top of page

With Benjamin Clark

Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. It's an exciting day in Unpacking Peanuts land. We have a special guest, Benjamin Clark, the curator of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center is here with us to answer our questions. 

I know that this is not allowed to be your favorite movie, but one of my favorite movies was, Annie Hall. And there's a great scene in it where there's two people standing in line arguing about Marshall McLuhan. And the main character then goes, oh, really? Well, I happen to have Mr. Marshall McLuhan right here. And he pulls him out from behind a tree to make his point. Being friends with Benjamin Clark and knowing him a little bit through this podcast is like, having Marshall McLuhan that you can just pull out and win any argument out. So it's very exciting to have him here with us today. 

And who are us? Well, I'm part of us. And I'm Jimmy Gownley. 

Harold: we are us. 

Jimmy: I did Amelia Rules, The Dumbest Idea Ever and Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up. Joining me, as always, are my pals, co hosts and fellow cartoonists. 

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

Michael: Say hey.

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

Harold: Hello, 

Jimmy: guys. It's so exciting that we have Benjamin Clark with us today. Yes, he is our first ever two time actually a three time, technically, depending on how you count it, guest. And I just am so excited he's here today. He's going to answer all our questions and just geek out with us about Charles Schulz and Peanuts. So welcome to the show. Benjamin Clark, first off, how does it feel to be the first three time guest on Unpacking Peanuts?

Benjamin: I love it, triumphant. How about that?

Jimmy: So, okay, so tell us what's going on in your world. What is happening at the Schulz Museum or Schulz brands internationally.

Benjamin: Oh, my goodness. so much is going on all the time. We have a constantly, rotating schedule of exhibitions here at the Schulz Museum here in Santa Rosa. So we have just recently opened an exhibition of, originals only. It's in our strip rotation gallery, which is only originals. That's it. Very clean, spare kind of treatment in that gallery all the time. And I've done Evolution 1950s. So we're looking at the whole decade of the 50s in the originals and kind of the changes in characters and the developments and all kinds of stuff going on there.

Jimmy: That's obviously, I guess maybe it's not obvious that's the biggest decade of change.

Benjamin: You think that is hard to argue. I don't know. It is big. But there are some things where in our minds, you kind of hold the eras and you kind of think, well, that's like probably towards the end of the 50s, it's like, oh, actually, no, that's like 1960. 

Jimmy: I was shocked at how much…

Benjamin: Snoopy on top of his dog house is 50s, but not much happens up there.

Jimmy: He's just there.

Benjamin: He hasn't developed the personas that are kind of reliant on that pose. Yeah. I don't know. It's really strange. And then we have this amazing letter which I included in the exhibition, too. It's from 1960. And it's to a fan, who has obviously written and asked Schulz, who does Snoopy belong to? And he says he's a neighborhood dog. He doesn't belong to anybody by 1960. That's why he's like, well, Charlie Brown has taken up most of his care, but really he just belongs. He gets a bite of food here and an, insult there and he's just in the neighborhood and it's just.

Harold: That's interesting.

Jimmy: Yeah, we were looking and it was clear at the beginning that it wasn't his dog. It's very difficult to pinpoint the part where he does become his dog officially.

Benjamin: Right.

Harold: Charlie Brown is the responsible one. Maybe it's just he's the one that day in and day out. So, Benjamin, I wanted to ask you, since you're just putting up all of these strips from the 50s, was the size that he drew those strips consistent all the way through the 50s, he hadn't changed the size of, his drawing. Are they all pretty much the same size in the exhibition?

Benjamin: Might be a tiny difference in about 54 where they go just. But it is.

Harold: I mean, we're talking, he's working huge, right?

Benjamin: Maximum half an inch. Quarter inch. I mean, it's nothing. And maybe just like a hair taller than. Wider. Yeah, I think there's a couple changes in there, but they're really small.

Harold: Yeah. We were in the 70s. I was trying to kind of pinpoint the moment when things shifted and changed because it looks like he had such a long, not shallow strip for so long as that space saver. And then when he became really popular and the newspapers were constantly shrinking, it looked like it made sense that he should get the height back that most of the other strips had because he was losing his real estate, on the newspaper page because of the shrinking strip. It's been fun trying to pinpoint where does this shift? Or even just looking at the artwork. If you're using the same tools, but you're working smaller, then your line is going to get thicker and it's going to have a different feel. And how that affects the strip is really interesting.

