never see a movie that the early scenes feel different than the end scenes. Television shows did not--
Harold: I've seen a couple.
Michael: Well, that may be true, but yeah, I mean, television, as far as I remember it, up till Sopranos, basically there just was no story. I mean, overall overarching story. it was episodes. The order didn't matter.
Michael: And these comic strips, except maybe Steve Canyon or the adventure strips, nobody imagined any people would be crazy enough to sit down and read the entire thing.
Harold: Yeah, that's. That's true. And that the artist has to have that in mind when they're know they did. I didn't do this six years ago, but it's going to be interesting this today. So, I'm going to do it.
Jimmy: I have several friends who didn't live to be 28, which is as long as Peanuts is running now. That was the entire span of their life. Wasn't that long. Even the Tolkien thing. What would be really interesting to me is to be able to read a draft, maybe. You know what, I'm sure this exists. I'm sure someone has already published it. But a draft of the Lord of the Rings where before Tolkien figured out what it was about, because he got to the end and he hadn't planned it. He didn't know how it was going to end. But he did have all of that back story. It'd be interesting to see. How do you take all of that other stuff which isn't story, and put it into the story and like you're saying, Michael, to bring it back to Peanuts. I mean, it'd be impossible to do that. Only an insane person would spend ten years or whatever it is, planning a comic strip because Tolkien, I don't think he was ever thinking that it was going to be anything other than his private passion.
Harold: Oh, really? I didn't realize that.
Michael: Yeah, well, same with what is the greatest giant story in comics would be the Jaime Hernandez Maggie story, which I think he was able to do it because they didn't think anybody was ever going to look at it. They did it for fun.
Michael: And, yeah, if you think I am going to write a masterpiece and I'm going to plan every bit of it, first of all, you're not going to be the same person when, you get to the end of the story.
Michael: Yeah. So we just accept serialized fiction in the form of comics to evolve, and that's what we're watching, and sometimes we don't like it. But what are you going to do.
Harold: Right. To see this as a form of play is really interesting. Last night I was watching a Chicago documentary on the origins of Improv, and I didn't realize that, I may have be mispronouncing her name, but her name, it was Viola Spolin, I believe. And she started it not for comedy purposes, but it was actually to help, mostly kids work through empathy and all these sorts of things. And then she basically had it picked up by adults who were doing it in theater. And then all of a sudden, it just changed the face of, storytelling and acting. And it's pretty amazing. But the whole Idea was rooted in play. And when I think of Schulz, I think of play. Here's a guy by himself, and he's playing with these characters, and he knows it's going out to millions of people every day, but what a cool thing to be able to take. And I get that sense of play where, again, he's not too concerned about that continuity. He's taking the characters on today as he's thinking about them today. And that does give it a different feel. Okay, this is really a long term story.
Jimmy: This is really interesting to me. I think you guys both have hit on something. That's because you almost need to come up with a new criteria and a new aesthetics of explaining what this is, because, no, it doesn't work as a story. It's not. I mean, it wasn't even intended to, but this Idea of the internal autobiography that Michael's mentioning, and then Harold saying he's at play with these characters, and Schulz himself has said he thought of them as a repertory, company of actors.
Harold: Right. Yeah. Like notes on a keyboard.
Jimmy: Yeah. That's really what it is. Right.
Harold: Is that jazz is improv. Yeah.
Jimmy: He is using these to move them around as little components and reassembling them to show where he is on any given day.
Jimmy: Which is pretty wild.
Michael: And you can see in the longer sequences, he's not plotting those either. I mean, we're talking a two week sequence. He's reached the point where Frodo is up in Mount Doom and he doesn't know how it's going to end. And sometimes he'll have Alfred E. Newman come out,
Jimmy: which, weirdly enough, was the original ending of the Lord of the Rings.
Harold: Really? Yeah.
Jimmy: His wife was like, J-R-R. No.
Harold: What Me, Frodo?
Jimmy: What d’ya think luv? All right. We have now officially discussed one comic strip, but before we move on, I just want to say that I'm certain that the powers of darkness would cower before Linus. I'm certain of it. Sally picked the right one.
January 26, Sally's watching television, and Charlie Brown comes up behind her and says, “may I quote you something from Hamlet? Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” Sally, quite rightly, since she didn't ask for any of this, says, “what's that supposed to mean?” Charlie Brown, very smugly, I would point out, says, “it means you shouldn't have borrowed that kid's ruler in the first place. Makes you think, doesn't it?” Sally says to Charlie Brown, “you hate me, don't you?”
Jimmy: I love that. Sally gets right to the heart of it. Sally's nonsense.
Michael: I have to say something. when I read the year, I usually do it in a day or maybe a day and a half. Read through them all. I do appreciate these much more when they're isolated because I tend to go, oh, God, I have six months to go, and I tend to whip through them.
