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Season 7 Wrap Up

Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. We've made it to the end of another decade. we're stand here at 1979, about to transition, into the good old 80s. So that's an exciting thing here at Unpacking Peanuts. I'm your host for the proceedings. My name is Jimmy Gownley. I'm also a cartoonist. I did things like Amelia Rules, Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up, and The Dumbest Idea Ever. Joining me, as always, are my pals, co hosts, and fellow cartoonists. 


He's a playwright and a composer, both for the band Complicated People, as well as for this very podcast. He's the original editor of Amelia Rules, the co creator of the original comic book Price Guide, and the creator of such great strips as Strange Attractors, A Gathering of Spells, and Tangled River. It's Michael Cohen. 


Michael: say hey. 


Jimmy: And he's the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a former vice president of Archie comics, and the creator of the Instagram sensation Sweetest Beasts, and his current book, The Neat Before Christmas, is out now it's Harold Buchholz.


Harold: Hello


Jimmy: guys. what did you think of the 70s? Harold, give me your take.


Harold: I really enjoyed the 70s. I read this growing up, probably into pretty much the late 70s, maybe I started to wane after 78 or 79, but there was so much of this I hadn't read because I wasn't getting the paperbacks, I don't think, at that point very often. So a lot of it was in, every case, it's always been so much has been new. But I think the 60s was most that I knew. I really enjoyed it. 


Schulz is changing and growing. I think things are softening a little bit, but I was a little trepidacious that toward the end, I would start to be a little less engaged. But that hasn't been the case. I found that he's continually coming up with fresh things and fresh characters and fresh approaches that represent the core of who he is. I'm still feeling him very strongly in the strips, and it's wonderful. 


Jimmy: Fantastic. Michael, you actually felt the beginning of this year, at least, was, a pretty big rebound. So, what are your thoughts at the end of the decade here?


Michael: Okay, well, if you've been listening to the podcast, you'll know that I kind of bailed on Peanuts in, the late 60s, very late 60s, when I went off to college and I stopped getting the newspaper so the 70s for me was, a blank. I occasionally would see a strip, but most things in the kind of bailed on. I bailed on pop music, I bailed on comic books and I didn't see Peanuts. 


So, yeah, it was an interesting trip, but a lot of it had to do with judging it against my previous love of the strip. And it came up short. And, I felt like it wasn't speaking to me as much. I expected the art to change more than it did. It still maintained that 60s look through most of the 70s. Yeah, definitely lots of new characters, new pacing in the story. To me, the highlight of the 70s would be the Woodstock coming forward as a major character. And so a lot of my favorite strips and the few times I actually really laughed out loud would be Woodstock strips. Yeah. So I didn't hate it, but I didn't appreciate it like, I appreciated the earlier strips.

Jimmy: Well, one of my great triumphs in life is, getting you to be a Woodstock fan. That is just amazing. I had to create an entire podcast to force you to read it, but it was worth it. And for me, I'll sum it up. I liked it. I give it a thumbs up. I like the 70s. I'm looking forward to the 80s. Now, I will say most of your Peanuts, connoisseurs and just people in general, the 80s is often, let's say, considered the low point. What I will say, though, is in any low point of a great artist, there's always fantastic stuff. And then, we're getting set for a monster comeback in the 90s I think, which is really spectacular and makes the whole overall arc of Schulz's career really something special.


Harold: Would you say that's often overlooked, what you're saying about in the 90s, people just don't recognize what was in that.


Jimmy: Well, I think it's overlooked in the sense that it doesn't become part of the pop culture in the way everything else does. But I think people who are connoisseurs of it, a lot of people do. Like the other thing, I would just say that's really interesting. This, is just tangential to, it's not related to 70s, but, Snoopy has become such a Gen Z icon. all of which is still taking that stuff from Charles Schulz. And they might be, expressing it in different ways or seeing it in different ways, but it all comes from that core of Schulz that's great to see. I expect there's going to be lots of people who, are finding these strips. And I think those Gen Z kids will dig the 90s.


Liz: I have a question about that. You guys might have mentioned it earlier, or the thought might have come from previous conversation, but it occurred to me that if you only see the animated specials and you don't have any connection with the strips, the generations that have come after, like Michael and those of you who are reading the newspaper when you were really young, they might understand who these characters are and think they're cute, but, for example, they don't know Snoopy beyond who he is in the animated specials and the plush toys. It seems like they're missing something if they don't also know the strip.


Jimmy: Oh, yeah. But I think there's a percentage of them that will learn it. I remember having an Abbey Road shirt before I had Abbey Road. Like I knew the Beatles. I had the 1962 to 1966 album, 67 70, Sergeant Pepper, Hard Days Night, Rubber Soul, or whatever. I knew I was a Beatles fan. Someone got me the Abbey Road shirt, and I loved it because it was the Beatles. I was going to get to Abbey Road. I did get to Abbey Road, I hope. And I think that's going to be the case. And though for the majority of it, probably they will stick with just the surface icon, because the majority of people stick with the surface of everything, he said cynically.