Benjamin: Yeah. Overall, just in the 50s, it's not much. Of a difference, but, yeah, you're right, there are some. And I think we've got the dates for those. When you do, they would write and say, hey, as of March 1, we got to switch the formats up again. Because for whatever reason.

Harold: Yeah, it was a big moment when he no longer had that Peanuts bar in the upper left hand corner of the daily strips. And he could use the entire first panel that changes aesthetically what you do. Just that one thing.

Benjamin: Yeah. I mean, what he was really happy about was when he finally could just do preprinted blanks, because he was.

Jimmy: When was that?

Benjamin: He was hand ruling them for--

Harold: Oh, really?

Benjamin: Way longer than I kind of anticipated, I think into like late 53.

Harold: Wow.

Benjamin: He's drawing every single panel frame.

Harold: And then I guess he had to go back to that. I guess when he went into the variable panel daily.

Benjamin: Yeah. His blanks were just one big, you know, just the outer. Yeah.

Harold: And then you just wide out the,

Benjamin: you just white it out and rule them down if you needed to. Yeah.

Harold: Makes sense.

Liz: Benjamin, I have a question.

Benjamin: Yeah.

Jimmy: What were the quotation marks around the Peanuts? What was that from?

Benjamin: Who knows? I have no Idea. Nobody knows. That was.

Harold: It was Schulz's way of saying, yeah, it's.

Benjamin: No Idea. No Idea. Because they printed them. Because those were pre printed.

Benjamin: They were, like, on newsprint, and he'd have sheets of them and he could cut them out, paste them on.

Harold: Right.

Benjamin: But, yeah, they went from the quotes to the no quote. I mean, I'm sure they dropped the quotes just because it's cleaner looking. Yeah, I don't think the quotes were really, that deliberate of a choice, frankly. But I think dropping them.

Jimmy: People loved quotes back then. I used to get birthday cards from my parents, literally, that would say happy birthday in quotes. And I would think, what is that about? I got one that said to our son and son was, what is going on here?

Harold: start questioning happy birthday. Well, Jimmy's theory is anything put in quotation marks is twice as funny.

Jimmy: Yeah, absolutely. Unnecessary quotation.

Benjamin: And then you have newspapers that are adding their own typographical titles onto all the strips. So sometimes it's like doubled up Peanuts in the strip.

Harold: And they misspelled Schulz's name for, like, decades in newspapers.

Benjamin: Oh, yeah. One of my very favorites is, I have a clipping where it's attributed to Schulz is misspelled. And it's not just Schulz that's misspelled. It's attributed to someone named Frank Schulz.

Jimmy: What? Well, I love that.

Michael: Now we know who the ghost writer was.

Benjamin: Yeah.

Jimmy: Well, one of the most flattering moments of my life is when, you posted on Twitter that you went to the archives and pulled a piece of original art. Because we were discussing it on the podcast.

Benjamin: Oh, yeah.

Harold: Thank you.

Jimmy: Do you remember what it was? It was the wide eyed Charlie Brown at the fair.

Benjamin: Oh, I think I've even done it another time since then, too.

Jimmy: Oh, wow.

Benjamin: Very. Yeah, the wide eyed at the fair. Because it was like. Because in print, you're like, oh, it could just be like, is it? Who knows? but no, it was very deliberate. It's just that fraction of a know that Schulz did. It's just like, oh, he did that on purpose. His eyes are meant to know dilated and it's wild. But no, there was another time you guys were discussing, Charlie Brown's in the bathtub, and there's a tile surround, and you had wondered if he had hand drawn that or if it was a zipatone pattern or something. And no, he drew it. 

Jimmy: Wow.

Harold: Do you see many pasteovers at all in the strip? Like, where he would literally take a fresh piece of Bristol board or paper and cover something? Or was he always just working on the Bristol board with either some white, some opaque white because I don't think I've ever seen something with a paste over in an, original.

Benjamin: It's pretty rare. Yeah, he's working straight on. It's actually Strathmore paper, for the whole run. And then, three ply Strathmore. And then he.

Jimmy: I was actually going to ask how many ply, but I thought, don't be obnoxious, Jimmy.

Harold: Secrets are revealed.

Benjamin: There's a few. One that springs to mind is it's in the Schroeder is conducting to the radio. And the radio. I mean, it's not like a super complex drawing, but for some reason, he had them know, like three or four times. so three times. And he pasted them on. Wow.