Jimmy: Right. Well, that's something that has been kicking around in the back of my mind, is that, we are looking at it in a way that it was not intended to be looked at. But once it's published, either by Gocomics.com or by Fantagraphics as a complete work, you can't not look at it. Right. I mean, what an amazing thing.
Harold: However, to be fair, Schulz, at this point, had collections coming out on a regular basis, and he knew that millions of people were interacting with it in that way, too. So he could have that in his mind.
Jimmy: They weren't all published, and they were--
Jimmy: You know, what mean? You're right. You're right. That's all I have to say.
Michael: Yeah. Well, the ones I had were. I reread hundreds-- Well, I don't know hundreds, but dozens of times.
Jimmy: Dozens. Yeah.
Michael: So it was never just a first impression. I mean, they were, like, soldered into my brain.
Harold: Yeah. And to Sally's credit, even if Charlie Brown's delivery of this is a little hard to take, she ultimately does do what her big brother suggests to basically replace the ruler.
Jimmy: Oh, absolutely.
Harold: She gets there.
Jimmy: Well, and that's something that's interesting about Charlie Brown, is that even when he's right, he's not going to get the credit.
Jimmy: She's not going to turn to him and say, wow, that's a really good point.
Harold: Gee, big brother.
Jimmy: Yeah, right. Anyway, I got to love Sally.
January 31. Charlie Brown is bringing Snoopy out his evening meal. Charlie Brown yells, “supper time.” Snoopy, though, is just lying atop his dog house. Charlie Brown says, “well, how come you don't dance with joy anymore when I bring out your supper?” In the fourth panel, Snoopy does the most apathetic little jig you've ever seen. To which Charlie Brown says, “don't force yourself.”
Harold: That's pretty River dance there.
Michael: That's Apathy Dog.
Jimmy: Totally River dance.
Harold: Yeah. Apathy Dog. Yeah. And this is the feeling I get about the strips in this year, is that there's a little less of that unbridled joy kind of stuff that we've seen in earlier years. This, seems true to the year that Snoopy, everyone's a little more.
Michael: Does he stick with it, or does Snoopy go back to the happy dance for dinner.
Harold: when he's the Easter Beagle? I think we get to see a little bit of that every once in a while.
February 26. Charlie Brown is fixing to fly a kite, and he actually gets it in the air by panel two. Panel three, we see him running past Lucy, tongue out and a little, bit of a satisfied smile on his face. But in the next panel, we hear from off panel, as Lucy looks shocked. She goes running to see what has happened and then says, “Charlie Brown, how in the world?” And in the last panel, we see Charlie Brown, has somehow managed to get his kite not only crashed, but through each individual, railing of a picket fence, which you really basically have to see, in order to understand. And then Charlie Brown just says, “I don't want to talk about it.”
Michael: Maybe Lucy's mellowing out, too, because how in the world is way different than you blockhead.
Harold: yeah right.
Jimmy: Although is it meant to be like, this is such an amazing.
Michael: It is pretty amazing.
Harold: I think it's also how he draws Lucy. Lucy looks a little sympathetic and full of wonder, which is something we don't see a whole lot of.
Jimmy: Yeah, that's true.
Jimmy: The way she's sort of, like, leaning forward. It's very subtle in that panel before.
Harold: The last one, her chin in her hand, like she's considering something.
Jimmy: Yeah. And I think this also feels like, one thing I wanted to talk about, like I was mentioning kind of with the Linus thing, it does feel like he is integrating more of the classic elements that maybe had gone aside for the last few years, and I think he's now actually almost recognizing them as classic elements.
Michael: We haven't seen the kite flying in a long time.
Harold: Yeah. This is a really balanced year between the characters.
Michael: Yeah. So it's funny how things drop away and you don't notice them. Yeah. Like, the Red Baron is pretty much gone.
Jimmy: That is another surprise.
Michael: It seems weird because that was, like, the highlight, at least for a lot of people, of the strip, for many years.
Harold: Yeah. Well, it's interesting. This is also the year that Schulz travels to France to where he was in World War II, for an animated film, and he went with, like, Lee Mendelson, and everybody went with their wives, but he was actually at the places where he had been in World War II. So it's interesting that that didn't turn into any flying ace World War I scripts or anything.
Jimmy: Yeah. I mean, can you imagine what that was like? You've been there. You're a kid, basically. You're just out of school a couple of years, you're suddenly thrown into the most horrific conflict the world's ever seen. Then you go away and you have another unreal life where you create this thing that the world loves, everybody loves, and then you go back and you would have to somehow, I think, face all of that, all of those years, how lucky you were to, even make it back alive. And maybe it was just the kind of thing that he didn't want to make it a flying ace strip and diminish it. I m mean, that's all projection, but.
