Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. We made it. We are at the end of the 1950s and the end of our second season. I am so excited to be here today talking Peanuts with you, where we're going to wrap up the first rock and roll decade and maybe talk a little bit about where Mr. Schulz is going to take us from here.
How are you? You doing good. I'm your host. I'm Jimmy Gownley. You might know me from my comic book/graphic novel series Amelia Rules. Or my other graphic novels. The Dumbest Idea Ever and Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up.
Joining me, as always, are my pals and co hosts. He's a playwright, he's a composer, both for the band Complicated People, as well as for this very podcast. He's the original Amelia Rules editor, the co-creator of the first comic book Price Guide, and the creator of such amazing comics as Strange Attractors, A Gathering of Spells, and Tangled River. Michael Cohen.
Michael: Hey there.
Jimmy: And he's the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, as well as the former vice president of Archie Comics and the current creator of the Instagram strip Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: Guys. We made it. Did you ever think we'd get this far, that we'd get all the way to 1959?
Jimmy: Wow. You're a hopeful person. That's good.
Michael: And we're done. That's the last Peanuts.
Jimmy: That's it. He retired as champion. If he was any other cartoonist apparently he would have, but he was just getting started.
Michael. All right, give me your overall impressions. Having now freshly read the first decade of Peanuts, why don't you just sum it up for us here? No pressure.
Michael: I would say, the stuff we covered in Season Two is one of mankind's greatest achievements.
Jimmy: It is.
Michael: So it's up there with the pyramids. In terms of pop culture, the only analogy I can think I don't know if it's an analogy, but the only comparison I can make is the Beatles. At least in my lifetime, no one has consistently done such a huge outpouring of, amazing, innovative material just far above everybody else. It's almost unquestionably the best in its field.
Jimmy: Yeah. I mean, it's funny
Michael: And fast! Schulz was doing it every day. The Beatles were doing three albums a year when they started recording.
Jimmy: Right. I think that's part of the key to it is that you have to be fast. You have to constantly be putting out there.
Michael: constantly improving. So that's not hyperbole.
Jimmy: No, I agree. So, Harold, how about you? What's your take on the 50s?
Harold: Well, it's a much different strip than it was when it started. I would guess more so than any other decade of Peanuts. Everything is in full swing here, and it's just a wonderful strip. This is the strip that I remember as a child growing up, it's moved into that. It took a number of years to get fully to the feel of what I'm used to, but it was an amazing journey all the way through just to see him continue to find his way. I think it's just, amazing how far he's come and what he's innovating and how he's just kind of gone to a place no one else has gone before.
Jimmy: Absolutely. I agree with both of your statements there. I think this is one of the high achievements of art in mankind's history as well. I love it.
So, Michael, let me ask you this. On this particular reread, is there anything what was the thing that maybe jumped out at you the most? Maybe something that you didn't realize or that you had forgotten? What was the thing that struck you the strangest or the freshest? This time?
Michael: I had no idea the letter W, the shape of the letter W was so important.
Jimmy: My God, if you don't talk about that for at least 45 minutes a week...
Michael: On this reading and it's probably been 15-20 years since I last read all those books, it was just that it developed so much faster. We've talked about this before. It was awkward for a year or two, and then it just seemed to become more and more familiar quickly. If I was recommending to someone, where do I start with Peanuts? Someone who'd never read it, last year, I would have said, well, maybe 1957. But now I'd say, well, start at 1954.
Jimmy: Yes. Harold, how about you?
Harold: Yes. It's not a reread for me, I guess, because so much of this I've never seen before. I knew how it began, and I knew kind of where it ended just by seeing really early strips in historical books about Peanuts. But I don't know. I guess I can't be surprised or there's nothing particularly that strikes me that I can speak of. It was a great read, fun all the way through, and it was fascinating to see it change over time.
Jimmy: Well, the thing that are there are a couple of things that surprised me, considering this, is some of these strips I've read a billion times, and some of them I've read twice now because a lot of them none of us have read because they were never reprinted. But the thing that struck me is how fast the Sundays got good and how good they were, how much better they were, rather even than the dailies almost as soon as they started out. I think within two months of the Sundays starting, everyone was just beautiful and classic. And I think when I saw them previous to this, they were printed out of order and little different collections here and there. I never really got the sense of them as a body of work onto themselves. That was the first thing that really surprised me.
And the other thing that surprised me is that-- we talk about how quick it developed, which is true, but we are at 1959, which is a decade, basically, into the run of the strip. And we still have we've just seen the first psychiatry booth. Snoopy's just gotten on top of the doghouse. We saw the first Great Pumpkin strip last year, the first Sally last year. But we still have so much of the Flying Ace, the famous writer, the French Foreign Legion strips, Peppermint Patty and Franklin and Marcie and all that stuff. Woodstock is still years away.
So I'm shocked that you don't have eight years to develop a pop culture or property these days. Is there any version of this that you can think of that someone would be able to achieve a similar thing in terms of scale and just the ability to slow growth? Harold?
Harold: In today's climate, well, the one place I can see it is that dedicated person who would do it themselves. They go online, they create a strip, they keep at it, and they may or may not build an audience, but that's the place to do it now, because there is a place to have a potential audience, at least right online. And, that didn't really exist in Schulz’s day. That's what we have now. And so I've seen a lot of artists, dedicated artists, who they've gone through a decade of building up a strip. They just did it on their own terms. And that's remarkably what Schulz seemed to do, even though he was working within a big corporate structure.
Jimmy: Right. Yeah. It's amazing that he was able to do that, because, like you say, now it's on the fringes because everything is kind of on the fringes. Everything is a smaller piece of the pie. But, he was right absolutely at the heart of pop culture. Like Michael was saying earlier, it does beg comparison to, like, these rock groups that just dominated culture. It's hard to imagine a comic strip, well, a comic of any kind really dominating the culture. It's going to just get bigger, as we see in the 60s. There's a night coming up where he has the number one show on television, the number one comic strip in the world, and Radio City Music Hall is sold out playing a movie, a Charlie Brown movie. It's an insane amount of success he's about to have.
Harold: Yes. And like 1959 we didn't mention something in 1959 was this was the first time they were animated because they were in ads for the Ford Motor Company, for the Ford Falcon. So Peanuts, if you didn't know Peanuts reading the newspaper, this was the first time people would be aware of Peanuts for other reasons, I think.
Jimmy: Right. And then, Michael, do you remember seeing any of those commercials as a kid featuring the Peanuts characters animated?
Michael: I'm sure I did. I don't remember the car commercials. It was at the insurance. Is it MetLife?
Jimmy: Oh yeah. MetLife was for like 35 years. That recently just ended actually, I think.
Michael: Really? Yeah. That was my first exposure to the animation and I didn't like it. It bothered me.
Jimmy: It's interesting because obviously that'll be something that comes up more and more as the years go on. Because I'm sure I saw the animation first. So my brain wasn't even allowed to make a decision of oh, is this a good adaptation or not? It was just Peanuts. It is what it was. But obviously affects your enjoyment of the strip. The way you relate to the strip when you came to it, just what era when you were born, all those sorts of things.
