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Happy Valentine's Day, You Blockhead

Jimmy: Hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. This is Unpacking Peanuts, and we are in the grips of another holiday which is run by a big Eastern syndicate. It is Valentine's Day, and today we're going to be looking at, some classic Valentine's or Valentine's adjacent strips from the first to 15 years of Peanuts.

I hope you're doing well. I hope you're getting to spend Valentine's Day with your sweet baboo. I'm Jimmy Gownley. I'm, in addition to being one of the hosts for this show, I'm I'm a cartoonist. I'm a cartoonist behind Amelia Rules. The Dumbest Idea Ever. And Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up. And joining me, as always, on this day of love, 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 co creator of the original comic book Price Guide. He's the original editor for Amelia Rules and the cartoonist behind such great strips as Strange Attractors, A Gathering of Spells, and Tangled River. It's Michael Cohen.

Michael: Hey, there.

Jimmy: And he's the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a former vice president of Archie Comics, and the current creator of instagram strip's Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.

Harold: Hello

Jimmy: guys. I assume neither of you are gigantic Valentine's Day fans. I don't think you're the kind of guys who have fantastic memories of childhood Valentine's Day parties in classrooms. Am I wrong?

Michael: You're right. No, I definitely am in the Charlie Brown category here.

Jimmy: Now, let me ask you this, Michael. What's more traumatic for you, Valentine's Day as a child or Halloween as a child?

Michael: Oh, my God. Two of the worst days of the year. I don't have any specific Valentine's Day traumas. It was just generally I'd get two and everyone else would have 50.

Jimmy: Well,

Liz: Who were the two from?

Michael: That is my male friends, probably.

Jimmy: How about you, Harold?

Harold: Well, I have to say, I'm a sucker for the old school art that used to be in those things. But I remember getting the whole box full of them from the drugstore, and it's hard to remember. I can't even remember if we were allowed to selectively give them. I believe everybody gave one to everyone else when I was growing up in New York, in Rochester, New York area. So it wasn't as traumatic an experience of who was going to give me one or not give me one. Everybody gave one to everyone else. So you had a stack full of them and then those little pink and light green chalky hearts, and, I didn't feel one way or the other about those.

Jimmy: Yeah, I don't think anyone feels one way or the other about those.

Harold: Although I think I did enjoy going through all the slogans. Right.

Jimmy: Well, yeah, that was my experience, too, in Catholic school growing up, you had to have, a valentine for everyone or nobody. And I actually even remember a couple of teachers having spare Valentines around. If a kid wasn't able to bring something.

Harold: I was just thinking about the hearts. They didn't have snarky ones back then, they probably have snarky ones now that you can buy. You didn't get like yeah, you didn't get one that just says “you'll do.”

Jimmy: Yeah. So I thought it would be fun to go through for the first 15 years of the strip. Sometimes he has a Valentine's Day strip, sometimes he doesn't. If there was one that was absolutely clearly a Valentine's Day strip, but didn't fall on the 14th, I pulled it out and we'll look at that. but I thought it would just be kind of fun to go back through all the years that we've already studied and just see what he was talking about on February 14, of every year.

There is, of course, an animated special. We're doing this a little different this time. We're not going through the animated special and talking about which strips have been adapted. But the animated special, is one of the big ones. It's aired for years and years, and I know a lot of people who are huge fans of it. And actually, we got to speak with, Charlie Brown and Lucy from that era. And, I was wondering, Liz, would we be able to get in the old, Peanuts Time machine and go back and see what Duncan had to say about his time on the Valentine's Day special, which is, I believe he said, his favorite.

VO: It's time for the Peanuts time machine.

Duncan: Well, mine would, be my Valentine, Charlie Brown, because it was my intro to the whole Charlie Brown world. And I thought it was, such an iconic feature that they came up with, particularly the ambition of Charlie Brown thinking he's going to get so many Valentines that he has to bring two briefcases to school with him. That kind of optimism, I think a lot of people can identify with that. Certainly it's something that's mirrored my own life.

Jimmy: All right, so guys, do you have any-- I know Michael hasn't, but Harold do you have any memories of watching the special?

Harold: I don't, I don't remember that one, actually, at all. I don't know if I've seen it. I'm what what year? So that would be like your early 80s?

Jimmy: oh, no, I think it's the early 70s. I think it probably accounts for the-- I've seen it and seen it many times. I think it accounts for the fact that there's five years difference between us in age, because it was definitely one of the big ones. The ones I look forward to every year were, of course, Charlie Brown Christmas, Great Pumpkin, and Thanksgiving, but I also loved the Valentine's Day one and, the motocross one, which also was Duncan was Charlie Brown for that one, too. That's one of my my all time favorites.

Harold: 1975.I just looked it up, so yeah, I must have seen it.

Jimmy: Yeah, it's got a little bit of a Miss Othmar plotline, which is really fun.

Harold: That's cool. And we've got an Emmy nomination. That's nice.

Jimmy: Yeah. No, it's definitely if you guys haven't watched it out there and you're not Michael, give, it a spin. It's worth checking out. If you are Michael, then don't watch it, it will be something that you'll want--

Michael: It'll corrupt you. No Peanuts for you forever.

Jimmy: …bring them before the Hague. Well, okay. so that, I guess, is the Valentine's reminiscence portion of our show out of the way. What do you say we, just start looking at some of these comic strips?

Michael: Sure.

Harold: Yeah.

