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Special Episode - A Charlie Brown Christmas

Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the show. It's Unpacking Peanuts. It's the podcast that is not only getting too commercial, it is getting too dangerous.

We are so happy to have you here today because today we are discussing, the 30 or so strips that were adapted into the seminal and classic animated special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now, don't worry, if you're not a Christmas enthusiast, or if you're the world's biggest enthusiast, it doesn't matter if you start celebrating in April or if you've never jingled a bell in your life, you are welcome here to talk about our favorite thing, Charles Schulz and his fantastic comic strip, Peanuts.

I hope you're having a good holidays, whichever holidays you celebrate. I'm Jimmy Gownley. I'm one of your hosts for this evening. I'm the cartoonist of Amelia Rules, The Dumbest Idea Ever, and Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up.

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 co creator of the original Comic Book Price Guide, the original editor for Amelia Rules, and the cartoonist behind such great creations 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 the Instagram strip Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.

Harold: Hello

Jimmy: Guys. I'm very happy to be with you today, so we could talk about one of my favorite things, which is A Charlie Brown Christmas. I know for Harold and I, it's one of our favorite, if not our very favorite episode of television ever. Michael has never seen it at all, which is okay, because he's the Peanuts Purist on this podcast.

So what we're going to do, just like we did for The Great Pumpkin, our super, listener, Joshua Stauffer, has compiled all of the strips, which have been adapted into this animated special on our website. You'll be able to go there and download a PDF, which, Joshua has put together, and you'll be able to see what the strips are, and you'll be able to read along with us. It's a little trickier than, going with the and just going through because they're done in a variety of different orders. They're told out of sequence because they were just collaged to make this special. So before you listen to this, if you really want to get hardcore, go download that, then come back and we'll go through the strips. But before we do that, I bet if there's one person in the world who would have a few things to say about the history and the making of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It's my pal, Harold Buchholz. Harold, do you got any info for us?

Harold: Yes, actually I do. So I was thinking about this special and that it's been running now for what, 57 this would be the 58th year, and it's still part of the cultural zeitgeist. It's available if anybody is wanting to see it. It's not on the networks as it normally is. Apple bought the rights to all of the Peanuts stuff for their streaming service, but because they know it is such a part of the cultural landscape, what they've done is they've allowed people who do not pay for the Apple what's it called, apple plus or what's the name of the service that they do? They will allow you to actually see it for free. I think you may have to sign up to get in there, but they will let you specifically see the Peanuts specials, like the Thanksgiving special and the Christmas special for free because they don't want to be the Grinch and have a wall between people and this beloved show. So thank you to Apple for doing that. And if you do want to see it this year, that is a way to do it.

So the background on this Christmas special, Lee Mendelson was, a producer, kind of a very entrepreneurial guy. He was in the San Francisco area and he met Schulz in 1963. He had just done a documentary on Willie Mays, called A Man Named Mays, which had aired, and Schulz, had seen it and it just hit Mendelson at one point. I've just done a documentary on the greatest baseball player of the time. Why don't I do a documentary on the worst baseball player of all time? And so that's why he got in touch with Schulz, because that, that idea just tickled his fancy. And so Schulz, like I said, had seen the Willie Mays documentary and really liked it, so he agreed to meet, about it.

And at this point, the the, Ford Falcon commercials, which were on the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, as well as, I guess, regular broadcast ads had already run in 1962. And you can see them on YouTube if you want. And they're, they're very interesting because it's the very first attempt at animation. And Bill Melendez, who had been a former Disney animator and did a lot of, Warner Bros. Animation. He was a top animator at, Warner Bros. On the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons. He was the guy who was, brought in by this ad agency. He had to essentially audition for this kind of flat Peanuts animation style. And he said, animators don't audition. But when he found out it was for Peanuts, he was like, okay, I get it. This had never been translated. And Schulz's style was so two dimensional, they needed to get somebody who could actually make it work. And so Melendez had done these Ford commercials and Schulz liked him. And Schulz was a very loyal guy, so Melendez had worked with him before. So he recommended Melendez to be the guy to animate, maybe two minutes of stuff for this, boy named Charlie Brown documentary in 1963. And they actually made it, and without a sponsor and without a network. And, to the surprise of, Lee Mendelson, nobody wanted to buy it. So it sat on a shelf for seven years before the fame of Schulz was so overwhelming that finally someone says, okay, yeah, let's air this special seven years later.

But that was kind of the beginning of this little team that was floating there in the animation world for Charles Schulz. And apparently what happened was that there was an opportunity when the Time magazine gave a front cover Peanuts coverage, which was Time magazine. If you got on the cover of Time magazine, that seemed to be like that meant you have made it in American culture. And that happened in April of 1965.

Jimmy: It's like getting a whole bunch of likes on Instagram all at once.

Harold: Now I understand.

Yeah. And so this guy from McCann Erickson, an ad agency, had just seen the, documentary on Schulz that they had turned down to find a sponsor. But the guy kind of liked what he had seen and he saw the animation that had been done and he just called up Lee Mendelson and said, how would you like to do a Christmas special? Because Coca Cola was looking for a Christmas special. And that's not a lot of lead time for a half hour animated special. But he said, hey, what do you think about that? And Lee's like, sure, absolutely. And then he calls up, Charles Schulz and says, I think I just sold a Charlie Brown Christmas show. and he said Schulz said, and what show might that be? And Mendelson said, the one you need to make an outline for tomorrow.

So that was the beginning of it. And he said Schulz said, okay, come on up. Because, they were so close to each other. Schulz is in the Santa Rosa Sebastopol area, just south of San Francisco, and this is where Lee Mendelson is based, out of near San Francisco. So next day he visits Schulz and they just kind of sit down. And according to Mendelson, it was like Schulz said, okay, if it's going to be a Christmas special, I want to certainly deal with the true meaning of Christmas. And I'd like to do a lot of scenes with snow and with skating. So obviously, his memories of Henneberg County was on his mind. And basically, Mendelson said, it all tumbled out.