And even if the strips, a lot of these strips that I love so much are from the mid to late fifties, even though I was eating them in the right. And that's another thing that is a little different in that there's kind of a continuity in just culture and what a childhood would be from 1950 basically to 1990-- beyond even, right? Where it's basically the same things you're playing outside, you're going to school. Culture changes so much faster these days, wouldn't you say? Do you think it would be possible to maintain that level of Zeitgeist in a continuing story these days? Just with culture changing so much faster?
Michael: Well I'm not up on Doonesbury since the 80s. Might have been the last time I saw that. I'm guessing if it's still going, it's keeping up with the Zeitgeist. Because that's the whole thing. It was very current.
Jimmy: Yeah. I think Doonesbury does come out as a Sunday strip now. It's really weird to see it because it has digital lettering and digital inking and it's like this very slick-- it's about as far removed from those early dinners as you can imagine. But it's still around. It keeps current of course, but it's not central to the culture. I mean Peanuts was huge and a huge pop culture phenomenon for much longer than most things are.
Michael: Yeah true. If Schulz was going to keep up with the Zeitgeist, he would have had to introduce computers and iPhones at some point.
Jimmy: Yeah, it changes everything.
Michael: Yeah. And fortunately he didn't have to deal with that.
Jimmy: Yeah. So we're a decade in. He's just getting started though. We have four more decades to go and a lot of people will say that the 60s are the absolute peak. And it's certainly probably the peak of its commercial and cultural relevance. And it is an era where things just go from greatness to greatness. It's really fun.
Harold, what are you looking forward to as we dive into 1960?
Harold: Well again, my childhood was reading mostly these 1960s Peanuts. I was born in 1966 and I remember I think we got our first Peanuts collection maybe 71, 72. And those little Fawcett Crest mass market books were a regular part of my life all through the 70s. But I was usually about a decade back, not always, in reading the scripts. And I remember as a kid, being the kind of kid I was, I would look in the copyright page because I found that that was where they showed what years were being printed. And I could tell that these were different over time. Just like we saw this huge shift over the 50s, the nature of the strip did change over this period of time. And so I started to learn, okay, I'm liking strips from these years a little bit more than strips from other years. And so I would just make a habit of going back and looking at the years that they were from and that kind of placed the strips in my mind. And the years I remember I absolutely loved the most were 1964 and 1965.
So that's right in the middle of the 60s. Everything around it is great, too. So, I'm just excited to go all the way through in order. I've never done that before. And, experience him getting to that sweet spot that I remember for me.
Jimmy: Michael, how about you?
Michael: I had the whole collection. I always thought the best ones were the early sixties ones, sort of roughly what Harold was talking about. I kind of distinguished them from by color, and the titles were always really stupid. There's one called As You Like It, Charlie, and I think that was my favorite. I think it was an orange cover. So I'm looking forward to seeing if those actually are the best because it seems pretty hard to top what we've just done.
Jimmy: Well, I'll have to report on what color the cover is because Michael gave me his collection of Peanuts books. So I have them on my shelf now, I'm very proud to say.
Yeah, I love the 60s stuff, too. I think I like the 60s and the 70s probably the best, but I read ahead into 1960 and 1961, and I was shocked. There was at least one thing that if you-- and like I said, I've read it through entirely once. If you ask me when did this certain thing happen, I would have said the early 70s. And it happens in the first few months of 1960. I was absolutely shocked by that.
So I'm curious to see if some of the things that I remember being more prominent later, if there's more of them that are sort of peppered throughout the early 60s.
But regardless, we have, coming up, we have the development of the psychiatry booth with which we've seen for one strip, the development of Great Pumpkin, which we've seen for one strip. The World War I Flying Ace Peppermint Patty will be introduced. Woodstock will be introduced, franklin Marcie. It's an incredible decade of comics and I just can't wait to get to it.
And I'd just like to also say I'm so thankful for all you listeners who are listening every week because we have listeners from all over the world, which is amazing. And I know it's not because of us, I know it's because of Mr. Schulz, but, I'm very grateful that you want to listen to us talk about his fantastic work.
So, guys, how about we take a moment and we answer some questions from the Internet?
Michael: Sounds good.
Jimmy: All right, let's get to it. Okay, here we go. Here's question one. Any insights into the song that has the lyrics, Charlie Brown, he's a Clown? It never made sense to me until you were going over these early fifties comics. Was that song inspired by Charlie Brown's more mischievous, wiseacre nature displayed at this time? The answer, according to the songwriters, who are Leiber and Stoller, is no, that they just wanted a hit for the Coasters and they had Yackety Yak and were stuck and couldn't come up with anything else. And he just thought of the name Charlie Brown and he's a clown.
What's weird about it, though, is he claims he had no idea who Charlie Brown was in 1959, which is when the song came out, which is suspect to begin with. But then what's weirder is in the American Masters documentary about Charles Schulz, they use it as like a running motif for the soundtrack, which is bizarre to me, the lyrically and officially, it has nothing to do with Peanuts, though, but it is included in that documentary. You guys have any opinions on the Charlie Brown song? Anyone like that one? Is that a bop, as the kids say?
Michael: At the time, I assumed that it was definitely a Peanuts reference, but I wasn't really listening to the lyrics. But I am the authority on this because one of those songwriters went to my high school.
Jimmy: Which one?
Michael: Well, Leiber or Stoller. I can't remember. But anyway, yes, if you listen to it now, it's clearly not the Charlie Brown we know, except maybe, like, why is everybody always picking on me? I mean, he's kind of a beatnik character, like, calls the teacher daddyo. So I think it was just a coincidence, right? Unlike Hang On, Sloopy, which I was also convinced was Snoopy for years, and he was hanging onto the wings of his triplane.
So, anyway, you shouldn't ask me about this because obviously I have no idea what I'm talking about.
Jimmy: Well, look, there is clearly an industry of unofficial Peanuts-related pop songs, right? If you go to Charlie Brown song. If we posit that Hang On Sloopy i's clearly meant to be Hang On, Snoopy, because what is Sloopy is not a name. And then you have, of course, Snoopy versus the Red Baron, which was just I mean, they just used the motifs and characters from the strip and just forgot to pay at first.
Harold: That had nothing to do with this strip.
Jimmy: Completely unrelated.
Harold: Well, if I were writing a song, I would be very reticent to say that something super popular, that, had super powerful lawyers was based on something just, because someone could give you some trouble. So which high school did you go to, Michael?
Harold: That's Leiber’s
Michael: Okay, then it's Leiber, because I know that he also worked in the local record store on Fairfax Avenue in LA. But that was before my time.
Harold: Wow, that's really cool, because so Leiber was a senior in 1950, they say. And so here's my little trivia on this song. The one thing that made the Charlie Brown, he's a clown was actually not based on Peanuts, was do you know who did, their first hit song?
Jimmy: Who did Leiber and Stoller’s? No.