Harold: And the musical staffs, was that always lined? It's so pristine.

Benjamin: Yeah. Always hand drawn. Yeah. I think I'm pretty confident in that. There might be, like, something in the 90s he would fool around with xeroxes in the bit. There's one where Charlie Brown's having like, a dream sequence. And about dance class. The girl has said, I want to dance with you. And it's like, all like higgledy piggledy on there. And that's all xerox. So I think by the 90s, he's doing that a bit just to. I mean, you know, it's getting harder for him.

Harold: Right.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Benjamin: So I think he's doing that to save some time.

Jimmy: He liked it.

Benjamin: He liked how it looked.

Jimmy: I know that sequence you're talking about. And he experiments with the art a lot in that. That's where you kind of see in the distance. It's like a cross hatch, so they look like almost like they're faded out dancing and stuff. It's really wild. We talk about the fact that we're getting to the point now where you're starting to see the hand tremor and stuff, and all of that could be so easily fixed today. if you're drawing on a Cintiq or you're drawing on an iPad or whatever, but it's not fixing it. Like I said, I don't want to see the poor guy suffer, but I want to see my hero make this artwork, which I still love and is still beautiful. Yeah, I think we're not going to get to see much of that in the,

Benjamin: You know, it's pretty incredible to see an artist age with their work, which we can see so easily with Schulz because his work is so consistent.

Harold: Yeah.

Benjamin: So that subtlety over time, the evolution of the characters, but also his expression within that is really fascinating. this 50 years of output, practically. And, especially if you go back pre Peanuts, it's over 50 years.

Harold: Right.

Benjamin: It's really remarkable. I mean, it's just something very special. And this daily work, I mean, it's a day by day by day by day. It's wild.

Harold: How many artists do we have a record of that sort of thing?

Jimmy: How many people can you say, hey, what did you do for the last 50 years? And you could point to a shelf and go, there.

Harold: It is pretty amazing. Yeah. I have one other technical question for you. Well, maybe not just one, knowing me.

Benjamin: I'll do my best.

Harold: When you look at a 50s daily and you look at a late 90s daily, again, it's a size question. What size is that late 90s strip in relationship to that 50s daily strip? Is it significantly smaller?

Benjamin: It seems like it might, yeah, it's, three quarters, maybe that 90, roughly.

Benjamin: Those 90s strips might actually technically be a little taller than the 50s dailies.

Harold: Yeah. Right.

Benjamin: Just by a bit. Again, we're talking under an inch.

Harold: Do you have any clues as to when he maybe made things smaller? Do you see if it looks like he switched tool like? Because I know you used to have a speedball six and five and a four. Obviously the radio 914 pen he was drawing with. That's not changing. No, it's just going to look what it looks like at the size you draw. So you're going to have a thicker line, little bolder line. There's nothing you can do about it, really. Right.

Benjamin: Yeah. No, he never changed tools at all, ever.

Jimmy: Is there any record of him being annoyed or not annoyed about having to change the size or was that just part of the gig or do we not know?

Benjamin: Don't know. I think he just probably saw it as part of the gig. I imagine he would have been annoyed about it. It wasn't so much the size of the drawing. He just hated how it was reproduced.

Jimmy: Right.

Benjamin: And if some papers really cinched down on it and got it down to just the most minimal printing size possible, he didn't like that. He knew who was doing.

Harold: Yeah.

Benjamin: Or who was dropping Sunday panels out. Just willy nilly.

Harold: I think, was he critical of Gary Trudeau? When Trudeau required his strip to be printed a certain size, I kind of remember that he wasn't on board with that because he didn't like the Idea that editors were forced to place the thing in a certain way because an artist required it. Yeah, that was in the guess.

Benjamin: Yeah. I mean, Schulz saw that in his understanding of the cartoonist relationship to papers. It was like, our job as cartoonists is to put out the best strip we can. And those editors, they're running their newspapers. But he took his own stance, too, when he gets a letter from editor in Mississippi in 1971 saying, hey, we don't like the race mixing going on. And he's just like, listen, this is it. This is what I'm doing. And you can either drop the strip or whatever. He had his own demands, right?

Jimmy: Well, one of my favorite quotes of his is, either you print it exactly how I drew it or I quit. I would get a tattoo of, that.

Benjamin: I would love that.

Jimmy: I think that’s every cartoonist motto, right?