And I'm pulling a lot of this from an amazing book. If anybody's A Charlie Brown Christmas fan or is just interested in the history of this, check out A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition by Lee Mendelson with reminiscences by Bill Melendez. It came out in 2000 right after Schulz had passed away. And you can kind of feel that freshness of loss of Schulz and celebration of Schulz.

Jimmy: Is that the square book with the silver cover?

Harold: Yes. It's a beautiful book.

Jimmy: That's a great book

Harold: and done by people that were in the middle of it. And there are things in there that you normally would not see in a book like this unless I mean, Melendez was still around, obviously. Mendelson was so they have the entire I forgot the term, but basically every single assignment for every single scene, for every single animator, you can see who was assigned what in this two page spread. There's lots of cool stuff like that in there and the reminisces are very fresh from a lot of people, in 2000. And he dedicated it. the book. It says For Sparky, we’ll never forget you. So it's a great book.

So anyway, what happens is in this conversation where he's just hanging out with Schulz and trying to figure out what it's all about, he says it all tumbled out and they wound up pretty much having the idea for what this was going to be instantly. And of course Schulz says, well, get in touch with Bill Melendez again, he's our guy. And so he calls up Bill Melendez and says, can you do a Christmas special in eight months? Which really wound up being six months. And just like, Mendelson, Melendez was like, sure, of course it could be done. But it is really tight to do something like this. It helps, I think that, he had the background animating Schulz before. He'd already worked with them so they didn't have to figure out certain things that they would have had to figure out otherwise. So that helped. And then they brought in all of the children because they were going to do children's voices, which was pretty unheard of to have children doing children.

Jimmy: It is one of the big keys to, I think, what makes it Peanuts-y. which is a brilliant, I think, maneuver by Schulz because one of the big, like hooks, I think, especially at the time was it's little kids talking like adults. And even though we've established that's not exactly what it is, I think to the general populace, it probably was. So can you talk a little bit about that? I'm sure that was Schulz's decision. But was there ever thought of going with, professional adult actors?

Harold: I think Schulz specifically said he did not like that. He did not like the sound of adults, pretending to be children. And so that was something he did insist on because that was kind of his own pet peeve that he didn't want that in there. And I think Melendez was game to do it. He'd already done it I think he'd done it with child's voice back with the Ford Falcon thing. So, again, it was something they were kind of familiar with.

And Peter Robbins, was the first Charlie Brown, and, he said he was mystified by a lot of the dialogue. and it seemed edgy to him as a kid because they're talking about it's all run by a great Eastern syndicate, you know, and stuff like that. They didn't understand what they were saying. And the girl that played, little, Sally was six years old. She couldn't read yet, and so they would feed her a line or half of a line at a time. And you hear that in the special where she's saying things like, all I want is what's coming to me. All I want is my fair share. And it's just so endearing. This little kid just trying to spit these words out that do sound like a couple of layers too, complex for her. It's really special and unique. And the idea that they kind of struggle a little bit with their own lines, that's pretty amazing. I mean, even the kid who played Linus, I think he maybe just turned seven.

Jimmy: Wow.

Harold: And he had done some voice work before, and they said he's kind of a perfect voice for Linus, because how do you embody these characters that people have gotten to know so well? And everyone's got their own voice in their own head as they're reading? And that's an interesting question. Do you really have a voice in your head so that when Linus speaks, that's not Linus? I think that's probably true. It's like, when Garfield first came out, I think people were a little shocked at his voice because they thought they knew what it was, but they knew what it wasn't. And somehow they seem to nail it with the Peanuts characters in a way that is pretty remarkable.

Jimmy: But do you hear a voice of the character in your head, or do you hear your own internal reading voice, like whatever that voice is?

Harold: Yeah, I don't think I'm, in an audio oral for myself. I'm listening to something. I don't think I'm as specific as some people are. I think some people might be more specific in their own minds than say, I am. But Christopher Shay was Linus, and when they were looking, there was the casting person said, well, I have this kid who has a slight lisp and he can read with great emotion. And they were like, oh, we found our Linus. This is a great kid, but even then, he's barely old enough to read some of this. So they're having to feed him a bunch of these lines. So anyway, it's just a really interesting thing. And then for the Hark the Herald Angels Sing they go and find, I think, at the St. Paul's Episcopal Church in San Rafael, they basically just had a bunch of kids who were in the choir, who volunteered, didn't even know what they were signing up for. Well, you want to support the church, show up at 07:00 p.m.. And they bus them over. And for a few nights they sing Christmas, carols. And they had no idea really, what this was all about until, the special came out. And they were like, oh, which version did they use of the songs that we sang?

So Mendelson-- that this was just a grueling session, according to the Charlie Brown voice actor. He said that it was, I think, 3 hours. All the kids were together, it was chaos. But they recorded pretty much the whole thing in 3 hours with everybody all together, including, Melendez, who would do the voice of Snoopy, sped up-- or not voice, but the sounds of Snoopy. Which must have been also a tough choice, right? Because Snoopy, he thinks. We see him think all the time. And then what do you do in animation? Do you let him have the echoey voice of the-- John didn't ask for a second cup of coffee?

Jimmy: I mean, to me that is such the obvious choice to go have Snoopy. He could even be an adult voice, right. Have it all be in his head and you'll be able to get that Snoopy voice that you have in a strip. But boy, thank God they didn't do that.

Harold: It would totally change the animated specials and change the, the balance of the specials. Yeah. You know, but you're right, I mean, I and I'm guessing that must have been Schulz insisting. And Melendez apparently was quite happy with the idea of -- Hey let’s just let him be like a Harpo Marx kind of character.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Harold: but it does change probably more than anything, I think that changes the nature of the strip versus the animated specials and the fact that we do not know Snoopy's thoughts verbally.

Jimmy: Yeah, very much. And I never even thought about it. But if you were a person who just read the strip or just, watched the specials, you do have a very different conception of Snoopy.

Harold: Yeah. And I was just thinking and trying to do a little bit of math, and I would estimate that the number of viewings of this specific special is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 billion.

Jimmy: Amazing.