Michael: Big Mama Thornton -- it was Hound Dog
Harold: No, at least in R&B it was Charles Brown. Charles Brown had the hit Hard Times when they were 19 years old. They wrote it together. So it could be they were thinking of that Charlie Brown. If I had to guess, I would say they knew Charles Brown. They'd had a hit with Charles Brown not too much earlier before that. Maybe it was like, I don't know, six years prior, and then they heard of Charlie Brown. Who knows whether they were watching a Ford Falcon commercial and the name hit them and they were like, hey, that sounds fun, because they like to do, like they also did songs like Yackety Yak and Hound Dog, On Broadway, Stand By Me, Jailhouse Rock, Love Potion Number Nine. Amazing number of songs, but with a lot of really clever, playful lyrics, that were often a little out of the ordinary. It makes me think of, like, remember when Moon River came out in, Breakfast and Tiffany's 1961, and they have that line, my Huckleberry friend. I bet you anything Henry Mancini didn't know anything about Huckleberry Hound, but it was in the Zeitgeist. The show was on the background or whatever, and so Huckleberry was in his head, maybe. I mean, it could be Huckleberry Finn, but I just think that was the time of Huckleberry Hound. I don't think that's a coincidence, but it was just floating in the air. and he probably plucked it out.
Michael: I doubt if Mancini wrote the lyrics. Or did he?
Harold: That's a good question. I don't know. Or whoever wrote it I’m guessing...
Jimmy: That was Michael Skype's favorite song growing up because he thought it was about Huckleberry Hound. I'm sure every kid did.
Harold: Well, sure, yeah.
But that question was from David Shair, who is a, friend of mine, and he's a storyboard artist and writer on the new Looney Tunes. It's on HBO Max, and he's currently working at Nickelodeon Animation. Really talented guy. So thank you for that question, David. Appreciate it.
Jimmy: This is from Shaylee Robson, who writes, “Hello, gentlemen. I love the podcast so far, and I'm curious, of all the characters in Peanuts, who is your favorite and why?” Well, how about this should be a decade by decade question. We should answer this for Shaylee every two seasons, I think. So let's say right now, just, going from 1950 to 1959, who is your favorite Peanuts character, Michael?
Michael: Well, he's not the funniest, and he's not the most obnoxious. It's got to be Linus. I mean, Snoopy would be the runner up just because Snoopy is always hilarious. Linus is just a very deep character, and, he works both as a foil and also as kind of a philosopher. I can't think of another character in comics or even in literature, certainly not a kid character, who… he has contradictory elements in him, but it seems to fit. He's like a genius who's totally insecure and afraid of the world. It seems like he can do anything, yet he can't function without the blanket. So I've always liked Linus, and probably throughout the rest of the run, he'll be my favorite character.
Jimmy: Harold, how about you? I think I know the answer, but go for it.
Harold: Yeah. My answer is Linus as well. We are seeing him become the Linus that I really knew when I was growing up. I've said it before, Shaylee. I really loved this, character growing up. I identified with him. He was more real to me than my next door neighbors, can't explain why.
I was having this conversation with Charles Schulz that I wasn't having with anybody else, even around me, through his amazing storytelling and sharing these inner thoughts of these little pen and ink characters. And by the end of the 50s, that line of character, I just see myself in so many of these strips, and I was able to laugh at myself through someone else's eyes because I think of the one where Linus doesn't want to go trick or treating, and, I can't remember exactly what terminology was. Like, is this legal? I can go up to a door and knock and ask for candy. Are they going to shiv me?
Jimmy: What if someone knifes me?
Harold: No one's going to knife you. But that kind of stuff I absolutely related to, as a character, and I was like, wow. it just felt like somebody saw inside of me and was putting it on a strip. And I was learning about myself through his insights of how the other characters interacted with Linus, which is pretty complex. So I'm super grateful to Schulz for creating Linus. So Shaylee, that is my answer for the 1950s is Linus.
Jimmy: Nice. Mine is Albert Payson Terhune.
Harold: Oh, yes.
Jimmy: I'm going to go with a left field choice. I think it's Lucy. Lucy is my favorite character of these particular years. She won't be my favorite character overall, but I think once she gets going, it makes all the pieces work. She has the meanness of Patty and Violet, but it's not rooted in just meanness. She has the crazy conspiracy theory mind. She also just seems like a genuinely fun, kind of cool kid in a way, even though she's always, humiliating and torturing poor Charlie Brown, but I think if you take any of the characters out, you might be able to make Peanuts hobble along. But I think if you take Lucy out, it's going to hobble slightly worse.
Harold: That's a really interesting insight. Yeah. Because she's got this connection to Schroeder. She certainly has a relationship with Linus that’s very powerful. Charlie Brown, she is the one that brings out his personality as we know it. I think Snoopy she's definitely starting to have her own issues with Snoopy that are unique. I think that's a really fascinating insight. I think she is the glue, and she seems to kind of amp everything up. Everything gets magnified when you're around Lucy, and everybody's personality traits seem to pop out.
Jimmy: Yeah. famously when Reggie Jackson got sent to the Yankee, traded to the Yankees, and they were talking about the line up or whatever, and he said, hey, I'm the straw that stirs the drink. And I think Charlie Brown is supposed to be the straw that stirs the drink. But Charlie Brown doesn't stir anything. He's inert.
So everybody's there kind of because of Charlie Brown. But the only one that gets things going is Lucy. I think she's a great engine for the comedy. I think she's a great engine for the philosophy. And, yeah, she makes everything shine just a little bit more thanks,
Harold: Thank you Lucy
Jimmy: While being really mean. Yeah.
All right. Okay. so this is from Katie in Lancaster, PA. She, asks “Jimmy, can you talk a little bit about what it's like to be an artist in residence at the Charles Schulz Museum?” Yes, I can. And she's actually an art student, at my old, alma mater of Millersville University.
So, yeah, it's amazing for stuff. You go and you spend a week there, I think, or at least I was there for a week. And the artist in residence part is like, they have a desk set up for you, and you just sit up there at this desk, and you can draw. And people are going through the museum, and they could come up and watch you draw, and they could ask you questions, and you're not there-- You're there for a couple of hours or whatever.
And then, I think they might arrange some school visits, or at the very least, I did some school visits while I was out there. And then the museum is a beautiful facility, and they have a big theater there where they show movies, obviously, but they also can have small live performances. So I went and I did presentations there a couple of times. They closed the school for home school day one day, and they just brought in all these home schooled kids, and they got to explore the museum. And then it ended. They came and they did, like, an hour with me in the theater.
And it was just so fun because you could see his studio, and you could see the museum, and then you could see the roller skating yeah, the ice skating rink that he built at the Warm Puppy cafe, and see the little table he sat at every day and had his English muffin. It was a magical experience.
This is my story. I'll tell about it. My whole family was invited, which is great. We flew in, landed in San Francisco, and got a car, and we're driving from San Francisco to Santa Rosa, and the GPS is on, and it's saying, make a left, make a right, make a left. And I'm just getting more excited by the second that I'm going to get to do this. And Mrs. Schulz is going to actually meet me at the museum, where she's kind enough to let me stay at her house. They had a guest house at the time. so I'm getting more excited. And then GPS is saying, go north, go whatever. And then as we pull into the parking lot at the Charles Schulz museum, where I am Artists In Residence, the GPS says, “congratulations, you have arrived at your destination.” And I thought, how wise is my GPS! I have arrived.
And I met Mrs. Schulz. She was so nice, and she said, hey, follow me up to the house, but just in case you get lost, here's the address. I'm like, no problem. I got a very wise GPS. So I get back in the car, I plug her private address into the GPS, and the GPS says, I'm sorry, your destination is unreachable. And I thought, how wise is my GPS?
Thanks, Katie. That is what it's like to be, an artist in residence.
