Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Unpacking Peanuts. We have a real special treat for you today. We have another Peanuts podcaster in the house, and it is very, very exciting. I'm Jimmy Gownley. You might know me from Amelia Rules, The Dumbest Idea Ever, or Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up. Joining me, as always, are my pals and co hosts and also fantastic cartoonists. He is a composer for both the band Complicated People and this very podcast. He was the original editor of Amelia Rules. He co-created the very first comic book price guide, the Argosy Price Guide. He is the cartoonist behind such great strips as Strange Attractors, Tangled River, and A Gathering of Spells. Michael Cohen.
Michael: Hey there.
Jimmy: And he is the executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000. He's a former vice president of Archie Comics, and he is currently creating the fantastic comic strip on Instagram, sweetest Beast, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: So, guys, we have to be on our best behavior today because we have the OG in the house. We have the first, I believe and longest running Peanuts podcaster, Mr. William Pepper. William, welcome to the show.
William: Thank you very much. I'm happy to be here. I'm a little bit disappointed that I'm not the only Peanuts podcaster anymore, but I'm happy you invited me here.
Jimmy: Well, we aim to please and also to destroy, of course. That's just how we are.
Jimmy: no, your podcast is fantastic, and we were thrilled to be guests on yours. And we're happy to have you here.
William: Yes, thank you. I appreciate that.
Jimmy: So, Bill, tell us your Peanuts origin story.
William: So I'm a Gen X kid, born in the 70s. I don't remember not being a Peanuts fan. I watched all the TV specials as a kid. Before I could read, dad would read me the comic strips out of the paper, and I would continue to do that as I grew up. When I read the funny pages, I would prioritize which, ones I was going to read first. I read the ones maybe I didn't like as much first. And then I always saved Peanuts for last. And it's just always been a part, of who I am, I guess. Not to get, too high about it, but, yeah, I don't remember not being a Peanuts fan.
Jimmy: Now, was there a certain aspect of it that you were drawn to more than the others? Like, was it the strip itself? Were you primarily an animation fan as you were a kid?
William: I probably was an animation fan. I really liked the films. I liked the TV specials. As far as the daily strip, I was Charlie Brown fan. He was the star, basically, at one point. And I like to see what he would get up to. I guess I resonated with him the most, probably.
Jimmy: And what was it about him?
William: It's a corny answer. Probably the same answer everybody gets. I like that you knock him down, he always gets up again. And I think while early Charlie Brown going back to the early days of the strip, where he's kind of the wise guy, sort of jokester kind of guy, he was okay, but I like the Charlie Brown that maybe is a little more wishy washy, but still true to himself, knows what he believes.
Jimmy: Absolutely. A lot of people, I think it's not so much a strip about failure. It's a strip about constantly trying. And, sometimes you're a glass, half full person, sometimes you're glass half empty, and sometimes you're just happy to have a glass. And I think that's interesting. That's the part that resonated with you. That's a huge part that resonated with me as well. When you saw those earlier strips, though, the ones where he was the wise guy, what did you think of those the first time you saw them?
William: I noticed how different they were. As a kid reading the script, I would get the collections of, like, the Fawcett Crest books, I think the collections. I would sit there on a Saturday afternoon, I would read them, and I was always kind of drawn to those early ones because they look so different and, have such a different feel to them that I appreciate them. But they almost felt like a different strip from what I was seeing in the daily newspaper. I appreciated it for that. Just being something different.
Jimmy: Yeah, very much. And Peanuts maintained, though it's different all the way through. It's so strange, though, when you look back at those early strips, because especially the very early ones, they're absolutely radically different. Do you have, though, a favorite era?
William: Well, sometimes when I answer that question, I say that that is my favorite. Only in the sense that, it is so different. It has such a different feel to it that, in a way, it is kind of my favorite. Although, as far as, day to day boom, hitting the mark every time good strip, I got to go, and it's not original-- I got to say the 60s, probably. Nothing original about that answer. But Schulz really was-- he was ten years in, and he was on top of his game, and it's hard, to deny that.
Jimmy: Yeah. One of the things that really has struck me when we're doing this reread where we're doing it from the beginning, is that ten years is a long time. Calvin & Hobbes was over in ten years. I don't know how long did The Far Side run? I think that was ten years. Right.
William: What about Bloom County? How long is that?
Jimmy: Oh, yeah. Bloom County ended in after nine or ten years. Yeah, I think it's around the same time. So it seems like that's the point where you're going to hit burnout and no judgment to those guys, because it is a grind to do a daily comic strip. I can't imagine. But it's so shocking to see Schulz just seeming to get more and more energized as these first years goes by. It's really exciting.
William: I feel like it wasn't an issue of becoming energized. I think he kind of been living his whole life to get to that point.
William: It was kind of just obviously there was the practical aspects of having to go to the drawing board every day and do the thing and all the other stuff that comes with doing a popular strip. Because of course, he had to deal with licensing stuff and eventually animation stuff and all of this, on top of doing the daily strip. But I think for him, it wasn't work, really. It was just kind of him putting his mind out on the page. The blood and sweat, almost literally.
Jimmy: Yeah. There are a few instances where someone is so suited to their profession, to their calling, really, and to the moment, if you can call 50 years a moment, as Schulz was. But that's definitely all true.
So was there a part point in your life, though, where maybe Peanuts drifted away and you weren't paying attention to it?
William: Honestly, when Garfield first came out.
Jimmy: How, old were you?
William: That's what I was going to say. Was that '78, '79?
William: So I was like seven. When Garfield first came out, everybody was reading Garfield. And, it was the first however many years. It was really funny, really kind of unique script. And I didn't stop getting the Peanuts books or anything, but I focused more of my allowance money on the collections of the Garfield strips or collecting the toys or whatever. And for a while, that was probably my focus.
Harold: Yes.I think people forget, or people who weren't around in 1978. I think we think of Garfield as something that's very slick. We were talking on your podcast about Mort Walker and Beetle Bailey, how it kind of became an industry. And everything's been I don't know how you put it, but it's been standardized. So that when you see a Garfield strip, you know what you're going to get every day. But man, in 1978, he looked like those Kliban cats originally. It's very different. And the humor was very fresh. And you have to go back to those original strips to kind of recreate the excitement that happened when it was first out there. There was nothing like it.