Jimmy: And if you guys want to follow along with us out there, you can always go to type in Peanuts. But if you would rather treat yourself, get this Fantgraphics books that, cover every year of the strip. They're beautiful and, put out by a darn fine publisher to boot.

Harold: Yeah, I do want to say so, Jimmy, when you pull, like, one of every year, just basically from the same time of the year, it really is so much fun to look, a, check in of every year where he is artistically. It's amazing just to see this gradual, gradual development of the art and lettering, and it's fun. I've never done it this way, where you just kind of have an annual check in where Schulz is artistically at the moment. It's amazing to see.

Jimmy: Especially I would say, those first few years. It is wild to see the progression. Like Michael said before we turned the microphones on, we were looking at the strips of michael said, boy, those kids sure had big heads in the early days.

Michael: It's pretty jarring to go back, because it didn't last that long.

Jimmy: No, it really didn't. I mean, by the time you look at, like, 1953, I think, he looks a ton times more like Charlie Brown than by the next year. He sort of got it. Yeah. That is a really nice, side effect of looking at them this way. So let's just start off with, the first February 14 Charles Schulz was a cartoonist for, which is

February 14, 1951. Patty approaches Charlie Brown, and she says, “do you think I'm beautiful, Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown says, “uhoh.” Charlie Brown contemplatively says to Patty, “well, you'll have to admit that you're getting on in years.” Then he leans in with a look of sort of feigned superiority on his face and says, “of course, if I sort of half close my eyes,” then in the last panel, he's running away, big smile on his face, with an angry Patty chasing after him. And Charlie Brown says “it's risky, but I get my laughs.”

Michael: It's really strange jumping back in time like this.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Michael: Because this phase of Charlie Brown's personality didn't last all that long. He was basically a wise guy. And Patty, I think, had some kind of crush on him. But he'd always sort of insult her. This little ending panel where she's chasing him because he said something is is pretty common in those days.

Jimmy: Yeah. And completely unlike Charlie Brown of later years. The the panel that really throws me for a loop is him giving the side eye and panel one there, how far those eyes are apart on his head.

Harold: Yeah, if you look at just like 51, 52, 53 in succession, how those eyes come together is pretty amazing.

Jimmy: And especially when you consider it's counter to prevailing cartoon wisdom, which is the farther apart the eyes and the wider the lower they go on the face, the cuter the figure is. But in Schulz, by the end, I mean, the nose and the two eyes are basically butting up against each other.

Harold: Yeah. Now, one thing he didn't do so much is drop the eye. It's kind of middle of the head. In fact, it's slightly above the ears or the top of the ear. So that's one thing he didn't do. It would have been fascinating to see if we just took this and we digitally dropped those eyes, what it would do to the perception of the character.

Jimmy: Like a Hello Kitty, Charlie Brown.

Harold: Yeah. But they're small too. I mean that little side eye thing. Those eyes are tiny. So is Charlie Brown. He's younger than Patty, I think, in this in this 1951 version.

Jimmy: Well, she looks gigantic in that first panel because she's also like, kind of stooped forward a little bit, right?

Harold: Yeah. She's she is quite tall in 1951. But yeah, it is wild seeing the wise guy smartalecky Charlie Brown. I remember just feeling really weird about these jokes because I didn't know if did Schulz think they were funny or was this the Charlie Brown drawing, the comic strip? That's not funny and that's not the point. It's the point that he's enjoying himself that makes it a fun strip.

Jimmy: I think this is just the best he could do like that. You know what I mean? And I think, like Michael said, he had this he does have and he continues to have the rest of his career. These go to punchline things. Like Michael, in our recent episodes, where we're talking about 1965, 1966, Michael pointed out that, if Charlie Brown says, I don't know, I never have any idea what's going on, or something like that, that's a way to always have a punchline. And I think this sort of Charlie Brown running away from Patty is like a go to. But I don't think it's particularly-- I think he's just getting the hang of it.

Michael: Right. And actually, the personalities aren't developed enough that he can have any kind of subtle humor. It's a gag.

Jimmy: Right, exactly. One of the weird things you as a reader could bring this to it. There was no way this was intentional, but Charlie Brown is kind of a wise guy, sarcastic, and kind of a jerk in those early days. So it's not that strange that everybody turned on him at one point. And he outgrew this phase, but they just know it also feels slightly wrong.

Harold: Because we've heard this story that Schulz said that ultimately he thought the strip was about bullying and that he would not glorify bullying. But this is as close I think you got Charlie Brown insulting and enjoying himself. That's something that Schulz quickly moves away from very, quickly.

Jimmy: Well, for the whole thing, “it's about bullying” that's sort of like my Twelve Devices, where you guys hear Schulz's Twelve Devices and think, oh, this is just a homework assignment. Doesn't mean anything. I sort of feel that way about the bullying thing. I don't think Peanuts is entirely about bullying, or even mostly about bullying.

Harold: But Schulz said I mean, the thing that strikes--

Jimmy: yeah, but Schulz said the Twelve Devices, too, and you disagree with that.

Harold: We don't know what he did. We don't know what Rita pulled on in there, but possibly. Possibly.

But no, this is something that he volunteered. The story goes that I remember was Lee Mendelson, who was the producer of the animated specials, worked with Schulz for 35 plus years. That they were the last time I think he saw him, he said they were out walking in the back of their place, and Schulz kind of volunteered that. So that's why I give it a little more weight in my mind. Anyway.

Jimmy: I'm certain that he thinks it. I'm not questioning what he thinks about his work and what he felt. I'm just saying I don't think that's what it's about, ultimately.