Harold: I can't imagine going back to something like that after all those years and re experiencing it with a team of people that you're making animated special about it. That's really wild.
February 6, Snoopy as the famous Beagle Scout leading his troops out, and he says, here's the world famous Beagle Scout leading his troop on a hike. They continue to hike. I assume Woodstock's always right behind Snoopy. So that's Snoopy and Woodstock in panel two. And Snoopy continues out to the wild country where man has never trod. Panel three, as they walk past the birch trees beyond civilization. And then in panel four, we see Snoopy crossing paths with an abandoned shopping cart.
Jimmy: I picked this because I want the shopping cart in the, hall of Great 20th century items Schulz drew.
Michael: All right.
Jimmy: Do you guys ever find that-- I'm slightly younger, and I also lived in a weird place, and, that was a far more rural place in a lot of ways. But did you guys ever wander in the woods and find strange things?
Michael: Well, yeah,
Jimmy: in LA.
Michael: Oh, as a kid? No, because there was nothing old, really old, except the LeBrea tar pits. There was, like, mastodons and stuff. I found that.
Jimmy: Well, we were surrounded by mines and strip mines and all this crap.
Jimmy: I remember once walking. I mean, we must have walked up an hour, an hour and a half into the mountains and found at the bottom of, like, a gorge a bike, like one of those big, like, Peewee Herman bikes, the big giant. And I just thought, how did that ever get. Did someone drag it up the mountain just to throw it in this?
Michael: likely went down the mountain
Michael: Yeah. No, we had some property, and we lived in New Hampshire, and there was a couple of tin cans in one part in the woods. There was a little patch of woods, and there were some cans and stuff. I thought, I got to clean this up. I dug for, like, months and eventually found the pieces of, like, a 1920s pickup truck buried under.
Harold: Wow. That's amazing. Yeah. Growing up in a new subdivision in Fairport, New York, we had, behind the subdivision, old, Native American trails. There were loads of Indian, there were loads of arrowheads. And it was an amazing place because kids were really the only ones who would go back there. And it ultimately got developed. But that was a really special place to go to growing up.
Jimmy: That sounds amazing.
Harold: I do want to go back and correct, what we were saying about, Schulz in doing research. They were doing research for Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown. I think that's a feature, right. and I did not know this, but it's on the Schulz timeline. It says that there was a PBS documentary called Charles M. Schulz To Remember, and that trip is in that, so you can actually see him. And I guess Jeannie was in there as well and probably going with Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, too. So that would be fascinating to find, that old documentary.
Jimmy: I would love to find that. One of the things we should do, maybe we could do this for Patreon, or maybe we could do it as a bonus or something. But I'd love to watch a couple Peanuts things like the American Masters documentary, this, which. Who knew? What is it called? A Boy Named Charles Schulz Mendelson documentary. Like, watch all of those and just have a movie night discussion or something.
Harold: Yeah, that'd be great.
Michael: I do want to say I do like the Scout troop stuff.
Harold: you do?
Michael: Yeah, yeah. For some reason--
Jimmy: You never cease to amaze me, by. I can never figure you out.
Michael: Well, these are probably my favorite of the year sequences of the year. I don't like the sports stuff, but I do like this. And I was really surprised that he actually named the birds later in the year, because to me, it was just, there's three Woodstocks, but basically, I don't know if he's trying to actually develop their personalities or their look. it wasn't looking that closely. And you're assuming that's Woodstock behind him, but I sure can't tell.
Jimmy: Oh, I'm just assuming it. Yeah, there's no indicator.
Harold: Yeah, you have to look for that mole on his left wing.
Jimmy: All right, that brings us to
February 7. So the scouting troop is out in the woods, and Snoopy says, “all right, troops, here's where we camp for the night.” Snoopy continues. “Each scout pitches his own tent, and then we all go to sleep right away,” and Snoopy takes off his backpack and says, “just follow my example.” And then in the fourth panel, we see the entire troop asleep. They've all pitched their tents, and then they sleep on top of them, just like Snoopy on his doghouse.
Jimmy: What's wild about this, if you really think about it, is he came up with this absurd thing of the dog sleeping on top of the doghouse, which he now owns. No one can do that, ever. Right, right. So now you have this as a joke where he sleeps on top of the tent. But if you don't already know the first absurdity, this is just an even stranger absurdity. But he is so confident. This is just. Everyone in the world knows that. So it can be a punchline, even though it's not even a punchline.
Michael: Yeah, it's self referential.
Jimmy: Self referential.
Jimmy: That was a much more eloquent way of saying all of that. We could have a podcast if I just shut up occasionally. We're converting this to TikTok. And it's just got to be Michael. February 7. It's self referential. This has been UnpackingPeanuts.
