Jimmy: Hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. It's a very exciting day today here in Unpacking Peanuts world. We have a special guest. Those are always some of my most favorite episodes, and I think this might be the best yet.
How are you guys doing? You're doing well out there? I hope you're doing well. I hope we can make your day even a little bit better with our little episode here. I'm Jimmy Gowley. You might know me from my comic book series, Amelia Rules, or you might know me from my graphic novel, Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up or The Dumbest Idea Ever. Joining me, as always, are my pals, co hosts and fellow cartoonists.
He's a songwriter. He is a composer for both his band, Complicated People, as well as for this very podcast. He's a playwright. He's the creator of the first comic book price guide, the original editor of Amelia Rules and the cartoonist behind such great strips as Strange Attractors, A Gathering of Spells and Tangled River. Michael Cohen.
Michael: Hey, there.
Jimmy: And he is the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a former vice president of Archie comics and currently writing and drawing the instagram strip, Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: Hi, guys. Are you excited? We have a special guest here today.
Harold: Yeah, it's the best.
Jimmy: Joining us is an old member of the family and one of my favorite cartoonists in the world, Todd Webb. Todd Webb. If you don't know and if you don't know, you're just not hip. You're just not, you're just not with it, kids. But Todd Webb decided to be a cartoonist the ripe old age of five, which, by the way, is the perfect age to decide to become a cartoonist. That was me as well. He likes to make art about quiet moments of little things. The other day, he counted at least eleven turtles in his pond near his house, but thinks there's more in there. This is the important stuff. He's drawn innumerable crayon portraits of folks all over the country. He estimates at least 500 crayon portraits and was one of the very first cartoonists to keep a cartoon diary. He was a regular contributor to Nickelodeon magazine's comic book and has released many comics and graphic novels over the years, like The Goldfish and Bob; Tuesday Moon, Chance Operations, Mr. Toast comics with Dan Goodsell, the Continuing adventures of Katherine Mansfield, and Long Pond Road. Todd also plays music and dabbles with animation and television projects. But the work he is most proud of is a daily comic strip he started in 2020 called the poet. Welcome to the show. Todd Webb.
Jimmy: It's so exciting to have you here Todd.
Todd: Very awesome to be here. Longtime listener.
Jimmy: Long time first time. Well, my whole goal with this show is just to be able to spend one day a week and just talk with cartoonists about cartooning and about the greatest comic strip ever. So, this is really special for me because, as you know, I'm a big fan of your work. I actually fall asleep every night. The last thing I sleep I see before, I close my eyes is a Todd Web drawing of Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks.
Jimmy: So, Todd, tell us, what's your Peanuts origin story? How did Peanuts first come into your life?
Todd: Well, remember that ripe old age of five bit? I got a copy from the library of the paperback, for the Love of Peanuts. And that copy I still own, I never returned it. it looks like I checked it out numerous times with the date stamps on the back, and then they discarded it, and I got it
Todd: And it's, still on my shelf. The cover fell off a million times and was taped back on a million times. So, yeah, Peanuts is the reason why I do what I do.
Jimmy: Now, do you remember the feeling you had just when you first read that? Were you aware of Peanuts at all as a property? Have you seen the animations or commercials or toys or anything like that?
Todd: I don't think so yet. I think that book was the very first thing I'd ever seen of it.
Jimmy: And so you decide to do that. What does a five year old do to start, his career as a cartoonist?
Todd: Just copy all of it. Just draw.
Jimmy: And were you copying Peanuts?
Todd: I'm sure I copied a ton of Peanuts. Yeah, for sure.
Jimmy: As we said in the intro, Todd does these crayon portraits for people. For, years, they were a dollar. Have they gone up in inflation?
Todd: No, they'll never go up.
Jimmy: Amazing. So you can come up to Todd at any, convention he's doing these things at. For a dollar, he'll do a crayon portrait of you. And they're so fun and so cool. Was that your original medium of choice when you were a little kid?
Todd: Probably I started out with crayons.
Jimmy: Like most kids, I have a phobia of crayon paper, so I couldn't. But anyway.
Todd: What's crayon paper?
Jimmy: The paper that wraps around the crayola.
Todd: Okay. Where you go…
Jimmy: It goes through me. It's like a Popsicle stick on your teeth.
Todd: Yeah. The reason I do the crayon portraits is because in my musical touring days, I was on the West Coast, and I ran out of merch, but there was photocopy paper around, and for some reason, there was a couple of crayons. And I just told everybody at the show, I don't have anything to sell, but I'll draw you for a dollar. And ended up drawing the entire venue of people. And so I just kept doing it every time I have an appearance anywhere. If it's a music show or a comic convention or a comic shop appearance or whatever. It's like I'll just draw everybody.
Jimmy: Well, other than-- I can see the Schulz influence in your work, for sure. You have a very spare line style, and you tend to focus on, quiet, smaller moments. What other cartoons influenced you, though?
Todd: As a kid it was the newspaper stuff, because I didn't have access to comic books, really. So Peanuts was the big one, and then Calvin and Hobbes would be the other. So Bill Watterson was, like, a massive influence. And of course, whatever they had at the school library and stuff, that had anything to do with cartoons or comics. I would routinely check out all those things, even if I wasn't crazy about the art. But it was Bill Watterson and Charles Schulz. And then later on in junior high and high school, I kind of pivoted to comic books as a goal for a couple of reasons, we can get into if you want.
Jimmy: Yeah, what were those reasons?
Todd: I could never figure out how a comic strip works. Like, how do you get ideas every single day? How do you have characters that work every single day and aren't boring or just copying something else? It just never clicked with me as much as I wanted it to. And then when I was in junior high, a friend of mine gave me a copy of the esteemed Wizard magazine because I had an interview with a teenage comic book artist named Trent Kaniuga, Who was doing a book called CreeD. Which has nothing to do with the later band of the same name. But he was only like three years older than me and was drawing this weird comic book that was kind of like a Little Nemo story about a teenager with, like, a dream life that was trying to take over things. And I, was like, oh, so you don't have to draw superheroes. You can just draw whatever you want, and you don't have to be an adult. I was like, he's my age. It was the equivalent of seeing, like, a punk band and being like, oh, I can play music too. And it just made it seem like something that was doable. So then I shifted focus over to trying to come up with, like, comic books, which for some reason, was easier to wrap my brain around because they had a beginning and an ending. Whereas a comic strip, it just goes forever until you decide to not do it anymore.