Michael: No.

Harold: Okay.

Michael: Yeah. I think it's like our endless Beatle comparisons. Yeah. John in 1971 is saying everything they wrote was rubbish.

Harold: Right.

Michael: And yeah, he probably believed it at that point, but he didn't think of that at the time. He thought it was great.

Jimmy: Right. And what I was going to say, I just think the thing that's the larger theme in Peanuts is unrequited love, which ties into the Valentine's Day theme. That's something that goes on and on and on. Bullying does, of course. Yes. But no more so than that, I wouldn't think.

Harold: But how he treats it is what's interesting to me. I mean, there's so much empathy for the person who's put upon in the vast majority of the strips that there is a consistency there that I think led to a lot of people connecting to the characters, for sure. And I think that that is unique. And when you think of most of the gag strips, this strip with Charlie Brown would be in tons and tons of strips. Especially, I think, of the ones that he was growing up with in the it's just rough and tumble knockabout comedy and that sort of thing. That's something that he did move away from. And that totally changes the way we see Charlie Brown, like you were saying. And that, I think, is a part of the secret of what made Peanuts resonate so deeply. Characters resonate so deeply with people.

Jimmy: Oh, I do too. One of the things in one of the recent strips, we were reading I can't remember even if we discussed it on the show or not, but it's just something I read. Lucy, there's some sort of conflict between Lucy and Charlie Brown or whatever. And she said that the end line is something like, oh, he'll accept it, or whatever. You don't argue too much when you're a Charlie Brown. The point of the punchline being when you are a Charlie Brown, taking this character and generalizing it, saying that there could be many of us who are Charlie Brown. I mean, he's cognizant of that. And that's actually really brilliant of him, that he's able to understand that while I'm illustrating this one particular character, it does have universal traits.

Harold: yeah, it's like, of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest.

Jimmy: Yeah, right. Yeah, right. Exactly.

February 14, 1952. Charlie Brown and Violet are standing outside. Violet says, “you didn't give me a valentine.” Charlie Brown angrily says, I did too. Violet, looking over her shoulder, scornfully at Charlie Brown, says, “well, it wasn't a very big one.” Charlie Brown, still annoyed, says, “It was the biggest one I could afford.” Violet, now looking happy, says, “Was it really?” Then they walked down the street together with Violet saying, “you're wonderful, Charlie Brown.”

Michael: This has got to be the only time anyone said anything like that to him.

Harold: Yeah.

Jimmy: This whole sequence is the opposite of everything that comes after it, really.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah. Good to see Violet and the pigtails again.

Jimmy: Yes. Classic pigtail Violet oh my goodness. With the brush hair.

Harold: Looking good. Yeah. And just you look at the design of 51 to 52. Such a leap forward. Really nice artwork. And like you said, the brush seems to be more evident in this. There's a beautiful tree in the fourth panel.

Harold: And before there's no background at all in the 51, which I think goes back to the Saturday Evening Post cartoons he was doing in the late forties, that kind of led to Peanuts, and he's kind of making that move into, his own strip style. And it's really pretty.

Jimmy: I like his yeah, that's definitely true. The other thing that's interesting here, too, is she, is admitting her fondness for Charlie Brown, but Patty is not around, so that goes with your theory.

Harold: Yeah, right. She's a little touchy here. You see some of that kind of anger side to her, but she hasn't switched allegiances yet.

Jimmy: Yeah, and she's angry, though, because she herself is hurt by something Charlie Brown did-- at least perceived.

Harold: That's the opposite of but they don't want to show any vulnerability whatsoever when they're together.

Jimmy: Never.

February 14, 1953. Patty and Charlie Brown are sitting outside on the curb. Actually on a little bench by the curb. Charlie Brown says “nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. I didn't get a single valentine. Not one.” Patty looks through a stack of envelopes on her lap and says, “that's awful. Charlie Brown here. How do you like this?” Charlie Brown says “for me? oh, boy. Wow. This is something,” he says, standing up and holding the valentine. “A real valentine.” Patti says,”don't take it too seriously. I'm just loaning it to you so you won't feel bad.”

Harold: There's, the Charlie Brown we know.

Jimmy: There you go.

Michael: Yeah, it's getting there. There's some odd things happening in the background there.

Jimmy: It seems like it's switching locations. Right.

Michael: Well, houses disappearing, green trees appearing, disappearing.

Harold: I, really like his art style right around this time. I'm looking down to the next year, and this is like if I was on a little graph where you're just punching the things that you like and don't like. It's like 51 to 52 to 53 major steps forward, and 54, I don't like as much. So it's interesting that I don't remember that, but visually, I prefer 53.

Michael: Really?

Jimmy: No, I do remember you saying that.

Harold: I wasn't reading ahead. So it's interesting that now that I look at them side by side, I feel like 54 in terms of the character design is a step backward for me.

Michael: I'm not sure.

Jimmy: Well, let's, take a look at that strip, and then we'll discuss it, there.

February 14, 1954. Lucy is outside. It's night. Charlie Brown is wondering what she's doing as she's pointing up at the sky, counting “22, 23, 24.” In the next panel, Lucy continues, “I wonder if I counted that one.” Charlie Brown, looking up, says, “which one?”

Jimmy: Now, this is really weird because now that's the strip that has been or, that's the part of the strip rather, that has been set aside to being removed, because now the strip starts over on tier two.