Harold: You know, I think one thing that might be driving them back to the strips is through the animation, we never got to hear Snoopy's voice. And I think there's an awareness that if you want to know what Snoopy's thinking, you've got to go back to the original material, because that's really only where it lives. And I think that's, in the favor of more kids getting to experience Snoopy, because if they want to go a little deeper with it, you instantly discover, oh, my gosh, he's thinking thoughts that I can read. That's really powerful. There's an NPR, just like four days ago, came out with this thing about Gen Z is obsessed with Snoopy. And, there's this guy who's a lecturer at Appalachian State University, Don Presnell, and he says, Snoopy's a masterclass in simplicity in terms of the design. He says, in any given time, Snoopy can capture anxiety, worry, thought, amusement with a devilish little grin that my students love. There's a depth to the character, I guess, beyond the cuteness, that deals with insecurities and living in maybe a smaller world. The Gen Z listeners let us know, what is it about Snoopy that speaks to you? I'd love to hear from some people who maybe feel they have a perspective on it from where they're coming from earlier on in their life with this classic property.


Jimmy: Yes, we would love to hear from some Gen Z Snoopy heads out there. That would be great. You, can send us an email. We're unpackingpeanuts@gmail.com. You can also just go on our website where you can find all sorts of great things. The gallery of 20th century objects and the obscurities page, which lists basically everything we've ever spoken about on this podcast, thanks to Liz. So we would love for you to check that out. You can also follow us on social media, Liz. Tell us where they can find us.


Liz: We are unpackpeanuts at Threads and Instagram, and we are unpacking Peanuts on Facebook and blue sky.


Jimmy: And, of course, we would love for you to call the hotline. And the number for that is:


Liz: Oh, I have the music.


Jimmy: Exciting. 


717-219-4162 


Jimmy: fantastic. So we would love to hear from you guys. That's awesome. And speaking of which, we got a little hit on the hotline recently. Can you play it for us? Liz, who is this?


Liz: He didn't identify himself, but he says;


VO: HI Unpacking Peanuts. I just wanted to ask if you had any more knowledge about Jose Peterson. I would like any more traits you have about him other than that he's good at baseball. 


Jimmy: Okay. So I think this is a challenge to do for Jose Peterson what we did for Shermy. So, looking at those Jose Peterson strips, off the top of my head, he's good at baseball. Yes. I would say he's confident because he has a confident smile. He leans on the bat. So Jose Peterson is confident. I would say he's adaptable because he clearly moved from North Dakota to. Where was the other place? Arizona? I can't remember. So he's adaptable, he's friendly. Right. he obviously makes his way onto these teams in these new, towns. So he's friendly. So I say Jose Peterson is a friendly, adaptable 


Michael: slugger. 


Jimmy: And whatever my third thing was. Yes. So that's Jose Peterson.


Harold: Confident.


Michael: That's it.


Jimmy: He was only in, like, two strips.


Harold: I will defer to Jimmy about Jose Peterson.


Jimmy: and he needs a new barber. So, hey, while we're talking to listeners, how about, we go hang out in the mailbox, see if we got any letters?


Liz: We do. We have a bunch. So we heard from Tim Young, who says, enjoying the show and noticing a trivia point that I don't believe you've mentioned. So I thought I'd pass it along. Eudora is named after the author Eudora Welty, on whom Schulz got to fanboy at a dinner party once.


Jimmy: Oh, that's cool.


Liz: He wrote, one of the great moments of my life was when we went to someone's home for dinner one night, and I stood in line with Eudora Welty, and we were one of the first ones in line in the dining room. And I very deftly maneuvered her into the living room so I could have her all by myself and just sit on the couch and talk with her about five minutes before anybody else came in and bothered us.


Jimmy: Oh, that's so cool.


Harold: Yeah it’s crazy. Yeah. she was a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and won the O'Henry award. And, yeah, she has very honored, authors. So that's pretty cool that Schulz got to. What are the odds that Schulz. He didn't go to a lot of events, but he got to be with her.

Jimmy: and they both won the Congressional Medal of Honor, I believe. I'm trying to google this quickly.


Harold: Wow.


Jimmy: But I could be wrong. Well, anyway, let's just say they both did. And if anyone googles Eudora Welty and I'm wrong, you can write in,


Harold: She got the presidential medal of Freedom. Is that good enough?


Jimmy: That's good enough. See, she's. There you go. Maybe she got.


Harold: Maybe she got the other one, too. I don't know. She got a lot of awards.


Jimmy: Yeah, she did well for herself.


Liz: And Ann Sywensky writes to us, in January 1979, you guys talk about the evolving design of Snoopy and mention his head seems bigger in proportion to his body. We've also discussed shrinking panel size and Schulz's genius at conveying such nuanced emotions with so little ink and real estate. Perhaps all these factors converge to where heads seem bigger as a response to the limited panel size. Could he be keeping the heads the same size as ever, but shrinking the bodies when facial expression is more important than body position and conveying what he wants to say? Maybe the body head ratio is constantly changing based on what's most important in a particular strip.


Jimmy: Well, first of all, body head ratio is a band name. I called it. And you agree with that, Harold?


Harold: I think it's absolutely. That's a really insightful. And I think that's true. I think he was constantly adjusting. What's interesting, we get to see those moments when all of a sudden something has shifted and changed. You can literally see when is the size changing in the newspapers? And then when does Schulz change the size of the strip? Physically, to match that where he's working smaller or he's got a taller panel. And I think you're absolutely right. He is such a genius, and he's working in these little boxes. He can't change most of the rules, but every time the rules change, you can kind of see how he uses extra space that he's been given. And, it's almost always a really good choice. And certainly, I think, expression, he always had the characters with the big heads. I'm glad that that design was built in from the very beginning because expression is so important and the lines are so spare, and the tiny little difference between anger and happiness and me trying to count those things, I can say it can be awfully hard sometimes because the subtlety of what he puts in these strips is amazing. And, he's constantly adapting.