Jimmy: I think, now plus, you also have the whole issue of especially at that point, distribution of, a comic strip. Was that in any way an, impediment is just think, like, well, there's a gatekeeper that would have to put this in a syndicate that could get in the newspapers, or was that not an issue? Or you're already thinking, oh, the internet, I could do something there?
Todd: No, the internet wasn't really viable until the late nineties. I was already at the end of high school, out of high school. I guess I started posting my comics online in like, 1997 maybe. on, like, GeoCities. And then I had toddbot.com in like 1999 and posted stuff there. I read all about the syndicates and stuff, and it seemed at the time, like, if I had an idea that was worth doing, that it could be feasible. But just right around the time I found out about Trent’s comic was also when we were living in Arizona for a couple of years, and there was some comic shops out there, and that's when Jeff Smith started doing Bone.
Jimmy: I've never heard of that. Is that good?
Todd: It's a small boutique book. Most people haven't heard of it, but if you could find it anywhere, it's pretty ____.
Jimmy: I will make a note for myself. Yeah, look for Jeff Smith's Bone.
Todd: Nobody knows who he is, but you'll be glad when you find him. But, yes. So, like, the mid 90s wave of indie books, and self published things were starting to happen. Again it just reinforced that idea. You could do comics about whatever, and they didn't even need to be in color.
Jimmy: Right. Exactly.
Todd: So it's like, okay, cool.
Jimmy: Now during this transition from comic strips to comic books, was Schulz still a primary influence, or did that take a backseat?
Todd: Yes. Like all things, it would come in waves. So there would be periods when I just read a bunch, and then there would be periods when I kind of do other stuff, but always would go back to it. Yeah. And finding other comics and stuff as distractions and things, and just kind of trying to --pre internet it was just scouring for whatever you could find about anything tangentially related to whatever you're interested in. And then when the internet happens, I would just no joke, every afternoon I would go into whatever search engine existed and type in variations of comic book, indie comic book, small press comic books, mini comics, whatever I could find, I would search stuff. That's how I ended up finding Harold.
Jimmy: Well, tell us that origin story.
Todd: Yeah. So Harold is another, like, Jeff Smith, a little known name in the cartooning world. Harold-- we were talking about this a little bit before we started taping there, was a Canadian TV show on the Sci-Fi channel in the 90s called the Anti Gravity Room. They were very heavy on comic book coverage and especially on independent side of things. And Harold was the first of many people who I am now friends with that I actually saw first on that show.
Jimmy: Wait! Okay. I have never known that Harold was on the Antigravity Room.
Todd: Not only was he on it, he was interviewed in Forrest Ackerman's mansion. It was insane.
Harold: For those of you who don't know, Forrest Ackerman created the magazine Famous Monsters of Film Land. And he was famous because he had a house up in the Hollywood Hills that was essentially his home, but also a museum. You could actually call them up and you can come over and check out his place. And he had on display, like, the robot from Metropolis. He had one of Bela Lugosi's capes. You could go downstairs and see models from the Earth Versus the Flying Saucers in his basement, and a huge collection of Sci-Fi books. So it was really wild being interviewed there.
Jimmy: And this was for Apathy Kat?
Harold: This is for Apathy Kat. Yeah in like 1996, probably, right?
Todd: Yeah. So I saw that segment, filed it away as, there's another cool looking black and white comic book. And then, in one of my daily internet searches, I found a very rudimentary website for a small press printing company that would, like, help you print your comic. And you don't have to do a thousand of them. You could just do 50 of them or 100 of them. And when I got to the bottom, I saw the little Apathy Cat drawing, and my brain connected the dots. And I was like, that's the same guy. and shot off an email. And, we started corresponding. And I ended up printing The Goldfish and Bob through Harold's company, which I believe a Jimmy Gownley wrote the blurb for that book.
Jimmy: I did. I believe that. I did it at Pittsburgh ComicCon. I remember sitting there reading it and writing the blurb.
Jimmy: And it's still one of my favorites.
Todd: What a crazy show that Pittsburgh Comic Con was.
Jimmy: That was the one where it was half the people didn't show up because of the bird flu.
Jimmy: I was on an aisle. It was literally me and like, seven empty booths. That was the entire house.
Todd: And that it still wasn't the worst Pittsburgh ComicCon. Harold was instrumental in helping me get my first long form comic book out into the world. I should also note at, that time, I was up in New England. And so when I was about 14, we were about an hour's driveway from Northampton, Massachusetts. And, Kevin Eastman had his Words and Pictures Museum.
Todd: And I would make my parents take me there as often as possible. And I got to know everybody that worked in the gift shop downstairs. Actually, Matt Smith, a cartoonist named Matt Smith, was one of the cashiers there. And he's like working with Mike Newell now on Hellboy Stuff.
When they would have a show and the artist would come, for the opening, kids weren't allowed, but Kevin would make sure I could get up and meet the artist. And that was like, the greatest thing in the world. I met so many people there and got to, a bunch of them I'm still friends with to this day. Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer I met in the elevator there when I was, like, 15. It just was insane. I met Will Eisner there. I got to sit down for, like, a half an hour with Joe Kubert there,
Todd: talk about inking techniques and stuff
Jimmy: and the war.
Todd: It was insane. Wow. So many things. So, many people came through there that I got to meet. They even let me go down into the basement and draw on the walls where all the famous people did the drawings.
Jimmy: That's impressive. That's very cool.
Harold: Todd, did you ever get to go to the museum in Ryebrook, New York, that Mort Walker had created? Was that before your time in, that area?