So, hey, that's the questions we got. If you guys out there have any other questions or comments or just want to get in touch with us, you could do that through social media we’re unpackpeanuts at both instagram and Twitter. And you could also email us through our website, unpackingpenuts.com. and that's where you can sign up for the Great Peanuts Re-read, and you could vote for your favorite strips of the year. Have you guys been keeping your eye on who's winning strips of the year?
Harold: Yeah, I'm bombing out.
Jimmy: Are you? Who's in the lead?
Harold: I think Jimmy and Michael, you are doing really well. You both get a lot of response.
Jimmy: Well, that's because I go on every night and I vote three times for myself before I go to sleep. So if you want to stop my voting shenanigans, get on there, people, and give, Harold a boost with some votes.
All right, how about we take a break here, and then we have a little surprise for our listeners. When we come back, we're going to talk about one of the great influences on Charles Schulz and Peanuts. Stick around, and we'll be right back.
And we're back. Did you miss us? So listen, I have a little surprise for you listeners out there. I thought we would take a few moments to look at one of the great influences on Mr. Charles Schulz and his comic strip Peanuts. A strip which has been lost for most of comics history, but has been in print now for the last decade or so put out by IDW. And if you want to follow along with these, they're also on Gocomics. And the comic strip is Skippy by Percy Crosby. And it was a very popular strip. It is a kids strip. It has a little bit of intellectual heft. And for more context, I turn you over to my pal Harold.
Harold: Well, thanks, Jimmy. So, Skippy, it's hard to imagine, you know, there are certain things that for whatever reason, culturally or historically, something is just huge in its time. And then it disappears in memory and we don't realize how influential or how big a part of the culture it was in its time.
Skippy is an example of that. Charles Schulz would mention this every so often. He would say, you have to check out Skippy. Skippy's forgotten. Skippy should not be forgotten. He was such a cheerleader for this strip and it meant a lot to him. And he wasn't the only one.
This strip was around, for quite a while. Started in 1923, actually. Not as a comic strip, but at least not a syndicated comic strip. It was in a weekly magazine called Life. Not that Life again, this is another thing that's lost to history. I guess you could call it. It was a pre new Yorker New Yorker magazine. It was a little bit lighter. They defined themselves as trying to capture casual cheerfulness. So it's a New York based magazine and it was smart and it was funny. And for years it was just a very successful magazine. In fact, it lasted over 50 years. But it's almost forgotten now because in 1936, as it was waning, they sold Life to guess what? Time magazine. Henry Luce at Time magazine, because he wanted the name. So within a month of the last issue of the original Life, which was, I guess you could say, a light New Yorker kind of magazine, all of a sudden it became this hugely popular picture magazine.
And it's so funny that it didn't miss a beat and that Henry Luce so loved that title. He wasn't worried about confusion or anything. He's like, no, that's the title. I'm buying your magazine so that I can use your title. Very strange.
But Skippy appears in 1923 in Life and it's instantly popular. And two years later it becomes syndicated and goes on for a 20-year run. And Jerry Robinson called Percy Crosby the cartoonist. Cartoonist? And he described Skippy as fantasy with a realistic base. Which, you know, when you think of Peanuts and you think of the world of Snoopy and all of that, and the kite eating tree. There's definitely that influence in Charles Schulz's work.
And to give you an idea of how popular Skippy was in its day, in 1931, there was a movie made of Skippy. So basically a kid movie, right? Jackie Cooper played Skippy. Some of you may be familiar with that name. Jackie Cooper was in the Our Gang shorts.
Jimmy: Got it.
Harold: And was very popular for the Our Gang shorts. Yeah, he had a good long career himself. He was still in television. He was a guest in Hawaii. 50 and Colombo. And the Rockford files. He was definitely a star for years and years and years. Last movie was 1987. He, was Perry White in Superman four the Quest for Peace. Wow.
Anyway, he was nominated for an Academy Award at age of nine for this movie. So obviously this film had a big impact. It was, also nominated for best picture and won for best director. The youngest director to win, Norman Tourag when he was 32 years old. Apparently that didn't get beaten. That record didn't get beaten ‘til LaLa Land won.
So it's a long run for basically some young people with young ideas taking the world by storm 1931. 1932 to 1935 there's a radio show that apparently made Wheaties very popular for its sponsor. And, he put out a novel.
And Percy Crosby was just a fascinating guy. He was an inventor. He certainly was a writer. He was a philosopher. He got a lot into political philosophy and wrote a number of books. But, yeah, there's a sad story to him. Should we get to that now?
Jimmy: Yeah, you might as well. No use sugar coating it.
Harold: All right, well, these are some of the reasons why we don't know about Skippy anymore.
So he's making, in today's dollars, about two and a half million dollars a year at the peak of this, probably in the 30s. That's pretty impressive for the 1930s, for an artist to be making that kind of money. I am adjusting it upward for what today's dollars would be, but it gives you a sense of how popular he was.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1891. He dies in 1964. But he was committed to an insane asylum Bellevue, the famous Bellevue, after attempting suicide in 1948. The strip ended in 1945. So he had a very quick downward spiral. I think in the 40s. think it was issues with alcoholism problems, family problems. His own daughters didn't even know he was in an insane asylum. They hadn't seen him for years. So it's just a really, really sad story of somebody who was in his time, was brilliant, and was taking comic strips to where they hadn't been before. But then a series of just bad things, bad timing, he kind of fell out of favor and lost everything. And it's just a very tragic story.
Jimmy: Yeah, it is. And it's sad because there's a lot of tragic cartoonist stories.
Harold: Yeah, that's true.
Michael: Let me tell you. Let me tell you about mine.
Jimmy: Cue the violins
Jimmy: Okay, so we read a bunch of them. I went through and I picked out some, that I thought were interesting, some, that were different, some that were relevant, and I sent them to the guys. So let me just get what's your unvarnished first opinion? Michael, what do you think of Skippy?
Michael: Boy, I really think you had to be growing up roughly in that period, the Depression era. I mean, these characters are kind of the classic street kids, kind of badly educated, using kind of a weird street slang.
The art I found really difficult to read. He's got this gestural style, which I know a lot of people like. It's just very loose and scratchy. The facial expressions seem almost lost in, like, this maze of lines sometimes. Whereas Schulz, it's crystal clear what the characters are thinking. And looking at Skippy, it's sort of like it seems like his mouth would disappear. It looks like sometimes he has three eyes. There are these facial lines that don't seem to add anything.
Jimmy: It looks almost, to me, like, under drawing, like, construction lines for the head that aren't erased or something.
Michael: Yeah. And that's a big thing to a lot of people. I know. There's the Japanese art, where you're basically supposed to just put your pen down on paper and just draw it all without any corrections or even thinking too much.
I was really confused on who the characters are and finally realized Skippy is only distinguished by this insane hat he wears. And if it wasn't for the hat, I have no idea which one was Skippy.
Jimmy: Yeah, there's the one strip I'm looking at right now where the one kid is fishing, and Skippy comes up to him. Like, if you re-lettered it, it could be somewhat like a Devil and angel character, where it's like two sides of the same person. There's very little to differentiate the two.
Michael: Yeah. The influence on Schulz, because people talk about it, Schulz talks about it. There's a lot of strips where it's two kids just sitting on the sidewalk or on a bridge and talking, with a punchline in the last panel. But I'm not quite getting these punch lines. To me, they're not funny. They're just odd. so it's all very odd. but I do see that Schulz, if this was really the first strip to do this, with the these kids sitting around philosophically talking about life, like, yeah, Schulz saw this in the 30s when he was growing up, he might have said, that's what I want to do. Something like that.
