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With Benjamin Clark, Curator of the Schulz Museum

Jimmy: Hey everybody, welcome back to the show. This is Unpacking Peanuts where we discuss the life and work of Charles Schulz and the greatest comic strip of all time, Peanuts.

How are you people doing out there? You're doing well? I hope you are. If not, I think we have something today that might turn things around for you. [0:38] I'm Jimmy Gownley. I'm one of your hosts for this evening. I'm the cartoonist of Amelia Rules and Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up and The Dumbest Idea Ever. And joining me as always are my pals, co-hosts and fellow cartoonists.

First, he's a composer and a playwright. He's a composer both for the band Complicated People as well as for this very podcast. He is the co-creator of the original comic book price guide, the original editor for Amelia Rules and the cartoonist behind Strange Attractors, A Gathering of Spells and Tangled River, Michael Cohen.

Michael: Hey there. Jimmy: 1:12] And he's the writer and executive producer of mystery science theater 3000, a former vice president of Archie comics and the current creator of the Instagram strip Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.

Harold: Hello.

Jimmy: And guys, it's a great day here on Unpacking Peanuts because we have a very special guest in the house. Benjamin Clark is with us. Benjamin is the curator of the Charles M. Schulz Museum as well as the co-author along with Nat Gertler, of the brand new book, Charles M. Schulz, The Art and Life of the Peanuts Creator in 100 Objects, which is a really fascinating, cool book that is curated artifacts from Schulz's home in his studio that gives a glimpse into his personal life and his career. It just gives a context to the person that put together this fantastic work of art. It's a great book. And I'm really excited to get to talk to one of the authors today. So please welcome Benjamin Clark. Benjamin, thank you for coming on the show.

Benjamin: Oh my God, thank you. Thank you very much.

Jimmy: Well, it's a big thrill for me to have you on the show. I love the Schulz Museum. I got to be an artist in residence out there about 12 years ago now, and it's one of the highlights of my life. It's just an absolute magical place.

Just to get background on you for our listeners, you came to this whole career through what I understand like a love of history. That was what you said. Tell me, which came first? Was it the love of history or the love of Schulz?

Benjamin: Well that's that's hard to nail down you know I’m because I’m of an age where you know Peanuts was already Peanuts, you know, when I came into the world. So it was, you know, I have no memory of being introduced to Peanuts because it just was everywhere. And just completely ubiquitous.

And I loved it from a very, very early age. I can remember my grandmother sending the, you know, Charlie Brown encyclopedia sets when I was like a preschooler, you know, and just being fascinated and looking through those. So yeah, I mean, I loved Peanuts from time immemorial. [3:33] And I can pinpoint my love of history too. That was in the seventh grade when I fell in love with history and thought, okay, I know I have to have a job someday. Jimmy: [3:46] That's always a terrible realization.

Benjamin: It is a horrifying realization. But it's also like, okay, I need to strategize because I don't want to just like, just do whatever. Like I got to think this through. I don't want to wind up like I'm in school, you know, I got stuck here and I'm just stuck here and I hate it. It's like, okay, I got to figure something else out. So I fell in love with history. And I was like, okay, how do I, how do I like do history? Like, I don't want to be a teacher because I mean, I mean, that's just back to school again.

So it's like, how do I not do that, but still do history? And so that was kind of the big question for several years until I kind of eventually figured out museum work and got into museums.

Harold: So you graduated from York University in 2002, and you have a BA in history and a minor in religious history. So did you have a focus that you thought you might kind of move through as you were moving into your master's degree in museum science? or was it disconnected from one another?

Benjamin: I wasn't super sure. I was just willing to go wherever the jobs were. I knew that the jobs were hard to get, so I tried to stay flexible.

I thought maybe I would wind up just working in public history of some fashion in the Midwest where I grew up. I did some of that type of work for a while and that was fine. [5:14] But no, I'm really, really loving where I'm at. So that's wonderful.

Jimmy: And how did that come about? How did you, you first become involved with the Schulz people?

Benjamin: Gosh, over, it was a while ago. So over five years ago now they. [5:30] They basically help wanted curator needed. And I thought I wanted the museum job post, you know, job boards. And I just thought, oh my God, what a dream job that would be. Oh boy, some lucky person is just going to have a, wow, that's a sweet gig.