Charlie Brown says, “what's going on here?” Next panel, Lucy says, “I'm counting the stars. And believe me, it's quite a job.” Charlie Brown says, “I should think it would be.” Lucy says, “the whole trouble is I'm too far away. I can't see some of the teeny weenie ones.” Lucy walks away saying, “I think I know what I need.” She comes back with a very small child's chair, which she stands on top of, and then says, “say, this makes all the difference in the world.”

Harold: It's true.

Michael: This one does look weird. It's a Sunday, so it was originally in color, but the day for night effect is weird. often he has lots of strips with black, starry skies. But at this point, maybe he didn't know how to deal with Lucy's black hair against a black sky.

Jimmy: Yeah, this is one I wish we were looking at in color because I'd be curious to see how he handled that …

Harold: Yeah.

Michael: And also that big using straight black for I guess, the grass makes it look like water. It just does not look like, the typical Peanuts strip.

Jimmy: Also, things like the design is strange. If you look in that middle panel in the second tier, I mean, Lucy has a severe underbite or not underbite, overbite, rather, because her chin goes way back. But then in other instances, when you look at them from the front, it looks like their lower jaw is huge. It's like a Jay Leno look. It is a really odd and not very long lasting...

Michael: She was noticeably younger at this point, though. Younger than him, right.

Harold: Yeah. The fact that she doesn't really have a chin and has an incredibly thick neck in the first couple of panels, and then you see her in the lower left panel, and her neck seems kind of normal Lucy there. And, Charlie Brown's face in that second tier first panel, it's smaller in the round head than it was, say, the year before. And also, I don't know if he switched over. He's working bigger here. Right. Because you can see that kind of by the lettering, I think, and by the line thickness, he's working a little bit bigger, maybe. And maybe that's something that he's just not quite as adept at, is working bigger. Maybe he's just a little more comfortable at a different size. I don't know.

Michael: So clearly not a Valentine's trip. Was there a Valentine's reference the previous day?

Jimmy: No, I looked, and if there was one, I pulled it out. So we'll be looking at a 13th strip, in the very next year, as a matter of fact.

Michael: Okay.

February 13, 1955. Schroeder and Charlie Brown are standing outside by a very cool looking 1950s toy car. Schroeder says to Charlie Brown, “what have you got behind your back, Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown says, “none of your business.” Schroeder says, “I'll bet it's a valentine.” As Charlie Brown walks away and we see that, yes, it is a box of chocolate candy in the shape of a heart. Charlie Brown continues walking now alone. Speaks, to himself, saying, “this is for you, Violet. Happy Valentine's Day. That doesn't sound quite right,” he thinks. Then he tries again. “This is for you, Violet. Happy Valentine's Day. Here, Violet, this is for you. Happy Valentine's Day.” Then in the next panel, he's looking upset with himself. He says, “I know I can do it if I just don't get nervous.” He continues walking, holding the candy, saying, “this is for you, Violet. Happy Valentine's Day. This is for you, Violet. Happy Valentine's Day. Oops, there she is. Easy now. Don't get nervous. You can do it,” Charlie Brown says to himself, hiding the box behind his back. Then he approaches Violet and says, “this is for you, Violet. Merry Christmas.” Then he screams as he crunches his face in his hand, says, “Augh.” And then the last panel, we see him smashing his head into a tree. “Thump. thump, thump.” As Violet looks on, completely confused by the situation.

Michael: I would say he's 97% there as far as the character designs,.

Jimmy: And he's100% there as far as just drawing a great looking comic strip. Like, if any other cartoonist got to this point, you would like, freeze it. This is beautiful. But he still has that little extra to go to make...

Harold: Yeah. This is so uniquely Schulz. looking at his I don't know how do you describe it? He's just so worked up and anguished in the two lower right panels. That makes me think of, like, indie comics from, like, the some reason. Yeah.

Jimmy: Oh, yeah. No, that thump thump thump might as well be from Dan Clowes.

Harold: And even that. It's kind of unique to Peanuts. I don't think he would draw like that after a couple of years. And yet it does feel like Schulz, and it feels different than anything else that you're seeing in the Sunday papers.

Michael: Most amazing thing is this morphing of the characters seems that it's both very slow and incredibly fast. If you're looking at these just flipping through the strips from the first four years, major change. I mean, it changes drastically. But in the course of each year, you don't see it.

Harold: Right. And we're not going to see a whole lot.

Michael: I don't know if you'd ever go like, well, the December ones look different than the January ones.

Jimmy: No, I mean, we have tried so to pinpoint where this stuff is happening. You have to be staring at a microscopic level to see the little subtle changes. And I assume 99% of these for Schulz are completely invisible, too.

Harold: Right. He's not just saying, oh, I'm going to change this.

Michael: I don't think he's conscious of this.

Harold: And I do like the little car.

Jimmy: The little car goes with the 1950s.

Harold: That looks so much like a Nash Metropolitan, which had come out the year before, which we used to own a bunch of, them. Yeah, we sold car parts, really old stock car parts for we were like one of the top two sales out of our basement. We were selling you didn't know that? Yeah, we had a mail order business. My dad-- that's a whole other story. But my dad did go to Chicago. There was a thing called Hemmings Motor News, which was like this 700 page magazine of classified ads for old car parts and selling old cars. And he went to Chicago and he bought what was called I think, a $3 million inventory for, like, $13,000. It was nowhere near a $3 million inventory from this old warehouse that was so old that wherever people used to dock to pick stuff up was now a highway. You've seen those things where you drive-- It was a minor highway, but it was a highway. And so he had hired this guy to back up his 18-wheeler, and he was blocking three of the four lanes of traffic. And my sister and I were teenagers. And we went up to the top floor of this warehouse, looking out of this window, and as far as we could see both directions, there was cars backed up. And then you see the police lights from far away, coming up the road. And, we're like, what's going to happen? And so the policeman stopped and found out what the problem was, and he worked with the truck driver to jackknife his cab so that he was only blocking two of the four lanes and then directing traffic.