Jimmy: Right. Yeah. I have to say that's not something I noticed or thought about, but I think it probably is exactly right. Yeah. Because that is the most important thing to get over the emotions and the jokes of the strip 90% of the time, because it's not a physically active strip. You've got to get those faces right.


Liz: And then we heard from Stephen Antonelli, who says, greetings all. I greatly enjoy your podcast. In your most recent episode, in which you read the strip in which Charlie Brown visits Lucy, the therapist, you note the pillow that is labeled, did you kick your pillow today? I feel Charles Schulz missed an excellent strip idea as, she encourages him to let out his emotions. I thought she might hold up and say, I want you to punch this pillow, to let out those feelings. And as he wound up and struck out at the pillow, she could pull it away.


Jimmy: Oh, that's pretty good. Well, you know, I think you've given yourself an assignment. Why don't you draw that up and, send it to us?


Liz: And finally, Susie Metzler writes, thank you so much for this great podcast. I'm enjoying every single episode as I catch up. But I also want to say I'm terribly eager for you to get to 1980 and cover the longish and rather chilling sequence in which much of the gang from both neighborhoods attend a religious doomsday summer camp. While I'm an avid fan of all 50 years of the strip and try to read or listen to anything serious anyone has to say about it, I keep noting that no one ever seems to address that amazing interlude from June of 1980. So I really hope you can cover it in depth.


Michael: Cool.


Jimmy: Well, I'll tell you, I've googled this. I have done some research, and he is referring to something that was happening in the culture at the time. There was, a prediction for the end of the world in April 1980, a cult leader who was obviously deranged. Anyway, it is an interesting story, and I can't wait to get to it either.


Michael: Next couple of weeks.


Liz: Yeah, we're starting 1980, January 30.


Jimmy: Yeah, it's real good. And I do know that Schulz himself was very anti doomsday prophecy stuff. He did not like that. I thought that storyline happened in the was certain it did. And I thought it was related to another event when the world was predicted to end in 75, but I was wrong. It's the can't wait to get to it.


Michael: That'll be interesting. And lo, Alfred E. Newman doth appear in the clouds. There's a portent of the end days.


Jimmy: That's what it was. And you shall worry. You shall do. We got any other mail?


Liz: No, that's it for this time. But thanks, everybody, for writing.


Jimmy: Thank you so much. It's always great to hear from you guys, and, just keep them coming. So, let's take a little break right now. We'll get some water and a snack, and we'll come back on the other side.


BREAK


VO: Hi, everyone. Have you seen the latest anger and happiness index? Have you admired the photo of Jimmy as Luke Skywalker? Or read the details of how Michael co created the first comic book price guide? Just about every little known subject we mention is referenced on the unpacking Peanuts website. Peanuts obscurities are explained further, and other stories are expanded more than you ever wanted to know, from Albert Payson Terhune to Zipotone, Annette funicello to Zorba the Greek. Check it all out at unpackingpeanuts.com/Obscurities.


Jimmy: And we're back. So, guys, it is, the end of the end of the century, as the Ramones would say. And I thought this would be a really interesting time to talk about something that's actually kind of going around in the comic culture at the moment. And it definitely ties in with Peanuts. 


One of the things that Charles Schulz always had to deal with was this Idea of art and commerce. Peanuts is probably the most licensed cartoon comic strip ever. Maybe the Ninja Turtles or maybe some Disney things, but it's way, way up there. And yet he did that by just, putting his own thoughts and feelings on the page. 


The reason I want to bring this up is partly because as the 70s turned into the 80s, that even ramps up more, I think, in Peanuts especially globally. I know in the 80s it became huge in Japan, and, it was absolutely everywhere in pop culture. But, what's going on right now? There was this rant, a comic shop owner published online, and it got tons of attention from comic book professionals and other fans and stuff. And, his argument was that he does not want to see the artist put anything of themselves in the work. His argument is, you're hired. And the example he gave was, you're hired to write Tony Stark. Just write Tony Stark content. Nobody cares about you and your life. You could write a book about your life, but no one will read it. So that I found pretty funny. so I called Raina Telgemeier immediately and told her that she made a horrible mistake and no one's going to read her. You know, I just wanted to--


Harold: They had hired her to write Tony Stark, and then she did Smile? Wow, that's a bold move.


Jimmy: That is a bold move. Guys, we do a podcast where our focus is the artist, and 


Harold: No one listens to us.


Jimmy: No, seriously, what do you guys think about this, though? I mean, it's a really strange thing because I can only talk about three things, but I was watching a Quentin Tarantino interview, and he talked about how there's no movie stars anymore. You know Thor is a movie star, but the guy that plays Thor, if he goes in another movie, no one goes sees it. It's all just about corporate branded icons. And here we are talking about our little, our Charles Schulz every day, putting his heart and soul in the paper. I just want to know what you guys think about that. What is the role of an artist in a world where everything is a commodity?


Michael: Well, it depends on the media. I would say generally film, definitely, just because of huge budgets and lots of money at stake would be more commercial. If you're going into it depends on the artist, actually. If your main goal is not to get rich, but your main goal is to just do what you want, then you're not going to sell out. I mean, Jaime Hernandez definitely does some aspects of his Love and Rockets stuff that are more popular than others, but I'm sure that's not why he's doing them. He's going, well, I kind of like goofy science fiction. I think I'll do some more of that.


Jimmy: Right?