Jimmy: And John was a cartoonist at the beginning.
William: Oh, yeah, I still remember that. I guess it was the first strip, right, where it's John, the cartoonist is in the strip. I don't know if breaking the fourth wall is the right term, but yeah, it was very different. I still maintain the big mistake Jim Davis made was getting rid of the Lyman character.
Jimmy: I don't remember that as well. You know what I did like about Garfield, though, and I wonder if you are, because we're probably around the same age.
Jimmy: Do you remember the CBS Saturday Morning show?
William: Yeah, kind of.
Jimmy: I thought that was an amazing because 80s TV animation was a little dicey. I thought they did a little job with that, though.
William: Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, Garfield occupied my attention for quite a while.
Jimmy: And how did it drift back to Peanuts?
William: No disrespect to Jim Davis, but I kind of got to a point with Garfield where I felt I've seen this already. The last 40 out of the last 50 days, to my mind, pretty much the same strip. Maybe I'm, kind of done with Garfield now, but Peanuts, I could always go back to Peanuts, and I still read Peanuts during all this time, there was always something new. The format was Peanuts kind of the same, but within that format, he had so many characters. He could do just a gag one day, and the next day he's trotting out, Thoreau or a bible quote, or Lucy's pulling the football away or whatever. Format always the same, but within that format, he could do so much, and I could always find something to enjoy. So it was not hard to come back.
Jimmy: Yeah, well, that's exactly, that expresses exactly what I like and admire most about Schulz, is that you get these four tiny little rectangles and somehow he puts magic in every single one of them every single day. It's breathtaking and mind blowing.
William: Yeah. Spoiler for people listening. We already had a conversation earlier today, and we were talking about how-- I asked a question about could Schulz have done anything else if you decide to close up shop with Peanuts. If I drifted away in the late seventy s to Garfield, and there was no Peanuts to come back to, would there have been another Charles Schulz strip in its place? And I don't know that there would have been, because I think he invested everything in this one strip and was able to do so much with it that he couldn't really have done anything else. And he was always going to be there for me.
Jimmy: And it's so poetic. Then he ultimately passes at the same time the strip passes. I mean, that's like a myth, like our legend.
William: Yeah. That's still remarkable to me. If you wrote that in a novel, people would say, oh, that's a cliche contrivance. But it really happened and it's amazing. Yeah.
Jimmy: Yeah. I want to give a spoiler for my take on the last strip, but I won't because we still have 17,000 more to read. But I can't wait to talk about the last strip.
William: I can't wait for 2024 for that episode.
Jimmy: Okay. Where are you growing up again? I'm sorry.
Jimmy: Iowa. Right. Berke Breathed. So that's Midwest. Schulz is Midwest. Harold is Midwest.
William: Yeah, we're all good people.
Jimmy: Do you see any of that in the strip?
William: I do. You guys on your podcast have talked about Schulz as a Midwesterner and how you see that in the strip. When you look at interviews of Schulz or read an interview of Schulz, you definitely see he's got the characteristically Midwestern thing about him. He's very self deprecating. I was going to say very polite. Not the people in other parts of the world aren't polite, but we're very polite here in the Midwest. It's what makes us special. But at the same time, I've lived here now for over 50 years, and I get it, when people say, oh, that's very Midwestern, but it's also not everyone in the Midwest is like, what people think Charles Schulz is like. I tortured that sentence. I don't know if it makes sense. We're not all self-deprecating and polite to a fault and all of that. As far as whether I see Midwestern in the strip, one thing that always interested me as a kid, when I would read the strip and I had some idea about who Schulz was and stuff, and I knew he lived in California, but he would do these-- So in my head, the characters all live in California. So one thing I would notice is in the winter, it would snow in Peanuts world, and it snows in the Midwest, but it doesn't snow in California, typically. So that's a very superficial example, but I can see the Midwestern in that.
Jimmy: Right. By the way, we found out this is recorded before our episode released, but we've discovered where Peanuts takes place.
William: No way.
Jimmy: Yeah. I mean, me, whatever. No big deal. No big.
William: But anyway, is it Colorado?
Jimmy: No, I can't remember
Harold: Hennepin County.
Jimmy: Hennepin County, Minnesota.
William: Okay. Yeah, I've been there.
Jimmy: there you go.
William: I actually was born in Minnesota, not Hennepin County, but I was born in Minnesota.
Jimmy: Okay, great.
Harold: Yeah. One thing I think about William when I think of the strip, because when we were talking with Lex Fajardo, I may have brought this up, but I was a kid who was visiting southwest Missouri and Oklahoma when I was growing up, and I was actually, most of my life, I was living my young life, was in Rochester, New York, from the age of four to eleven. and so I was coming from that perspective into the Midwest and experiencing the differences firsthand for a week every six months or so. And it struck me how different it was. I was not expecting-- the United States to me, I thought, well, all the United States was United States, but there was something about the Midwest, and I was struck by how-- maybe one way to put it is Schulz, is drawing these comics in these tiny little boxes, and maybe that's something about the Midwest is that they might work within tighter bounds than what artists in New York and LA would. In terms of what the content is, how you approach it, it's a little more, reserved. There's a few more rules that you set for yourself of what you do and what you, don't do.
Jimmy: Jeeze, just say it-- uptight. We get it.
Harold: There's this kind of principled, nature to Schulz that he sets these things for himself, these boundaries for himself, that no one you would even think of in the strips of most of the members of the National Cartoonist Society. They're like, who is this? Who is this Uptight guy? This rube-- I think Mort Walker once referred, somebody said to him from Minnesota, he's different, but he sets these boundaries, which in a way, makes him more accessible, I think, because in a way, what he won't go into are some of the crazier aspects of life that maybe make some people uncomfortable. But giving himself those boundaries, he became more universal somehow.
Jimmy: Well, that's the story of Schulz, I think, is that boundaries and limitations enhance his creativity beyond.
William: So I wonder how different the strip would have been then if Schulz had grown up in New York.
Harold: Well, I think that's what's really fascinating, and maybe we'll be looking at this in years to come, as we're going through these strips, is he did move to California in 19 was it 58? And so, he's experiencing the California lifestyle. And I think you do see it in the strip. I think he starts to loosen up and open up in the late sixties and early 70s in ways that he may not have if he had stayed in Minnesota.