Harold: He knew the power he wielded at a certain point, and often he seemed to defer that to the editors. But other times it was important enough for him to say, hey, I'm going to put my foot down here. Like the licensing thing, I think we know that at some point he thought that was getting out of hand. And he's like, it's going to take up more of his time to have to manage all the stuff that must have been crossing his desk while he's trying to do a comic strip.

Benjamin: Oh, yeah, definitely. And why he eventually, probably later than he should have hired a team, put together a team of people to help him do that and, manage that. And he's doing it all himself or trying.

Harold: That's amazing. 

Benjamin: And the thing was, the syndicate, nobody had done anything at that scale, syndicate.

Harold: Right.

Benjamin: They didn't feel like they should be giving up that right to him, necessarily. But they're like, well, But he does draw the thing, and they're basing characters off of what he draws. So it was really uneven. He would sometimes a lot of approval, and it depends on the relationship he had with that licensee, too. There's a great letter in the-- man, I think it's in the early 60s. Eagle brand pencils wants him to be a spokesman for eagle brand pencils. And they offer a licensing deal to UFS. And Schulz writes back to, and they run it by him. And he's just like, I don't care. He's like, I don't use their pencils. But I mean, I could, he's like, I don't know, are you guys really that hard up? We could split the hundred bucks, I don't care. I'll say it if you want me to. At that point, he's so financially successful, too. He doesn't have to jump on everything and he's just like. But he kind of shoots it back to them. It's like, if you guys are that hard up, you want the $50 that you get out of it. I'll say I use their pencils. They can send me…

Jimmy: Yeah.

Harold: Benjamin, do you know much of the history of the United Features Syndicate and how Schulz fit into that? Because they were not like the biggest syndicate. They had some big hits. was Lil Abner, united feature?

Benjamin Yeah, 

Harold: but they weren't like King Features

Benjamin: and Nancy 

Harold: Yeah, and Nancy. Right. But they were certainly a player. But it seems like Schulz took them to the top. I mean, King was like, the king. King features. But it seems like Schulz changed things forever for United Features. They obviously must have been aware. That is, we're well aware of that. And then you hear the stories of some of the trepidation from the people who were assigned to Schulz that it's like if, oh, my gosh, I ticked him off, changed something in the strip, and we didn't ask permission, and, boy, that's a big deal.

Benjamin: Yeah. I've spoken to some employees that go back to the 70s, who's left now? And, yeah, they always talk about, like, oh, Sparky, use hushed tones. It is like, need to know information at a certain very high level. Lower level employees have no Idea what's going on. They don't talk to them.

Harold: Wow.

Benjamin: His business is only discussed at the highest levels.

Harold: I could see why. if you were the one that did something that just was the perfect thing to not make him happy, I could see why you would be very nervous about this.

Jimmy: I was watching a YouTube video a while ago that was about something completely unrelated. It was a lecture on the old testament from the guy who's doing the lecture just casually says, well, like Al Capp says, blah, blah, blah. And I thought, that's amazing. Everyone in that audience knew who Al Capp was. I  think today, most people could name one cartoonist and it would only be Charles Schulz. Right? I mean, no, certainly you could not just say even Gary Trudeau or someone in just a casual conversation about some unrelated topic. I don't think you could assume people would know who that is. When people come to the museum, what percentage are coming because they're Schulz fans? I mean, not a real number, but what's your stance that are, like, hardcore fans of this person? And how much are people saying, I love Peanuts? The, experience or the brand or whatever you call it?

Benjamin: I have no Idea. I definitely don't have numbers. But my sense of it is that yeah. The larger proportion would be fans of the characters. They might be aware of Charles Schulz, but they might not be able to pick him out of a crowd, you know, which is why the work we do here specifically, even as opposed to, like, our satellite museum in Tokyo, we really focus on centering him in our stories and, what we do.

Michael: Quick question. When they run the strip in Japan, is it right to left?

Benjamin: No, it's left to right.

Michael: Okay, so I thought the manga thing was always right to left, but was that something that was no, not always.

Benjamin: At least when I've seen it, it's left to right. That's not to say actually, I think I've seen it vertical. Those are old. Those are pre 1988, 

Harold: back when it was four panels all the time.

Benjamin: Yeah. No, I think I've usually seen it left to right and usually with Japanese translation underneath.

Harold: Okay. They don't read well, I guess that is the thing. And the translations we have now, the purists are reading the direction of the Japanese comics to try to have as close to the true experience as possible. So I guess they're doing the same for Peanuts. 