Todd: Yeah. I don't think I went there. I went to a museum somewhere on the border of Connecticut and New York. I don't know what the name of it was.
Harold: That would have probably been it was there right on the border.
Todd: But it had, like, a bunch of.
Harold: Like, a castle kind of place.
Todd: But it wasn't just cartoons. It had, like, toys and Pez dispensers and stuff. Okay. It was a very weird museum, but they had Peanuts originals on the wall. Like, there were comic strips there, and that's what I spent time with. I ignored all the Pez dispensers and just looked at the comic, pages. But Kevin's museum, that was another thing that was great about that place. He had Winsor McCay stuff. It was bonkers. Having access to that stuff as a teenager and then getting to talk to the artist about things, too, was just life changing.
Jimmy: Yes. Kevin Eastman, one of the co creators in Ninja turtles. It was in Northampton, Massachusetts. It's been gone for probably 20 years now, I guess.
Todd: unfortunately yeah.
Jimmy: Built entirely out of his own original art collection. Just absolutely amazing. I was only there once. It was for an Olivia opening, because there, was a convention in town or right nearby the same day as the opening, and then we were all just invited there afterwards. But what an amazing place to have, like, the Elektra pages by Bill Sienkiewicz were, like, the main, exhibit, at the time. Just really great.
Harold: Wow. That was also the home to Kitchen Sink publishing for a while. Right?
Jimmy: Kitchen Sink Press, one of the all time great underground presses. Lasted for a long time, well into the 90s.
Harold: Yeah, I think I, did get to visit both of those places. I got to visit the Kitchen Sink right before they closed because they were talking actually, we're talking about printing Apathy Kat through Kitchen Sink.
Jimmy: Oh, wow.
Harold: Chris Couch was at least inquiring about it at the time when so that was a really cool museum. and, it's so neat that they opened it up to you, and were looking out for you.
Todd: They sold my mini comics in the gift shop
Harold: That's fantastic.
Todd: They were the most encouraging people ever.
Jimmy: Yeah I mean, I'm not sure how many people who are listening know the story of the Ninja Turtles, but everybody knows it as a, world conquering brand. But it was just a small, self published comic that two guys borrowed some money from their uncle to print. So it's nice that they both of them actually always tried to get something back to the comic community.
Todd: Yeah Peter had the Xeric grant
Jimmy: Yeah, you got to give those guys tons of credit.
Jimmy: Okay But hey, so 2020 rolls around. You've been doing graphic novels for a long time, and suddenly you decide, hey, I'm going to go back to my original dream and do a daily comic strip, right?
Todd: I didn't decide it was accidental. I refer to The Poet as, like, my accidental life work because I think it's like, I hope it's the thing that will stick around longer than all my other work. But I wasn't planning it.
Jimmy: I just want to point out, made the best comics of 2021 list for the Comics Journal.
Todd: It did. That took me by surprise.
Jimmy: This is what the Comics Journal had to say about it. “A man, a bench, a pigeon, the world. They hang out up the street from Charlie Brown. And in the wake of Thoreau, Bushmiller, and Cage, those are the three biggies. Seen for free daily--The rest is just about yeah, but that's pretty
Jimmy: That’s high praise from the Comics Journal They don't like anything.
Todd: Yeah, it's a fickle crowd over there. Yeah. It was an accident, for real. So I was planning to do-- I had done that book, the Continuing Adventures of Katherine Mansfield, where I took the short story author Katherine Mansfield from the 30s, I took some of her diaries and made this little graphic, novel about it where each page was like a self contained strip. So like a six panel strip. And they just kind of accumulated to make this little book. And I liked the way that worked.
And so I was going to do another biographical book about a poet that I like named Robert Lax, who lived the second half of his life on the Isle of Patmos and wrote super minimal poetry. I was going to do the same kind of thing and take some of his diary writings and letters and things and try to make one page strips. And the book was going to be called Robert of Patmos. And, that was the plan for my next book.
And as I started trying to get a handle on how to draw him, I kept simplifying and simplifying, and I couldn't figure out a way to cartoon him that I liked. And I had been reading there was, like, a big anniversary book of MUTTS by Patrick McDonnell that came out a couple of years ago. And I was like, you know, I've never put one of those big schnaz noses on anybody before. And I added that. And all of a sudden, I'm like, that's my guy.
But while, I was developing the book, I had settled on a four panel per page format, like a comic strip. And I was like, I'll just do it, like, in the form of a comic strip, where it's just diary entries of this poet. And then I knew I wanted to be sparse because his poetry was sparse. So I was like, it'll have as small as set piece as possible. He lived in Greece. He spent his time at the beach with the fishermen. And there were cats everywhere. So originally, there was going to be, like, a couple of feral cats that he talked to and maybe a fisherman on the beach. But the beach was too much of a nothing landscape to draw. And, I've told Harold this before. In my mind, there were too many comic strips already with cats.
Todd: Now, Harold's amazing strip, Sweetest Beasts has a lion, which is different than a regular old cat.
Harold: Nice save
Todd: Also, you hadn't started that as a strip yet, right? I don't think. But you've been drawing Wild Lion forever.
Harold: Yeah, I saw your strip and I said, there aren't enough cats in comics.
Todd: Yes, there needs to be more cats. I didn't want to spend my time trying to come up with a new cartoon cat or several of them, because, like I said, it was like a beach of cats running around. So, I was like, what about a seagull? And so I changed it to a seagull, but then I was like, But I'm still at the beach, which is nothing. So I was like, what if, instead of a beach, he's at a park and he sits on a bench and writes, and instead of you go up the pigeon. And I made those changes, and then I really liked it, but then it had nothing to do with the real guy anymore. And so at that point, I'm just like, all right, so it's not about him. It's just about a poet who talks to this pigeon while he writes poetry in the park.
Harold: You've never been to Patmos Park?
Todd: Never been to Patmos Park. That's like a live album, right?
Harold: Double album.