William: No, I was going to say, Schulz is an interesting guy to me, and I guess this kind of relates to that in the sense that he is very polite, he's very self deprecating, he's very reserved. But also, when you listen to him talk or you read an interview, you also see that he is very confident in his work, and he is.
Jimmy: he knows he's great, and he doesn't have to lord it over again.
William: That's exactly right. He knows he's good at what he does. He's not going to change what he does. But if you ask him about himself, he'll poke fun at himself or whatever. But if you mention his work, he's going to give you a very clear, this is exactly what needs to happen with this, and this is how I'm doing it. This is great.
Jimmy: There's something about him. It makes me think like, he's the person who brought dignity to cartooning, even though that's unfair. There were cartoonists who were celebrities.
Jimmy: But there's something--
Harold: crazy celebrities
Jimmy: what's that?
Harold: Crazy celebrities. Maybe they weren't bringing dignity to comics. Even though
Jimmy: that's true. Right, exactly. That's true. I guess that is a very different thing. Yeah. Because he definitely-- he was the kind of cartoonist. As I get older, too, and getting crazier and more sense, it's almost like I feel you should bow to your art desk before you start drawing, because it's unbelievable that you get to do this. What a gift that you get to do this. Even if it stinks to draw and your hand hurts and whatever. It's miserable. A) it still beats having a real job. And B, you get to do that. That's wonderful. And I think he just exuded that.
Harold: And I think artists love him for that.
William: Yeah, he's a fascinating guy.
Harold: He really is.
Jimmy: Hey. But yes, you're a fascinating guy, too. So I want to know, how do you then go from being a fan to a wayward fan, to coming back to saying, all right, I'm going to do a podcast about this topic.
William: So, in about 2015, I actually started listening to podcasts, and I do some writing and so forth. But around that time, I was in a bit of a creative lull with my writing, and for some reason, I immediately thought, podcast, I think I could do that. And the first show I started, actually, and still do, is called Atari Bytes, where every episode, I talk about an old Atari video game. and then I present an original short story by me that really doesn’t have anything do with the game. Sometimes the game is a writing prompt for me to go off and write whatever I want to write.
Jimmy: Oh, cool.
William: So I started doing that episode or that podcast that still comes out every other Sunday. But I was still a listener to podcasts, and I was still looking for things to listen to. And I thought, well, I like Peanuts. Surely there are a bunch of Peanuts podcasts out there that I can listen to to revel in my joy, of Snoopy, and 50 odd years of content. And what I discovered right away, is, yeah, no, there's not. There are a lot of podcasts that will do an episode during the holiday season about A Charlie Brown Christmas, but that's about it. So I thought, all right, I guess I'll do it. Even though I have no particular cred, I have no credentials to do so. I'm not a cartoonist. I'm not an artist. I don't have any particular knowledge. I didn't have any particular knowledge of, Peanuts, other than I had read this read the strip forever. But I just decided, okay, I'm going to do it. So I did, and I started it in 2016.
Harold: Yeah. you are a writer, William. And I think that really comes through in the podcast-- say you're covering an episode of TV series. you're bringing an artist perspective as a writer to how they're structuring the work. Who's the character? Who has the through line in this particular story? Who's the protagonist, which is actually a very hard thing to do with some of these episodic Peanuts shows. And it's fascinating to hear your perspective.
William: I made the decision early on to start, at least, with the animated stuff, because I thought, being a podcast, that would be a way, for review purposes, I could borrow some sound clips, get some audio in there, maybe make it a little more engaging that way. And I was a little uncertain if I could talk about the scripts in an intelligent way on, their own. I had to start shortly after the, podcast started, a segment called Random Strip of the Month, where I invite people, or I do it myself, to send in an audio submission of themselves talking about a particular strip. Because I do in microcosm what you guys do for an entire episode. I pick a strip, or somebody picks a strip and read it, talk about what it is, what's good about it, if there's anything not so good about it, what's not so great about it. Because I wanted to make sure when I was doing, talking about this animated stuff that we didn't forget. It wouldn't be any animated stuff if it wasn't 50 years of newspaper strips. So, I have tried to consciously make that more of a focus of the show.
Jimmy: That's fantastic. Well, let me ask you this. I've known Michael and Harold for 20 some years each, but I've learned things about them that I, didn't know because of this podcast and because of discussing this work in such depth. And perhaps more amazingly, I feel like I've learned things about myself, whether I saw some behavior in the characters or I felt a resonance with something Schulz was trying to say, or whatever. Has being immersed in Peanuts, do you feel it has had some sort of effect on you as a person, other than just filling time as a podcast? What has it changed within you?
William: Oh, boy.
Jimmy: Or even just something that you noticed, that was always there, that maybe now it's brought to the fore?
William: Doing the podcast has made me think more about Peanuts as a whole. Not just a strip on a page, not just a flash beagle TV special. It would be sad to base all Peanuts just on flash beagle.
Jimmy: Poor flash beagle
William: Yeah, exactly. So I have consciously made a decision to step back and look at everything. That's how I started the show. I said, I'm going to cover everything, whether it's a TV special, a comic strip, something, going on in Charles Schulz's life, whatever it is. Somebody writes a book about Peanuts, I want to talk to that person. So I guess that's what it's done for me. I always was a fan of the strip. That was usually as far as it went, I would read it, oh, that's kind of funny. Or, that's an interesting reference. And then I was done for the day. I wanted to, with this podcast, think more about the work as a whole. And I've gotten to do that. That's been pretty cool.
Michael: I have a question-- on the first podcast of yours. I listen to you mentioned that your kids are huge Peanuts fans, but they’ve never read the strip.
William: yeah, I was lying.
William: No, I wasn't lying. Honest, I wasn't lying. Maybe.
Michael: Okay. My question is, what do you think their reaction would be if they went back and read the strip?
William: I think they would kind of shrug, and say yeah, that was kind of funny. Dad, thanks for showing that to me. Can I go back and do what I was doing now.
Jimmy: Only because well, see, that's when you start brow beating. A lot of people have thrown brow beating aside as a tool for communication, but I find it works.