What characters in Japan, seem to have the most resonance, like, at that museum? Is there a greater emphasis on character? Obviously less on Schulz. But is Snoopy or Woodstock or Charlie Brown resonating more there, or do you have a sense of that?

Benjamin: Oh, yeah, Snoopy. I mean, it's called Snoopy Museum. I mean, it's Snoopy, definitely. but yeah, some of the other characters. Do a lot of the animal characters really resonate?

Harold: Isn't that interesting?

Benjamin: Even Faron, who's such a minor character, is really popular in Japan.

Jimmy: Is there a stuffed Faron somewhere?

Benjamin: There is. I don't know if he's still being made. It might be, out of print, as it were. There has been Faron merch in Japan, which is just like, why.

Michael: He makes a nice scarf, I would think.

Harold: Yeah, right. A little stole. Little Faron stole. I remember doing the comic book called Apathy Kat. It was a straight, funny animal comic in the mid nineties. And I remember meeting somebody at San Diego Comic Con who, was with, it was like a japanese collective of publishers who had come to exhibit there. And when I showed them Apathy Cat, they said in Japanese culture, they will not accept a talking animal. And I was like, well, Peanuts is always, yeah, but he's a. I guess it's because he was a thinking animal that he got away with it. And hello Kitty, I heard, is actually officially a little girl who looks like a cat. So they had ways around it. but culturally, they said they would not accept a set of talking animals that was not, at the time something that they said could be published or accepted.

Benjamin: You know what's funny is Schulz didn't either, because when they were initially talking about he and Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez sit down and they're hashing out, what is a Peanuts animated project? Something that's more than the Ford commercials, little spots. It's like, okay, we got to fill half an hour. It's like, how are we going to do this? And they talked about, I, can't remember if it was Lee or Bill had said something to him about, well, we're going to be very careful with who we choose to voice Snoopy. And Schulz was like, what are you talking about? He's an important character. We do we want an adult? Because they'd had the conversation about the know being voiced by real kids, which was already just like a wild idea, And he's like, oh, no, Snoopy doesn't talk. And they're like, what do you mean? You read his thoughts? But that's it. He doesn't talk. He's like, dogs don't talk.

Jimmy: Okay.

Harold: Yeah. I would not have expected that would have floored me if I was, in that room, because I would think, well, of course, Schulz wants us to know Snoopy's thoughts in animation.

Benjamin: Right.

Harold: Whether that was the-- you know, “Jim never asked for a second cup of coffee at my house” with a little resonant thing of the thought. that's what I thought he would have gone with because that's a huge loss. not hear his thoughts.

Benjamin: Yeah.

Jimmy: But it's the right decision. Could you imagine if they got, like, Jonathan Winters or. Oh, oh, that would have been horrible. He just had the sense that that was the way to go. Even though he was silencing 

Harold: Probably Dom DeLouise wasn't available at the time.

Jimmy: We did not need any of that.

Benjamin: That's why in animation, Snoopy does a lot more.

Harold: Right, right.

Benjamin: There's, there's ways around, you know, they had to get,

Harold: Yeah. Well, to see that Garfield did go there and got a distinctive voice that now is in everybody's head. There must be some power to not having an official voice to Snoopy, where everybody has their own Idea of what Snoopy maybe sounds like. Yeah, Garfield found a way to get away with it, but at the same time, it seems like somehow the Peanuts stuff is more transcendent than.

Michael: But we know what he sounds like, curses foiled again.

Benjamin: Yeah. I have that Bill Melendez squawk kind of in my head, which was only recorded as a placeholder. That was not deliberate. He said, well, we have to have something for the kids to cue off. And, and he recorded a couple growls and ruffs, and they were playing with it, and Schulz was like, oh, I like that. Let's just do that.

Harold: Wow. Yeah, it grows on you. I guess after a while, when you hear something over and over, it's like, well, that's what it is now.

Benjamin: Yeah.

Jimmy: So, Benjamin, looking here at 2024, what are you most excited about in the Peanuts world?

Benjamin: Oh, my goodness. Of course, we have a full slate of really exciting exhibitions coming up, this spring. I'm excited for, Kowabunga. It's a surfing themed exhibition here at the Schulz museum. A lot of fun. We're doing some early production stuff now, and I'm loving how it's turning out. It's looking so good. I'm doing another entry in my evolution series. So we're looking at 1960s.

Jimmy: Oh, Great.