Todd: Yeah. So that's how that started. But it was still going to be a book. And at that point, it was going to be called The Poet, the Pigeon, and the Park Bench. And it was just going to be like an 80-page book. So I had my format, I had my characters, I had my idea. And I did the first seven or eight pages of the mini comic to give away to show. And when I did that, I shortened the title down to The Poet. And then when the, pandemic happened, I was like, I'll just do a page of this book a day until I'm done. So a couple of weeks, I'll have my next book in the can, and I can print it. But what happened was when I started to actually do it every day it became a comic strip, and now it's over two years later, and I'm getting close to the thousand strip mark.
Jimmy: That's amazing. Well, that gives you real insight. I mean, now that you've been doing this for a couple of years, are you able, to understand a little bit, more of the Schulz method? Were you able to unlock any of those things that only come out of doing a daily script.
Todd: Yeah. It really also has to do with just experience. I've been doing comics for over two decades now, so I've gotten a little bit better at figuring out how my brain writes. And I think that's the big trick is, like, everybody approaches writing differently, and once you can trick your brain into doing stuff, it's easier to figure it out. But also, with these characters, I've managed to find the perfect containers for my thoughts, which I think that's the trick to doing a comic strip is you have to have characters that, no matter what idea you want to talk about, you give it to them and they'll put their own spin on it. And if you're lucky, there's a laugh at the end. But it's not required. Like, some of my favorite strips don't have your standard punchline.
Todd: But I did also compare-- designing, The Poet. I put a lot of thought into just, like, the look of it and trying to figure out aspects of all the different comic strips that I like. What was it about them that I liked? Barnaby the kind of repetitive nature of it. Same shots repeated, kind of like the Ivan Brunetti approach. I looked at The Little King, Nancy, all that stuff. Really analyzed that through the pandemic. I drove back hard into reading comics, and it was very fruitful.
Harold: Did you ever read Tumbleweeds? We talked about this a little while ago-- was Tumbleweeds in your strip selections as a kid in the newspaper.
Todd: I don't recall.
Jimmy: Harold has it in for Tumbleweeds in a big way.
Harold: There's something about Tumbleweeds that just fascinates me because it was like, this guy had a super design-y characters, but they were very blocky, and so they didn't really move, and they were always, like, in the same space. I don't know if he photocopied them or if he was pre-drawing them every single day.
Todd: No, I heard, Jimmy and Michael mentioned David Lynch's strip before he photocopied.
This is the exact same comic strip every day. Just a different text. Right. The World's Angriest Dog. It's pretty great.
Jimmy: That's an opinion. Hey!
Todd: it exists.
Jimmy: It does exist. I love the look and the design of your books. Selected cartoons from The Poet. That reminds me of the Fawcett Crest Peanuts books.
Jimmy: Oh, is that a direct reference?
Todd: 100%. Because that format doesn't exist anymore, and it bothers me. And so this is my attempt at fixing it. I think there's eight collections out now, so the little colored stack of spines is starting to happen.
Harold: Now, is that pure nostalgia, or is, there something aesthetically about that shape and size of a book that just really seems right to you?
Todd: Both. I love the actual aesthetic, like the form factor, the size. You can actually put it in your back pocket if you want.
Harold: So I was wondering, like, for everybody here, Michael, when they did those little paper, these were basically paperbacks that had to fit in the same shelving that was unified, like, four by seven inches, more or less, that any mass market novel, Harlequin romance, whatever, would go in. And when it came to the Schulz strips, sometimes that meant, well, they basically had to take the four panels and arrange them in different ways on the page.
Todd: They didn’t, but they did.
Harold: Well, Schulz apparently had nothing to do with those page designs. Does that bug you guys at all,
Harold: that the panels overlap each other and sometimes they would add this weird zipatone for the Sundays to make up space? And is that a problem? Is that a purist kind of problem? Or you just grow up with it and go, that's it. That's the way it should be? Because that's the way I first saw it.
Todd: I hate it. I did briefly consider staggering the panels in the books just to really lock it in. So, we'll get into this later. But the book For The Love of Peanuts, it was all Sunday pages in that book, and so it is massacred the layout and being able to compare them to the real deal is seeing them how they intended.
Todd: And so doing the Poet this way, I felt like I was kind of proving, like, look, you can just do keep the form factor the same, especially with a four panel strip.
Jimmy: Although I would say for the daily Peanuts strip, the idea was that it was moveable. It was supposed to be modular.
Todd: I know, but they overlap the corners in those books. That's what drove me crazy. It's like, that's unnecessary, especially with Peanuts. It is the perfect size, so you can put it anywhere. So they could have put two pages or two strips on a page in there, and it would still read because it's Peanuts, you could shrink it down.
Harold: So you're stacking your panels. You have basically a two by two format on the page, which means you've got more space on the top and the bottom than you do on the sides. Aesthetically, again, did you choose that size because it evokes, like, a Peanuts thing? And if that didn't exist, would you have cropped the tops or bottoms, or do you like the framing where you have lots of white space above and below?
Todd: I kind of really like the space, because, again, my original idea for this particular character was a real life guy who wrote these very sparse poems that had a lot f white space around the pages. So I probably would have done that anyway.
Harold: Because you have to kind of make the panels smaller than if they did what they did. I guess that's why they did what they did. With the Peanuts ones, we don't overlap, but we need to make the panels smaller. And they were probably concerned that it wouldn't print well. Right. Printing was inferior back then. The printing was inferior back then, but it was basically the same process, more or less, as what you would use in a newspaper. But I guess the books were printing those panels smaller for Peanuts than you, would get in your typical newspaper. And of course, you're doing it for Instagram.
Todd: even smaller
Harold: And so you have no idea how someone is encountering, the strip, but you choose to share it all in a single panel on Instagram, because with my strip, I'll let you flip, through the panels. To each panel is like a full carousel of images. But in your case, you design this so that this can get really small. You can almost get postage stamp size.
Todd: You can read the thumbnails of them. Yes, that was intentional.
Harold: Have you been tempted to change your or you have messed around a little with your lettering-- at a certain size the lettering is probably the first thing that's going to go right. That people won't be able to read because it's really tiny.