Oh, my gosh. That's a very memorable moment for us. But we wound up getting the Nash Metropolitan parts, separating them out from the American motors. And then we sold off the rest of the American motors after a number of years. And then we were selling, these parts out of out of the basement. Yeah, it was it was crazy.

Jimmy: I have known you since 1997, and I, and really, well, basically since, like, 2001. And, I've never heard that. I didn't know that. And for you listeners out there, I bet if you were to guess whose anecdote would end with the cops being called...

Harold: Well, let me tie this into Valentine's day. Let me tie this into Valentine's day. Our number one competitor was out of Hollywood, California, and his name was no joke, Jimmy Valentine. And we were the new kids on the block. And he charged more than we did. And my dad loved tweaking this guy. So, I do remember in the February issue of Hemmings Motor News, just to tweak the guy, my dad had a classified ad. We called it the Valentine's Day special because he knew.

Jimmy: You know He's a mobster. Right? He's clearly a mobster.

Harold: Oh, man. Anyway, that's my memory. And the other thing is, there's no way, I think, that, the Charlie Brown or Schroeder could get into that little car. It's so small.

Jimmy: Oh, absolutely not. It would have-- it would be an infant that would fit in that car.

February 14, 1956. Charlie Brown is standing outside. He has a big smile on his face, and he says, “I think I'll sit here until the mailman comes by with all my valentines.” He does just that. He sits on the little curb outside his house. Big smile on his face. Then less of a smile on his face. Then in the final panel, it is night. He looks forlorn, and he says, “well. That's the way it goes.”

Jimmy: Now, that's a Peanuts comic strip right there. That's like firing on all Peanuts Charlie Brown cylinders.

Michael: Yeah.

Harold: Charlie Brown's head keeps getting smaller and smaller in relationship to his taller and taller body. He looks like a teenager, practically, in those first two panels.

Jimmy: That is a big change from last year's design to this year's design.

Michael: I hate to get into this, but in both word balloons, there are two periods.

Jimmy: All right? And if you were guessing which host would bring up the amount of periods…

Michael: Not me. Well, you guys are the experts.

Jimmy: You would not guess it was Michael.

Michael: Keep it to like one minute

Jimmy: Here'. What I'll just say. I love that he invented a punctuation mark.

Harold: Well, describe the two period mood. What is that doing Jimmy?

Jimmy: To me, it is a resignation, but not a full stop, because if it well, that's the way it goes. Right. That's a finality. That's the end. Well, that's the way it goes with two periods is but I'll be out here tomorrow. Three would be more of an it's a natural ellipse. Well, that's the way it goes, and it could be anything but the two. By the way, I'm pulling this all out of my butt right now. I have no idea what it actually means, but, my thought is that the two signifies, uncertainty. Quantum uncertainty. His next action is both positive one and a negative one.

Harold: We haven't so you could say that the two periods indicate wishy washyness.

Jimmy: Yeah, you could. Absolutely. One is wishy, and the second is washy. Especially if you look at it, because that's what happens at the beginning.

Harold: Minute’s up.

Jimmy: Right. A minute’s up. All right, moving on.

February 14, 1957. Oh, here we go. Lucy is looking at her beautiful fuss budget trophy, showing it to Charlie Brown. Actually, it's huge. It's taller than him. And he says, this is a beautiful trophy, Lucy, awarded to Lucille Van Pelt, 1954, 1955, 1956. The world's number one fuss budget. Lucy very proudly says, “you see, after I won it three years in a row, they let me keep it.” Charlie Brown says, “what's this little figure on top?” Lucy says, that's a fuss budget fussing. And you can see a, tiny-- It looks basically like a little hot dog or a cheese curl on top. But it is a fuss budget fussing, apparently.

Michael: This is a little klutzy. I mean, we didn't pick this. It's-- for a Peanuts strip. It doesn't flow very well.

Harold: What doesn't work for you, Michael, specifically.

Michael: Is there just, the fact that it's bigger than them and it's on the floor and that figure. Yeah, it doesn't look like anything. Also, it's sort of a break into a fantasy world, whereas I'm not sure, maybe in this period, there's lots of that. We're in 1957 already. But this is assuming that she is actually part of a bigger world. A bigger world of fuss budget.

Jimmy: I actually like you just describing it better than…

Harold: This is not just a terrible practical joke, put on her by her father, where he actually went out, spent $100.

Jimmy: Her dad might have bought a whole bunch of surplus trophies or something and some sort of shenanigans

Harold: to hire the sculptor to make the fuss budget on top, I think, is the cherry.

Jimmy: You know what I find weird about this strip is Charlie Brown's ear. panels two, three and four.

Michael: Oh, yeah. It's weird.

Harold: Yeah. And it's still big, big jaw characters like Lucy, when she's she's proudly smiling and her her mouth is at the level of her ear.

Jimmy: Does this look like a throwback to you? Like, really? Like, does this look more like 1955 to you if you're flipping back and forth?