Michael: And those are the people I respect. But then again, somebody who went into the biz because I like drawing, but I also want to feed my family and other corrupt ideals. You can make the argument that, yeah, I'm working for you, you're paying me well, supposedly and so, yeah, I'll do what you want, but I think the store owner, whoever it may be, is totally out of line there. Eventually AI will be writing this stuff, or certainly can do it. But if you want something that's got more than that, that actually comes out of an actual human lifetime. yeah, of course the creator is going to be putting themselves into the work. Otherwise, why are you hiring them? Right?


Jimmy: Yeah. Right. What was the process of even hiring that person? Like, if anyone can just. It's just a mad lib situation or something like.


Michael: And the case of Schulz, it's very different. And I puzzle about this because certain people just transcend being rich. Yeah. And for some people, the game becomes like, I'm not rich enough or someone is richer than me, and that bothers me.


Jimmy: Right.


Michael: Some people will take it as well. I have absolute freedom now. I can do whatever I want. And there's probably people who. Well, I like making people happy, so I will give people what they want. In Schulz’s case, I think it's the latter. You know, he probably was not having sleepless nights over Garfield being more popular because I don't know if anyone was more.


Jimmy: So he wasn't worried about the money. The commercial aspect of. Oh, no. Right.

Michael: Yeah. Or I need two skating rinks. I've got a skating rink in every town in, You know, just knowing what I know about his Schulz was he wanted to make people, you know, making lots of merchandise supposedly makes people happy. And he doesn't want to deprive people of that. He kept an eye on quality. But there, are also other artists who at some point say, like, I've done well, I don't want to do this anymore. And they just, you know, you're JD Salingers who know, I've said what I have to say. I don't care how many millions of books I could sell.


Jimmy: Right. Hey, just as an aside, one of my, all time great memories would be driving around the wilds of New Hampshire listening to bootleg Smile mixes, looking for JD Salinger..


Michael: Yeah. And we think we found the house.


Jimmy: Nice.


Harold: Wow.


Jimmy: Harold, what about you?


Harold: Well, I've seen through Mystery Science Theater. I mean, that show had 200 and some episodes, just about when I came onto it, when we rebooted it. And it was really interesting to see the world of fandom, where, something has been made by a group of people with multiple voices, and it forms something in people's minds. And I think the more that there were multiple voices that formed characters and shows, the more the fans have a sense of ownership of that and they feel like they know what should be next or what is the right tone. In other words, if you're going to have a new person with a new voice, they're going to come out with something and they're going to say, I'm going to totally reinvent this character, Crow or whatever. And the fans in that world, I think, feel that they have the right to say, no, that's not Mystery Science Theater or no, that's not Tony Stark. Because it's like if you're taking a, character that's established, but not from a singular voice like Peanuts, but from a group of voices that have kind of played around the edges, and then you go way outside and it's like, well, I'm totally redoing this and I'm going to just layer myself on top of this because this is the gig I got. I understand that because I see it. 


I'm a little unnerved by that type of art where there's this kind of group mentality of that's right or that's wrong about characters. But I get it. I understand that once you build something like that, that is something that corporate America often doesn't do as terribly, because all they have to do is find somebody who's talented in what they do and they have some affinity for it and then just let them run with it. They supposedly are going to honor the work enough, and sometimes they miss the mark. But that's one thing that corporate America can do, what corporate America can't do. Like when you look at the movie, studios of the, you had these singular moguls often behind these studios, that had their own vision. Maybe it's making money, but also the vision of like, well, what's the flavor of what we're trying to do? And then they hire people and they kind of layer that on top. It was Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner. There's a flavor to the studios that's unique, and that was a different thing than what we have today. 


What I see is the Idea of the individual voice. Because these companies have gotten so large that are managing the entertainment we experience. They can't unearth unique new talent. That's not what they're good at. But there's such a, hunger for new voices and unique voices. And that's what I love about the internet. I mean you go on YouTube and all these unlikely people, things that people who would never be hired in a corporate setting to do a baking show or to talk about their day or parenting or unboxing toys, they would never, ever in a million years have thought of this. And the first time I saw this was American Idol. That was a huge gigantic crafted event. But as long as they let the people into the competition with a unique voice, then it was the public trying to find whatever hit them. And if it hit them in a new way, you saw a lot of people that won those things or went far in those, or who, even if they didn't win, they wound up having amazing careers. Who, in that sort of a situation where it's the mixture of the corporate and the people choosing, then some fresh things happen. And so, anyway, I feel like right now, a lot of that creativity and a lot of the work that people are doing that are the individual voices is coming from a grassroots that is supported by technology.


And before that by contests. It's that sort of a thing. And I think that's a wonderful thing. I do kind of get when somebody's saying, hey, here's a property that's been around for 60 years. Somebody's coming in. And to my mind, disregarding, what came before so violently that it's like, why are you even writing this character? Go do something that's going to be better matched to your style. I don't blame the artist for trying to layer themselves into it. They're doing their best. Maybe they're not very good at it, or maybe they just didn't like what they had to say. But it's a different world when you're dealing with something that has come from a collective experience and you see these odd things like Doctor Who, right? So they had the first woman Doctor Who. They've had the doctor who's scottish and who's old, young. And the concept is that these characters are, we are going to mix it up and how far are we going to take it and how far are the fans going to take it? That's like a canary in the coal mine kind of situation.