Jimmy: Yeah. Harold, what about you?
Harold: Well, one thing interesting to me about Schulz is that he suggested that Peanuts was a strip that was sophisticated, and then he mixed that with this term innocence. So it's kind of that wisdom and innocence thing that Schulz was really into to capture somehow that I think he could say, the precursor to that. And there was no other like it was Skippy. So, in that regard, I really do think that Skippy was a genuine inspiration to him of what was possible.
And I go through these strips, I was struck by the breadth of what they're covering and how he treats these characters. He's got them doing the Calvin and Hobbes go-kart down the hill thing. He's got Skippy kneeling, at the side of his bed, praying, which is weird because it's got that patchwork quilt cover. I just did a strip for Sweetest Beasts, and for some reason I used the patchwork cover. I don't know why that is, or who started doing that, but, certainly he was an early guy. He's doing visual gags that have no words. He has other strips that probably have 100 words or more in them. Incredibly talky and playful with words, with loads of literary references. The guy’s super well read.
And then there's some of their just visually stunning. There was one, Jimmy picked out a number for us to kind of look at together. And there's one from December 12, 1925, that shows this beautiful sketchy grandfather clock. And then you see Skippy and his bed looking out at us with those Little Orphan Annie kind of circle eyes that don't have pupils in them. And then the last panel is a shot outside of his house at night, looking over the town. And it's pretty stunning. It's very sketchy.
Makes me think of like, the Charles Dana Gibson kind of school of 1920s art, where they were loosening up the style to kind of betray the fact that this was pen and ink. And he's definitely doing that with his artwork. And, so I can see why other cartoonists would have looked at this and said, he's breaking some new ground, or he's going places I wouldn't dare go with my art. I have to tighten my art up. I have to make it clean and read.
One of the odd things about Skippy is that even if he's drawing a background, sometimes the background won't go to the edge of the page or the edge of the edge of the panel. And so you have these white spaces around the characters that almost look like he drew something and he pasted it into a panel and it's not filling the space, or he might fill the space with just a swirly line. He's definitely doing a lot of things that show tremendous confidence as an artist. But I agree with Michael that I could see this would be off putting, which makes it even more fascinating to me how popular it actually was that people went with him to a place that I think they might have rejected with a lesser artist.
Jimmy: Yeah, I think the thing Schulz got visually from it is that it is inked quickly. I don't know. I'm sure someone actually knows what he inked with. But you know what my guess is-- that it's a fountain pen, because there's a little bit of a variation in line, but there's not a lot of variation in line. And this thing is being drawn at light speed, especially some of those marks in the background where it's just scribbles, indicating nothing really just scribbles in the background. I mean, they were slashed out.
And then, I think some things, like, maybe, the landscape you were talking about. Or there's another one for the December 23, 1925 strip where that's definitely done with some sort of Charles Dana Gibson pen nib.
Michael, if you were to name a cartoonist that this most reminds you of visually, do you have anybody off the top of your head? I have a weird pick. I don't see what you think.
Michael: No. But cartoons or newspapers, trips from this era, I find very difficult to read. And there's a little bit of Little Nemo. But Little Nemo is so tight with all the backgrounds.
Harold: but the lettering is rough.
Jimmy: Yeah. No, this is better lettering than Little Nemo. How he could invent animation, be the greatest draftsman in history and not figure out that you put the words in before you write. It amazing.
Jimmy: No, you know who reminds me of? Eddie Campbell.
Michael: Oh, yeah.
Jimmy: You know, that total scratchy like, impressionistic, expressionistic, whatever you want to call it. Yeah. for me, I'm not going to laugh out loud at it, but boy, I was shocked at seeing the go cart go down the hill, because I assumed I ripped that off from Bill Waterson Calvin on the sled. But then I think, well, he must have ripped off from here. But actually, I doubt he's ever even I'm sure he's seen him now, but I think when he was up and coming, they would have been impossible to come by.
Michael: It must be in the Smithsonian book, which everyone had.
Jimmy: I had that, but I don't remember seeing much Skippy being in it.
Harold: I don't remember it.
Jimmy: No. If anything, it would only I don't think it's in there at all. Which is crazy, right? If it was that popular.
Harold: The only reason I knew anything about Skippy was Charles Schulz. Whenever he'd bring it up in a book that I'd read, and you think about it, it's like this huge thing that somehow you've never come across, and it just never showed up. And then in time, you start to wonder, well, why didn't it show up? And then you get to hear the weird story.
But going to your artwork, there's a fascinating strip in the selections that you picked, Jimmy, that is Skippy at a museum.
Jimmy: oh, yes.
Harold: And you're going left to right across the wall of the museum. And the artwork, of six or eight of these very impressionistic, curvy, Mondrian kind of looking paintings then lead to the far right corner, where we see something, that says Rembrandt on the frame. And it looks like there's a lot more detail in the strip. And Skippy is saying, hmm a new school, which I thought was pretty funny. And then the thing that really strikes me, looking at it, though, is he's doing his sketchy style version of a Rembrandt. He's not trying to recreate the Rembrandt. So, in its own weird way, it's super impressionistic. Like the things on the left, except they're less geometric.
Harold: Which is just absolutely I get the sense that when I read these things, I get the sense that this is being written and drawn by somebody a lot smarter than me. I mean, like IQ off the charts smarter than me. And he's trying to find his way back to speak to the plebeians like me. That's the feeling I get when I read these scripts. and then knowing his history, he, just seemed to have a mind that did not stop. And ultimately, that was his downfall. That's kind of a tragic side of somebody who was really smart, just not able to get back into the world with everybody else. That's kind of the feeling I get.
Jimmy: Very, sad. But yeah, that's exactly everything I wanted to say about that strip. Because for him to depict what is meant in the world to be a gorgeous, fully rendered oil painting figural with actual subjects versus abstract art but they're both abstract art in the strip, but it still works to convey the reality of the Rembrandt painting. It's bizarre that it works, and I'm not even sure how.
Harold: I don't either. And for those of you playing along at home, if you want to find this, go to GoComics.com. and in their calendar, you can click on the date, and you can pull up whatever year you want. Look for July 27, 2017. There's just a lot to parse out in this strip.
One other thing I will point out, Jimmy, every time I look at this, I'm seeing something new, and I'm like, this is crazy. Insane. How did he just know to do this? He has this weird series, of horizontal lines that are very close to each other that flow from the upper left hand corner of the strip down through kind of the eyeline of these multiple paintings that are abstract. And then it kind of curves its way down to below where Skippy is standing, and then it starts up again at the base of his body, and then leads you up to the Rembrandt.
It's totally unashamedly, guiding your eye through this strip. He wants you to see you have to see these strips on the left first, which you might skip over. And he knows that. And you get this as the last thing he probably put into the strip, right where those lines I've got to guide the eye. And he does it in this blatant way, which in its own way, is super artistic and kind of abstract.
Jimmy: Yeah. And that just kind of is there. I, didn't even think about that until you mentioned it now, but it's 100% true.