Harold: Well, the big jaw thing does make, me this is just a period.

Jimmy: And the height of the character. Right.

Harold: yeah.

Michael: She's still younger here. Noticeably younger. Yes. I think the big jaw is he's trying to imply that her head's back, which would compress the facial features and make the jaw seem bigger.

Harold: But he doesn't do anything with the hair.

Michael: That doesn't work in this cartoony style.

Jimmy: Right. That's the problem, yeah.

Michael: Anyway, an example of, I think, a not great Schulz Peanuts strip.

Jimmy: Well, there you go. Breaking news. He lost it. 1957.

February 14, 1958. Violet and Patty are walking down the street. Violet says to Patty, “did you give Charlie Brown a valentine?” Patty says, “oh, yes. I finally gave him one of those real cheap ones.” They continue walking, and Violet asks Patty, “was he happy with it?” Patty says “sure. When you're Charlie Brown, you really don't expect too much.”

Jimmy: That's what I was just discussing in an earlier, portion of this very show.

Michael: Amazing.

Jimmy: I knew I read it somewhere,

Michael: Amazing considering you picked these, like, two days ago.

Jimmy: Two days ago. I have some dim memory

Harold: pulling it from the recesses of my mind.

Michael: That walking-- that floating on air panel Generally, I don't notice that, but for some reason

Jimmy: they're really high, though.

Michael: They're high in that black foreground. They're, like, six inches off the ground when they're walking.

Jimmy: Does that convey motion to you guys, or does that just look weird in that particular one?

Michael: Well, generally it conveys kind of bouncing.

Jimmy: But not in this one.

Michael: No. I think it's a little too high.

Harold: What makes me think of here are the World War I flying pals, walking across exactly what the mud looked like in France. But I kind of like the float.

Jimmy: Oh, you do?

Harold: Yeah. It does indicate movement. It's something that I was looking at these strips, especially when the characters were so small, like, two heads high. that very first strip when Charlie Brown's running and Patty's chasing him, it's very stiff, and it almost has to be because he could put a little more curve in him, but he doesn't. For some reason, it feels more natural now, even though the characters still are quite stiff.

Michael: Well, it seems odd to me. I've never noticed this, but most people swing their arms when they walk.

Harold: Yeah, right. That's a really good observation.

Jimmy: Oh wow. Yeah, I never thought about that, but that's really interesting. They are right down at their sides, and that is the Peanuts look, right? That's like that neutral, minimal

Liz: River Dance.

Jimmy: Yeah, right, exactly.

Harold: Sparky Flatly. But, you know, this is a choice, obviously.

Jimmy: Here's something that-- okay. You wonder why I picked these guys to talk to. Like, you find out. Oh, yeah, my dad was buying weird things, shutting down highways. I never knew that. Here's something you guys don't know. Michael is a world class scrimshander. And, you might even have to, like, look that up. But we've never even discussed it. That's a whole separate life.

Michael: I mean, I prefer not to dwell on it.

Jimmy: It was beautiful.

Harold: One other thing I want to mention, now that we're talking about the arms, look at Violet's arm in the second panel. How far down the shoulder is it's insane.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Harold: No other artist would do that. Right?

Jimmy: And it's no, and it would why would it look like a mistake if everybody else did it? Although this one, like, this is not the best drawn panel. Like, I think her profile is a little odd.

Harold: Look at panel four. Same thing. He's dropping that shoulder so far down. And it does lead to this kind of looks like a column. These characters are stiffly a column. And because he's doing more sophisticated dialogue for them, and they often talk in stilted ways, I'm guessing it's all part of this kind of deadpan humor that he's getting into that he doesn't want the movement of the bodies to take away from, the nature of the dialogue. It works.

Jimmy: Yeah. He doesn't want anything.

Michael: Yeah, I think you're right. Yeah. A lot of cartoonists think, hey, it's a cartoon. I'll have it. Their arms flying around.

Harold: Yeah. And I'm guilty of that. When I'm drawing. I noticed the more life you put into the characters, the more it feels like you're overselling whatever you're doing. Unless it's just integral to the story. Like, I think of Calvin and Hobbes, when you have these beautiful, arched Hobbes attacking Calvin and this kind of arc of motion that an animator might do. But that's the antithesis of what Schulz is trying to accomplish, it seems.

Jimmy: Well, I know we all can't stand the classic wide smiled character with the hands out presenting life or whatever it is. They all look like they're--

Harold: No, the two of you can't stand that.

Jimmy: You can't stand that

Harold: I love--Hey, take a look at the logo I did for the Metropolitan Parts catalog with Cappy

Jimmy: Doing a logo is a different thing than doing it in a comic... No, this is phony. I call shenanigans. I know for a fact you don't like. I might not be describing well, but I know for a fact you don't like that. especially in animation.

Harold: I take delight in some of those over the top shenanigans. So I guess it depends on-- we talked about the classic thing where the character is falling back stiffly and his feet are in the air, or you only see the feet in the fourth panel. I do love that. I mean, I don't want it in every single thing I read. I certainly wouldn't want it in a Peanuts strip. But there is a certain delight in that insane. Yeah.

Michael: that's a cartoonist trope, but I know what Jimmy's talking about. Maybe it's more modern well, more recent cartoons than these 1950s Peanuts, but you have a bunch of friends, and they're all smiling all the time, no matter what the context.