Todd: Right. I letter it with the same brush. I mean, well, the Poet is also my first all digital thing. The first eight pages were drawn on paper, but when I started doing it daily, I switched over to the iPad. And just to reference the previous episode, I do try to just mimic my regular incline as best as possible with it, but I letter it with the same brush so that they should reduce at the same rate so the whole thing will deteriorate at once.
Harold: So that's an aesthetic decision. Do you like the idea that it's all one tool, or it has that feel that it's all one tool?
Todd: Yes. Well, it's also just a time saving mechanism, because at the same time as this, I still am working on other projects, even though in my mind, in a perfect world, I would be able to just wake up and work on the Poet.
Harold: Could you take us through the process of how you create the strips and from the time you start writing to the time you want to get the rough into whatever drawing stage you're starting, and then how you get to the final image?
Todd: Yeah, it's gotten pretty streamlined, which is nice at this point. So for anybody who hasn't seen the strip, it really is a super small cast. It's almost like, a Samuel Beckett play or something. It's like there's a park bench. There's an old guy, the poet who comes nobody has names either. It's the poet and the pigeon. So the poet comes to on the same bench, every day and writes poems, and the pigeon will come and be sassy.
My short pitch for it, by the way, is the poet is like Peanuts, if Linus was an old man and Woodstock had attitude. so there's not a whole lot of drawing that needs done, usually, although I try to mix it up. I introduced a tree stump at one point, and people actually were commenting, like, ahh plot development. and then I felt like I really succeeded when a tree stump equals plot.
I have a ton of sticky notes. I may have showed you this, Harold, before. So I have several notebooks that are just full of sticky, notes. And whenever I think of something or overhear something or read something that I'm like, I can make a comment about that later. I'll write it on a sticky note and throw it in this notebook.
Harold: So the sticky note is the very first place your idea goes. And is it all four panels on a sticky note, or does each sticky note become a panel, or how do you do that?
Todd: Well, when I move it, when I start working on a strip, each, sticky note is a panel. But at this point, it's just like the idea gathering. So I have three of these notebooks now that are just full of sticky notes with one line or two lines or a quote or whatever written on them. I also have the notes app on my phone. If I'm out and about, I'll type it onto that, and then I'll transfer that to a sticky note as soon as possible and throw it in the notebook.
Harold: So four panels are on a sticky note. That is like one of those little three by three kind.
Todd: No, Just text on a sticky note. So if I hear somebody say something Conan O'Brien was telling a story the other day where he told somebody he was trying to be-- impress some teenagers, and he told them, have a fun time or have a nice time, or he said something really stilted and weird, like, say, I wanted to do a comic with that phrase in it. So I would write whatever the line was, have fun a nice time, or whatever that would be the note. And I just put it in my notebook. And that way, when I sit down to write a strip, I'm never starting from nothing.
Harold: It could be just a germ of an idea or something to spark your imagination later.
Todd: It could be the word well, with after it and just stick it in there. And then it's like, I sit down, I'm like, okay. So I'll grab a couple of because, again, I like formal experimentation. I did this weird book called Chance Operations, which I don't know if we have time to get into that, but that affected some of what I enjoy about writing is being open to things that are outside of my own will. That's where they put Cage in that little description as John Cage.
Jimmy: I thought, it was Nicholas.
Todd: That, too. I mean, I almost did a book about Nicholas Cage back in the day, which basically, that new movie of his that came out is the movie version of my comic that I was working on, where it's like Nicholas Cage playing Nicholas Cage. Yeah. So having that element of chance introduced, into the writing is fun, too. So it's like, I'll just grab a handful of sticky notes and plaster them across my drafting table, and then I'll read through them and see if any of them bounce, off of each other in a way that gives me an idea to turn it into a strip.
Todd: And that's when I start to-- then I've got a blank sticky notes next to me in a pen, and that's when I'll start extrapolating them into something. And that's when, like, at that point, my goal is to get a piece of paper with four sticky notes on it that read as a script, sometimes with a little doodle attached to them. If it's like a visual thing, or if there's a gesture that I want to make sure I remember to put there, or the location, like, if they're walking through the woods, or if they're sitting, or if the pigeon is looking over his shoulder, or stuff that helps tell the story. And that's how I write them. So, on my drafting table now, I have seven sheets of paper that are ready to go that are just like drafts, like, they're comic strips. I just haven't drawn them yet.
Harold: So the sheets of paper that have the squares in them already kind of thing?
Todd: It's just a sheet of typing paper with four sticky notes on it. And so sticky note one is panel one, sticky note two is panel two, et cetera.
Harold: And then from there, you switch over to the computer once you've got something that you like on the sticky notes? Or is there an in between step?
Todd: No. At this point, I'm drawn, on iPad Pro, in Procreate, and I have my four panel template. Then I also have made a lettering guide, layer. Then I just letter it because the pages are all there already. So it's like, I just open up a blank template with the four panels and I'll do the lettering. And then because of the repetitive nature of the strip, I've got, at this point, hundreds and hundreds of pre-drawn settings or activities for them. If they're walking in the woods.
Harold: Do you have, like, a library of them?
Todd: Just previous strips.
Harold: The strips themselves are your reference?
Todd: Yeah. So I'll just, grab if I've drawn, like, okay, they're going to be walking, I'll just go grab a strip that has the panel like the pose that I want, and I'll just drop it in there, and then I gray it out and I'll ink on top of that and make whatever changes that I need to make to that. Because it's like they're not always identical. It might look that way, but there's always changes.
Harold: Okay, let's say it is identical. Do you, as a matter of course, say, I cannot reuse the drawing I used before. I have to re-ink the
Todd: No I'm not opposed to that. The Katherine Mansfield book was twelve drawings that were photocopied and rearranged. And then I altered them to suit. So that was like, again, a formal experiment. And nobody noticed because with the changes and the color on top of it.
Harold: They thought you were just redrawing everything.