William: Just take away their phones and stuff like that. No, but not because of Peanuts, but because my kids are 16 and 12. They didn't grow up reading the funnies in the paper. Comic strips as a medium for them doesn't resonate at all. It's not a thing that they're interested in. It's not a thing that they want. During the holidays, whatever the holiday is, they will say, okay, dad, time to watch Charlie Brown Christmas or Halloween or whatever.
Harold: They're keeping track of where Arbor day is.
William: Yeah. Or Arbor day or the four however many Valentine's specials there were. But I think they're doing that more because they know that I like it. They don't dislike Peanuts, but it doesn't inform who they are.
Harold: Could I ask you, William, based on your experience with the podcast, who is resonating to what you're doing with people? Do you see any similarities in the people other than a love of Peanuts that seems to be a part of who is interested in what you're doing with the Peanuts on a podcast, you're saying?
William: As far as the feedback that I get from listeners yeah.
Harold: Do you see commonalities in the type of people who are really interested in Peanuts and discussing Peanuts?
William: I do, only in the sense that they are all about my same age-- Gen X people. I don't know why. I suppose maybe that's because that's a lot of who listens to podcasts. Maybe I have had on occasion, I hear from an 18 or 19 year old fan, but it's mostly people around my age, 40s or 50s.
Harold: That's interesting. And I'm wondering our own voices are obviously mixed in with what we do in these podcasts, and that also has its own attractions. I don't know if you had a really excited 18-year-old who did their own podcasts, what kind of audience they would attract, how much of it is Peanuts and how much of it is your voice that determines who is going to resonate and come back and be involved.
William: I would like to hear that podcast, actually. I hope somebody will do that.
Harold: Me too.
William: If nothing else,
Jimmy: We will then crush them. We invite you to try, my friend. We invite you to try.
Jimmy: Well, we gave you an impossible task.
William: You really did.
Jimmy: Which was to select your five favorite, five most interesting, whatever you're going to talk about five and only five Peanut strips. So the next half of the show, we are going to discuss, those in depth, as is our want. But before we do that, I just kind of wanted to get your take on how did you select these, and how difficult was it?
William: So, it was extremely difficult. The remit that I got was pick your five favorites. And my brain immediately blanked completely on what Peanut even is. I got a deer in the headlights kind of feeling about it, I don't know.
But then I decided to step back a little bit, and I thought, okay, instead of trying to pick five favorite strips, I'm going to pick maybe a variety of types of strips or tones or whatever. I could make an interesting conversation. A couple of these.
Harold: Sorry, I was just like, you're going to say. Initially, I came up with five Spike strips. I said, that's just a little too on the nose. Let's open it up.
William: Five of Shermy's best strips. That could be another episode. A couple of these I really did have in mind and thought, okay, I want to talk about that-- one in particular. One of them, I actually have to credit a listener to my show. Actually, when we get there, I'll give her credit for it because she brought it to my attention, right before you guys asked me to come up with some strips. So I stole this one from her because it's been what I was looking for. So that was my approach. I went for types of strips. Probably, if you asked me again next week, I'd probably pick five different ones for sure.
Jimmy: Well, this is great. So how about we take a break right here, and then we come back and we discuss Bill’s picks in depth? Sounds good?
William: Sounds good.
Jimmy: All right, we'll be right back.
Jimmy: Hey, we're back here at Unpacking Peanuts talking with William Pepper, who is the host of It's A Podcast, Charlie Brown, the longest running and first Peanuts podcast. And it's a fantastic listen. If you haven't given it a listen yet, please do. Bill, we are going to talk to you about these five strips, and how about we just get to it?
William: Sounds good.
December 8, 1952. Charlie Brown and Violet are sitting outside with some sort of toys around them. Violet says, “ is that the only T-shirt you own?” Charlie Brown stands up and looks down at his shirt. He says, “Why, what's the matter with it?” Violet says, “It's that stripe. I'm tired of seeing it.” Charlie Brown walks away saying,”I'm sorry. I didn't know it bothered you. I'll go home and change.” Last panel, we see Charlie Brown. He's back. He has the exact same shirt on, only it is now inverted with a white stripe instead of a black stripe. And he says, “how's this?”
Jimmy: all right, tell us about that.
William: So this is the strip-- I have to give credit to Lynn, who's one of my listeners. She actually submitted this as a random Strip of the Month, for one of my shows. And when I saw it, I thought, this is a great strip. She submitted it to me because I've commented on my podcast that this is more of an issue for the animated special, but I don't like it. I find it unsettling when the Peanuts characters aren't wearing their traditional clothes. Some reason, it weirds me out a little bit if Charlie Brown is wearing a red shirt instead of a yellow one, or Linus has a different outfit on or something. But, in this case, this is a gag, and I think it works. So I'm not weirded out by this one. So just to put everybody at ease. I'm okay. All right.
Jimmy: I was worried.
William: but there's some interesting things here. This is 1952, we’re a couple of years into the strip at this point, give or take. Charlie Brown-- The characters are starting to look a little bit more like what we expect them to look like. They're still on the younger side, these two anyway, I think, but Charlie Brown is still-- I don't know if he's quite being a wise guy here, but he's being a jokester a little bit, having some fun with Violet.
Harold: So you think in this strip, William, that Charlie Brown is aware that the shirt is not fulfilling her needs, he's just joking with her versus innocently switching to a different shirt. But it doesn't…
William: I can see the strip both ways. And now that you said I'm looking at Charlie Brown last panel, and I'm looking at the expression on his face, and I'm trying to figure out it would probably fit my interpretation more if he had a little bit more of a ha ha, got you kind of expression on his face. He doesn't really he's just smiling and saying, how's this? So I can understand the interpretation that says he was being accommodating to Violet. Although I don't know why, because Violet is a horrible person.
Harold: That’s Michael’s story right there.
William: So I can understand that interpretation. I prefer to read it. And thinking about the era that the strip is from, I think it's more him messing with Violet a little bit.
Jimmy: There's, so many strips that you can read both ways, particularly in those early instances. And it's so funny because Michael and I are like, oh, no, he's definitely being a jerk. And Harold is like, I don't think so. I think it's the picture of innocence.
William: And I get it. But Violet I said, she's a horrible person. That's maybe a little mean, but Violet's a little mean throughout her run.