February 15. Woodstock shows up at the old dog house. With a big smile and a huge trophy. Snoopy, ears straight to the heavens and a smile on his face, says, “you won. Congratulations. I can't believe it.” And, Woodstock presents the trophy to Snoopy, who says, “let me see what it says on the trophy.” And then Snoopy reads it with a grin on both of their faces. “How about that. Most improved bird.”
Michael: I have a question.
Michael: Is Snoopy's head getting bigger?
Jimmy: Well, in panel two and one, it really looks like that, huh? Where do we stand with the changing of the panel sizes? Because even looking at the, Sunday strip from a few weeks, a few strips ago, 2/26. Even the way the characters occupy the space feels different than the way they did way back when. it just seems like Lucy rather running and stuff. That just feels like the figure is bigger or something than they used to be. So I wonder what it is, the character designs, there is a slight change. And I wonder if something's adjusting about the art, the original art he's drawing on.
Harold: yeah. And we know that he had gone to the doctor about the wavering hand as well. So I didn't know. It's interesting. If you have a wavering hand, you think you would want to work bigger, so it would show less. But you also may want to work faster or with less trouble, which would mean you'd work smaller. And I think he opted for working smaller. I don't know. And again, maybe somebody eagle eyed or who has access to loads of old strips could tell us when he made the switch to, doing it. The Sunday is a different way that I haven't been able to identify the way I was able to identify what was going on with the dailies. Because the dailies, they actually change on, say, the Fantagraphics books. You can see how they're spaced. There's three on a page. You can see how they're spaced in relationship to each other. So if you're flipping through the book, you can kind of go, oh, okay. That's where the ratio changed harder to do with the Sundays. Because the Sundays, I think, stay with the same ratio. But I do think he has started to work smaller. And he's still using the same tools. And so that will make the lines look thicker and the lettering look probably thicker and larger. And that absolutely is happening in 77 and 78. I don't know when that change happened, though. maybe an eagle eyed listener and viewer could tell us.
Jimmy: Okay, listeners, so you got your orders from Harold. Go find when that happened and let us know. If you want to reach out to us. you can email us through firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Threads. We're at unpack Peanuts and on good old Facebook and Blue Sky, we are unpacking Peanuts, so go follow us on all of those. We'll take a break and we'll be right back.
VO: Hi, everyone. We have a special bonus event coming up exclusively for our generous supporters on Saturday, December 30. We'll be doing a live Q and A with the hosts and give you a behind the scenes look at the podcast. Our plan is to make these sessions a regular feature for Patreon subscribers. All the details are available on our website, unpackingpeanuts.com. We hope you'll join us live on Zoom, Saturday, December 30 at noon Eastern time.
Jimmy: And we're back. Hey, before we hit the strips, do, we got any mail, Liz?
Liz: Yes, we do. We got an email from Stephanie Mack, who writes, thanks so much for making Tuesday my favorite day of the week with each new podcast. You've spoken about Schulz working alone on Peanuts for the entire 50 year run of the strip, but I thought it might be interesting to expand a bit on just how truly unique this arguably was in the history of comic strips and how that may explain, in part, his willingness to break his established Rules, to quote Michael, in order to keep things fresh, I'm a reluctant septigenarian. I read Peanuts faithfully from the 50s through the wasn't really thrown by some of the stranger new stuff that Sparky would introduce into the strip as time went on. It wasn't until the 80s that I thought maybe he'd lost his fastball. Thankfully, he had a kind of Renaissance period in the 90s. Are there any other comic strip cartoonists who did basically everything in the creation of their strips or panels as long as Schulz? I read where Hank Ketchum was quoted as matter of factly saying, it's impossible to keep up the quality of a strip long term without a staff of helpers. Yet Herriman did Krazy Kat largely without help for 30 years, and maintained the greatness of his work. I can't think of anyone else in the history of cartooning who did what Sparky did so incredibly well for as long as he did it. Be of good cheer, and thanks again for your ongoing weekly labor of love.
Jimmy: Thank you.
Michael: That was nice. And she's a scholar, obviously. I could think of comic again, bringing up Jaime Hernandez, who's been going on 40 years with obviously no help because nobody's good enough to help him.
Jimmy: Well, yeah, and that's the thing with Schulz, too. What are you going to do? What are you going to pitch him gags? It would be absurd.
Harold: The person I can think of maybe, and I don't know for sure, because a lot of these people didn't advertise the fact that they had a helper, but there was a guy that did a strip for almost 55 years, who I've mentioned before, Bob Weber, who did, Moose. It was known as Moose Miller. Moose. Moose and Molly in its run from 1965 to 2020. He has a son who went on to become his own cartoonist and, did his own comic, but I'm not aware that Bob ever had a helper. The thing is, if you find that weird mixture of something that was successful enough to run for 55 years, but was not successful enough to afford a helper, there probably are other cartoonists who, by necessity, had to do it all themselves.