Michael: Right, but why is the store owner chiming in on this? I mean, was he saying back in the 90s, well, it's like Sandman was a guy who wore a gas mask and fought crime. And who's this Neil Gaiman think he is?


Jimmy: Right.


Harold: The store owner is saying, my customers are being driven away because the voices that are using the characters that my customers tend to love are going too far away from what the characters are.


Michael: They’re drifting away ‘cause the comics cost too much.


Jimmy: Well, that's part, yeah, well, all of that's a fact. Here's the thing that I thought was weird and what really drew my attention to it, he mentioned Tony Stark multiple times, 


Michael: who is dead. 


Jimmy: Well, yeah, Tony Stark has no personality for, I, mean, I'll go ahead and read Iron man comics. Spoiler alert. They suck. They have sucked from 1960, and they will suck into the 30th century. The only person who gave Iron Man any personality was Robert Downey Jr. All of that. All of what we think about as Tony Stark now came from Robert Downey Jr..


Michael: Who was, like, pretty much blacklisted from the movies.


Jimmy: And they had this--Marvel was, nobody let him in. He'll ad lib, he'll whatever, and we'll see what happens. And something magic happened. But that is unbelievably. I, mean, it's such a weird example, because it is, an example where someone came in and changed the character radically.


Harold: Well, and yet Tony Stark, sold for 50, 60 years. It's not like they canceled it after three issues. So people were getting something out of that character, even if it was kind of this impersonal nature to the character. I don't know. I'm no expert on that Marvel character.


Jimmy: Oh, you have a complete Iron Man collection. Don't pretend.


Harold: Yeah, it was. Obviously, there was something connecting to somebody to keep that character alive all those years. I don't know what it is.


Jimmy: Well, I think what it is is incremental additions that don't seem like much that are added by artists that come from their real life or not necessarily their own life, their own interests, whatever it is, like you say, it all gets added on to that.


Harold: Yeah, I've seen some of the clips from these books that this guy's griping about, and it's literally someone writing a diatribe about what they think politically and putting in the mouth of characters. I can understand why they're like, oh, man, please. This is not what my customers are looking for. But as far as putting your personality into your art or your life into the art, how rarely do we get a chance to do that or even find a way to do it in our own selves? If we were given complete freedom to say what we wanted to say, we're often just flat footed. How do I do this? And, Jimmy, I know you're a person who has had a sense of what he wants to say, and your personality is all over your work. That's-- It's remarkably rare. 

I printed for so many people doing comics on the grassroots, low level scale, and I was always in awe of how little so many people had to say or something good that they were going to share. It was more. I'm not faulting them because they did finished work and most people never even get there, but it was almost like they were exercises. Exercises in art, or exercises. And that's fine. If you don't do exercise, you don't get better, and you can't make better art. And so I was happy to print everybody's stuff, but it was the rare person who you saw. They were like, I want to put the best I have in myself into this work somehow. And somehow I think that's going to make someone's life possibly a little better. For having read my work, that's remarkably rare.


Michael: And if all those people, 10% are going to do something decent, and of those 10%, maybe 10% might actually be able to make some money out of it.


Harold: And sometimes people surprise you. They go up, they're chugging along, doing something that's not all that great And all of a sudden, they hit on some nugget of themselves in that work that resonates. And if they hadn't been doing it for ten or 15 years, and something you didn't think was all that remarkable, I mean, Peanuts is a fascinating example of somebody where he's incredible, he's a genius of a guy, but a unique genius, and he's got all these facets and weaknesses and strengths, and he's pouring himself into the work, and it keeps morphing and changing. And there are these exceptional things that arise at different parts in his career. and the other ones go away. They're like, oh, I don't want to see that leave. That was amazing. But he's moved on. His life has moved on. It's remarkable to see that. And I love anybody who's trying to create. Ah, art is pulling things out of chaos. Right? It's a friend of mine, Jordan Wilhelm, was saying that, and I think that's absolutely true. And you don't know what's going to come of that before..


Jimmy: I'm sorry, who said that?


Harold: Jordan Wilhelm. He's a musical director at our church. He's a brilliant guy.


Jimmy: Yeah, that's dead on.


Harold: And that means you're working in uncertainty now. That doesn't mean you can't use art for other purposes.


Jimmy: Sure.


Harold: And maybe more, what someone might even say propagandistic purposes, because you're good at what you do. And I've even seen people that do it for that, who do it incredibly well. And it's weird. I mean, there's so many different ways of dealing with art and excellent and poor examples of it. And that's one of the things I love about it. It's like you can approach it from so many different ways. Even that music episode we were talking about, how do we relate to other people's music? it's like everyone does it differently. And that's what makes art so fascinating. You’re constantly discovering.


Michael: But also people morph, and, great artists tend to morph in more obvious ways. Picasso being the classic example. You have distinct periods that may be last five or six years, and you can really tell the mean, the fact that Schulz is morphing is great. It's to be expected for a long career. And if you don't morph, then you're kind of a hack.


Jimmy: Yeah.


Michael: Then you're just going through the motion.


Jimmy: Yeah.


Harold: And even then I say this over and over again. It's like that Laurel and Hardy example. Even though those guys wound up doing the same stuff over and over again, they didn't have the budgets and they didn't have the time or whatever even that they were artists and they were recreating that same work over and over again. And I'm so grateful for every bit of it that we have on record.