Jimmy: Super mean.
William: She's sort of the prototype Lucy, but with Lucy, Schulz figured out how to make her mean, but also give her a little bit of, a little bit of a soul.
Jimmy: Yeah, She's likable.
William: Yeah. Violet is just all hostility.
Michael: She started out very sweet in this period, but we are theorizing it was sort of a comment on his marriage. And this is a very wifey thing to say. I'm tired of you wearing that shirt.
William: I heard you guys talked about that on the show. And when I heard that, I thought, Oh, yeah. This could absolutely be a reference to what was going on with Schulz at that time. So, yeah, I can absolutely see that.
August 14, 1960. It's a Sunday. It's a beautiful day. Puffy clouds in the sky. Lucy says to Charlie Brown and Linus, “Aren't the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton.” We see the three kids lying on a mound, staring up at the sky. Lucy says, “I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by.” She points up at the clouds and says, “if you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in cloud formations. what do you think you see, Linus?” Linus answers, “well, those clouds up there looks to me like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean.” Charlie Brown raises his head, a blank look on his face. Linus continues, “that cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor”. Linus continues, Charlie Brown now looks completely baffled as Linus says, “and that group of clouds over there gives me the impression of the stoning of Stephen. I can see the apostle Paul standing there to one side.” Lucy says, “Uh huh. That's very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown answers, “well, I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsey, but I changed my mind.”
Jimmy: This is famous. I mean, this is beloved.
William: Yes. The punchline kills me every time. I don't care how many times I read this book. I like strips. As a kid, I always liked the strips where a character made a reference to somebody. Lucy talking about Liv Ullmann or Linus in particular, with a philosopher or a biblical quote or somebody references some historical event. And as a kid, I had no idea what they were talking about. In this strip, I still don't exactly know the map of the British Honduras in the Caribbean. I couldn't tell you what that looks like, but I liked it when they did that because it made me feel like I was reading something sophisticated. It wasn't just reading a comic strip. I wasn't reading, sorry, Beetle Bailey.
Michael: You were reading something sophisticated.
Jimmy: Listen, that viewpoint validates basically my entire life. And I have so many arguments with editors and publishers who are like, a kid doesn't get that. Well, then a kid will learn. If you're only ever approaching people with things they already know, I mean, I invite you to imagine how absurd that is. The communication ceases to exist, and I agree. I think it just adds to it, no matter how much you understand or don't understand.
Harold: I was so happy to see you select this strip, William, because I was thinking about this just a week or so ago, and I haven't read anywhere near, 17,897 strips that represent the body of Schulz’s work. But right now, this is the one that has to be knocked out of the number one strip of all time in my.
Jimmy: oh wow
William: That is a bold statement.
Jimmy: and we just broke some news here, folks. That's exciting. So you think that is going to beat Be of Good Cheer?
William: Flash forward to that episode when you get to this strip and he decides that he hates it.
Jimmy: I've been thinking about it. Forget it.
Michael: It's going to be hard to top this for best strip of 1960, but we'll see.
William: It is kind of reminiscent a little bit of the 60s, too, this approach of stop, and look at the clouds. Aren't they pretty? And what does that look, like? And that kind of stuff.
Jimmy: Yeah, it is weird.
Harold: It's a very philosophical era for him, isn't it?
William: Yeah, absolutely.
Jimmy: He was so close to the Zeitgeist for so long. That's hard to do as just a person walking around, let alone to be an artist, trying to reflect the culture back to itself.
Michael: What are these kids doing outside on a hill? I mean, yeah, kids aren't going to relate to this. Why are they just lying there doing nothing?
William: Well, my kids now especially, wouldn't relate to this. Another reason why, unfortunately, I don't know that they would resonate the same way with them.
Harold: William, have you ever seen Gregory’s Girl?
William: I don't think so.
Harold: That's what I think of the culture reflecting back on this strip. That's what I think of. There's a scene where two people are lying in a park in their backs, looking up in the sky. It totally resonates with what Schulz was doing here.
William: A lot of the animation stuff, when they try to recycle strips into the animations, didn't always capture the same feel. But in the film, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, they use this strip as the opening of the film. And I think it's really nice. They do a really nice job with it.
Jimmy: Yeah I mean, comics aren't storyboards, but in this instance, they essentially are. It was perfect for that piece of animation. I love that, too.
Michael: Not luckily, but he has a character who this is totally and fits with Linus. No one else could say this.
Jimmy: Yes. So it passes the Shermy test for sure. Because if you had Shermy, saying this about the clouds, that would not track as something possible. You know what else I like? How Lucy just goes with it. Uh huh, that’s very good. Oh, come on, Lucy. You don't know. What are you talking about?
Harold: And what’s with Lucy’s dress? It’s like, it's a bustle. It never changes it’s shape when she's lying on her back.
William: She’s wearing armor or something
Jimmy: As a cartoonist, that's a hard thing to do, to draw the same thing over and over with minimal changes. Now, of course, we would do it with Photoshop, and even I would be like, yeah, I'm not drawing that every time.
William: I mean, there's a lot of things about these characters that-- I don't draw but I imagine shouldn't work.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah.
William: They had these giant heads and the short arms and life and stuff. Bill Melendez talked about that, doing the animations, trying to figure out how to make that work on the screen. But even on the page, these characters look so different than anything that came before.
Jimmy: Well, the fact that the characters just shouldn't work visually leads us, into your next trip quite neatly. So here we go.
July 12, 1965 We see Snoopy laboring to carry a case behind him. Then in panel two, he's pushing it forward. In panel three, we see him opening up as he has brought it to his dog house. In panel four, he is atop the doghouse, we see that what he was carrying was a typewriter, and he is typing the words “it was a dark and stormy night.”
Jimmy: the famous novel opening.
Michael: But is this the first him sitting on the doghouse typing?
William: My understanding-- Well, at least it's the first time he used it was a dark and stormy night. Right? I don't know about the first time typing. And, of course, it's the famous opening line from the 1830 novel Paul Clifford, which I've never read.
Jimmy: It's also the first line of, I think, A Wrinkle in a Time.
Harold: wow, these are some peanut obscurities. We'll have to explain.