Todd: lots of people didn't even notice that they were repeated. Drawing people don't pick up on that thing. It becomes a mood. It adds to the feeling of reading it. So I don't mind if I have something I can copy exactly. I'll do it as a time saving technique because I got to draw as many of these as I can ahead of time, so that I'm not stressing out about it.
Harold: Right. But I'm assuming that is that pretty rare. That it's faster or easier for you just to draw from scratch than to find the image you remember that you did in, like, 140 strips ago?
Todd: No, I really only do new base drawings, like pencil up type drawing, if it's something that I haven't already done.
Harold: Do you have that amazing memory where you can say, I remember the poet’s looking up at a tree?
Todd: Well, it's, all thumbnail on that Procreate page. I can just scroll through until I see one. And that will work for this pose. And then open that up, copy it, drop it in, and then I'll ink on top of it. And again, lots of times I make changes that way, too, where it's like just changing it right in the ink-- and going back to the Crayon drawings. This is where the crayon drawings have helped my practice. It's like there's no fear of mark making because with the crayon, you do it and that's it. Yeah.
Harold: That just blows me away. I mean, if anybody is ever at a convention where Todd Webb is, seek him out, if only to get yourself turned into a caricature, but check out his books as well. But there is something absolutely remarkable. I've not seen this in other artists, where you are, in the course of less than a minute, basically capturing the essence of a person and in a very flattering, kind, loving way that it's so spare in the line. But you capture somebody just like Charles Schulz does with his characters.
And I haven't seen other people do that. I mean, they can create their own characters. Maybe they worked years to perfect the drawing of the character, but you're getting a new reference point every time someone walks up to your booth at a show, and you have to take, them as they are and make them something that they're going to love with a crayon, in less than a minute. And invariably, people absolutely love what you do. They see themselves in the work. It's phenomenal. I don't think I've seen anybody else do anything like that.
Todd: Thanks. That's high praise. It's fun. for me, it makes the shows go by faster.
Jimmy: It's true. And it's well deserved praise. Guys, this, is awesome. I want to continue it on the other side. How about we take a break, come back, and then we'll go through your five strips of Peanuts greatness that you, want to discuss.
Todd: Sounds good.
Jimmy: All right, we'll be right back.
BREAK Jimmy: All right, we're back, with Todd Webb. Todd, we gave you the, difficult nigh insurmountable task of whittling down all 17,897 Peanuts comic strips into just five you wanted to talk about, but you've done it. Can you tell me what was your process for selecting these five strips?
Todd: Yeah, so initially I wanted to just whittle down my options as fast as possible, so I went to my original paperback and I was like, I'll just pull some strips from this. But they're all Sundays, and they're from the mid to late 50s. And you guys have covered a bunch of that stuff already. So I only have one strip in this batch from that book. So then I went over to the Fantagraphics volumes and I started-- the mid 50s to the mid sixty s is probably my favorite era, visually and stuff. Like, most of your main characters are there. I like the way they look, so I knew I wanted that area and I wanted some dailies. So I was just trying to grab as quickly as possible without really thinking too much. And I even consider doing a couple of really niche things, like handwriting strips where they're writing letters or something, because the kids all write in different ways. Like, Charlie Brown is always really splotchy, and Sally has, like, the little kid writing. Snoopy is always typing. So I was going to just do five type font-based strips, handwritten font, and ultimately ended, up just having I had, like, twelve different strips, and I was just like, all right, I'm just going to pick five. They resonate for weird reasons. I don't think you guys have done any of these. I cross checked, although you're in, what, ‘57 now, so there's a good chance that one of these might be already in that you take I think there's, like, 2 1957 strips in here, but we'll see. I tried to just be eclectic.
Jimmy: I would expect nothing less. All right, let's go for it.
June 23, 1952. Charlie Brown and Schroeder are sitting on the curb. Charlie Brown points to the sky and says, “see, that's the sun. Now, if you'll just wait a bit.” Then we have a silent panel with the addition of a little Zipatone indicating time is passing. Then in the last panel, it's now night and Charlie Brown says, “there, see, that's the moon.”
Jimmy: All right, what made this make the, list?
Todd: Well, you left off that Schroeder is grinning like he's got a big smile on the last panel.
Jimmy: Oh, that is true. Schroeder is very happy. He did not feel as if he has wasted a day.
Todd: Like he's happy in the first panel and then he's got like a blank expression in the middle and then he's happy again at the end.
This one for me is all about that silent third panel. I love having like the reason I chose a four panel thing was so that you have that extra beat that you don't get in a three panel comic strip. So that you can have either a thought process happening, a time elapsing, just that extra wiggle room to stretch out a gag or whatever, I think is, super important. And then also the point of this strip is that there is a sun and there is a moon and that should be enough to make you happy.
Jimmy: Oh, isn't that sweet?
Todd: Which I think is great.
Jimmy: It is great.
Todd: The Poet has extracted DNA from this trip. They're in one location. They're in one location the whole time. The shot is the same across. It's a big thought about a little thing.
Jimmy: Rare use of Zipatone and a Peanuts strip.
Todd: That too. Yeah.
Jimmy: Which we tried to describe to William Pepper awhile back, the host of It's a podcast, Charlie Brown or I tried to describe to little effect I actually called it paper-- film was the word I was looking for.
Todd: Yeah, it's almost like a sticker, like an overlay sticker with patterns on it.
April 10, 1955, it's Sunday and it's baseball time and it's starting to rain. Pigpen, Schroeder and Charlie Brown are all looking up as the sky starts to open up. Pigpen says, “Uh oh.” Charlie, Brown says, “come on, let's have the ball. On with the game.” Even though it's clearly raining fairly hard. Now it's starting to rain even harder and everyone starts running home. Charlie Brown yells, “hey, where's everybody going?” Now Charlie Brown is left alone. He's saying, “you're not going to let a little rain bother you, are you?” Charlie Brown is now ranting as he sloshes through the ever muddening field. “Come on back, it's going to clear up. Come on back.” Charlie Brown is now yelling at his long departed team “Cowards. Quitters.” He thinks about it for a second, a look of absolute frustration on his face and he throws his mitt into the muddy water that's now filling the field and yells, “Rats.” And then in the last panel we see the glove has actually floated away from him.