Harold: But whether or not somebody was there helping for three years here and there, I don't have any way of knowing. Right.
Jimmy: Well, it's funny. The one thing I thought was interesting, she mentioned, she thought perhaps in the 80s, he lost his fastball. And that just struck me because the podcast, I was just listening, our episode 1977, part one, I say something similar about it, and I was thinking about that fastball analogy. And, yeah, if you're going to be a pitcher, if we're going to carry this metaphor and you're going to be a fastball pitcher, right, you are going to have to overpower people and have unbelievable control, and you're going to have however long a career until your arm gives up, and that'll be it.
You can also be a knuckleball pitcher, and there's always one or two of these guys in major leagues, right, who have figured out a way that, no, I'm going to stay in the game as long as possible. So I'm going to learn this pitch. I mean, essentially, it's almost a novelty pitch, right? But if you can do it, you can pitch into your late forties and it'll be fine. And I think one of the things that we're seeing with Schulz, as he changes, he goes from the sharp single day gags to longer story, I think he's finding a knuckleball. He's finding a way to do this thing over a much longer period of time than he probably ever thought he was like that anybody would. No one sits down and thinks, well, maybe Dave Sim did, but I'm going to be 28 years later doing this exact same thing.
Harold: Yeah, but what's so interesting, when Schulz did say in the 25th anniversary on that book that we, were talking about, that he said, I hope I get to do it for another 25 years. And that's exactly what he did, which is wild. I think it's that Satchel Paige. I mean, he was in leagues for, like, 39 years or 40 seasons. That's insane.
Jimmy: Yeah. And you don't do that just by killing your body until you do that, by being smart about it. And I think he really found a way to ride this thing that other people didn't. I do feel that there was more of a, sense of people having to get the thing done on a day, and there would be so many strips that were just almost nothing. But Peanuts was never almost nothing, even on the days I didn't care for it. But that fastball analogy really did strike me. And I thought, yeah, he's not pitching a fastball anymore because, that's a pitch for guys in their 20s maybe, that are doing these comics.
Harold: Yeah. It is fascinating how a strip will change as you change as a person. I really do find that fascinating. something that was your obsession at the age of 28, you can hardly remember when you're 48. It's just a memory. You can go back and read the strips, but it's not like I can recreate this now. I can get back to that place where I was before. You can't.
Michael: Well, but there's rare cartoonists who will leave the game and go-- Bill Watterson, he's at the peak of his form and doesn't want to see. Doesn't want to have to.
Harold: Yeah. Gary Larson, Far Side.
Michael: Yeah, that's pretty rare, though, because he's got to make a living. But Schulz didn't have to make a living for.
Jimmy: You know, the other thing about it is especially, I think, with Watterson and Larson, is that they also had to simplify, not because they're trying to maintain a decades long career, but because the newspapers were getting, to be a more and more inhospitable host to the work. I think if, Bill Watterson had been doing the comics in the 50s I don't think he would have been so quick to shut it down. But after a while, it's like diminishing returns. I would think, I don't need to put up with this.
Harold: Yeah. And that's the sad thing. When you see the comic strip page today, you know, these guys are fighting against something that is really, through no fault of their own, being taken away from them. And it's not as crazy as, say, when we went from silent films to sound and all of a sudden every organist in the country is out of work. It's a very gradual thing, and it takes a person with a tremendous amount of personal drive to not get caught up in the sadness of seeing something dying away, getting smaller and smaller physically as well as in terms of the impact that you're having. Because the number of people who will read a newspaper and see your work, it's a tough business to be in and to keep up on your game and keep up the standard.
Michael: It's not-- change is not gradual anymore. I mean, there'll be chat GPT comics, comic strips next year, I bet next year--
Jimmy: They're already, first complete. Well, actually, the guys that publish Strange Death of Alex Raymond, which, is the Dave Sim book, also published the first completely AI illustrated comic. But the text is actually a critique of AI, and it's meant to question it, but at the same time really jump on the fact that, hey, we're putting the first one out.
Michael: Okay, but it's not written.
Jimmy: Oh, no, it's not written.
Michael: Yeah, that's what I'm saying is, probably in the next year or so, we'll see one totally created, written, drawn, lettered by.
Harold: Wouldn't that be weird if they plugged the entire Dick Tracy run into the system? And then they just said, all right, what do you got? Some legacy piece where the original creator is no longer with us.
Jimmy: What happens when the AI starts learning from AI Art? Do you know what I mean? Like, what's it going to be?
Michael: Well, a dystopian world, a hell planet.