And I told my wife and I said, boy, that would be, that would just really be great, wouldn't it? Can you imagine? Boy, somebody out there is really going to be lucky. And she said, well, why not you? I said, you know, there's like comic scholars, you know, are you kidding me? Like there's going to be, they're going to find some, some scholarly comic person or even like a working cartoonist even. Like, like somebody is going to, you know, get that job and it's not going to be me. It's definitely not going to be me. She said, well, just apply, you know,

So they had a very, involved application process. Basically, I had to curate a whole exhibition. Just from like-- [6:35] They didn't send me a whole lot to work with either. So, and I think that was kind of part of the test. And so, uh, so I did that and, and they loved, they told me they loved my writing in particular. And so, that I could do historical, but still, still retain humor you know, and not don't kill the humor, you know, because writing about comics, especially in the capacity I need to in a gallery or something and explain what's going on to a visitor. [7:04] It is challenging to not, you know, destroy the joke.

Jimmy: And well, it you know, the other thing I thought that was interesting that you bring that up is in some ways what you're doing with your writing mirrors actually what Schulz had to do in that you're writing for a general audience and you're talking about some things that are pretty, complex in some ways, right? But it might be a seven-year-old or it might be a 70-year-old. It might be someone who has a PhD in the subject or someone who has no idea. How do you handle that? Because it's actually a rarity for people to have to reach that type of wide audience these days.

Benjamin: Yeah, I guess that's true. Yeah. No, it's just [7:44] Being able to write clearly and directly is usually just the best-- you know, just the best goal to have you'll reach most people. And, and even the person with the PhD, you know, they're, they're going to still learn something along the way.

Also because I'm doing a lot of research, I'm constantly doing research and finding new things. So, um, hopefully even the experts come and we'll learn and see something cool.

Jimmy: Oh, absolutely. Well, tell, tell us just what, what, what your day is like, cause I'm cause I'm assuming you're planning some things out months, maybe years in advance, right? But then you're also doing things like this and, you know, and obviously you've written this book, which we're definitely going to talk about later. So just, but tell running through a day for us, what would it be like working your job? Benjamin: [8:30] Sure. So yeah, you're right. We do plan, you know, our exhibition schedule is, you know, years in advance. And so sometimes doing like, you know, if somebody does want to do a podcast interview or a newspaper somewhere picks it up or they want to talk about an exhibition that's currently on view, I sometimes have to go back and go back out to the galleries and go look at it, because it's been a year and a half since I've thought about it. [8:56] So yeah, so I'm constantly doing that. So like right now, the exhibitions we're working on are, so we host six exhibitions a year here and then two in Tokyo at our satellite museum at Snoopy Museum Tokyo, which I also curate. So, I'm curating eight exhibitions a year.

Jimmy: Wow, that's a lot.

Benjamin: And they're all kind of in various stages of development. And because of the physical space, they all kind of have a similar format, if you will. So, one gallery is only original strips, that's it. [9:33] There's no reproductions. you only see originals in this space and there's like 50, there's like room for about 50, 55-ish, depending on the ratio of Sundays and dailies. [9:47] So that has a very different mold that has to fit in rather than like my big gallery, which only fits maybe like 25 to 30 strips. So it's fewer strips, but I can have a lot more fun with it. I can do reproductions, we can show. [10:04] It can show anything in that space. It's wide open and but it takes a different kind of development. Yeah, these are all doing that bit. Depending on what we need to do in each of these because of their content, maybe one's like I'm working on one, it's going to be the small gallery, which is really fun because we get really deep, into a niche stuff and it's going to be, the pawpet theater strips, the Sundays that are Snoopy doing his pop-it theater. Which is a lot of fun. I mean, he, Schulz did like, I can't remember the number now, it's like 12 or 15 of them over the course of like 20 years. So it was like this very slow running gag. It was a jogging gag. And so he, but he made a lot of like film references, which he loved movies.

Jimmy: I love the Jaws one.

Benjamin: Yeah, that's one of my very favorites. [11:06] And yeah, so he so we were going to so like that one requires some, like I'm going to borrow some cool stuff from a Orson Welles collection at the University of Michigan. So, you know, we've got to coordinate with those people and figure that all out and the logistics behind that. And, you know, so we don't always borrow stuff for those exhibitions, but it just adds an extra layer of complication.

Benjamin: And so, yeah, so a normal day is filled with a lot of variables.

Harold And you're, and you're lending a lot of things of your own to outside collections and shows as well, right?