Jimmy: Michael, this is one of your rain strips, that you like.
Michael: Yeah, I think we might have done this one.
Harold: I think you did nominate this one.
Todd: No, there was a different rain strip. Yeah.
Jimmy: And it was also baseball.
Michael: He just comes back to this. Maybe he likes drawing those little tight rain lines.
Jimmy: He's good at it, certainly.
Todd: My reason for this one, there's a couple, one this is a strip that was in for the Love of Peanuts. So this was a strip that I saw when I was, just barely old enough to read. Horribly butchered in that book, by the way. It was so much better here. Some of the drawings of the other kids are kind of weird in this strip. Like, they're kind of wonky looking. You've got a Shermy cameo for you guys.
Jimmy: But does it add anything to his personality?
VO: Let’s check the Shermometer Charlie Brown
Todd: I think he has a fear of rain. He's afraid of the rain. Look at that second panel. He's like, you know what?
Harold: I think that is the oddest Shermy drawing I have ever seen.
Todd: Very weird. Yeah. And Pigpen looks weird in panel three. And Schroeder looks really weird looking up in the first panel.
Harold: And we get two tongues.
Todd: Two tongues. Yep.
Harold: They're sticking their tongues out.
Todd: But also, again, this being a rain strip, every cartoonist draws rain differently. And I wanted to get into Schulz Rain because his is always more it's like a downpour.
But my favorite thing about this is that last panel, Charlie Brown is watching his glove float away and being perplexed by the oddity of the situation that is his life.
Jimmy: Well, okay, so fear of rain is Ombrophobia. so are we officially saying that that is a new Shermy trait?
Todd: Lucy would say “that's it!”
Jimmy: I need a quorum of votes. Are we adding it?
Michael: Well, I'm not sure.
Todd: He's running faster than the other kids, too. Exit stage right. Look at him go.
Harold: Pig pen's got a good stride there.
Todd: He's pulling at his shirt collar.
Jimmy: You know what? I'm going to vote yay. And if so, that means that Shermy is an ombrophobic, cynical, philosophical, history loving, empathetic, aggressive, compassionate, patient, pedantic, knowledgeable, emotional, good listening, vain, friendly, hypocrite.
Michael: One of the great characters in modern literature.
Todd: and so fully formed
Harold: And generally dry.
Todd: Yes. Arid if you will.
April 30th 1957. Charlie Brown is looking at a drawing Linus has handed him. He says, “this is a very nice drawing of a man, Linus.” The two look it over together. Charlie Brown continues, “I notice, however, that you've drawn him with his hands behind his back. You did that because you yourself have feelings of insecurity.” Linus answers, “I did that because I myself can't draw hands.” Charlie Brown is embarrassed, by this.
Michael: I myself cannot draw hands.
Jimmy: No cartoonist can draw hands. Right? That is the problem.
Todd: Exactly. Yes. So segueing from every cartoonist draws rain differently to every cartoonist has an issue with hands.
Michael: Ditko is the only one who can capture the real human hand.
Todd: That's right. You'll note in panel two, Charlie Brown's hand is behind his back.
Harold: Yes, I do think that's true that cartoonists learn how to draw a character with their hands behind their back before they learn how to draw hands. That is a progression.
Jimmy: I always think of Eddie Campbell's rule, which is not hands, but, feet, that you should put a pair of feet on every page you draw. Hands and feet are definitely difficult
Harold: They have to be bare feet?
Jimmy: I don't think they have to be bare feet. I think that would be weird.
Hey, Michael, do you remember, the Comics Journal tribute to Ditko, where there was, like, a whole ten page article just about his hands? I remember reading I was on page five of that and thought, I really need to make some adjustments to my life.
Todd: Now, was it the hands that he drew or his personal hand?
Jimmy: No, it's hands he drew.
Michael: There's a photo around of Ditko with Ditko hands.
Jimmy: Is he doing the Spiderman thing?
Jimmy: Are you serious?
Michael: Well, we all look in the mirror for hands. I mean, there's no other way to do it.
Todd: I just make little sausages, and run with it.
Jimmy: Little Picasso fingers, as Schulz would call them.
Harold: Yeah, I love the fingers on the second panel of Charlie Brown holding the paper that Linus has drawn and Linus's little sincere eyes looking at his own drawing alongside Charlie Brown.
Todd: Also, the hints of the interior of the room are things that I really like. He just puts it up to give you context for where they are. And he always would draw really crazy lamps. I don't know if you guys have singled out Schulz lamps, but he's got a lot of really weird looking lamps.
Michael: The 50s was the heyday of ugly lamps.
Harold: You know, I think there needs to be somebody to get the license to put out a line of Schulz Peanuts lamps. I think that with different lampshades and stuff that's like midcentury modern Schultz Peanuts lamps.
Jimmy: You would sell four sets at least.
Harold: Makes it all worthwhile.
Todd: And then one last thing on that was, so the hint of a room in this segues into my next choice, which is superb interior drawing.
September 1, 1957. Charlie Brown's sitting in a big easy chair, reading what looks like possibly a comic book. He says, 06:00 again. Then he gets up and starts walking somewhere and says, “Good grief.” We now see him in the kitchen, where he's opening up a can of dog food. “I hate it when it's, time to feed Snoopy,” he says. “I hate it”, he says in the next panel as he's pouring the food into the bowl. Then as he lays it out, he's continuing to say, “I hate it. I hate it, I hate it.” Then he yells, “Snoopy, supper time.” And the next panel, Snoopy, we assume, comes flying in, just drawn as an abstract jumble of lines, making a hairpin turn, snatching up the food, and running back out saying, “Gulp.” Then in the last panel, Charlie Brown has a look of absolute frustration on his face and says, “I just hate it.”
Jimmy: This for me-- we talked about Schulz being, able to draw the perfect three line bottle warmer, the perfect four line burn bin incinerator in the back of his, and now he has the perfect can opener.