Jimmy: Well, Wrinkle in Time, which was written by Albert Payson Terhune
I'm going to Google that because you have to listen to our episode with William on It's A Podcast, Charlie Brown, because I'm pontificating about no one respecting Steve Ditko and his creation of the Peacemaker character. And then Michael had to tell me I was completely wrong. So while we're doing this, I'm going to Google some stuff right now about A Dark and Stormy Night. You guys keep talking.
William: I think, Jimmy, we can tell you pretty confidently that Steve Ditko didn't write A Wrinkle In Time.
Jimmy: Now I'm destroyed twice.
Michael: Give me credit for not calling you a blockhead
William: So I like this one. I don't know where this strip falls in the development of all Snoopy alter egos. Or personalities. But for me, the kid who was sitting in the basement with his mom's portable typewriter writing ripoffs of Encyclopedia Brown, Snoopy as world famous author-- That's the one that resonates with me more than Flying Ace or Joe Cool. I like all those guys, too. But this guy, the famous author, was what resonated to me. So that's why I picked it to go here. I love it every time Snoopy is writing some ___novel, and then Lucy will tell him, now you got to have more action. He'll write something in, the back and forth, mailing his publications off to a publisher, and getting back the rejection letters. you know what? Maybe just don't bother to send it to us. We're going to reject it right now. Stuff like that. That all resonated with me as a kid, especially resonates with me as an adult.
Harold: Yeah, it kind of gave that when I tried to send in a comic strip to syndicates way back in the 90s, there was this badge of honor by getting the rejection slip because of these Peanuts strips. It's like, oh, I did something like Snoopy did. This is amazing. I got back at rejections.
Jimmy: So, you were talking about the visual aspect of the characters. And if you look at this, if you look at Snoopy in those last three panels, he completely, changes his anatomy for what the drawing needs to be, and nobody cares. In panel two he doesn't even have a tail.
William: Oh, you're right. Yeah.
Jimmy: It doesn't matter because it would have cluttered up the movement. It would have cluttered up the design. So it's just like, oh, we'll leave it tucked in. And those legs don't match the dog's rear legs that are in panel three, which then turn back into more human style legs in panel four. If you were designing a character, a lot of kids will go on YouTube and they'll watch every video. How to design a character, how to do this, how to do that. They're not going to teach you that.
Harold: No, that's right. Third panel, he's got a thumb. And then the fourth panel, he's got fingers instead of a thumb. So it's all, the magic of Snoopy. Every single drawing is iconic and beautiful and different than the one before. How does he do that?
Jimmy: Now, this leads me to a really interesting question that I have not contemplated before. Okay, so Bill, this is your favorite iteration of Snoopy, Michael and Harold, at least at this stage. What you know, what is your favorite version of Snoopy?
Michael: This one isn't far off from the late 50s, early sixties one. he's not quite as elongated in the snout anymore.
Jimmy: but I mean, like, of his different things, like the mimic, regular dog, the author, any of that stuff.
Michael: I like this strip. I don't know if I want to make it like a huge part of the Snoopy story, the writer thing. My favorite? Yeah. Oh, definitely the vulture.
Jimmy: That’s a good pick
William: That’s a good one too.
Jimmy: That’s a solid pick. Harold?
Harold: for me, it's got to be the Snoopy joy dance. That thing is just so sublime. And only Schulz has pulled that off. I don't know why, but it's absolutely amazing that he was able to embody Joy in Snoopy that way.
Jimmy: And what I'm going to say is going to sound like a pose, but I swear to God, this is true and has been true since I was a very little boy. It's the world famous grocery clerk.
Harold: Oh, yes. I love the grocery clerk.
Jimmy: Going to do a little heavy reading tonight sweetie? When I was a grocery clerk, any person who bought a magazine, I'd say, going to do a little heavy reading tonight?
Harold: How’d that go over?
William: I like that one.
Michael: Well, I have something to look forward to.
Jimmy: I think it's like five strips.
Harold: Yeah, but it's such indelible part. Looks like 1975 or something. So we do something to look forward to there.
September 16, 1966. Charlie Brown sits up in bed. He sniffs. “I smell smoke,” he says. And he sniffs again. We cut to Snoopy outside, who is kicking at Charlie Brown's door. Bam, bam, bam, bam. Charlie Brown runs out to see what's the matter. “What in the world?” he says, as we see Snoopy looking off in dismay, panel right. And then in the final panel, we see Snoopy's dog house in flames. Charlie Brown is comforting Snoopy and says, “good grief.” And Snoopy thinks to himself, “my books, my records, my pool table, my Van Gogh. sob”.
Jimmy: That's the strip. All right, tell us about that.
William: Yeah, the first thing that comes to mind when I read this one is never mind rain. Schulz was famously proud of how well he could draw rain. I think he draws fire really well.
Michael: Yeah, that's good.
Jimmy: That's the first panel of Peanuts I ever saw. That is the cover-- This weird pop psychology book was the first time I saw Peanuts. I had probably seen the show, Christmas and stuff. But the first strips I saw were in this book, What's It All About? Charlie Brown. And that is the cover image.
Harold: That's a powerful image.
William: If this is a person's first image of Peanuts, what do you possibly think that Peanuts is?
Jimmy: Well, I mean, it certainly made me open the book. And I could read when I was very young because I had what's it called overbearing mother. And so I, tried to read, that book, even though it was really just, like, late, 60s pop psych gibberish. But I couldn't make heads or tails out of most of that. But I read all the strips. And so I guess my impression would have been like, oh, this is something for really smart people. It would never have been like, oh, this is for kids. For me, I mean, obviously
Michael: It certainly would never be well, this looks like this looks like a fun read.
Jimmy: This looks hilarious.
Harold: It's interesting that being an author, William, that two of the last panels of the five strips you picked are essentially covers of Peanuts books.
William: Oh, yeah. I didn't do that on purpose, but yeah. How do you find that out? I actually like this one because it is so different. The animation, makes me think the animations again, the films. My personal favorite film that they did was Bon Voyage Charlie Brown. And like that film, there's a fire in the film, too. Coincidentally, like that film, this strip puts the Peanuts characters in a very different setting. And I like it when I was, like, as a kid, when my characters from shows or books or whatever they read end up in a different place than I expect them to be. And I don't expect Charlie Brown and Snoopy to be out here with a doghouse on fire. And I find that very striking and very interesting. So that's why I picked this one.