Benjamin: That's right.

Harold: So the Billy Ireland Museum I saw, you know, was doing a really nice Schulz exhibit. And I'm guessing some of that came from your, your archives.

Benjamin: Yes. Uh, we, we don't lend a ton of stuff out, but, uh, we will sometimes. like the Billy Ireland. It's a great example. Cause we, we borrow things from them. Uh, that was actually part of a big swap. We did. I did a, an exhibition on, um, the, the cartoonists that influence Schulz as a kid, and so they had a lot of originals there that I was able to borrow.

Harold: And this is in Columbus, Ohio. I don't know if that exhibit is still going, but, um,

Benjamin: the Schulz one, I think it's closed now. Jimmy: [12:24] So there's 17,897 Peanuts strips, right? How many of those originals are still in possession of the museum?

Benjamin: Just under 8,000. And the rest are scattered to the wind in private hands, God knows where? Yeah, there's a few collections here and there. The Billy Ireland's a great... they have a handful. Library of Congress has a few. [12:51] Yeah, the federal government has a few in some various collections. I'm trying to find-- Apparently, J. Edgar Hoover had one.

Jimmy: Are you serious? Was that a gift?

Benjamin: Yeah. So yeah, they're all over the place. Some have been destroyed. We know about some we know where there was an exhibition at the University of Minnesota, like in the 50s of originals, and like a dozen were stolen. Oh, and so like, we know we don't know where any of those, I think we've found, I think we know where one one is in our collection when we found the story about them being stolen. So we know one went back out into the world and came back to us somehow. But yeah, the other, the others are just, you know, we have no idea where they are. Yeah.

Jimmy: All right. Do you guys actively look for them out there? Like to bring it back home? Benjamin: [13:43] Yes, we do.

Jimmy: So is there, is there a Holy grail missing strip? Like is the first one around?

Benjamin: Yeah, no, no. The first one would probably be it. I mean, the very first, you know, October, October two, 1950 is, is unknown. Oh, don't know whatever happened to it. Cause you know, some, we know like, there's a pretty good number where we're, we have like the letter from UF, you know, from UFS, you know, it's like, Oh, Senator so-and-so's mother has asked for this, you know, original, can we send it to her, you know, and that's it's, it's been sent to them, you know?

So, so it's like, okay, well, that's probably in that family somewhere. If it's not been destroyed or whatever. So, so yeah, so a bunch, we know like that, but. You know, the, the trail has gone cold after like 1960 or whatever. Jimmy: [14:32] Do you have any recent finds that you're really excited about?

Benjamin: Oh my God. Yes. Uh… What can I talk about? So in March, so coming up, I'm going to do a big exhibition on kite flying and the kite eating tree.

I'm pretty excited about and I get to share with the world an unpublished Sunday, which is probably one of the first Sundays he ever did. It's a pre-publication Sunday. It's probably from late 1951.

Jimmy: Wow.

Benjamin: And it has a, it has a kite gag. So, um, we're gonna, we're going to display that and it, it's a recent acquisition and I've been dying to share it with the world for however long we've had it, so that's great.

Michael: Ever found anything interesting on the back of the original?

Jimmy: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Michael Yeah. A start, a sketch or a start of another strip.

Benjamin: The backs, typically not. Typically, it'll be just Schulz's return address ink stamped on them for a certain range of years, like kind of early years or like that. After a while, there's nothing. Benjamin: [15:45] He didn't re-- What he would do if he messed up like a daily, he would sometimes reuse, you'd cut them up and use them for spot illustrations. If he needed cover art for a Holt Reinhardt paperback or something, like he would draw Sometimes on those, but that's, that's about it.

Jimmy: Speaking of that, actually, we noticed that he did the, the, um, psychiatry strip, he did a one-off and then like over a year passes and it shows up again, but he did show up first, I think actually on a book cover. Do you know about that? Like why,

Benjamin: yeah.

Jimmy: What was the story about that? If there is one

Benjamin: as far as, as near as I can, this is all like, suppose, you know, just, just Supposing I have a copy, some... Is it? Where is it? [16:35] I guess I don't have a copy handy. But yeah, the paperback collection was, you're out of your mind, Charlie Brown. And so he needed a back cover illustration for that. [16:50] What I imagine happened is he's just thinking of the title and just thinking of, you know, what would be funny. And he drew Lucy at her psych booth for the very first time for that back cover illustration. And that preceded the psych booth gag by just like a couple months. But you know, with publication timelines, you know, he definitely would have drawn it earlier. [17:13] So that's what I imagine happened is he was just thinking about the title and just what, what would be a funny, you know, little drawing for that. And just came up with it.