Benjamin: And that's been fun to put together, too.

Michael: Has anyone ever done, I would really like to see an evolution animation if someone could grab panels of Snoopy and just string them all together so you can just sit there and watch him grow and his nose snout grow and stuff. To me, that's really fascinating, especially in the 50s because it was happening so fast.

Benjamin: Yeah, that would be fun to put together. Yoshi Otani did a work like that, which is on permanent display here. It's carved in wood. it takes you from Spike, from that Ripley's believe it or not, drawing all the way to Snoopy in 1999. So, it does a lot of that. Yeah, it'd be interesting to do it like panel by panel, like in the strip.

Michael: Yeah, if you can morph it somehow.

Jimmy: Now, are you the one that decides on all the, actual what the exhibits are going to be? Do you get carte blanche?

Benjamin: No, I don't get carte blanche, but.

Jimmy: Nobody gets carte blanche, I imagine.

Benjamin: No, unfortunately, yeah, I've got some ideas tucked away for like someday, but, yeah, no, there's a process we go through. I present slates of exhibitions, run a couple of years worth by a committee of people and we hash them out and move them around. Or I get sent back to the drawing board occasionally.

Jimmy: When I was there, it was, Snoopy goes to the moon because it was the anniversary of the moon landing. And to see those strips in that place, honestly, if you are listening to this podcast, find, here's what you do. Next time you get one of them, their credit card offers, you just accept it and you immediately book a ticket. Santa Rosa. But you've got to go and you've got to see this place. You can see. Do you eat at the Warm Puppy?

Benjamin: I do occasionally, yeah, definitely take my kiddo over there and go ice skating. And then he wants a Pig Pen, hot chocolate where they put the oreo dust on it. yeah, occasionally. Grab lunch there too. Yeah, they do some good fries.

Jimmy: It's such a magical place. You really feel like you're just connected to the Peanuts world and to Schulz himself. And it's wonderful. So if anyone can go there, please, please do. It's amazing.

Harold: It's Great. Benjamin, could I ask you a question that came up, I think internally. I don't know if somebody, one of our listeners asked it. I think, Liz, you posed it anyway to us. The question of how Schulz wrote, was it all in his head until it wound up in pencil on the Bristol board? Or was there an interim, do we know if there was an interim where he was working through wording, separately? And then it transfers so he would warm up.

Benjamin: That's kind of what he would say it started out on. He had like these little pads of paper. Sometimes they were like this size, like a quarter sheet pad. We have a couple of those. There's not many of those around where he'd come at it a couple of different ways. Sometimes he's just doodling a funny pose. There's one. Oh, here we go. This is a Great example. I'm using this in an exhibition, that surfing one kawabunga this spring we have Snoopy launching out of a bird bath with teeth bared at a frightened Woodstock. This is on one of these little quarter sheets and it's just a quick little doodle and it just says shark. That becomes a strip in, the summer of 1975. So Sparky has gone to see Jaws, obviously, and it has stuck in his head and he's got this funny Idea. And so he says it all the time. Cartooning is drawing funny pictures. Right. So he would start there often. Just a funny pose. What if Snoopy is jumping out of the bird bath? It's shallow, but it's funny. And another one is Woodstock is in his nest and just looking pleased with himself, like lying back and just enjoying himself. And he's on a skateboard. The nest is on a skateboard and it's zooming by. And that's it. That's the whole drawing. But he would have that and then he would go straight to the Strathmore paper on his drawing board.

Harold: Amazing.

Jimmy: That is amazing.

Benjamin: And then in later years though, we have a lot more of this. from like 98, 99 is when they knew the museum was going to exist. And his assistant at the time, Edna, who just recently passed away, actually, she would collect his, at the end of the day, she'd empty his waste baskets. and he had legal pads, so he'd kind of moved on from the little sheets to legal pads. Okay. And on those we see more words. So he's playing with phrases, working out the dialogue. You'll see like four lines. And those are the four panels. There might be a pencil doodle of Peppermint patty. And her hair is going wide. Yeah, that's it. And it's just a faint, just the faintest little thing. And whether he drew the drawing first or did the words first, we don't know.

Harold: Do you think he did that in earlier years and we just don't have those? Or do you feel like, So you think he maybe was roughing out a little grid of four or whatever on a piece of paper, or however he was doing it, and maybe there were words that he's putting with the pictures before he goes to actually transfer it?