Jimmy: Yeah. My experience with it is I'm being tortured at the moment because I accepted a commercial job that I thought would be pretty easy. I don't want to say who the publisher is, whatever, but it's adapting previously done comics into, prose stories, for bedtime stories for kids to read at night or the parents to read to kids. And I thought, well, this will be great this will be easy money, and I'll do it quick. The problem is, I looked at these stories and they weren't good. They weren't up to my standards, put it that way. So I had the option of, I can transliterate these things from a comic to a prose, which, I tried to do for three or four of them, and I had to read 120 of these things. It wasn't nothing, but I tried to just transliterate them for like three or four of them. I couldn't do it. It was hurting me. So I just took them as a springboard and it's like, no, I have to. If I'm sitting here and I'm spending all any of us have, all of us have is time and energy, and eventually you're going to run out of both of them, right? So if I'm going to sit here and I'm put time and energy into this thing. It's got to be what I want it to be. Well, here's the part of me that understands what the guy was saying. 

To take it from the other, the comic book store owner. I remember going to see the Last Jedi a few years ago, and to say I loved Star wars as a kid is an absolute understatement. I saw the first movie when I was five years old, and it changed my life. I am not a person that read every comic, every book, played every game, but I love those movies. And I went and saw the Last Jedi, and this was not my Luke Skywalker, blah, blah, blah. And I was annoyed watching it, and then I was angry watching it, and then I was ashamed of myself because what was I doing? I'm 40 something, and I'm sitting here in a movie theater mad that it's not entertaining me the way it did when I was five. I expected this thing somehow to entertain me my entire life. That's shameful. And then the image I got, and I will relate it to myself because I don't want this to be a slam on anyone's physicality in, the comic book world. But I imagined myself walking over to a soft serve ice cream machine and just putting my mouth in it and turning it. And that's, you know what I mean? That's what that kind of feels like to me. And like Michael said, once AI is coming, you'll have Tony Stark content until you die. You'll be able to go into the matrix. You'll be able to think you are Tony Stark in five years. It's, it's a really scary proposition when you get too invested in those.


Harold: We're dealing with these worlds where we're potentially given more and more opportunity to insert ourselves into what would have been an experience of someone else's mind and somebody else's creativity, and you're invited in there. I find that incredibly hollow. If someone's giving me a grid work for me to move around in, maybe because I'm expecting it to be an experience of art versus it being some other experience that really has little to do with art. because to me, art is becoming a guest in someone else's mind, right? That's why video games, I'm like, so somebody created a structure for me to run around and shoot people, but the choices I make, and they maybe very well make the choices for how hard it is for me to shoot that person or whatever, but it's like, why do I want to be living in that world? That somebody has manipulated for me to have a certain experience based on all these choices that they're not from my heart and my soul. That's just not the nature of a video game.


Michael: But, Harold, just in defense of video games as a storytelling medium is if you are playing that shooter game, that's your choice. I’ve read-- I don't play a lot of video games. Someday I will when I'm too old to move. But I've read about a lot of basically indie video games where people are like crying, they're so involved.


Harold: Yeah, I've not experienced that. I don't know.


Michael: And there's these huge genres. if you're going to read Iron Man, that's your choice. Go ahead. And don't blame the writer for being a hack because you're choosing to read a 70 year old script about a guy who's been 30 years old for 70 years. And, yeah, if that's what you want, you can find it. If you want the same old thing, the old same old rehashes because we've all gone through phases where we just want more of the same. I really like finding songs that sound a lot like the Beatles, but are like ten years later. Yeah. So basically, if you really want a personal story that really shows the creator, you can find it. I mean, it's the job of the retailer to actually have that stuff available.


Jimmy: and that's the other side is you might have to stock some stuff that you don't necessarily like to bring new customers into. Well, sure, that's just a business thing.

Harold: Right. And then you got the whole thing about, well, because some of these people that own stores feel very personally about what they put out there and they're curating it. And that's valid too. It may be impossible if the world moves away from whatever it is that you have a passion for. There's nothing new to sell. I could get the frustration of that. But, yeah, it's a choice. It's a choice by the person.


Michael: Well, it's a choice. It's an economic decision. But the retailer can say, it's my job to sell as many comics as I can, which means stocking superhero comics, because those sell more. And, there are like celebrity comic store owners and it's hard to imagine, but people who actually, their job is to promote the media and, yeah, so maybe they can have their Chris Ware graphic novel that might not sell for five years in the hopes that somebody will pick it up and totally change the way they think about comics.


Jimmy: But here's what bothers me about that. The Chris Ware comic that won't sell for five years. Chris Ware sells tons of comics.


Michael: Yeah, now, but that's, like, really exceptional just because he's so exceptional.

Jimmy: Yeah, but what I'm saying is this guy could stock those. You could write a book about your life. No one will read it. Well, you could see how many I sold from Scholastic. You could see how many Raina has sold. If you saw how many Raina has sold, I don't think you'd say that. He could make more money selling books like that than selling $4 comics. Certainly.

Harold: Yeah, you're right. I feel like the guy's got a valid point given where he's coming from and what he's saying. But I understand if you universalize what he's saying, there's lots of things to reject. It just doesn't apply. But I was wondering, could I share something that I presented at Seneca Falls for the It's a Wonderful life, 75th anniversary.


Jimmy: Absolutely. We would love that.