Harold: I have a really specific question. And I don't know if you can answer it or not, but it's, it's been in the back of my mind for about, I don't know, five years or so.

So, you know, I worked on the revival of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and that's based out of the Minneapolis, St. Paul area, just as Peanuts is. So it's weird that I've done two things that are so, you know, Minnesota so focused. But in the process of that, I met a lawyer[17:52] A guy named Ken Abdo who said he lived in Charles Schulz's house.

Benjamin: That's wild, yes.

Harold: And he said, we knew the story behind this, we found that there was this original mural that Schulz had done in one of the children's playrooms or in the children's playroom. [18:10] Or nursery or whatever it was, and that he had gone to great lengths to make sure when he sold that house that that wall essentially was going with him and he was trying to get it to the Schulz Museum. And he said, you know, I'm hoping it's going to happen. And I don't know the ending of that story. I don't know if it's something that you can share with us.

Benjamin: I can. So yeah, that was so Mr. Abdo, the Abdo family owned that house for like two generations.

Harold: Was it the second house?

Benjamin: It was their final house in Minneapolis. It was a big house. I think it maybe even was owned at one point by a former governor of Minnesota.

Like, I mean, it was a pretty impressive house for 1955 or whenever they bought it. I can't remember off the top of my head. [19:01] So, Schulz sells that house in 58 to move to California, and it was bought by someone else, and they didn't own it very long. And then they're the ones that sold it to the Abdo family. And the Abdos, like two full generations owned and lived in that house like forever.

And so, Craig Schulz, one of Schulz's sons had told, had gone back to Minneapolis to see what would be his childhood home and had told them, you know, this is probably 30 years ago now, hey, if you ever think about selling, let me know. I might be interested in buying the house.

Well, the years go on and they're ready to sell the house, and Craig is really no longer willing to own a house in Minneapolis. But they do talk about those murals. There are two pieces. They're on perpendicular facing walls. One's a running Snoopy and one is a Charlie Brown in elaborate cowboy garb, including six shooters waving them in the air and cactuses behind him and you know, it's a very Gunsmoke kind of scene. It's like probably 1955. Maybe when he did yeah. Yeah, it would have been between like 55 ish and 58 and Probably earlier.

So yeah, Craig put together a deal and was able to get those removed.

The lath and plaster walls were cut out and shipped here and then here at the museum. And we've had them for a couple of years, Is actually while we were closed during COVID, that we were closed to the public for a year [21:00] That we were already underway with those two murals. They're like,

Harold: how big are they?

Benjamin: They're three and a half foot square a piece maybe. So they're not, I mean, they're big, but not humongous.

Harold: Is that the biggest individual pieces of art that we know that Schulz actually drew of a single character or other bigger things that he did?

Benjamin: No, there's different. We have some pretty, we have some big like a chalk talk type sketches, you know?

Harold Like bigger than like three and bigger than three and a half by three and a half cause that's, that is pretty decent size for Schulz it is. I mean, when I think of Schulz, I think of little panels in a comic strip.

Benjamin: They're probably about the same size. But yeah, they're probably, they're probably up there with the biggest we know. They're probably among the biggest and most finished. Yeah, for sure.

So yeah, we had those conserved and preserved and installed here at the museum. So you can actually see those Minneapolis--

Harold: They are now on display?

Benjamin: They are now on display.

Harold: Oh, I've got to find a way to get out there and see that. That sounds so fun.

Benjamin: Yeah. So we might have them, we might have pictures on the museum website. So I'd have to go look. Harold: [22:13] That's great. Well, thank you for sharing that.

Jimmy: Tell us, tell us about your book. And I think it's such a clever and it's a perfect way for a museum curator to write on someone's biography, I think, you know, by curating all these objects and how, where did that idea come from and what was the process like and how'd you work with, with Nat Gertler, who's a noted world famous Peanuts historian.