Harold: I'm trying to think what other film or television things have been seen 1 billion times? Particularly something that has like a storyline in it now, maybe music videos collectively, people see it over and over.

Jimmy: Videos are different.

Harold: Gangnam Style has been seen well over a billion times. Right.

Jimmy: And that's three minutes. That's a different commitment.

Harold: Right. It's not narrative. And I'm thinking, okay, Rudolph is probably up there, the Grinch is probably up there. But the biggest-- It's a Wonderful Life, maybe getting close to that. But you try to think of what's lasted long enough to cumulatively around the world have that level of viewership and common experience. I would guess it's up there in the top ten of anything that's ever been made. I mean, you got Wizard of Oz, You're Gone With the Wind, even those I think it beats out when a movie is in a movie. Movie theaters, the biggest movie is going to be seen by maybe Gone with the Wind. Probably had 25 million, 30 million people see it at first. Just like a TV show, right? It's crazy.

Jimmy: Well, the other thing about it is Charlie Brown Christmas only airs at Christmas. You can sort of Gone With the Wind back once a year, but you watch it any time.

Harold: Yeah reruns of, Andy Griffith's Show are probably in the hundreds of millions because that show just never died and ran on all these different countries. Flintstones has been all over the world.

Jimmy: This, is our new podcast where we just name TV shows. Jeffersons.

Harold: In the Carlton your Doorman Animated special, I'm sure, is up there, too.

Jimmy: A classic, by the way. That's our second Carlton your doorman reference on this podcast. That's how hip we are.

Harold: We are with it. Anything newer than 50 years is a shock to our listeners.

So basically, these guys are going flat out trying to make this thing, they don't have a whole lot of time to second guess, shoot something over again, redo a scene. They just have to stick with Schulz's storyboard, ideas, and they just have to go for it. And I think you see that in the special. And I think that's why in some ways, it's so raw and so true to Schulz is because in some ways they didn't have any time to try to take it beyond the strip. And then that kind of set the mold going forward of how this was going to be.

And Mendelson was saying the show was finished a week before the broadcast date, I bet. And they said they were all exhausted. And for the first time, the staff watched the entire show. It said, we all felt our uneasiness after the screening. We thought that perhaps we had somehow missed the boat. However, one of the animators, Ed Levitt, stood up in the back row and declared, A Charlie Brown Christmas will run for 100 years. And he said, most of us would have been happy for two.

So then Mendelson flies this print with this print to New York City, and he presents it to these two CBS executives, nervous as can be, and he quotes them saying, well, you gave it a good shot. It seems a little flat, little slow. We will, of course, air it next week, but I'm afraid we won't be ordering anymore. We're sorry. And believe me, we're big Peanuts fans.

Jimmy: yes, believe me, there's no one who loves you more.

Harold: Well, isn't that turning the knife even more? We were rooting for this more than anything. And even with that extra push, you failed.

Jimmy: Exactly. And with their unerring sense of incorrectness, they confidently predict they will not be making any more. I love it.

Harold: Maybe it's just better suited to the comics page. Now, I get that because they're seeing something for the first time. And it is unlike other animation, it's not as slick. It’s slow…

Jimmy: And they lack any creative bone in their body, and therefore are afraid to say they like it because it's different. Right. It's an artistic statement that will make any guy in a suit mad, upset, nervous, holding onto their wallet.

Harold: Yeah, what are they going to peg it against? And this thing was standing alone, and it wasn't what they expected. Anyway, so the story goes, Mendelson heard them talk to each other, and they said, what should we do with Bergheim? And Mendelson's like, the other guy says, we shouldn't show it to him. It's like who's Bergheim? And it turned out he was, the TV reviewer for Time magazine. He was waiting outside to review it to hit his deadline. And Mendelson was like, well, wouldn't it be worse if you don't show it to him? So they said, all right, yeah, you can see it. And so he had to sit through a second screening with Bergheim silently watching this thing. The guy gets up, thanks him, and leaves. And Mendelson is like, oh, he's just devastated because nobody is responding to this thing, except Ed Levitt in that that room.

And so he he said he flew home to San Francisco. And the airport was like, the first place to get the early copy of Time magazine. And so when he you know, when he got there, it was just being loaded on there. And he said, I was shaking when I opened it up and got a lovely review from from Time magazine. And so I was like, well, maybe we've got a shot. There you go.

So it airs on December 1965. It gets a 45% share, which basically means 45% of all television sets that were tuned in watched this show. It was the number two show only to Bonanza, which was a blockbuster at the time, western. And, as one ad exec was quoted as saying, I think in David Michaelis’ book, all heaven broke loose. People just like, oh, this is amazing, the warmth. And everyone all of a sudden just instantly embraced this special. And it goes on to win, the Peabody Award for Outstanding Children's Program. It wins the Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Special. Yeah. So probably over 40 million people saw it the very first time it airs. And then it goes on to I think the peak was 1969, which kind of gives you some Peanuts barometer of where Peanuts was in the culture. The 1969 is the peak year, of the Christmas special, where, it had a, 53 share, and I'm guessing in that case, probably 50 million people watched it. And that's in the top ten Christmas specials of all time. So was 1967. And, usually those, like the Bob Hope Christmas specials were the ones that everybody was watching. But for animated specials, it's the highest rated animated Christmas special ever for the top two slots and maybe more.

Jimmy: Yeah, well deserved. It is an absolute masterpiece. And you know what else was a masterpiece? That bit of research from you, Mr. Harold Buchholz. Thank you so much. I feel like I just got a Christmas present from you, hearing, all that. That was wonderful.

Harold: Well, thank you.

Jimmy: So, listen, how about this? We're going to take a quick break now, and when we come back, we're going to talk about why Michael has never seen it, and late breaking news, Liz saw the premiere, so we're going to discuss that. So meet us on the other side of this.