Benjamin: No grid, no nothing. I mean, it's just no grid. Okay. Yeah. It's just like scribbled lines and they are really hard to decipher. Yeah. Myself and a couple of their staff people who we look at this stuff all day, and we are very familiar with his handwriting, and even we kind of go back and forth like, is it this? Does it say that? Because we're trying to match it to a strip, because sometimes they match them up and sometimes we can't.

Harold: There is no strip. When you match it up, do you often see that he significantly changed the wording from what you can see?

Benjamin: It's pretty much. 

Harold: That's, that's amazing. And I have another technical question for you, Benjamin, and that is a lot of cartoonists we know who used Bristol board, because it's a fairly thick cardstock, right? It's Not opaque, though. If you put light through it, a lot of artists would light box something. They might turn it over on the back, and they might do pencils, and then they would run it on a light box so they could trace something a little harder, or they were trying to see if the drawing held up well, if you did, it flipped over. And so maybe if you did something slightly wonky, a lot of artists would do that as a way to kind of perfect their drawings. Do you ever see any images on the back of the Bristol board that he worked from? 

Benjamin: Never. 

Harold: Interesting, wow, yeah

Jimmy: Used to that American Masters documentary. And finally, that is where I remember seeing him drawing with the 914. And maybe because it was drawn on film, and I know they used to do this as a trick on old live tv. Maybe there was the faintest conceivable pencil line that he's following, but I have the camera. Whatever man puts that pen down--

Benjamin: On the strips, there is pencil. We see it more in the 50s, where he'll pencil in, and often he'll do the dialogue, he'll pencil in. It's just like, scribble, scribble, scribble, scribble, scribble. And it's about the length. he's just probably talking to himself in his head. He's probably just reading it to himself in his head. Good grief. He's just. Good grief. It's that long. and then he's blocking in the heads, so he gets the proportions right. That's it. And then it's the ink. Because he's a letterer

Jimmy: first and foremost, right

Benjamin: He's giving himself enough room for his word balloons. So he blocks out the lettering and then he's blocking in the heads. And then he can work from that.

Harold: So like Snoopy's dog house. If Snoopy's on top of his doghouse, which is so common, would you just see the pencils of Snoopy's head? Or would he outline the dog house or how would he do that?

Benjamin: Yeah, you might get a little bit the outline of the. Maybe if Snoopy's, like, lying, you might get the nose, the belly, the feet, and that's know.

Harold: Right.

Benjamin: That's it. And then he's off to the races. And even in that case, you probably don't even get that. You probably just get the dialogue in pencil on that.

Harold: And that's. Wow.

Benjamin: Because, we've got a few abandoned strips and sometimes really, you'll see what he's done is oftentimes it's lettering. I need four lines to really make this hit right. I can't just do it in three. it gets too squished. Oh. I can move this piece of dialogue into the next panel and not lose anything. But I need it for the drawing in the third panel because I'm doing something big and crazy and I want drawing to get the full, as much space as it can.

Harold: Did you ever see an abandoned strip that became a Sunday that was a daily because he realized he couldn't fit it?

Benjamin: No. Okay. Never seen that. I think he went into a whole different headspace for Sundays. He did them separate. They're on a totally different schedule, for one thing. Right. So he's not really able to carry over storylines very often. He did it a little bit, but it's rare. Very rarely because it's on a whole other schedule. And I think he just kind of had to go to a different headspace for those. There is an example of where the syndicate where he sent in a Sunday and they're like, no, really trim it down to a daily and he did.

Harold: That a couple of times. Why would they do that?

Benjamin: Well, one of them is a Linus. He's watching a single leaf fall and he did it on a Sunday. So it's like twelve panels of a leaf falling and it happens. And I think I figured out it might have been like the timing lines up where Amy or Jill had, would have just been born. I got a newborn in the house. He's on a schedule.

Jimmy: There was a ridiculous sitcom in the 90s called Caroline in the City that was about a newspaper cartoonist, but they knew nothing about. It was like the next day, script was due and she overslept and it was one of the funniest cartooning jokes ever. It's okay, I got it. Caroline's in a blackout. Black black black. I totally understand that.

Harold: I'm surprised that the syndicate would push back. No, I guess that's fairly early on. Yeah, they would have pushed back and said, no, we don't deem this acceptable. That's a surprise to me that they would have done that.