Benjamin: Yeah. So we had been talking for a while about some kind of evergreen museum catalog keepsake book kind of thing for our gift shop. [22:52] It was just kind of an idea. It's like, well, that would be nice if we ever have the time. It's kind of one of those things. Then as we were talking about Sparky Centennial and what we could do that was kind of a special project. [23:09] I thought about all the big anniversary books that he would do for Peanuts. There's some really wonderful collections he would do at some of those big anniversary years of the strips. And I thought, well, maybe this is the opportunity to do that museum book. And so I thought, well, if we're going to do that, let's make it 100 objects, 100 objects for 100 years. It's like, we've got far more than 100 objects. So it should be pretty easy. And so this was also during COVID. So it's like, okay, I've got a little time. Things are all up in the air. We have no idea what's going on and I was like I could probably do that. But as we reopened and other things were moving and there's a lot of other stuff going on behind the scenes and it was like, okay, I need some help. So I wrote about some of those objects. I already had like, you know. [24:08] Pretty complete texts on some of them. Some of them just had kind of bullet points of like dates and why it was chosen and things like that I was like, okay, I could really use a co-writer, but I need somebody who I don't need to educate on Schulz's biography. Somebody who can get up to speed really quick and has time to do it. Because there was a thought about working with Lex Fajardo who's over.

Jimmy: That guy!

Benjamin: that guy, but you know, Lex was, you know, cause the timeline on this was extremely, extremely compressed.

Jimmy: Oh, I bet. Yeah.

Benjamin: And so it was like, okay, we Lex, I don't think he has, he does not have the time. So I was like, okay, uh, much as he would love to, you know, so it's like, okay, let's, I wonder what Nat Gertler is doing. So, we got that figured out.

And so I gave Nat all of my notes and some things that were done and some things that weren't. But all the objects were selected, what the point of all of them were selected. Nat did help pick out a couple supporting images and things too, which was helpful, including donating an object too. We were able to find the first appearance of Peanuts on the cover of a magazine. [25:37] And we didn't have a copy, but Nat did in his collection. So he donated it to the museum and we included it in the book.

Jimmy: So that must've been a kid in the candy store working with. [25:48] So yeah, he got it done. He got his part done really quick. So I think he had a good time.

Jimmy: So the a hundred objects, what was the process like going through, the whole museum and saying, are these are the hundred things that reflect this guy's life?

Benjamin: Right. Well, you know, I've been, you know, working with, with it, you know, his life and telling the story through objects for, you know, a while. And, and so there, you know, I said, okay, a hundred objects is the framework. I don't know how many, but probably the majority of the hundred, you know, it was just, it was just, I couldn't write it down fast enough. You know, it's like, it's going to be this, it's going to be that, it's going to be that. [26:24] Because there's some things that are just really obvious. But as we looked it over and started saying, okay, like, where do we, where do we, how do we divide it into sections? Like, how do we make this a book and not a museum exhibition? Right. And so I was like, okay, so kind of needs to be divided up a little differently. And okay, what are, you You know, we want to make this.

Another thing that was important to me was like, we want to tell the story of the whole man. You know, it's not, it's not just about Peanuts. It's about this guy. So you know, we wanted to, I wanted to be sure we touched on things that were important to him personally that really had almost no connection at all to Peanuts.

So and also some things that were like, okay, you know, Sparky was such a generous man, you know, as well. He was, he, he means so much in this community. how do you show an object for philanthropy? You know, how do you do that? So it's something he doesn't have anymore.

Jimmy: Right. Blank page. Yeah.

Benjamin: Here's his empty checkbook. So, yeah. [27:29] And also be interesting to look at, which is also important to us that it had to be a beautiful book and it had to be interesting to look at.

And so we, you know, so some of these objects have appeared in other books, we have, you know, new photography for all of it and you get to see it in a little different way. And, um, and that kind of thing. So, yeah,

Jimmy: well, very cool. It's, it's really, so having spent so much time, you know, immersed, uh, in this world, do you have any, what are some misconceptions people have about, about Peanuts or about Schulz himself that you think?

Benjamin: Oh gosh. I don't think, uh, I don't think any of your listeners would have these misconceptions. So, you know, that it's for kids. [28:14] It's, you know, cause it's, it's definitely not, I mean, kids enjoy it, but, um, I have a, I have a seven year old. I mean, he had a Peanuts book at dinner last night and he was laughing his head off the whole time, including that shark strip with pawpet theater. He doesn't even know what Jaws is, you know, look at that shark. Jimmy: [28:33] Hey, but he is a young man of discerning taste. That's all that matters.