VO: Hi, everyone. It's the holiday season, and Unpacking Peanuts has gift ideas for everyone on your list. Jimmy, Michael, and Harold all have books for sale. You can find links to buy them on our website. You can also purchase exclusive Unpacking Peanuts T shirts. If you're feeling especially generous and love the podcast, we invite you to support us on Patreon or buy us a mud pie. Warm greetings of the season from all of us at Unpacking Peanuts. And now back to the show.

Jimmy: And we're back. Michael, you have never seen a, Charlie Brown Christmas, is that correct?

Michael: It is true. And also, I have never seen any of the Peanuts specials.

Jimmy: All right, explain yourself.

Michael: Okay, well, it's it's a complicated story. you're talking 1965, so I would have been 15.

Jimmy: Right.

Michael: And at 15, I would have had no say in what we were watching on TV. It would have been a family decision.

Jimmy: Right.

Michael: And since my family did not celebrate Christmas, and since Bonanza was on, I can pretty much guarantee we are watching Bonanza. Anyway, the, fact that I haven't seen any of the animated specials kind of nullifies that excuse.

The fact is that I am very much a purist on reading the comic strips. That's the form I grew up with. That's the form I loved. Big influence on my life. But I remember when I saw the first commercials, it bothered me and started seeing ads, and it was sort of a feeling like, okay, selling out, not a good thing. But also, it was a little jarring to see them animated, and I didn't like it. And I'm sure I knew the specials were on, but, I had no interest in watching the specials.

Harold: Well, you have a unique perspective that almost nobody has, which you bring to this podcast that you are all about the strips, and that is what informs you about Peanuts. You don't have all this extra stuff in the back of your head that other people do when it comes to the strip.

Jimmy: Right.

Michael: Well, I never had any interest in the toys or even the books. It was just pure strips and collections of the strips. And I know a lot of our listeners are probably fans of collecting the toys, and, I think that's great. But I didn't want anything that was not pure Schulz Peanuts. Certainly over the years, I've caught little bits and pieces of the specials, and I really don't like the voices.

Jimmy: Oh, wow.

Michael: I hear you when you're saying it was charming that it was little kids, but they were also not actors. And it's a very subtle strip with very careful dialogue, and something was missing, even though--I don't think I actually heard what their voices were in my head, but it was not kids. And it was well delivered lines.

Harold: Right.

Michael: These strips are just carefully paced, and so you can hear what the characters or the words are saying, but you can also hear their tone. And when that's not there, it's very flat. And like you're describing, the kids were being prompted or they didn't know what the words meant, so you're not going to get the best reading or even a good reading. So, anyway, I'm perfectly happy not to have seen them, and, I don't think I will ever see them, which is fine. I don't want anything corrupting--

Jimmy: Yeah. And I just want to say-- I'm sorry. What was that?

Michael: No, I have this very pure experience with Peanuts and, not modulate in any way by any outside influences.

Jimmy: Well, I just want to say I know, lots and lots of cartoonists, and it was originally my idea to do this podcast, so I could have picked a lot of different people to talk to, and I picked who I picked very specifically. And the show is what it is because of the three different perspectives. Four, really. And I, love that. And not only would I consider it a failure for this podcast if, Michael had to watch the animated specials, I would consider it a failure of my friendship with Michael if he had to watch the specials, because, it is a totally different perspective. It is one I totally respect, and it's one that I might have shared if I was Michael's age. Right. Because, when I watched, Peanuts just appeared, and the shows were already years old by the time I was watching them, there was no thought of what would Peanuts be like animated. There's a very good chance I saw animated versions of Peanuts from the time I was an infant, just in my line of sight or whatever. So I am very happy, that we have three such different and Venn diagram- like takes on Peanuts and I can't wait, and like I said at the top of the show, whether you're a Christmas fan or not, stick with us. We are going to go through these strips now, and, we'll just enjoy them like we always do, because this is Schulz and Peanuts at the absolute top of his game. Want to go through the strips?

Michael and Harold: Sure.

VO: Lights please

Jimmy: All right, so we are going to just jump here into the strips. And remember, these are all the strips that Schulz chose and Mendelson chose to adapt into this, classic special, Charlie Brown Christmas. And they're not all Christmas strips. They're all over the place. So here we go. This is:

July 1, 1959. Charlie Brown is standing outside looking very contemplative. Linus with thumb and blanket and classic position, looks on. Charlie Brown says, “I thought having a baby sister would change my whole life, but it hasn't.” Charlie Brown leans up on, like, an old rustic fence, replacing the thinking wall. And he says, “People still hate me. Nobody really likes me. I get just as depressed as I always did.” Then he walks away from Linus looking completely forlorn Linus worried, looks after him and says, “Poor Charlie Brown.” Then Linus, in classic thumb and blanket pose, says, “of all the Charlie Browns in the world, he's the Charlie Brownest.”

Michael: Now, I wonder if Schulz had that punchline and was just waiting for the right strip because it's such a classic punchline.

Harold: Yeah. Yeah. Which came first? That's really interesting. I wouldn't know which way that happened. It would be tough to guess if he he set himself up and came up with an amazing end line, or if he had that end line, like Michael said, and he found a great set up for it.

Jimmy: But I do think it's improved in the animated special, where it's Charlie Browniest. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world. You're the Charlie Browniest.

Michael: that's how I read it. I read it that way. I remember it as browniest.

Harold: That's interesting.

Jimmy: Yeah, that is interesting. One of the wild things is just that so much of this is a collage. The whole special is a collage. He's taking all of these strips, moving them around, switching characters. and if you download Joshua Stauffer's PDF on our website,, he does his own little take on the differences and stuff between the strips and the adaptation. But, boy, the whole thing is a collage. It's these old strips. It's a Bible verse. it's Vince Guaraldi's music, which we haven't mentioned, but which is iconic. and everyone in the world knows. I wonder how he must have known that's such a great punchline and thought, Great, and I can fix it. I can add that i that Michael has been hearing all these years. Anyway.

Harold: Yeah. What a way to open the thing-- that shows you how strongly he felt about that strip. And that statement?

Jimmy: Absolutely.