Harold: This is kind of related when we think about Schulz and we think about what grew around the core of the strip, which was really his heart and soul, it's kind of related. When, I was looking into this, I was really fascinated to see how things had changed, say, from the time of Frank Capra to the time today in the world of film entertainment. So in 1946, he came out with what I would say was his greatest film, and I would say to my mind, is the greatest film I've ever seen, It’s A Wonderful Life. And in 1946, the top ten theatrical films, that came out in terms of box office. It's interesting what their source was. So it was The Best Years of our Lives, which was based on a novella from the 40s, that era, Duel in the Sun, which was based on a novel that came out in the 40s; The Jolson Story, which was original screenplay, but based on kind of a biopic kind of thing from the 40s. Blue Skies, which was an original musical from the 40s. The Yearling, based on a novel a decade earlier in the 30s. That's the oldest thing that the top ten movies had, was something from just ten years earlier. The Outlaw, which was an original with. That was the, Jane Russell movie that Howard Hughes made, original from the 40s. 


Well, the point is that in the time of Capra, who was making the argument that the best films are going to be in this order, the director, the world builder, has the most influence. The writers who do the story have the second most, the actors who make those characters come to life is the third most important of the success, and the means is the producer, and that would be the fourth most. So if you look at the top ten theatrical films I'd taken of 2018, which is about the earliest one I could find, and you look at that top ten, it's Black Panther. Well, where was that origin? 1960s.


Michael: Okay, now I'm going to interrupt Harold rudely. There's, one difference-- before you get to your point, is there was just an overwhelming creative force back in the 60s and 70s, who so dominated the industry that 70 years later, is it 70 years, 60 years later, like billions and billions of dollars in movie revenue is based on one person's work.


Jimmy: It's incredible.


Michael: And that person is not around anymore. And had this decade where he created virtually every single thing in the Marvel universe except for Spiderman and Doctor Strange. So all of this, the reason that the Black Panther is, like, the biggest draw is not that, well, nobody's doing good work anymore. It's just like Jack Kirby was so overwhelmingly creative that it was just kind of a side character of his.


Jimmy: Yeah, they made a movie out of the Eternals, which was terrible, but the Eternals comic was terrible. But you know what I mean? You're right. If there was another industry where one person just dominated so much, he would be the most household name in the world. It annoys me that it's not. Anyway, Harold, so Black Panther 2018.


Harold: Yeah. One of the questions would be, was it that that person just happened to live in that point of time? Or was it because that point in time made it possible for that person to continually to create and be created.


Michael: Captain America in 1940, before the war.


Harold: Right. So my question is how much of it is the absolute genius of Jack Kirby, and how much of it is how things were structured so that people could find a way to continually create and not stop? Who were amazingly good.


Michael: No, he was paid by the page. He was never going to get rich.


Jimmy: Well, but I think what Harold's point is, he was paid by the page, and it was a crappy little industry, so he could pretty much do what he wants. Or maybe that's not Harold's point, but.


Harold: That is kind of what mean there he was in a position to, because let's say he had made millions of dollars. Would he have stopped? Would he have slowed down? We don't know, but it was just a situation where Kirby was making a living, being incredibly prolific, always getting a chance to make the next thing every single month for year after year after year after year. So his genius was obviously selling comics so that they wanted him to be doing that. But at the same time, sometimes you hit eras when the structure is not there for a certain type of artist to be able to be amazingly prolific and amazingly creative.


Michael: Well, Kirby was some kind of weird mutant because he was, also lightning fast and just sprouting ideas, some of which any one of these ideas would have made anyone else's career.


Harold: Right?


Michael: and a lot of them didn't work. But, hey, he invented romance comics. I mean, who would have thought of that.


Harold: Right? And let's go through this list, and we'll see where that influence is, because Black Panther was number one. It's from the 60s. Avengers began in the 60s.


Michael: Kirby


Harold: Incredibles two was the newest thing, and it was a sequel, kind of.


Jimmy: Rip off of the Fantastic Four. And Watchmen.


Harold: There you go. Then you had Jurassic World, Fallen Kingdom, which is from a novel from the 90s, Deadpool two from the 90s, The Grinch from the 50s, Jumanji from the 80s, Mission impossible from a tv show in the 60s. Then you got Antman and the Wasp from the 60s then, Solo Star Wars Story, which was based on a movie from the 70s. So it's like things changed to the point where you, were already talking about this earlier, that all of a sudden, that corporate giant, the thing that they've longed for, that's not to be an owner and a keeper of a world that somebody else has already built. And then you essentially often buy it. Right?


Michael: Totally different situation. I mean, first of all, when those movies were made in the 40s, what was the competition? Was radio.  Okay, now it goes through that list of movies. We've got movies based on movies, movies based on tv shows, movies based on games like 


Harold: picture books. 


Michael: The entertainment world is so vast that people want some familiarity. And there's also the nostalgia factor. Yeah, I'm sure our parents were happy watching those 1940s films because remember the 30s films? Because it brought back memories of their childhood. Yeah, our childhood isn't like actual life. Our childhood is like pop culture. And those movies are about pop culture. And we go like, yeah.


Harold: I think that's a really important point, because it's like, how do we find the critical mass to support the creation of a multimillion dollar movie? It's got to be either some form of shared experience, and maybe if our shared experience is pop culture from the past versus that we all lived on farms, and so a story about Grapes of Wrath or whatever would somehow possibly resonate with people. Yeah, that has shifted, and that has changed.

What I was ultimately trying to get to was Capra in the, was fighting for this Idea that the director, the world builder, is the one who should have the most influence, then the writers, the actors, and the producer. It's flipped on its head, today, where the producer has the most power, because they're the keeper of that common world that we know, and then maybe the director, and then you got the writers and the actors. So things have massively shifted in terms of how art is experienced. And like I said, there's not a desire for originality or something fresh and new. It just seems to be more that grassroots thing.