Harold: I'm messing with AI with this picture book. I'm doing, Night Before Christmas thing because I wanted to see what does it do? What can it do? And I'm taking the art from a 1941 beautiful art by Ethel Hayes, who was an amazing cartoonist and children's book illustrator. And she had done a bunch of drawings, but then my story version is a parody of it, so I had to add a few things myself. And I was like, okay, well, let's see what AI will do. And so I was like, what does a stocking look like in gouache? And can I match her style through descriptions and AI, it was a really fascinating exercise since I'm already using someone else's work. It was interesting to mess around with it and then to see the same things that other people have said that are really creepy that come out.
Jimmy: No, give me an example.
Harold: Well, the six fingers, at first it's like, oh, this looks cool. And then the more you look at it, it's know. Yeah, these little details in there are really, it always, it's like those.
Jimmy: Haunted or those horror movies where, oh, this is just my normal Aunt Susan or whatever. But then you look close and she has cat eyes.
Harold: There's a weirdness to it that is, know if you're relying on it, especially if you're relying on it sequentially. If you just want a single image and you don't know what the heck you're going to get, I can see why somebody who's a novelist and wants to have a romance novel, which is already a formulaic thing, the cover has got Fabio on the front or whatever, AI can do that. But when you're doing something sequentially and you have to keep a character intact or whatever, that becomes much harder for AI to figure out because however it uses the algorithms, what you're describing, it must be really hard to keep consistency when you're dealing with something like, well.
Jimmy: You know, Michael, I think you're right, though. I do think, mean, obviously we know it's going to get better and better exponentially. I think it's exciting and interesting. I think the Writers Guild was pretty smart about getting on this stuff. I think the Actors Guild and --spoiler alert, the cartoonists will do nothing and, we'll be raked over the coals and, thrown to the side eventually, like we always are. And if I post it on Twitter or anything about it, they'll say, well, you can't do anything about it. It's like herding cats. So I don't, post.
Michael: Yeah, well, I'm going to plug another podcast, except I can't remember what it was. A great podcast a couple of weeks ago about who the Luddites actually were. They were heroes. They have statues of these people. They were great. So if anyone accuses you of being a Luddite, thank them.
Jimmy: That's amazing. Well, give us an example. Just a top two.
Michael: Well, this is the early 18 hundreds. This is not a Luddite podcast, I understand, but basically women everywhere in the Western world were weavers. They worked at home, they went to the shops and bought the raw materials. They went home with the family together, the children weaving. Then they'd go to market, sell their goods. This was in England. This is how women made money. Then someone invented, steam powered loom automation, and within a few years, they were building factories. The women could not sell their work anymore. They went to work in the factories and got paid nothing and worked like twelve hour shifts, and kids were working in them. The Luddites started blowing up the factories.
Jimmy: Oh, really?
Liz: 99% Invisible, Blood in the Machine.
Michael: 99% Invisible, Blood in the Machine. That's the podcast. This is great. I'm cheering for these guys.
February 18. Sally is practicing her penmanship skills, and she has drawn what looks like a little snowflake, above her head. Charlie Brown is watching. Sally explains, “this is a fleuron. You thought it was an asterisk, didn't you?” Sally continues, a fleuron does not appreciate being taken for an asterisk.” Charlie Brown says, “probably something that goes way back and both sides of the family have forgotten.” Sally says, “what did you say?” Charlie Brown says, “nothing.”
Jimmy: This makes me think. Harold, you were saying that you read somewhere you saw-- He would say something, But he would do it in a way that he couldn't tell if he was joking or not.
Harold: Right? You can tell. Yeah, this totally makes me think of that. I was thinking exactly the same thing, that there was something about Schulz that he enjoyed going right on the line of saying something so deadpan that the people around may or may not get it. And he's enough of an introvert that it's okay if they didn't. And this strip definitely suggests that this is, a look into that world of Schulz where hE'll just say something and you don't really get what's going on and all Sally's going, what did you say?
Jimmy: Well, yes, I agree with all of that. And, that is exactly what I thought when I read that one.
Michael: Yeah, this is an obscurity for me. I never heard of fleurons.
Jimmy: Never heard of a fleuron?
VO: Why don't you Google it, you blockhead?
Jimmy: Oh, it's a woman's bag,
Harold: a printer's flower. So it's a typographic element? Oh, yeah, there's an ornament, especially.
Jimmy: When terminating an object or forming one of a series. A flower shaped ornament. Interesting.
Michael: Hence Flora.
Jimmy: All right, so now you guys know what a fleuron is. Amazing.
Harold: You guys are smarter than us. You probably already knew that.
Jimmy: You're like, guys yeah, probably.
Harold: Come on.
Jimmy: The podcast where three morons tell you things you already know.
February 27. Peppermint Patty is asleep at her desk. Then in panel two, she wakes up and says, “I'm awake, ma'am, but I can't raise my head. Maybe you could do me a favor, ma'am.” And she concludes in the final panel. “Maybe you could send out for a new neck.”