February, 14th, 1963. It's Valentine's Day. In the foreground, Shermy and Violet are exchanging valentines. Charlie Brown looks on from the background. He says “Rats. Nobody ever gives me any valentines.” Then he walks off looking upset, saying “I wish there wasn't such a thing as Valentine's Day. I know nobody likes me.” Then in the last panel, he shouts to the heavens, “Why do we have to have a Valentine's Day to emphasize it?”

Now this has changed in the animated special to be why do we have to have a holiday season?

Michael: Oh, okay. It's just brought something to mind, I guess. There's probably some play in the early seventies. I thought, huh, I wonder if I could do a daily strip. I will try to write one cartoon. Me as the main character. I didn't consciously do it. Now I realize this was my strip.

Harold: Welcome to the club. How many times have I done that? Then I read Peanuts for this podcast. Like ohhh, that wasn't mine.

Jimmy: I'm fairly certain I stole one. I think I mentioned one of the other episodes for a commercial gig I do on a monthly basis. We haven't come up to it in the strips yet, but I know it's coming. And I'll be like ouch. They're just baked in when you've read them thousands of times, what do you think? I think it's better having this on Valentine's Day than Christmas.

Harold: What I like about the Christmas special version of it is it's so low key in the Christmas special. And you'd think in an animated thing it would be the over the top yelling like we have in the comic strip, but it's the reverse. He's saying it in this very low key way, which really kind of knifes you in the heart the way he says it. And I think it was the right choice because the animation, I think, can exaggerate things so much that you can almost lose what you're trying to say. that it's done and it's not a whisper, but it's very quiet.

Michael: It's a scream in my head voice. He's yelling in that last panel.

Harold: Oh yeah, absolutely. But not in the special. It's very much him saying it almost in a resigned way, which really gets you.

January 6, 1955. Patty and Charlie Brown are standing outside in the snow. Charlie Brown says, “come on and see the snowman Pig-Pen made.” Patty says to Charlie Brown,”Say, I'll bet playing around in the snow kept him clean, didn't it?” They both walk off towards Pig-Pen with Charlie Brown saying “on the contrary.” And then Charlie Brown presents Pig-Pen’s snowman and says “the world's dirtiest snowman.”

Harold: With a big smile on Pig-Pen's face of pride.

Jimmy: Yes. And the snowman's face and Charlie Brown's.

Harold: They're all happy about it. except for Patty. She's a little uncertain it looks like.

Jimmy: Michael just found a really interesting article about Pig-Pen. And what was it-- Astra magazine.

Michael: Yeah, it's a web magazine. I've never heard of it. I saw a link to it and I don't want to comment on it too much. It's definitely worth reading but I would have considered Pig-Pen like a one joke character and a very perceptive writer goes on for pages on the depths of Pig-Pen and how complex a character is. So read that because I've never seen that and now I can appreciate Pig-Pen some more.

Jimmy: That is a sign of a great work of art that the more you look at it and the more you go into it with an open mind and open eyes, you do see stuff, you do see stuff that you never thought about before. And apparently, and even according to that article, Schulz himself thought Pig-Pen was a one joke idea. and actually wrote him out of the strip for nine years. Which I've read this thing all the way through twice and never noticed.

Harold: Didn't miss him, huh?

Jimmy: He's gone for like nine years.

Harold: Wow.

Jimmy: I've never even thought about it.

Harold: Which decade was he not around?

Jimmy: It's like the late sixties to the end of the 70’s or something like that I'm pretty sure. Or it might be of 70s into the 80s. Read the article. they have the right dates but it's really interesting.

Harold: And it's interesting for those who have seen the Christmas Special. I think there's something about the special that really cements him in the Peanuts pantheon because he comes across as very self confident and proud. But he has this kind of high self esteem that somehow comes across as pretty endearing. And that I think that, at least in my mind, that is Pig-Pen. Probably, because of having seen the Christmas special so many times that I look at him through the lens of the special, I will admit, because of how he comes across, as just if anybody gives him any trouble, he's got the comeback for their their insults or their criticisms.

Jimmy: We're not going to read this one but May, 31st, 1957 is another strip that was adapted where Charlie Brown says Pig-Pen, you're the only person I know who can raise a cloud of dust in a snowstorm. That also Pig-Pen gets another gag there, in the special.

December 3, 1955, Linus and Lucy are standing out in the snow and it's flurrying. Lucy says, “try to catch the snowflakes on your tongue, Linus.” The second panel has them both standing there trying to do just that. Then in panel three, Linus seems to be chowing down on some snowflakes. “Smack Smack.” Then he looks to Lucy and says “Needs sugar.”

Jimmy: were you guys ever-- well Michael, you weren't a snowflake catcher.

Michael: I did not know what snow was.

Jimmy: You didn't have snow?

Michael: No.

Harold: When was the first time you saw snow, Michael?

Michael: Well I grew up in new York till I was four and a half, so I just didn't remember it till.

Harold: Four and a half. Okay. Yeah. I love the little thin, little tongue on Lucy on the second panel. It makes me think of a dog's tongue rather than a child's tongue.

Jimmy: I'm never 100% when he sticks the tongues out. They always look a little creepy to me, like lizard-like or something.

Harold: How about, when they're writing and they've got the tongue up in the corner?

Jimmy: That's okay. I can tolerate that. It's the profile tongue.

Michael: How about when they're aware of their tongue?

Harold: No, don't say it now.

Jimmy: We're doomed.

Michael: I can't even talk now.

January 5, 1960, Lucy and Linus are out doing the snow catching on your tongue bit again five years later. Linus says, “catch the snowflakes on your tongu,. Lucy.” Then Lucy very professorally, says, “it's too early. I never eat January snowflakes. I always wait until February.” Then panel three, she walks away, leaving Linus alone to comment on panel four. “They sure look ripe to me.”

That's a wild thing to think he had a 1955 strip and a 1960 strip. You, know what? There's like, 1500 comic strips between them or whatever more. But he puts them together in this show as if they're, like, seconds apart. I wonder how this do you think he just sat down with a bunch of books and went through just circling gags?