Harold: Did I, did I tell you the story about Archie where the, the, CEO, John Goldwater, he was trying to find out what people liked, you know, and, and you know, he's the one who can direct where we go. And I do remember at one point, something came up where there were certain comics or the Archie Digests, which you'd find in the supermarket checkouts. there was something about he wanted the characters to always be smiling and never have their eyes closed. That was kind of the edict from him, based on what he had heard from what was selling and what wasn't selling

Jimmy: on covers.

Harold: On covers.

Michael: But wasn't Jughead always have his eyes closed?

Harold: Well, here was the problem. It's one of those problems where somebody basically gives you this general say, here's what we shoot for, but then everyone's scared to death to to like, break the edict. And so you have these, these there's usually a joke of some kind or some setup on the cover where it absolutely doesn't make sense for everyone to be smiling and have their eyes open. And you see the artists struggling to follow this thing. It's like, come on, don't take them that literally. You start to have some really bizarre things where the humor wasn't matching the reality of what should be delivered in that, because we have to make sure everyone's smiling. Everyone's got to be wide eyed and smiling.

Jimmy: Well, I was under the delusion, that we were going to whip through this episode really quick, because there's not that much interesting stuff to talk about these Valentine's Day strips. I was clearly wrong because I guess because I still want to continue this discussion.

I guess what my issue of it is partly what you're talking about with those Archie covers, but also it's partly like, here is the pose and expression for this emotion. And if the overall feeling of is, let's say, whatever joy, this is the pose and this is how you convey. But here's what's weird. Schulz does use similar poses over and over again, but it's not that. And maybe it's because they're unique to him.

Harold: I think that's one thing. Basically, what the shenanigans you're calling on me is when it comes to animation, I used to always gripe, about the Cal Art School of the animation.

Jimmy: Not that I wasn't going to say, but yes, that's what it is.

Harold: And so many talented animators came up through that, which was originally attached to Disney, the Cal Arts. And you had certain animators that were teaching literally hundreds of young, up and coming artists how to draw. And they would draw things in their cells. Like we're saying, Schulz has his own stock things. And everyone was learning the stock thing from the same artist. And so I hated that in animation where curiosity always looked the same way and, being, I don't know, another kind of skeptical, it's always the same thing. That would drive me crazy. Because you look at early animation from the Disney from the late thirties or early forties, and these artists that came from all over the world, and everybody would do something just their own style, unique, and you'd constantly be surprised by the characters. And now when I look at, so much of animation, I just see, yes, stock pose, stock pose, stock pose. And it's not the animator stock pose. I totally agree with you on that, Schulz. It's interesting that Schulz has if he does not want you to focus on the characters and he does keep characters neutral, I think that's the whole Anger and Happiness Index thing that I've been doing. I've been fascinated by the neutrality of the poses. Sometimes many of the strips have neutrality all the way through. And so it's hard to do a unique, neutral pose. and then when he does go into some kind of thing like joy, like, you see Charlie Brown in the fourth panel, this 1958 Valentine strip. It's a look that you haven't seen very much on Charlie Brown's face. It's like that he tries to do in a unique way that's true to the emotion of the character. Because that's a unique emotion. But yeah, totally. Schulz is trying to take you away from I don't know, it's almost like it just sucks the energy out of the strip if there's too much unearned emotion or, it doesn't make sense to the flow of the story. And I struggle with this all the time in my own cartoons because I'm using some very exaggerated designs.

Michael: Yeah.

Jimmy: And part of it is that because you're using those exaggerated designs, because it's a visual medium. And part of drawing these comic strips is that you want the person to have like, a fun and interesting aesthetic experience separate from the overall, say, content of the words or whatever. And when it works masterfully and those two things harmonize together perfectly. It's such a beautiful art form. It's hard to get it to do that, though. And I think sometimes, too. The other thing is it's more fun to draw interesting poses.

Harold: Yes, absolutely true. And that's again, going back to animation, I think of the era of like the 80s, right before we got to The Little Mermaid, and it was like nobody was a strong enough director in that period to manage it's. Like herding cats with artists. Imagine being in charge of 20 different animators and everybody was like putting their own stuff in, which had nothing to do with the emotional flow of the story, and that there wasn't a director strong enough to reel them in.

Jimmy: Right. Well, I've been wondering a question I wanted to ask Michael, and I could never find a place to exactly fit it in, but it actually flows here because we're talking about watching this strip evolve over time. When you were reading the early Fantastic Four, let's say. Yeah, let's definitely go with the Fantastic Four. You were cognizant of the changes of Kirby's art over the issues right. And different inkers and all that kind of stuff.

Michael: Not at first, but yeah.

Jimmy: But at what point were you that's I guess what I'm asking.

Michael: Well, I wasn't even conscious of who was drawing. I mean, even though when I started reading those and they put the credits in, I wasn't used to that because I was actually a DC reader for years before, and they weren't doing artist credits. So the fact that it took me a while to figure out that, boy, how come all the comics I like best are drawn by this Jack Kirby guy?

Jimmy: So how old were you been then?

Michael: Oh, probably 13.

Harold: Okay.

Michael: But the thing with Schulz is him. It's all him. I always blame the inker for any problems with the Kirby page,

Jimmy: I guess what I was getting at is like, were you as a young person, able to like, let's say a teenager, not when you're a little kid. Were you able to see the changes in Schulz, or were you just like when you lost interest or whatever, did you just feel like, I'm outgrowing it? Or were you feeling that the strip itself, could you see how much it had changed over the years, I guess, is what I'm asking.