Benjamin: They did that early on. In fact, I've got some in this exhibition from the 50s. It's like when Schroeder was introduced and we have two dailies. They have dates, they're folded. They were obviously sent in, but they never ran, and we don't know why. except they're kind of repetitive.

Harold: They're a little bit repetitive. Repetitive internally. You mean like the leaf falling?

Benjamin: The, joke that's been told. Know, he baby Schroeder is crying and he doesn't come with a manual or I mean, they're good. You know, you kind of look at the week leading up to it, it's like, oh, yeah, maybe that's the only thing I can come up with.

Harold: I mean, it's that early on. Obviously, Schulz is not Schulz yet. And there are editors, and editors have to do. Yeah. And editors, that is their job is to help you make something special and grow into something special. I mean, Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes, he told stories about how a good editor was like, okay, focus on these two characters. You got a huge family. This is what's, you know, a good editor really will bring out the best in you. And, maybe at that point in Schulz's career, he was very appreciative to get some feedback from someone before it goes out.

Benjamin: Right. He was. He definitely was. We have a little bit of correspondence with him in the syndicate. He'd say like, oh, I hope you like this better..

Harold: And who was his main contact at the syndicate early on. like the guy who bought it or there's obviously a group that agreed on it. Was he with someone for a fair period of time, his continuity from the beginning?

Benjamin: Very much, yeah. he worked pretty close with Jim Hennessy. Who's there. And then that name Hennessy shows up in the strip. Right?

Jimmy: He did that kind of. Not often, but every once in a while he would do shout outs, you know.

Liz: Benjamin, do you know who Olivier is.

Jimmy: Oh, one of the birds is named Olivier. Yeah.

Benjamin: I don't know. I don't know that no. I don't know if it's, you know, he's thinking about these grand adventures and he was a film buff, right? That's my guess. But it is a, guess.

Jimmy: That bird was Oliver to me for 40 years. I just noticed that it was Olivier.

Benjamin: That was wild. But it's good to ask because, I did an exhibition about all those name origins and things. And then after I did know, it's up, it's about to close and somebody's like, I think Monty Schulz came by and said, oh, you forgot. So and so. It's like, oh, my. Like, where were, when I was asking all that, you know?

Harold: it's so cool to speak with you and to talk with somebody who's living this legacy and constantly, digging into it and exploring. It's obviously what we're trying to do. Yeah.

Benjamin: Oh, you guys do a beautiful job. I love tuning into Unpacking Peanuts because I learn things. Or you ask good questions too, which is my favorite thing. 

Harold: thank you. 

Benjamin: You bring knowledge to it, and all your varying perspectives too, which is really helpful. And, the multi generational aspect too.  Well, thank you so much for having me on again. It was a real pleasure. And I hope to come back for a three peat.

Harold: That would be fantastic.

Michael: Yes, Thank you Benjamin.

Jimmy: I would just love to thank Benjamin Clark for coming here and talking with us today. It's always so great to hear his insight into the strip, into the work that goes on at that museum again, if you can go see it, please do. It's a magical place. So thanks to Benjamin, we're coming back next week. we have special guest Gary Groth, publisher of Fantagraphics and publisher of The Complete Peanuts. So be there. So, until then, for Michael, Harold and Liz, this is Jimmy. Be of good cheer

M,H& L: Yes, Be of good cheer.

Liz: Unpacking Peanuts is copyright Jimmy Gownley, Michael Cohen and Harold Buchholz. Produced and edited by Liz Sumner. Music by Michael Cohen. Additional Voiceover by Aziza Shukralla Clark. For more from the show, follow Unpack Peanuts on Instagram and Threads. Unpacking Peanuts on Facebook. Blue Sky and YouTube. For more about Jimmy, Michael and Harold, visit Have a wonderful day and thanks for listening 

VO: Triumphant.

Recent Posts

See All

1985-2 Go Back To the Future Snoopy

Jimmy: Welcome to Unpacking Peanuts, the podcast where three cartoonists take an in depth look at the greatest common strip of all time, Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. Hey, everybody. Welcome back to t

1985-1 Peppermint Patty Gets A Win

Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. Is it the future or 1999? No, it's neither. It's 1985. So we are going back to the future. I'll be your host for the proceedings. My name is Jimmy Gown

It's a Clip Show, Charlie Brown!

You can see the transcripts of the entire conversations with our guests in the following episodes: Original Episodes released: Alexis Fajardo from 4/12/22 William Pepper from 7/12/22 Todd Webb from 8/


bottom of page