Benjamin: That's right. I'm raising him right. So yeah, other misconceptions. Let's see. [28:45] Gosh, I'm not even sure now.

Harold: How about little known facts or something you wish people knew more about Schulz? Is there anything that you could would come to mind? Benjamin: [28:57] Little known facts. I mean, just how generous he was. I mean, like, you know, there's so many stories from cartoonists, you know, both people who become very successful in their own right, but also, you know, I've talked to cartoonists who are like, oh, I, you know, I always wanted to be be a cartoonist and I drew from my school paper. And in 1984, I drove up to Santa Rosa from somewhere else in the Bay area. [29:22] And, and Schulz sat down with me for an hour and we talked cartoons. And it's like, and I went home and I still draw a cartoon for a, you know. [29:31] Professional newsletter that goes to 38 people and that's it, you know, it's like Schulz was so generous with his time, like, especially with anybody who was an aspiring cartoonist.

You know, he was just generous in a lot of ways. And I think people know that who met him and knew him, but I don't think of just, you know, day-to-day fans would know that.

Harold Right. Well, that's great. That's great to know. And we certainly seen it in the letters that have popped up from Schulz and so many stories among cartoonists. I had told this story, I think, more than once here. [30:07] About when Schulz was ill and a friend of mine had this gigantic piece of poster board. He turned into a Get Well card for Sparky. It went to, I think it was Mid-OhioCon. This was probably 1999. And went around and just asking people if they wanted to sign a Get Well card to Charles Schulz. And every single person, it didn't matter if they were an artist, it was Dawn Wells of Gilligan's Island, it was Lou Ferrigno. Anybody who was at that convention, when you mentioned Charles Schulz in a Get Well card, wanted to sign. It didn't matter if they were making the craziest, darkest, you know, uber superhero comic, or if they were, you know, doing a fantasy thing, or if they were doing. [30:49] Straight humor. It didn't matter. It was like he covered the whole spectrum. He touched everybody.

Benjamin: Yeah. Yeah. It's, you know, we're still turning stuff up in the archives, you know, where it's just like, Oh, here's a Christmas card from Doris Day, you know, you know, Doris day. Wow. You know, there was a strip, you know, that we is an original strip to Vincent Price, you know, thanks, Charles Schulz. He was like, how do you meet Vincent Price? There's no letters. Right. We can tell me it's just like, okay, well, sure. You know, it's like, why not?

Jimmy: Every time I see a letter he wrote to someone or he sends a sketch to someone or whatever, I think that when I was in fourth grade, we had to write a letter to a celebrity to like learn. And my two choices were Charles Schulz or Willie Stargell, first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and went with Willie and Willie didn't write back. And I see the, I'm like, [31:50] I know, I know. I wish I would have written them. I, I was not going to be a first baseman. You know, there was no point to that.

Harold; Benjamin, I wanted to ask you that so you are curator for the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center. Now for all of us Peanuts nerds, what is the Research Center part of this and what can people do who are really into Peanuts at this at this space?

Benjamin: So yeah, the Research Center is just part of the museum. It's our archives. I oversee the archives as well. I oversee the collections here, so all the original art, Schulz's original, his personal effects, that kind of stuff. That's one team of people and, philosophy of how we do things. Then the archives are all the paper, audio visual, photographs, video materials, all that stuff. That's another staff of people and another philosophy of of how we do things. So they're similar, but separate. [32:55] So if you wanna do research on Peanuts or Charles Schulz's life or whatever, you have a specific question and you'd like to come see if our archives.

Can answer that through with your own research. You're welcome to do that. You have to make arrangements ahead of time. You can't just show up and say, I want to see Schulz's correspondence with UFS from 1957. It doesn't work like that. We can't just do that. But we're very happy. I'm very proud actually of how responsive we are via email compared to most other archives in the world.

Harold: So, so Benjamin, if somebody did get in touch with you in advance and they said, okay, I'm coming to Santa Rosa, I'll be in the area for a few days. And I'm looking into trying to understand this, this and this about Schulz. Obviously, you guys have a lot of things to do. Yeah. But what does that look like for the researcher? Do they have to have certain credentials? Do they have to have a specific end in mind that would be public, you know, sharing to the public. How does that work?

Benjamin: Yes, it would all of that is helpful to know. We would want to know all of that ahead of time. Yes. [34:09] But you don't need to be a, you know, a professor at Ohio State University, you know, to do that, you know, it's you can just, you know, be yourselves on your podcast, and you just want to, you know, look at something that's, you know, pertinent to something you're interested in or or whatever. I mean, we had someone here not too long ago, they wanted to look at.