Jimmy: This is something I would never want to challenge myself to draw because, you know what I mean? It is the same thing, four panels in a row. It's so liney. Like, just the striped shirt alone would give me some sort of sense of claustrophobia, having to draw it. And I feel, and I might be projecting. I feel like I see a little of the struggle to draw. Like, for instance, she loses a finger in the last two panels.
Harold: She's curved one in.
Jimmy: Yeah, it's fine, but maybe, you know what I mean? I feel a little bit like that. By panel four, he's like, oh, gosh, all right, I want this--
Harold: he's got the Mickey Mouse fingers going there. Yeah, he was a stickler for the five fingered hand in cartooning. Did not support the four fingered hand.
Michael: I am disturbed that she's resting on her nose rather than her forehead.
Jimmy: That would really not be comfortable.
Harold: I remember in 7th grade, I woke up one morning with the worst neck. It was just so sore. And I was turned to one side when I woke up. And I remember going the entire day through school with my head turned to one side. It was so weird.
Jimmy: That's awesome.
Harold: I could not undo it. So I relate to Peppermint Patty here.
Jimmy: I ended up in physical therapy with my neck just from cartooning too much. It was humiliating. There was a woman there. She was in her seventiess. I was in my late thirties. And I'm like, what are you here for? She's like, oh, I was hit by a car. I went 50ft flying. It shattered my pelvis. I'm learning to walk again, but I'm getting there. What are you here for? Cartooning too much.
Harold: There's no such thing.
Jimmy: It’s a hard life lady, you don't understand.
March 13. Peppermint Patty is asleep again in school, but this time her head's kicked all the way back and she's talking in her sleep. She snores and then says, “Chuck, where are you, Chuck?” And then another snore. Marcie, “wake up. Sir.” Peppermint Patty does wake up. She's disheveled and. “what?” Marcie, very happy, by the way, points out, “That's it, isn't it? That's why you fall asleep in class, isn't it? That's what the doctor told you, isn't it? Unrequited love.” Peppermint Patty shouts to the heavens “AUGH.”
Harold: That is one perceptive doctor. The reason you're sleeping in class is because of unrequited love.
Jimmy: Possibly, like, the worst doctor ever. Who knows?
Harold: yeah, well, apparently he hit the nail on the head here, based on Peppermint Patty's response, but, yeah, I couldn't let this strip go by without mentioning it in our run through of 1978. So the ambiguity that we started with, with Peppermint Patty has kind of gone away when it comes to Charlie Brown in some regard. Tthere's actually something going on here.
Jimmy: Well, yeah, one way. That's what I think is fun and funny about it, this relationship. It's like Charlie Brown actually has two girls who like him very much, and he still can't make it work. It's still not going to ever be anything good for him. It's amazing.
Harold: Yeah. He's always focused on the little red haired girl, right?
Jimmy: Yes. What do you think, Peppermint Patty likes about Charlie Brown, though? that's the question, yeah.
Harold: What is it about Charlie Brown? It seems like the things that you would think she likes when they're sitting on either side of the tree and philosophizing are the things that turns her off. That's the Schulz world, right? You've got Lucy liking Schroeder not for his brilliance at the piano or his love of Beethoven. I guess Sally might be the closest to actually appreciating aspects of Linus that he actually uniquely had.
Jimmy: Well, Sally is a very perceptive character.
Harold: She is. Yeah. She's got some street smarts on it.
Jimmy: Well, the other thing I find interesting about this is that we later find out that, or maybe we already have. Who knows? Time means nothing anymore, but that Marcie has a crush on Charlie Brown, too.
Harold: I think that gets revealed in some way this year. Right. That's the first time we really get that feel. She says some nice things about. Yeah. and that is a really interesting dynamic to throw into the strip, especially.
Jimmy: Because she's still happy that she's recognizing that Peppermint Patty also has those feelings.
Harold: Yeah. It's like she's not alone.
Jimmy: Right. Which is a really. It's such a strange reaction, but it's such a Marcie reaction.
Harold: Yeah. I don't think we've been introduced to the fact that Marcie likes Charlie Brown in that way, yet in the strip, but it's not very far from here when we do. So whether Schulz had been thinking of that for Marcie when this strip happened, I don't know, but it does feel like Marcie regardless.
Jimmy: I feel like Schulz always knew that Marcie liked Charlie Brown, even if it's a retcon. Because the way it's revealed when Marcie says it to Peppermint Patty when they're waiting outside Charlie Brown's hospital window, she's, oh, I do like I'd even marry him someday. It doesn't feel like it's a new thing. It feels like she is just saying something. Matter of fact, that's been the case for a long time. So that's the way I felt like.
Michael: If I may interject.
Michael: I am extremely uncomfortable discussing the secret passions of seven year olds.