Harold: It kind of moves Peanuts into the realm of what I think of Tintin and Asterix, where there's high comedy, there's real drama. There's some more on Tintin side, I guess, introspective moments, but it's a rich world. And Schulz kind of gets there with this strip. And certainly, this is an example of I can't imagine if I had seen this for the first time, I would have thought it was much different than what I know to be.
William: If this is your first Peanuts strip ever, I don't know if you read a second one because it is so heavy, but if you've been reading for a while and you know what the strip is, and then you hit this thing all of a sudden, for me, anyway, I'm looking forward to the next day.
Michael: I'm assuming this sequence ran for a while.
William: I think it did, yeah.
Michael: Do you remember how it endeded? Was there a happy ending?
Jimmy: Yes. Does anyone know what he replaced The Van Gogh with?
William: Was it the Andrew Wyeth
Jimmy: Yeah, they rebuilt the dog house. It lasts for, I think, a little over two weeks. And, I'm not 100% certain but Schulz had a fire at his house.
William: So it's another occasion where he’s putting his own life…
Jimmy: I'm assuming, that his home burned-- Tragically, actually, then recently, Mrs. Schulz's house burned in those California wildfires. Well, this was my first strip, and clearly it had an impact, because here I am today.
William: And then, of course, there's the fun little bit where we get a peek or at least hear about what Snoopy keeps in his doghouse. He's got books, he's got records, he got a pool table. He's got a Van Gogh. I'm sure there are probably references to what was in his doghouse before this, but, this was another occasion we get that sort of peek into his life. Yeah.
Jimmy: I'm trying-- the last strip of this story, I think it's people like it's Snoopy standing outside, and I think there's just voices coming from inside. And people, are mulling around or whatever. And he says, Oh, my, Andrew Wyeth is going over big because they're like, oh, it's even nicer than the last dog house. I can't believe it.
William: Yeah, that's why I chose this one.
Jimmy: Well, that's a great pick. And again, really shows the range this guy was capable of.
William: Absolutely. I kind of wonder if Schulz had tried to do a serious adventure. Although, not thinking about it, I think he did consider it.
Jimmy: Oh, he, did-- Well, this brings us to one of my private theories, which came up, actually, in our last special episode with Lex.
I see Peanuts as three comic strips. Really. I see it as-- possibly four. It's Good Ol’ Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty, and then even possibly Rerun. And if you look at them as having separate existences, it almost makes more sense than them coming together. But they do come together beautifully. And I think in the Snoopy strip, that's where Schulz gets to indulge his desire to do an adventure strip, because Snoopy can do all that stuff. Because it's not even just imagination, really, in Snoopy, the laws of physics change around Snoopy, and then they change back when you're back in good old Charlie Brown.
William: Right. Yeah. I can see that.
Jimmy: And he does pretty well with those longer continuities. I really enjoy a few of them. The only problem I ever have with them is often, let's say now and again, he doesn't stick the landing. The last strip doesn't sometimes pay off. It does in this instance, though. This is a great one.
September 5, 1978. Lucy and Charlie Brown are outside at night, looking up at the stars. Lucy says, “do you think you have a lucky star, Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown says, “I don't know.” Lucy says, “I think you do, Charlie Brown.” We see one shooting star streak across the sky. Well, fall to earth, actually. And Lucy says, “and there it went.”
William: This one cracks me up
Jimmy: Poor Charlie Brown.
William: Every time I read it. Poor Charlie Brown. This is a brutal strip. It's Lucy doing what Lucy does, which is crush Charlie Brown, basically. I think, throughout not just the strip, but throughout Lucy and Charlie Brown's relationship. I think she does actually have his interests at heart. She just really can't help herself from putting her thumb down on what she perceives as a weaker person.
Jimmy: I invite you to ponder like what the Van Pelt parents must be like.
William: Oh yeah,
Jimmy: I don't want to hang out at Linus and Lucy. I'll take Charlie Brown barber dad any day of the week than whatever is going on in that house.
Michael: Schulz says that later on in his career, he tried to make the characters less nasty. And this strip is beyond my purview. This is 1978, so I've never seen this one. But it seems to me Lucy is not trying to put him down. She's just saying he's unlucky.
Jimmy: I do think that's true. Lucy feels like she's just speaking truth.
Harold: Which makes it all the more brutal, in a way. She's not just being snide and saying, hey, I'm going to point out something makes you feel bad. I think that's how you are. It comes across, and in a way that's even tougher.
I'm fascinated by what you're saying, William, about how you think that Lucy ultimately has Charlie Brown's best interest at heart based on who she is. I think that's a really fascinating insight, because Lucy, obviously, we get over 17,000 trips, we're going to get all sorts of different aspects of characters. But there is a strange through line that Lucy feels like she knows best. She knows better, not only for herself, but for others. And she's got the psychiatrist booth, and there's a lot and she engages with Charlie Brown so much, and with Schroeder, she's infatuated. But with Charlie Brown, sometimes he looks like a little bit of a project for her.
Harold: Maybe in some ways even more so than Linus, on a deeper level.
Jimmy: Well, and if you assume that and I have never thought about it that way, but if you assume that what William saying is true, that accounts for why she's likable and Patty and Violet aren't, right?
Michael: I like Patty and Violet
Jimmy: Like yeah, but you wouldn't want to hang out with Patty and Violet. But I actually would be amused spending an hour with Lucy hanging out with Violet.
Michael: Liz played Violet, in You're A Good Man Charlie Brown.
Jimmy: Oh that's right.
Liz: No it was Patty.
Michael: Oh, she played Patty.
Jimmy: Okay. Well, they're cut from the same cloth.
Harold: How dare you say such a thing? They're two unique, distinct characters.
Jimmy: This has been unpacking peanuts. We will never return again.
William: But Patty and Violet will say things specifically to hurt him, whether it's true or not. They'll just express a thought just to crush him a little bit. Lucy is perfectly willing to crush somebody, but she comes at it from the point of view of here look, I'm helping. Right. I think she means it even though she's not.