Todd: Well, look at the lid of the can in the middle panel. It's like he drew a lid.
Jimmy: I don't know if people would do they still exist, those can openers that mount to door frames and stuff like that?
Harold: I hope so.
Todd: I'm sure they do. But I don't know that everybody would know what they're for. I have a friend who doesn't know what the traditional hand can opener is.
Harold: They just hang their jacket on it.
Todd: Well, they grew up with automatic can openers where you just put it under there and it buzzes around.
Jimmy: Oh, bougie. Putting on airs with an automatic can opener.
Todd: So he'd never seen, like, a hand can opener before. He was like, what is this thing?
Harold: So, Todd, do you think that Charlie Brown adds milk to the canned dog food, based on the fourth panel here?
Todd: It seems it. We know Snoopy is very spoiled, and I've seen what my parents would feed their dogs, and they would go through all kinds of things at one point, even, like, microwaving the dish so. The thrust of this whole joke is like, the amount of work Charlie Brown has to go through for Snoopy to just swallow it whole. It's like a lot of time goes by from his reading to the time that Snoopy just runs in and eats it. And I love that you see elements of all of the different furniture and things that we've seen in the preceding panels being thrown up in the air.
Jimmy: We get to see some beautiful modern art in the upper right hand corner of panel two. It looks like he's got maybe, a Jackson Pollock up there in his house.
Michael: The guy who made the lamp, I think.
Todd: Yeah. And curtains. His window curtains always have that--
Harold: Yes. I would love to have seen photos of the Schulz house if there were any vestiges of the choices that they made or that Joyce made in his comic, or if, he's just making this all up out of whole cloth. That painting makes me think of the countertops. There's a name for that design of those kind.
Jimmy: Formica, yeah
Todd: To bring us back to Lynch territory
Jimmy: When I got to go out there and be the guest artist for the museum for a week, at one point, Mrs. Schulz gave us a tour of her house, and he had a studio in the house as well that he would just use occasionally and more towards the end. But I don't know if you guys know the strip where Linus is looking for something to read before his cereal gets soggy, and he's running around and he looks and he's like, oh, the twelve volumes of the Interpreter's Bible. It's a little heavy to get into for one bowl of cereal. Well, I looked and I saw the twelve volume Interpreters Bible on his book shelf, and it was like seeing a celebrity. It's like, too much for one bowl of cereal.
Harold: They need to put out the Peanuts edition of The Interpreter that you could.
Jimmy: Read under your lamp from the special collection.
Well, then I hope he had it somewhere in his house a breadbox that just said bread on the side, because I love that little detail. And the fact that this trip shows how small Charlie Brown is, because look at the giant chairs. This goes back to the Li’l Folks days of the kids sitting on the edge of a giant chair.
Jimmy: Well, even standing on the chair.
Todd: Yeah, there's a lot I like in this one. A quick aside, one of the handwriting strips that I didn't use, I lost just because it had the word hate in it a lot. And I didn't want to have two hate strips. But it was Charlie Brown writing a pen pal letter, and he was like, Dear Pen Pal, you're, my only friend. Other than you, I don't, have any I don't have any other friends at all. Your friend, Charlie Brown. And then silently, everybody hates me.
Jimmy: We covered that one.
Todd: I figured you would. So that's why I eliminated.
Jimmy: That is a “It’s a bug. It’s a bug. It’s a piece of fuzz” level comic.
Todd: It's so funny. It's so funny. But I was like, well, this one maybe didn't get done and have hate in a different context.
Jimmy: I believe the three of us did decide that we would probably not write back to Charlie Brown if we received that letter.
Todd: Also note, it's pencil pal in that strip. He's not using a pen because we know he can't use pens very well.
Jimmy: Yes, we were trying to figure out who was using a fountain pen at that point to write.
Todd: It’s probably his mom, I guess.
February 5 1981 Lucy angrily approaches Linus, who is chomping on a piece of bread. She says, “well, why didn't you answer me?” Linus says. “Oh, I didn't hear you. I can't hear a thing when I'm eating toast because it echoes inside my head.” Lucy walks away as Linus continues. “Actually, it's very peaceful. Eating toast is like getting away for the weekend.”
Todd: So weird. I love it.
Michael: Having never really read these 1980s strips, the first thing I noticed is Lucy's mouth seems very low, and panel three Linus' mouth seems lower than I've seen it.
Todd: And Lucy's in 1980s attire, which I'm not a fan of. I like the traditional Lucy. Linus still has the same shirt that we all wear, but Lucy's got the weird corduroy pants and stuff, and the curtains aren't Art Deco anymore.
Jimmy: No, but as Michael pointed out while I was rooting for my books, it is the same designer for the couch as well, that was around from the 50s.
Todd: Right. Couch has been there a long time. Many moves.
So this one, I like the first panel, the setup. I like strips that, give you the hint of something that happened that's not in the strip. So we can assume Lucy has been yelling at him for, like, ten minutes before the strip even starts.
Todd: We all know that time elapses in the gutters, but that works with the first panel, too, before it and the last panel, so you don't always have to show everything, which I love about that structure.
And then this one. It's so weird. It's such a weird thing. Like, it's funny, but it's not a joke. It's just like a bizarre thought that Schulz had about toast one day. I assumed he was just eating it and was like, it kind of echoes around in my head when I chew and decided to put it out into the world. And I loved that-- that's the reason this trip exists is because he was sitting, trying to come up with an idea, and toast was loud in his head. I love that. You can do comics about anything.
Harold: Do you think that Schulz is working a lot smaller now? Because I'm assuming he's I don't know when he switched over to that famous pen point, but I'm assuming that was, in the time that we're reading now, and this line seems so much thicker, and I'm just wondering, did he just all of a sudden shrink the strip down so that the lines look thicker because there's less reduction?
Jimmy: Well, they're actually a completely different shape as well.
Todd: Yeah, the panel shape goes to square instead of, like, a rectangle.