Harold: Yeah. I'm wondering what kind of access he had to his former strips, because obviously not all of them had been reprinted and then they got mixed up. So, for a Christmas special, you would think, let's go back and look around November through February and see what we got.

Michael: I bet he clipped him out and put him in a notebook. He'd have to do that.

Harold: Yes. Right. Or his secretary, would have these tear sheets or something from the syndicate, that they could just flip through. Yeah, he must have. Right?

Michael: Yeah, because he has to get all the backgrounds. The tree has to look exactly the same every time.

Jimmy: I was just going to say this. If this came to me and they said, hey, Jimmy, you're going to do a Christmas special, and you're going to have to just pick the best stuff for Amelia from, like, 1300 pages of it. I would feel, in a weird way, almost constricted by it.

Harold: Really?

Michael: You did it. You did it for a Christmas musical.

Jimmy: No, but that was adapted, well. We did do a Christmas musical, which Michael wrote, but that's different.

Michael: I didn’t write it. You put the bits you wanted in there from Amelia,

Jimmy: But it was all from one issue, is my point. My point is, I didn't really take stuff from all over it, and I didn't take stuff like I didn't take a Rhonda line and give it to Tanner or I didn't know that I would feel weird about doing, I think, which is the wrong move. I mean, he was so smart to go, I have a gold mine of the greatest comic material ever, and I'm going to use it as a raw material to make this other art again, like a collage.

Harold: Well, it's so episodic. You have to, right? I mean, at this point, he doesn't have a ton of arcs. He has a few, for Christmas. So he's got to pull something kind, of out of the hat here. This is the thing about these animated specials is they are extremely episodic, like the strip.

And I think to some people that's maybe jarring because that no other animation is done this way where you have the set up for a joke and the characters are in a certain location and sometimes it's almost like they'll just fade out, fade back into the same setting where people are now in a slightly different position. And then you do the next gag. That was always kind of a piece of, what these shows were about. It's like Bill Melendez wanted to mess with Schulz's original vision so little that you would get these little smatterings of basically a four panel joke was going to run maybe 15 seconds. And then there's going to be another one with, you know, with Peppermint Patty and Marcie that's in the same room. But the setting has changed, just like the strips change. And it's a really interesting choice. And it makes these specials different than I think any other animation I've ever seen.

Jimmy: One of the things, though, I think, that makes, particularly this one, and to a lesser extent, some of the early ones, shine a little bit more, maybe, is that Schulz isn't super precious about it, right. He will take a character, and switch the lines of dialogue, whatever he needs to do to make it work.

A whole setting we'll see later is a play rehearsal in the show, but it's a baseball meeting in the strip. And later, when I think when Schulz gets less involved, and then, sadly, after he passes away, it becomes where they are just adapting strips almost directly, up until the movie, where it's his son and someone else who writes the script. And suddenly then it feels like they have that freedom again to mix and match and do some interesting stuff.

Harold: I can say that I think probably why this one is that way. And it's so collaged. It probably was the most, them all sitting in a room, probably looking through things and collecting information as they go. I think that's how it was done the first time around, because they were all trying to figure it out together, and they needed each other for support and insight.

But later, the way Bill Melendez described how these things were done, Schulz would create an outline independently of Melendez or Mendelson, for the most part. He would send that to Melendez. Melendez would then take it and storyboard it out. And obviously, Schulz, probably his secretary, had collected the strips. And so basically, he's getting not Schulz thinking this through bit by bit and how it all put pieces together, but he's just getting this outline. They make a storyboard for it, they send it back to Schulz.

So Schulz basically changes it and rewrites it, off of the storyboard they create. And then he sees Schulz two times after the outline in person. And then there's like, two two-hour meetings, and then that's it. And then Schulz is like, okay, you're the animator. You make it happen.

And so it is a very formalized process. Like, so much limited animation was done, like, in the Saturday morning. It was like, you'd have somebody who was not an artist write a Scooby Doo script or whatever. And then they would send that to Hanna Barbera. And then somebody who never met the writer would storyboard this out and lay it out as best they could. And so you wouldn't get visual gags or whatever, because the writers, it's all words. There's no visuals to help write the story. So it's kind of this weird hybrid with what Schulz is doing. He's actually sending them finished things in comic strip form that they have to translate. And because it's done, I think it's not assembly line process, but it's a back and forth. I think after you do the special a couple of times when they're working together, then it's just I'm off in my corner doing this, hand it to off to you. You do it in your corner, and there's not that collaboration.

June 23, 1958. Linus is annoyed, but in classic thumb and blanket position behind him, Lucy is hectoring him. “You and that dumb blanket. You'll be dragging that thing around for the rest of your life.” Linus yells after her, “well, what’s it to you. Maybe I won't drag it around for the rest of my life.” Then he thinks about it for a little bit. Panel three then shouts out to his sister, who has now left the room, “maybe I'll have it made into a sport coat.”

Jimmy: It's impossible to not do the read like this show, which I'm trying not to do, but it's almost impossible.

Michael: People do tend to shout in the last panel, though.

May 24, 1964. In the first panel, we see the psychiatry stand. Psychiatric help, five cents. The doctor is way out. Charlie Brown, looking very upset, walks towards the stand, saying, “I hate feeling like this.” He sits down. Lucy is there now, and he says to Lucy, “I've come to you because lately--” Lucy interrupts him. “Wait a minute. Before you begin, I must ask that you pay in advance. $0.05, please.” We see two panels of Charlie Brown fishing a nickel out of his pocket with his tongue out of his mouth, putting it in the can. And then Lucy says, “Boy, what a sound. How I love to hear that old money plink. That beautiful sound of cold, hard cash. That beautiful, beautiful sound. Plink, plink, plink. What a beautiful sound. Plink, plink, plink, nickels, nickels, nickels. That beautiful sound of beautiful plinking nickels.” Then after this, Lucy puts her head on her hands and leans over the booth and says to Charlie Brown “all right, now, what seems to be your trouble?” Charlie Brown can only sigh.

Michael: Why does the sky keep changing colors?