Harold: It's like snapping him into reality or yeah. There's a lot of undercurrent there, even if she's, like, playing a, dirty joke on him. I think one of the strips that was turned into animation on one of the podcasts you did that I was listening to recently was Lucy's I think it was, like a little redhead girls at the door. It's a beautiful girl, and Charlie Brown’s what? And he runs to the door of his house, and there and it's like an April Fool's joke, but it's almost like, Lucy, I'm trying to help you get over yourself. It's kind of this feeling you sometimes get is undercurrent, which is really complex. And I think you're right, William. There is something about her that is often unspoken, but it's felt that there is something that is redeemable. I don’t know if redeemable is the right word. It's just that her way of seeing the world. She's treating Charlie Brown with some form of Lucy respect.
Michael: And the psychiatric booth is just the perfect way to show that she wants to help people by basically pointing out their faults.
Jimmy: Right. You know what? This is really interesting. This is sort of unlocking some stuff about this character for me. This is a really cool conversation, I think. That's right. That is the perfect illustration of a person like that. You know what? I'm going to go ahead and say it. This guy was pretty good.
William: He did all right.
Jimmy: You can really see with these that you picked from look at that first one. All the way up the just change in Schulz's art. And for me, having grown up with the stuff, the 70s one looks a little strange having been so immersed in the 50s.
Michael: Not to me it's a change, but I don't think it's drastic change at all.
William: All with these two characters anyway.
Harold: That is interesting. I would have thought you'd say the opposite when you look at these because.
Michael: It's night sky, you really can't see the outline.
Harold: Look at these. William, based on your background, which of the visual styles just resonates with you the most?
William: Oh, this later style. This feels more like what I was looking at.
Harold: So this last year from 1978.
William: Yeah, well, we're maybe, the 60s ones, certainly, but yeah, probably once. I was in alive in the wasn't reading it every day then, but in the 70s, I certainly was. And so this last strip, that's what I would have been seeing. Right. Every day, that style. So that probably, to my mind, feel that. Okay. That's Peanuts. That's what they look like.
Harold: Interesting, Yeah.
Jimmy: Beautiful stuff
William: So nobody's going to understand this if they don't listen the other, conversation on my show. But Jimmy, so what I'm looking at here is this, Zipatone stuff?
Jimmy: On the no, that's just white paint. I will say that we were talking on the other or maybe it wasn't even on air. Maybe it was before we started recording about how it's OK to criticize someone even if they're a genius. And the one thing Shultz never did well were stars in the sky. I mean, the early ones, it looks like he's applying them with a house painting brush. And it's like the one thing that makes anything look cool is you put stars on a black and it'll always look good. His looks always like polka dots to me. So maybe he's not wow, what a hack.
William: I mean, he's good at rain. Good at rain, good at fire, not so great with stars.
Michael: Well, this is a brush, though. Yeah, it is a brush. Also, it looks like the whiteout in her hair is a brush.
Jimmy: Yeah. You mean in the first two panels yeah, I think you're right.
Harold: So you think that he drew everything black and then created the white versus leaving the space white in the first place and never ink on it?
Jimmy: Either way, it's with the brush. Right. Because he's either
Harold: I don't know
Jimmy: well, he's either inking in the black with a brush and leaving those white untouched, or he's going back in with a brush and painting the white
Harold: He didn’t have a Sharpie.
Jimmy: He's not using white media with a pen, I don't think.
Harold: I mean, like, in Violet, the very first strip, the back of her head. I mean, that totally looks brush to me.
Jimmy: Yeah, no, I think there's entire strips in the early 50s where he was using a brush or using one of those really flexible gillott pen nibs, something like that. I really do. Especially when you look in, like, the books. Like, I can't think of the name it ever the Chip Kidd book, where it has a bunch of the original art blown up really big, and it looks a little more brushy to me.
But anyway, that's neither here nor there. William, this has been fantastic. This was a great conversation. Anything else you want to promote or plug? Obviously, we want everybody who listens to our podcast listen to your podcast. You will not be disappointed folks-- called It's A Podcast Charlie Brown tell people.
William: And we want them to listen to that show and only that show and your show. No other.
Jimmy: No, because now the door is closed. I’m sorry.
Harold: That 18 year old is just out of luck.
William: Well, I want to thank you guys for letting me come here today. This has been a lot of fun. I like revisiting these trips. I am tempted now to when we're done here, go find five more just for myself and play the same game. I pick out five more favorites, because Peanuts is just fun stuff.
Anybody who wants to know anything about me, It's A Podcast Charlie Brown, my other show, Atari Bytes, books that I've written, they are available to own for your very own at Carnivalofgleecreations.com website. All that stuff is on there. I hope that people have enjoyed what I've talked about today, and if not, come listen to my show, and maybe you like that better.
Jimmy: and I will send you a link to some pictures of Zipatone.
William: Awesome. Because clearly, I am still confused by this, and it's frustrating me a little. So I would appreciate all right, well.
Jimmy: Thank you so much for being a part of our show.
Michael: You’re a good man William Pepper.
Jimmy: Do you have anybody in your family in the military and have they ever, at any point, been a sergeant? I'm glad I don't have your last name, because I would have had to go on into some career where I could be a sergeant and never progress from that-- that would be it.
William: I do not.I had a teacher in school who like to call me sergeant Pepper, but I am not actually active military.
Jimmy: Well, guys, thanks for listening. I really appreciate it. If you want to follow us, you can check us out on social media. We’re @unpackpeanuts on both Instagram and Twitter. And you can also check in on our website, unpackingpeanuts.com, where you can vote for strip of the year and listen to the podcasts and learn a little bit about Michael, Harold and I. And also, if you wanted to, not saying you have to, but if you wanted to, you could buy us a mud pie or maybe buy one of our books, and that will help keep this podcast going. Other than that, you just have a good week. We'll see you next week. For Michael and Harold, I'm Jimmy. Be of good cheer.
Michael and Harold: Yes, Be of Good Cheer
VO: Unpacking Peanuts is copyright Jimmy Gownley, Michael Cohen and Harold Buchholz. Produced by Liz Sumner, Music by Michael Cohen, additional voiceover by Aziza Shukrallla Clark. For more from the show follow @unpackpeanuts on Instagram and Twitter. For more about Jimmy, Michael and Harold, visit unpackingpeanuts.com. Have a wonderful day and thanks for listening.