Well, okay. So here's my question to you guys. I don't know if you can call it up right now, but you, might remember I sent the August 22, 2014 strip, which is a, bunch of horses running around the racetrack with, how long do you think it took him to draw this?
Michael: As much time as it took for those horses to run.
Jimmy: About a minute and a half.
Jimmy: What do you think?
Michael: Yeah, it's kind of an assignment they’d give you an art school.
Jimmy: How do you think you think it'd be short like that as well? I mean, I don't have any insight. I'm not going to be able to pull out and go, no, it took him--
Harold: It looks like a quick sketch that you would make to capture something that's happening while he's at the race track. You get that feeling like he's right there watching it happen. He's got to capture it in sketch form as he's doing it. And that's remarkable.
And again, going to Michael's point, I just want to say I agree that the looseness of the art style fights my eye. I really have to commit to read what's here because it's rough. And, you have to put the pieces together.
And I historically have not been good-- artists who were absolutely loved and admired. I think of some of Joe Kubert's work of the character was it Tor, like the Tarzan type of character. He had a famous logo for his Joe Kubert School of Tour that is done with these really quick blotchy art styles. And often he'll be up against, like, trees that are basically blotches of ink. And I'm looking at a Rorschach thing when I see that. I have to fight to make sense of it. And other people, I think, maybe can put that together faster than my mind can.
So I have resistance when I read the strip. But, at the same time, I mean, the guy knew what he was doing, and he was absolutely intentional. And so, yeah, it looks incredibly fast, almost and too fast for my brain to be able to process some of the drawing.
Jimmy: The reason I was sort of asking the only thing I knew about him before recently was from the little Schulz would say. And I remember it might be in the Gary Groth interview in Comic Journal where he says something like. He talks about how rough and how fast the strips were and then sold so bleakly references alcoholism. But I don't know anything about his alcoholism or anything like that. So in my mind, I was like, oh, this is what he is. It's some guy who is trying to put the minimum amount of time into drawing something, right? All his time is in his head. Clearly, he's thinking all of this through, but he's drawing it very quickly.
But then I thought, okay, so if you were going to task yourself with drawing something super fast, would you choose drawing seven horses going around a racetrack with people in the stands? Drawing a horse is famously the hardest thing in the world. These are just scribbles. But I can tell that there's seven race horses racing around a track.
Harold: And you can tell that there's anatomy in there. And you can tell this is not.
Jimmy: What stage of gallop they're in. You can see the background, the stands in the background almost it's almost like a manga blur effect. So it's odd. I could definitely see whipping out some of the other ones, the no background strips quickly, but the fastest looking one still seemed like the hardest to draw.
Harold: The thing that really sticks out to me in this strip, and again, if you go back and look at something a second time with these Skippy strips there always seems to be something that my jaw kind of drops. The whole gag on this strip-- it's a single panel daily strip. So, again, if you're playing at home, take a look at this strip. The left hand side shows Skippy and who knows who in an extremely rough drawing, much rougher than the horses is Skippy. You can just tell this barely a fence on the home stretch, on the curve of the stretch of this race track. And the joke is that he helped give him a hand, as they're going around the bend. One of his proudest moments in his life. But the drawing of Skippy and his friend is the most abstract, blobby thing you have ever seen. You just barely get the meaning of it. You have to fight to see it.
Jimmy: And yet I can tell that Skippy is waving his hat. And I kind of think that the other kid has the track newspaper rolled up in his hand.
Jimmy: Am I imagining that?
Harold: ____ No
Jimmy: I’m not imagining the hat.
Harold: But imagine this was printed in a newspaper on newsprint with bad places. what on earth did it look like to people who were reading it?
Harold: I don't know. It's crazy, but it is true. He did have trouble with alcohol, but this would have been maybe starting in the, mid to late twenties. And then he gets off of alcohol for a number of years, from the 20s into the 30’s and then I think he kind of falls back in around 1939 or something. So there's a period where he's not drinking, where it falls with these strips, I don't exactly know. But it would be a fascinating to go back and look and see how the art changes, if at all, during these rough patches in his life.
Because the thing is that by 1945, the fact that he was making two and a half million dollars in the by 1945, his syndicate won't renew his contract. And you know how hard, it is to kill a strip in a newspaper. I mean, that thing will sit there forever. The things that have been around for 75 years that are on the fourth artist, they don't even know what they're doing. They don't care. They're just doing it for a paycheck. There's no reason for that strip to be there, except that there's a sentimental attachment to what people remember the strip to be. And yet Percy Crosby was done by 1945.
Now, I don't know if they were just noticing something erratic in them, and this is the other piece I want to mention. It's going to, I think, lead into ultimately what you talk about, Jimmy, regarding this lawsuit that's famous in the annals of litigation in the United States, is that he owned the copyright because he created the strip in Life. And then he went to a really small syndicate, picked it up, then it hopped to another syndicate, then wound up at King Features. By the time he got to King Features, he had established that he owned the copyright to this strip, which is not a thing that just shows the power he had and how big this thing was that by the time it got to King Features, who would dictate the rules, we own the copyright, we own the characters. He didn't do that. And in that regard, I think that also is the reason why Skippy is not remembered today is because there was no gigantic company to push it on and have it remembered and survived. So in 1945, they're like, well, we don't own this thing. We don't want to deal with you anymore.
You know, there would have been a Skippy from 1945 to 1983 if King Features had owned the character. But that didn't happen here. It was kept in his family and his estate. And because of the sad story of how everything kind of went into decline and was estranged from family members, that I think that would explain. And when a family owns something, we were talking about how well Schulz's family has done with keeping the integrity of Peanuts. It usually doesn't go that way. It's very hard. I worked for Archie and we were on to the third generation when I was at Archie and they were owning it and protecting it. But Archie is not owned by Time Warner or owned by Disney or some other gigantic conglomerate. It's owned by the family. And in a way, you can keep the integrity of something, but you can also make it almost impossible because how many families know how to do business deals, and deal with lawyers. And, you know, stuff often gets gummed up. Like Walt Kelly's family owned a lot of the Poco stuff. And I think one of the reasons Poco is not as well remembered today is because the family who are stewarding it are doing their best, but they're not a giant corporation. They just don't know how to manage something as complex as a multimedia property. It's not easy. And Skippy, I think, is definitely the victim of all of these conflagration of bad things. So we don't know the strip today.
Jimmy: It's a really depressing story, actually. And what's depressing about it, from a cartoonist’s point of view is it's like, well, you have two choices. You can keep the rights to your thing, but, you'll probably die broke, alone in an asylum somewhere. Or you could sell the rights to your thing, like Superman, and become a multi billion dollar brand world over, and you can die alone penniless, and in asylum somewhere.
Harold: Those are our choices.
Jimmy: Those are the choices.
Harold: I love being a cartoonist.
Jimmy: Yeah. It's the best. I do love being cartoonist. I have to remind myself several times a week.
Harold: I used to paste over my drawing board when I was working on projects, and it said, I love to do this. I looked up every once in awhile, oh, that's right. I love to do this.
Jimmy: That's right. I wanted to do this.
Just to bring it back to Schulz, Around 1932, this food company out of California starts putting out peanut butter, and they call it Skippy. And you have to look at the original jars of Skippy. But if you look at the original jars of Skippy, it was like, brush lettering on a fence, on a picket fence of uneven size. And Crosby owned the trademark for Skippy and actually was able to shut this down and tell the peanut butter people that they couldn't do it. But then he went into an institution, and the company persisted. And eventually they just had enough money and enough lawyers to basically bully their way through the legal system and say, we want to continue doing this.