Michael: Well, I mean, I'm seeing it now clearly, because we're reading them all now. At the time, certainly when I started, which was probably around 56, I'm guessing, they've already sort of established the classic he's already established the classic look. But what I accepted as like the classic Snoopy was that long, extended look from the late 50s. but Snoopy, at that point on, Snoopy always looked like the classic Snoopy. Even though he kept changing it's always like, yeah, that's the perfect Snoopy.

Jimmy: Right.

Michael: I accept them all equally.

Harold: That's interesting. Yeah. In my case, being younger than Michael, I was reading the most concentrated readings of Peanuts were in those little Fawcett Crest paperbacks that would have, like, 128 daily strips in them or whatever. And I remember I think I mentioned this before, I noticed that the different styles, because they're all clumped together just like when we're reading today. And I saw that I liked certain strips and certain art more because it was just like, okay, this version of Peanuts is in this book. This version of Peanuts is in this book. And even to this day, when I look at I think where I can't remember what year that was in the early, like, 53, 54. When he's going into a phase that I think runs all the way through the style because it's Peanuts, I still love it, but I I much prefer the the later, like, 1960s Peanuts. The Snoopy and the Charlie Brown and the characters. In fact, I was noticing here when we'll get there, but as soon as you hit February 1960, all of a sudden something has happened where he is just nailed something that is is electric for me. I'm like, oh, my gosh, this is amazing.

Jimmy: Yeah, it's very alive. I remember the first time I ever saw the original 1951 Peanuts or whatever. I went to a Scholastic book fair, in my school, and they had a little box set. Charlie Brown, it was called. And it was shrink wrapped, so I-- it had four books in it, but I couldn't see what the books were. But, I bought it and opened it up. When I went back to the desk or whatever, and there were three that looked like the Peanuts I knew. I think it was For the Love of Peanuts or something like that. It was a really early one. I had never seen anything like it. And I instantly knew that I was, coming down with a cold because tomorrow was not going to be a day for school. Tomorrow is going to be a day for just sitting and reading these books.

Harold: Open up the window in winter in your bedroom.

Jimmy: I was a world class hooky player. I was Ferris Bueller before. I didn't do anything interesting. I just stayed home. But I was a master of faking sick.

February 14, 1959. Violet and Charlie Brown are standing outside. Charlie Brown says to Violet, “you really didn't send me a valentine, did you?” Violet says, “of course I didn't. I said I wasn't, and I didn't.” Violet walks away, and Charlie Brown calls after her. “You really keep your word, don't you? That's very admirable.” Violet says thank you, Charlie Brown. Then Charlie Brown yells out after Violet, “you blockhead.”

Michael: I don't think he's ever used that phrase.

Jimmy: Yeah, it's so funny because it's coming from Charlie Brown, right?

Harold: Yeah. This is a weird one, but, if you had written the panel, second panel, would you have written it the way he did? I think I would have used, I said I wouldn't and I didn't.

Jimmy: yeah, I think it's a good point.

Harold: I think Schulz has his reasons for sticking with wasn’t, but, yeah, that's an interesting choice.

Jimmy: I'm trying to convert it to like, Amelia Idiom, but it would be-- I don't know, it'd have to be three things. I said I wasn't, I didn't.

Harold: Yeah. I said I wasn't, I didn't and I won't.

Jimmy: That's exactly. Anyway, weird Os on the you blockhead like he just spent no time trying to make those circles connect.

Harold: Makes me think of that thing where he was saying how there are certain strips, he just can't wait to get them done, especially the lettering. He would say, I just want to see it on the page.

Jimmy: Can't wait to see that.

Harold: Maybe the more rushed it is, the better he liked the joke.

Jimmy: Double exclamation point.

February 14th, 1960. Charlie Brown is standing outside and he can't stand it. He says to himself, “I can't stand it.” In the next panel this is a Sunday, by the way. The gang, including Patty, Shermy and Violet are all hanging out, showing each other there many valentines. Charlie Brown says, “look at them all laughing and enjoying themselves with their valentines.” It's eating Charlie Brown up inside. He says, “I sent everyone I know of valentine, but did I get any in return? No, not a single one.” He leaned his head up against a tree and says, “everybody gets Valentine's except me. Nobody likes me. Now we see Lucy, Schroeder and Linus all walking by with their valentines and Charlie Brown says, “look at them. They all got valentines. Everybody got valentines except me. Even Pigpen gets valentines.” And we see. In fact, that is true. Charlie Brown is now alone. And he says, “but do I? No, I get as many valentines as a dog.” And then in the next panel, of course, Snoopy walks by with a mouthful of valentines, leaving Charlie Brown alone to sigh.

Michael: So, as, someone who never got valentines, are these all store bought or did people write their own little notes?

Jimmy: No, in the was boxes of little perforated cardboard, almost like luggage tag things. And they would have a cartoon and like a cute little message on the front. They still make them. They're all attached to franchises now, like The Avengers or whatever, Star Wars.

Michael: But when they're laughing in the third panel, were these joke valentines?

Jimmy: Well, I don't know. In 1960 these may have been I don't know that they're laughing. They might just be happy like, oh, look at what what wonderful thing I got. I don't know. These look homemade, right? I don't know what they were doing in 1960. Harold, you, you must have an encyclopedic knowledge of valentine protocol from 1960.

Harold: No, I don't know what to well, these are Charles Schulz's memories, I guess this was happening back in the let's see, what year was he born.

Jimmy: I invited you to the party for his birthday, for God's sake.