Harold: And why is that?
Jimmy: Well, how about the secret passions of ink on paper?
Michael: That's different.
Jimmy: All right.
Michael: Word balloons, right?
Harold: I think there is a Marcie strip this year that is not the one you're referring to. That is that really seminal strip where she said she would marry Charlie Brown. I guess not this year, right? that's a later year when that happens.
Harold: There's one in this year where she does say something that makes you genuinely think she likes him on that level here. So you're right. It's baked into Marcie. And she often doesn't reveal it, but when she does, it goes kind of deep.
Jimmy: Well, the other thing about Marcie that I love is her, you know, she will say things bluntly. She is also at peace with her own emotions, even when they're out of control. Like, she doesn't hand wring as much as the others.
Harold: That's true. Yeah. She's a really interesting character and has a lot of aspects to her often that are in conflict, similar to Linus, I think. And, that makes her very interesting. And yet she's a little more, you know, you don't get to see the eyeballs know, she's kind of behind this wall. And every once in a while, when something gets on the other side of the wall, I really appreciate it. There's something about Marcie that you have to lean in a little bit to get Marcie. And I like that.
Jimmy: Yeah, absolutely.
March 27, the good old Scout troop is out for a hike again. Snoopy is calling roll. He says, all right, before we go on our hike, I'm going to call the roll. “Woodstock.” A chirp. “Conrad.” A chirp. “Olivier.” Another chirp, “Bill.” Final chirp. Then in panel three, a slightly annoyed Snoopy says, “a little reminder, when I call the roll, the correct answer is here. It is not yo.”
Michael: So now we know how to say yo in bird talk.
Jimmy: That's right. Can we decode all of this based on that?
Michael: Well, one of them is saying, that's four little scratches.
Harold: He put a little English on it. I think that might be the one saying here.
Michael: Besides, say, Olivier. It's not Oliver, is it?
Jimmy: It's not Oliver. Yeah. I never noticed that. There's an. I have called Olivier Oliver for 40 years.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah. I never once noticed that it was.
Harold: That is the whole reason for this podcast.
Michael: I have a question here. I'm seeing shout outs.
Michael: Conrad political cartoonist. Bill, Bill Mauldin
Jimmy: or Bill Melendez.
Michael: So who's Olivier?
Jimmy: Sir Lawrence.
Michael: Yeah, but how's that relate to cartooning? Or. I mean, he came up with three names here. Did he put any thought into it or just pulled names out of?
Jimmy: I think he probably put thought into it. Yeah, I do. But I could not possibly tell you why.
April 5, Charlie Brown's atop the mound, and Lucy, sidles up behind him, and Charlie Brown, a frown on his face, says, “well, we lost again.” Lucy says, “we won a moral victory, though, didn't we?” Charlie Brown looks at her and says, “no, we didn't even win a moral victory.” Lucy says, “we didn't?” and then walks away saying, “I hate it when we don't even win a moral victory.”
Michael: This is a good.
Jimmy: The we won a moral victory, didn't we? Is one of the Peanuts lines that has crossed into my everyday speech. We won a moral victory. Didn't we? No.
But you know what? I think this entire podcast has been a moral victory. If you people knew the technical challenges we went through trying to record this today, you would agree.
Liz: Oh, I think they know.
Jimmy: But, guys, we do it.
Harold: Yeah. my microphone may be a little wonky, and that's not due to our amazing editor. It has to do with my lousy equipment.
Jimmy: Yeah, my equipment has been off, too today, as has been my network, and I'm not wearing headphones. Our apologies. But you know what? We're all not here just because of the stellar audio content. We're here because we love Peanuts and we love talking to each other. And, I would love to keep that conversation going so you can find us in all those great places. Instagram, Twitter Threads, at unpackpeanuts, Blue Sky and Facebook. We are unpackingpeanuts. Shoot us an email, though, just at the old website. We would love to hear from you. Tell us what you think about these crazy 70s or about Marcie's crush on Charlie Brown or anything else that you have on your mind. We would absolutely love to hear from you. So we will be back next week when we finish up 1978. But until then, with thanks to Liz for managing to salvage this. I'm Jimmy for Michael and Harold. Be of good cheer.
Michael and Harold: Yes, Be of good cheer.
Liz: Unpacking Peanuts is copyright Jimmy Gownley, Michael Cohen and Harold Buchholz. Produced and edited by Liz Sumner. Music by Michael Cohen. Additional voiceover by Aziza Shukralla Clark. For more from the show, follow unpackpeanuts on Instagram and Twitter. Unpacking Peanuts on Facebook and YouTube. For more about Jimmy, Michael, and Harold, visit unpackingpeanuts.com. Have a wonderful day, and thanks for listening.
Jimmy: let me try any of those words again and see if I could put them in a correct order.