Harold: Even when there were judgments against them, right? Basically, this is illegal to stop it. And they didn't stop it, couldn't get it to be enforced. It's so bizarre.
Jimmy: right, an unenforceable thing. And Schulz got brought into this as an expert witness for the trial. And he writes about it in his book. You Don't Look 35, Charlie Brown. And he writes about it with a little sense I wouldn't say bitterness, but a little sense of disillusionment or whatever, because I guess he took it very seriously. He went and he was put on the stand, and he testified that if he were to take something from Skippy, and have it just be an icon that would represent the strip, it would either be, he said, Skippy's Go-kart or the fence that they have on and Skippy's lettering. And that's basically what it is.
And when we go through the strip, we will see Skippy, and his pals hanging out at the fence that looks very similar to the one on the Skippy peanut butter. So, Schulz testifies. And then this is how he ends the story. And this is what I just think is pretty funny about it. One of the family members, one of the estate, says, we'd really like to thank, you so much for doing this, and Schulz goes, “well, if you'd really like to thank me, I wouldn't mind having a Sunday page,” which he never got. And he's a little irritated by it at the end. But I'm pretty sure you can't do that. Right?
I don't think you could get someone to be, your witness, in a trial and then give them compensation for it.
Harold: Actually, I think you can. Are there people who make a living being a star expert witness?
Jimmy: Oh, if you're a professional.
Harold: I don't know if they paid him anything. He probably just did it because he wanted to help the family out. But, you can be paid.
Jimmy: He definitely did not get paid.
Harold: Yes. Like, if you were witnessing the crime, I think that might be an issue.
Jimmy: I guess that's true. That is the difference. Well, I was going to be outraged.
Harold: But my understanding is the family to this day, they filed a motion as of 2020. I mean, we're talking 87 years this has gone on, and they have not dropped this. I don't know of any lawsuits that have gone longer. But maybe there is something.
Jimmy: Why wouldn't at this point, why wouldn't the peanut butter people just go, here's some money, please? Like, at this point, I guess because they don't need to.
Harold: Yeah. If they had more publicity, I guess at some point the word would get out and maybe they would try to resolve it. But what a mess. I know. It was like Superman. And like, you're talking about Superman and Captain Marvel when, Fawcett was doing its version of a superhero and became more popular than Superman and DC sues them. They've, been around for a few years before they do it, but it becomes super popular. That went over on for like, was it like twelve years or something before it finally got settled? Or ten years. It's crazy.
Jimmy: Well, and then Captain Marvel in Britain was turned into a ripoff called Marvel Man. And then that ended up in a lawsuit that lasted a decade.
Harold: Yeah. That's the other joy of comics, right? Just get your popcorn out and it's going to be a long ride.
Jimmy: Look, for you listeners out there. If I could just convey two things through this podcast. It's one, read Peanuts, it's a great comic strip. And two, buy Jif.
Okay, so how about we read to wrap up, we'll read three Skippy strips and, see what we think. Sound good?
July 17, 1931. Skippy and Skippy's friend, let's call him Pete, are hanging out very similar to the way Charlie Brown and Linus will hang out on the stone wall. But they are hanging out over the future Skippy peanut butter logo. And Skippy says to his friend, what are you going to get for Christmas? And the friend says, I don't know. We never get nothing. Me mother gets all the presents. And the last panel, he continues, saying, three years running. Now we got twins.
By the way, I have spent the last 30 years trying to not have the faux Irish brogue that comes from living in the coal region. And I resent having to read these strips.
So what do you think, guys? We can see something similar to Peanuts here for sure, right?
Michael: The set up, yes So what do you get for Christmas? I'd expect a bigger, joke. At least one I can understand hanging.
Jimmy: Out at the wall. That's the thing that struck me.
Michael: Yeah, I don't get the twins thing. What are the odds?
Harold: I mean, isn't the joke that, the only person getting presents for Christmas is mom, and she's gotten twins three years running, that she had twins and those were the Christmas presents as told to the kids.
Jimmy: It's not going to be a knee slapper no matter how you look at it.
Harold: For those of you who again are willing to go to Gocomics.com and take a look at this artwork, you'll have to find it not under the date Jimmy gave, but actually November 22, 2018. They, sometimes date them the day they came out originally. Sometimes they've got it on a schedule to come out the day they actually uploaded to Gocomics.com. So this is an oddity where yeah, go to November 22, 2018. You can check out Skippy.
Jimmy: Alright, here's another one. I think this one's pretty funny, but maybe we can edit it.
May 7, 1930. Some kid is talking to Skippy. The kid says, My Uncle Louis says the radio racket ought to be looked into by the government. Skippy says, what's he got against the radio? The other kid says it started on account of a sermon he heard last Sunday. The kid continues, he said he never heard such an elegant sermon before in all his life. And he made up his mind to become a better man. Skippy says, yeah, but that's no reason to get sore. And the other kid says, I know, but he was listening to it for over an hour before he found that it was coming from a different church than his’n.
Okay, but like, you could edit this with modern language and it's relevant and it's funny, right? So is it just the odd, just the remove of time that keeps us from appreciating it?
Harold: I'd like to read more of these strips altogether and just see if I get into it's groove? Again, like read all of what happened in 1927 or 1936 because I'm feeling well. I keep bringing up little or if nanny, but Little Orphan Annie has got some kind of rough off putting our people some people can't stand those and both strips have it here these eyes that are essentially circles, with white in the middle. There's no pupil in the characters eyes. And that bugs some people to no end. And they cannot look at these strips just because of that. But once I got into reading the strips and got familiar with the art and the characters, then I was just pulled into the storyline, and I'm thinking, maybe the same thing happens here.
Michael: But there is no storyline.
Harold: Okay. But in terms of it being a barrier, the art is not a barrier after time, because you get to understand the cues, if that's what this is, instead of noticing a squiggly line next to the character, you're just taking it in. You understand the rules of the artwork after awhile.
Michael: Well, once you understand that they're all identified by what their ridiculous hats they wear.
Harold: Are saying is this is a mass market art form. Right? I mean, we talk about how Krazy Kat survived because William Randolph Hearst loved it and a lot of intellectuals loved it, and some editors loved it. And the general public couldn't stand Krazy Kat. Why is this in my newspaper?
But Skippy was a genuine success. That seems like all around it's like people liked Skippy. I'm trying to look at it through that lens, Michael. Why did this work? And why do people accept it and take it for what it was in that era?
He's much more in the zeitgeist of artists at the time. He mentions like, Fontaine Fox and Toonerville Trolley. One of the strips Jimmy picked out. And I think of that art style, and I agree, Michael, that stuff is off putting to my eye. I have to get past the art to appreciate what the artist is doing, because the style, it's so much of its time. And H.T. Webster, I don't know if you guys are familiar with him. He created the professor. Mr. Milquetoast. The whole term milquetoast, being a mild character, he put that into the public consciousness, and he was super popular. He would often do these single panel comics. And I think of that art style, it's sketchy, the line art is kind of draws attention to itself, but maybe not so much when everyone's doing it. I don't know.
Michael: I just think people were different in them days.