Jimmy: well, I was looking at this I believe this is a recoloured job, because we're looking at classic Peanuts. And also, you can tell by the gradation in the sky from the blue or light blue. But he just did that. He would just do that abstract color. And, we almost always are looking at black and white strips when we're discussing them on the podcast. But because we pulled these from actually, the Peanuts wiki, because at the moment, GoComics has been down for, like, four days, so I'm very concerned about. Yeah. So good luck, Go Comics, whatever's going on there.

Harold: Yeah, but this was something that Schulz did do a lot. He'd use really, bold and changing colors from a yellow to a blue to a red in his Sunday strips. And having read a lot of these in black and white, it was the ones in real time, like in 1975 or whatever that I was reading. And I remember that that was very distinct part of Peanuts was Sunday Schulz would not hold a background color. He would mix it up a lot.

Jimmy: All right, if you had to vote now, you could only see the Sunday strips one way for the rest of your life. Color or black and white. What are you voting? Michael?

Michael: I got to go for black and white, but they were in color. For some reason, they never reprinted them in color.

Jimmy: Harold, how about you?

Harold: That's tough. if I could have one or the other, I guess I choose the black and white, because when it comes to color, there was nothing about Schulz's color choices that made me feel better about the strip or, like, the strip more, I guess. So black and white, you just get to focus on the line art more, which I think is gorgeous.

Jimmy: Yeah, I would go black and white, as well.

Harold: Now, look at that panel where he's putting that nickel into the can. Look at the perspective on the top of her sign. It's like going way up there.

Jimmy: It's completely off. And it's the kind of thing that you wouldn't even necessarily notice unless it was colored.

Harold: Yeah.

Jimmy: That is one of the downsides of working in color, is that you can't have those sort of soft-- well, you can, but you have to work a lot harder with the color. Those, soft edges where you're kind of not trying to have the eye go, which is definitely what's happening there. But it's fine, too. I'm not crazy about the coloring job on, this. I'm curious as to how close it is to the original, and no offense to whoever did it.

Harold: Yeah, I'm guessing it's probably identical, with the exception of the computer. The green on the tree seems they've tried to kind of sponge it a little bit so it looks like a three dimensional and then you've got the slight gradation on the blue sky, which, for some reason, just doesn't seem to work with the flatness of the characters.

I deal with that with my own strip because I've got usually flat colors on my characters, but the backgrounds can have a little gradation. And it's hard it's hard to know you don't want to do something that looks so artificial like a computer did it. But, you also want to give a little bit of variation. Obviously, somebody thought it was okay to take the flat colors that Schulz had and just tweak it enough, but to the point that they tweak it so little. I don't know what the purpose is.

Jimmy: It's neither here nor there. Right.

Harold: Yeah.

Jimmy: Well, I like coloring. I always think I'll give up the coloring as part of my work, but then I realize it's so integral to what I'm doing, I kind of can't yeah.

Harold: In my sycophantic way I genuinely love the color that you do. Especially, like when you have the outdoor scenes and you got little suns, the sunsets and the bursts. Your color is really lovely. And you have the flatness of the characters, certainly, to start Amelia Rules, the same flatness as Peanuts, because Peanuts was obviously a model for you. Peanuts, for the 21st century. With Amelia Rules, you did find a way to take and I'm not sure what you did on the shading with the characters or how you mixed it up. I'm trying to just from memory, but I remember the backgrounds being so rich. The outdoor backgrounds. Yeah. And it doesn't detract at all. Is, there any thoughts you have about how you approach that and why something as flat as Schulz that you can get away with something that is as rich in the background as it is?

Jimmy: Well, because I think what it actually is is that Schulz didn't have Schulz and everything that came after Schulz as an influence. One of the weird things, like I love Cerebus. Tough thing to say these days because it's swamped in all kinds of political and, nonsense and controversies. But at the time, it was the funniest, most creative, coolest book before all that stuff engulfed it.

And it had a really rich background world by this guy Gerhard, who just did the backgrounds. And he's an artist. A 3D pen and ink artist on Robert Crumb or possibly beyond. He's as good as a human can do that. I couldn't do that. But I figured, well, if I do have a digital tool, if I just drew Amelia's neighborhood as richly as possible in notebooks. And at the time, I actually-- it was Virtual Gerhard was my folder on my Mac. And I had something like 50 different houses that I had drawn and m I could paste them together in different ways and then draw over them to change them. And I could take the leaves off and do all this weird stuff so that when I'd have those really rich backgrounds, I didn't have to spend the time on the page.

Harold: So you're really an animation artist in that regard, right. For those of you who aren't that into animation or how it's done, what you had to do early on with most cartoons, if you were doing a color cartoon, is you could paint a beautiful background in acrylic or watercolor, and it could have as much detail as you wanted. But the characters were on these clear plastic sheets that, you would trace the artwork from the pencil drawings of the actual animator, usually with a black ink pen by people who were experts in that, and then they would wind up painting on the back of those cells. And in most cases, it was just a flat color because you couldn't afford to shade that the backgrounds, you're just doing one for a whole sequence, and you could really put a lot of lovely art into it. I, as a fan of animation, just got used to the idea that you have a flat character on a background that can be extremely rich, and that's just normal. And I guess that's an aesthetic I inherited from watching all these old cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Disney films. Yeah.

Jimmy: And I loved all that, too. You mentioned the lighting and, like you said, the sun's in the sky.

Harold: Yeah.

Jimmy: Okay, I'll tell you this story. This, is a tip, because obviously, all that stuff you could do with lens flares in Photoshop, right?

I used to work, though, in television, and I had to do graphics on a daily basis, and I was always looking for new things that I could use. And we obviously were TV station, so we had weather, so I was trying to figure out how I could do different weather graphics. I was in the parking lot of the TV station, and the sun was being reflected on a blacked out windshield from one of the TV vans, and it was just this unbelievable lens flare on black glass. And, so I just took a photo of it, and suddenly so I had, like, a beautiful lens flare that was not a digital one, over black, and I couldn't move the black digitally. And then I thought, wow, why can't I do that every time I see just position a piece of black glass? And it was almost always that car at different times of day. And click, there's a sunset. Click, there's noon. Click, there's partly cloudy. And I use that stuff for years. And then you manipulate digitally and put it in with the artwork, and it works. Genius. That's basically what it is.