Michael: Well, yeah, but you're totally ignoring, like, streaming television, which is like, to me, a much greater art form than movies or video games, which actually is a bigger industry than movies.


Harold: That's true. Video games are financially much larger than film. Yeah. And again, I'm referring to this from what I was saying at a thing about a film director who was trying to make an argument for how you're going to make the better films and how that world doesn't really exist as much.


Jimmy: Well, and you're. Well, yes. And it does actually go across industries. The editor working for Disney, and I can say, I'm not complaining, I'm just explaining the way it works, working for Disney.


Michael: don't say anything bad about Disney.


Jimmy: I won’t. No, I just explained, this is just factual. Hey, I'm happy to have the gigs. And you know what? I think my second Donald Duck novel is the funniest thing I've ever written. But the way it works is the editor of the line is in. So I've written tons of young Donald Duck comics that I really enjoy, but the editor will call me up and go, hey, we're going to try a, mystery line. So can you write a mystery story? And I go, sure. And then they basically let me go off and do my thing. But my mystery story is going to be one of six mystery stories that they've commissioned from other people. Or maybe I might get two or three, because I tend to do more than the other people. But it's not originating from the creator. it's originating from the editor, which, to further Harold's analogy, is the producer. It's the keeper of the intellectual property, and it absolutely changes everything.


Michael: Well, I just saw two movies last week, one of which was totally about a product, pop culture. It's all about pop culture and politics, basically. And the other one is just an absolutely individual creation that is nothing like anything anyone's ever seen before. And, the first being Barbie, which is about a product and what it means meant to people. And the other one is Asteroid City, which is so personal. I don't know anything about the director and the writer. It's probably the same, almost like, you have to not give a **** about the audience when you're making a movie like this, because it's just like, I'm going to do this. And if people think that's insane, that's fine.


Jimmy: Well, yeah, but I think you couldn't do it by thinking, the way I think about that. I think, like, oh, this is insane. This is crazy. I've never seen this in a kid's comic. Oh, they're going to love this. And, even if they don't love it, that was my intent. I think about the audience, even when I'm doing the weirdest stuff I did in, like, I'm not saying I'm Chris Ware. I'm not saying I'm doing avant garde comics, but compared to other kids comics, Amelia, at the time, especially, was pretty different.


Michael: oh yeah.


Jimmy: And I always thought about the kids, but I didn't care if they rejected it. And, you have to have a tough skin. Go, I'm giving you this. I really hope you like it. There's a big part of me in it, and they might hate that. And you have to be like, okay, well, that's just the way it is.


Michael: Well, the ones who hate it, you'll probably never hear from. Unfortunately, there are people who want let you know.


Jimmy: They call me at my house.


Harold: Have you ever experienced that? There's something you put in there that there really was like, no, this doesn't work.


Jimmy: People have called me at my house and threatened me physically. my college roommate, Rich was here. If he's listening, he can back me up. Was the night before thanksgiving. Where do you get off? And, it was really strange. And by the end, I had the guy promising, to buy the rest of the books for his stepdaughters. It was fine. no. And I've had people. Oh, Harold, you've had people come up to you about my work and attack you about it, remember? The things they cannot change. Some guy called, possibly the most personal thing I ever did. I wrote a story for my college roommate, Steve, and his family because he was in Iraq for a year. And it's a very strange experience to be nervous for someone for a whole year, and there's nothing you can do about it. So when it was all over, I thought, well, now that he's home safe. I couldn't tempt fate by writing something while he was gone, but he was home safe. So I'm going to write a story to honor that. And, some guy came up to you and said, because I called it the thing I cannot change. It was like a fart at a dinner. Do you remember that in San Diego?


Harold: I do not.


Jimmy: Oh, how can you not remember? You got to take some St. John's wort, dude. He came up to you and he said, catholics don't pray that prayer. And you said, well, Jim, you went to twelve years of catholic school. And he told me they prayed it before the basketball games. No recall. And then Gene Simmons came up and I gave him the finger. Were you guys even present for the last-- Michael doesn't listen to the podcast. Harold doesn't listen to life. Anyway, I'm happy to have both of them here. I think this is a topic that we can discuss for 1000 years.


Michael: It's true.


Jimmy: And I intend to do it if I can. I'll have to think about this conversation for eleven years, though, as is my wont, and then we'll come back and pick, it up. Is that good?


Harold and Michael: Sure.


Jimmy: All right, so you characters out there, thank you for listening to this because I need to have, my smart friends talk me through these issues. 


Well, I think that's going to be it for us this week. Remember, we are doing that live event December 30, noon eastern time for our Patreon supporters. Be there or be square. 

Then we're going to take some time off, actually, and then, we'll be back strong in 2024. We have a really special guest coming up. Mrs. Jeannie Schulz, the wife of Charles M. Schulz, is going to come and grace us with her presence and we're going to talk about all things Peanuts and hopefully get some insight into what it was like, living with a genius. It's going to be a lot of fun. I hope you guys can be here for it. Until then, from Michael, Harold and Liz, this is Jimmy. Be of good cheer.


Michael, Harold and 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 unpack Peanuts on Instagram and reds. Unpacking Peanuts on Facebook, blue Sky and YouTube. For more about Jimmy, Michael and Harold, visit unpackingpeanuts.com. Have a wonderful day and thanks for listening.

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