Jimmy: It is very much like a broadcast from just a totally different culture, in a way that Peanuts isn't.
Harold: The clothing, like you said, the clothing with a gigantic tie, and he's wearing a suit coat, essentially, with short pants. It's like you have to process every piece of this in order for it to come together in your mind.
Jimmy: Yeah, you know what? That's interesting, because a lot of times when you have to spend a lot of time sort of decoding the art, it's because the art is so ornate, it's like, Hal Foster or whatever, and you're just, like, marveling over the little details and stuff. But in this, you're trying to figure out kind of what's happening, but at the same time, where he's sitting there on the curb and he's leaning his forearm on his one knee and his other arms on his hip. I mean, it's really the guy could really draw.
Harold: And it’s weird, of the strips you picked, the ones that really stand out to me, are when he has a lot of black ink on the page, he's walking past a fruit stand and oh, my gosh, it's gorgeous.
Jimmy: Fruit stand reminded me of stuff that you would see in Schulz, like the five and dime, or, the model train tracks he does and stuff like that, where it's just all that I really like.
Harold: He does one in silhouette, where we're looking like, we add, I guess, a setting sun or a rising sun. And we're looking at the back.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah, that's another one.
Harold: It's gorgeous. And that one reads for me because I can figure out what's happening quickly because he's taking most of the detail away, and you're just seeing silhouette. And all of a sudden, I can get to the joke, and I can get to the feel of it much better than these strips, where it's mainly just line art. There's no shading or not major shading. It's weird.
Jimmy: I think that was my favorite visual strip. And we're talking about on Gocomics. It's August 5, 2017, but it was actually published on June 7, 1930.
And again, no photoshop or anything like this. He had to draw the two characters in silhouette in the tree in that really gestural style, but three times. But they look beautiful.
Harold: Yeah. And I'll throw out one more that may or may not be on your list of wants to talk about, but it's December, 23rd, 1925. And what is he using? Is Zipatone existing in 1925, but he's getting this gray shading all through the strip.
Jimmy: That's what I wanted to ask. And that does not look like Zipatone to no, it looks like it was a wash.
Harold: Very well could be. He may have had to do some extra things. And given he was an inventor kind of scientific mind, he probably found a way to make this work for the newspapers that maybe other people didn't really have access to as an artist without some additional effort, because he worked for magazines. And this is more like a magazine thing that they think they probably could have done.
But it's December 23, 1925. Again, it's in silhouette, and it's just gorgeous. these houses that are kind of hacked out with his pen and his brush line. And he's walking over this ground that, again, is just made up of these lines, but it's very dark. But there's gray in the background for the night sky. And then he's got a white moon behind it. Beautiful tree
Jimmy: with no holding line around.
Harold: The yeah, beautiful tree beneath the moon. And then there's a church with the lights on. It's just gorgeous. I love that. If I saw that in the newspaper against all the other strips from 1925, I think that must have just knocked people out.
Jimmy: You know? Who else? this makes me think of-- Patrick McDonald.
Jimmy: And maybe that's why I'm thinking of the because he inks with the fountain pen as well.
Harold: Yes, very much Patrick McDonald vibe to this. And Patrick McDonald's. Huge Krazy Kat fan. Again, it's all in that kind of same school, but yeah, totally, totally. He's kind of the guy who's kept that feel going. And even he, I think, has probably had to struggle with how abstract can I get with my characters and my lettering even. He used to have, looser lettering. And then I don't know if he got pressured to clean it up. I don't know if it's been a font now. It's so much cleaner than it was in the earlier days. It's like people were saying, I can't read your strip because the hand lettering is taking me away from the strip. I love the early stuff he did.
Jimmy: It's like a knife in my heart to hear.
Harold: I know. Yeah. And generally, again with Michael, I agree. If I look at Mid 1920s newspaper page of daily, strips, loads of them have really rough lettering still. And then there were some that were getting into learning how to do it. They took the correspondence school kind of thing and they found the optimal way to do letters. And that didn't exist for years. And so everyone just did their thing. But after a while, there were a few artists that really tried to make the lettering pop, and all of a sudden, they really stand out on the page in the strips. And I don't think that's quite happening around 1925. I'm trying to think of a strip that had really crisp lettering at this point. I mean, I think of the early Popeye thimble theater stuff. I can't think of a strip that had a really clean lettering until you get to like the later twenties, and think of like, Moon Mullins and I don't know what else. all of a sudden there's this gorgeous, gorgeous lettering that someone maybe they're hiring somebody who like, took the correspondence school. And that's the one thing they do is they letter. And it's just crisp and clean is what you would expect. Most of the run of comic books like that happened from the 40s through to today. Really? You have to have clean lettering. And that didn't exist back then.
Jimmy: No. Well, okay, how about we read one last one and then we wrap it up?
November 23, 1927. Skippy comes upon a crying child and he asks the kid, what are you crying for? The kid asks. I'm worried. Skippy asks, what are you worried about? The kid says, I forget.
Jimmy: I think that's funny. And I think I could see that in Peanuts.
Michael: Yes. Absolutely
Jimmy: doesn't have the-- how would Schulz do this? You could see him-- It would be like Sally or one of the baby characters as the little kid. And he'd need to add that fourth panel somewhere.
Harold: Was there a strip like this that we read in the 50s? Was there one that kind of had this gag?
Jimmy: There's one with Charlie Brown crying because we comment on the fact that he was too old to cry. It might be very similar.
Michael: Except those are characters who have personalities.
Jimmy: Right. Yeah, this is definitely-- we are reading them out of order and stuff. But yeah, that is the joke.
This was Unpacking Peanuts 1950s. I'm so happy to be here. Before we leave, I just have one spontaneous question to ask you guys. You only have one year you can pick, and that's the only Peanuts you can read from the 1950s.
Michael, what one year from the fifties would you take to your desert island to read?
Jimmy: I'm going to go with 1955, just to be different.
Hey, listen, so if you guys want to be different, you can follow us on the Instagram and the Twitter we’re unpackpeanuts, and you could go to our website unpackingpeanuts.com and you could buy a book from us, which would be great because we're all cartoonists ourselves, and that would help us out a lot. You could rate and review us wherever you get your podcastsfrom because you know what? We're getting tons and tons of downloads. I'm really excited about that. But to be, honest, we're lagging behind on the ratings and reviews. So if you could do that, that would be fantastic. I'd really appreciate it.
This brings to an end our second season. We are going to be back in two weeks where we start the swingin’ 60s could not be more excited. This is my favorite day of the week, but it's the day we get to record and the day you get to listen. And it makes me so happy to be sharing that Tuesday with you guys.
And I also just briefly like to thank Liz for all her hard work, as always, producing this podcast. We would not be here without her. And other than that, for Michael and Harold, I'm Jimmy. Be of good cheer.
Harold and Michael: Yes, be of good cheer.
Liz: Yes be of good cheer
VO: Unpacking Peanuts is copyright jimmy Gownley, Michael Cohen and Harold Buchholz; produced and edited by Liz Sumner. Music by Michael Cohen. Additional Voiceover by Aziza Shukralla Clark. For more from the show, follow unpackpeanuts on Instagram and Twitter. For more about Jimmy, Michael and Harold visit unpackingpeanutscom. Have a wonderful day and thanks for listening. You blockhead.