Harold: That is pretty genius. I don't know. I've never heard of another artist having that mindset to think, to capture. That that's pretty cool.

Jimmy: Well, thanks.

Oh, no. I can't believe I have to read this strip twice. All right. This is:

June 4, 1961 Lucy, looking really annoyed, is sitting at her psychiatry booth. Linus comes up and sits down. She says to him, “what in the world are you doing here?” Linus says, “I'm in sad shape. My life is full of fear and anxiety. The only thing that keeps me going is this blanket. I need help.” Lucy, suddenly invested, stands out from behind the booth and starts talking to Linus. “Well, as they say on TV the mere fact that you realize you need help indicates that you are not too far gone. I think we had better try to pinpoint your fears. If we can find out what it is you're afraid of, we can label it. Are you afraid of responsibility? If you are, then you have hypengeophobia.” “I don't think that's quite it.” “How about cats? If you're afraid of cats, you have, ailurophobia.” “Well, sort of, but I'm not sure.” “Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have climacophobia. Maybe, you have thalassophobia. This is a fear of the ocean or gedphyrophobia, which is a fear of crossing bridges.” “Or maybe,” says, Lucy, “you have Pantophobia. Do you think you might have Pantophobia?” Linus says, “what's Pantophobia?” Lucy says, “the fear of everything.” Linus yells “that's it!”

Michael: perfect.

Harold: Sending Lucy flying.

Michael: Yeah. Does she fly in the cartoon? Does she flip over?

Jimmy: Yes, but it's Charlie Brown that, is the patient, which I think is an improvement.

Harold: And I think that's as interesting. When we think about the specificity I think we talked about this when we read the strip earlier but the specificity of these characters seems so real to us. And yet it's fascinating that Schulz does reassign a character a major piece like this, and it works again on its own terms. And that I wouldn't expect. I would have thought he would have stuck with his characters. But it does work, I think, better with Charlie Brown. And why Linus when Linus normally doesn't show up? Why did he think that Linus needed to be the one to, say these things to Lucy?

Michael: Well, the fact is, Linus doesn't show it. But with the blanket, it's a security blanket. He's deeply neurotic. I guess the blanket absorbs a lot of that. It usually doesn't show it that much.

Harold: Right. That's true. Because it's so effective. Right. But Charlie Brown-- Michael, you not having seen the special to hear the idea. That Charlie Brown says almost exactly these same lines. Does that seem wrong to you? Or can you kind of see how Charlie Brown himself also could say he has all-- fear?

Michael: yeah, it sounds wrong to me because I don't think he's afraid of things. He just doesn't understand why everything goes wrong for him.

Harold: Right. Because he's always going up to swing again at something. Right. He'll try a lot of things. He's afraid to talk to a little red-haired girl. There are certain things we didn't think of Charlie Brown that's just too much for him. But he is a tryer, right? In a lot of ways, that is true. Yeah.

Michael: I would definitely not swap out those characters.

September 18, 1961. Lucy looks forlorn and a little annoyed. She has her elbows on the table, and the remains of what looks like a pretty nice birthday party is scattered about the table. Linus looks on as Lucy says, “nobody gave me what I wanted for my birthday. Nobody. What sort of presents do you call these?” She says as she looks over a whole mound of presents on the floor. “New shoes, a green sweater, and a bunch of stupid toys.” Linus says, “what were you expecting?” Lucy says “real estate.”

Harold: So here Lucy is yelling again.

Michael: Yeah, we said it again in the last panel. I think you got to scream the punchline-- that's part of Peanuts.

Harold: And yet again, in the animated piece, it's much more matter of fact how Lucy is speaking. And I think that works really well. But it's interesting that the choices that Schulz is making when he's going through these, it's almost like he thinks some of his best punchlines are the ones when his characters are speaking the most loudly. And I'm seeing a trend here.

Michael: This one went over my head. I seem to remember puzzling what real estate was.

Harold: Right.

Jimmy: As opposed to fake estate.

Harold: Yeah, as a little kid, I've scratched my head. You wouldn't want toys? What so strange and again, you were talking, Michael, about how when you hear a little kid stumbling over these lines and you see the sophistication of what Schulz is writing, that it just feels alien and wrong and having been imprinted to it. I think what my mind has done with when I hear a child reading the precision of Schulz's words is it stands in such contrast that you're made aware of the precision of Schulz's words, which I actually really enjoy. It's a strange thing, right?

November 18, 1961. Linus is writing a letter to Santa Claus. As Charlie Brown looks on. Linus writes, “Dear Santa Claus, enclosed please find list of things I want for Christmas. Also, please note indication of size, color and quantity for each item listed.” Then, in panel three, Linus seals up the envelope, leaving Charlie Brown alone in panel four to say, “how, efficient can you get?”

Michael: Okay, I'm guessing that Linus actually spoke those words rather than us, seeing him write them.

Jimmy: Well, what it is is it's given to Sally. And Sally comes up to Charlie Brown and says, will you write a letter to Santa for me? And she dictates it, to him and delivers those lines.

Michael: Okay.

Jimmy: So, yes, it is.

Harold: And how efficient can you get gets dropped.

Jimmy: Right.

Michael: Really?

Harold: It's part of a longer sequence yes.

Jimmy: Of Charlie Brown becoming disillusioned by people and their greed at Christmas.

Michael: Okay.

Jimmy: And Charlie Brown then later finds out that you don't need to spend a lot of money. You can just buy a or you just go out and get a grubby little tree, and that's all you need for the spirit of Christmas. You can now buy a plastic replica of that grubby little tree.

Michael: And what a coincidence, huge coincidence that he found a Charlie Brown tree.

Jimmy: I know.

Harold: What were the odds?

Jimmy: Well, now do you guys know? I'm sure we talked about this before, but that&