And we made, we can do this too, if you make arrangements, we can't do it for everybody kind of depends on what it's for, but you know, someone who's working on a publication who, who wanted to see originals from the late nineties of Schulz with rain, original strips with rain. And, uh, so we were able to, you know, make that happen. and that's somebody who's working on something for a national publication. So that's, you know, we're. We're able to do that. That's great. So yeah, it's going to be, it's going to be cool when it comes out. Yeah.

Michael: Benjamin, you mentioned the museum in Tokyo. I was wondering if you knew of any other institutions around the world dedicated to Schulz or Peanuts? Benjamin: [35:19] Uh, no, not no, I don't think there are any others. No, Snoopy Museum Tokyo is our only satellite museum. So no

Michael: unofficial things?

Benjamin: Nothing unofficial. No.

Harold: Except somebody's, somebody's spare bedroom, right? Yeah, probably lots of those shrines.

Benjamin: there may be there may be lots of shrines out there. Yeah. There are some LBEs, you know, location based entertainment kind of installations around the world. [35:49] Where you can go in and it's mostly like photo op kind of stuff where you can go in and take pictures with statues of the characters and you might see some really cool spaces and things but it's not really like a deep historical experience.

Harold: How would you describe Japan's relationship with Peanuts? The things I see design-wise that come out of Japan that have to do with Peanuts blow me away. And I'm wondering, is it generally the iconography of Peanuts that they're relating to or are like the actual strips themselves or the animated specials? What is it that you see as different of say a general Japanese audience for Peanuts versus say American audience?

Benjamin: Yeah, so you're right. It is a completely, it is its own very special relationship. It's, I mean, you know, Japan was the first country outside the US that Peanuts appeared in newspapers. And it was, oh gosh, the date on that is early. Like 51.

Harold: Translated into Japanese?

Benjamin: It was not translated. It was in English. But when Peanuts was translated into Japanese, it was done by… [37:05] Oh, his name escapes me, but he was the poet laureate of Japan. He did, from what I understand from bilingual people, he did such a beautiful job. He did the entire thing, I understand. I have met fans in Japan who are surprised that Peanuts is American. Because it reads and it feels native to them and it feels very close to them. So it's, and you're right, the various licensees and people who work with Peanuts in Japan produce just some beautiful stuff. And I love what the team at Snoopy Museum Tokyo do with their exhibitions, because it's a completely different take than what we do here, but it's still just beautiful and compelling and fun. And, so I love working with them too.

Jimmy And shout out to our Japanese listeners. We actually chart, on the visual arts, chart in Japan.

Benjamin: Oh, I believe it. Yeah.

Jimmy: Because of Schulz, obviously not because of our charms, but we're so grateful that they listen. [38:19] Well, we could do this for the next five hours. So, but how about we take a break right now and then we come back and we get into discussing your pick, your, your big five strips that you're going to discuss.

Benjamin: Oh yeah. Okay. Sounds good.

Jimmy: All right. We'll see you on the other side, people.


Jimmy: And we're back. Did you miss us? I missed you. So, okay. Benjamin, we gave you the impossible task of selecting five strips to talk about of the 17,897. What was that process like for you? Did you have them right at the top or?

Benjamin: Oh, no, no, no. I begged. I said, I need some restrictions here. I need some guidance. And Liz was very kind to say, well, we're going to be talking about 65 or 65, 66 soon. It's like, okay, I'm going to pick from there.

So yeah, it's a flip through 65 and 66 and yeah, it was just bing bang boom.

Michael: well, I think it's like the critical period and, and this is just [39:42] getting into the big transition where the whole world kind of opens up.

Benjamin: Oh yeah.

Michael We just read a bunch of these and I wasn't sure when Marcie would kind of show up. I mean, Peppermint Patty and there she is.

Jimmy: Peppermint Patty just arrives from the future. It's wild. She's just like, hi, I'm a modern person. Here I am. [40:06] Amazing. Well, we have a couple to get to before we get to get to our pal, Peppermint Patty. So let's, let's start with your first pick, which was

March 14th, 1965. Charlie Brown is standing outside, holding what is evidently the string of his kite, which is of course, sprawled all across the ground and up into the kite eating tree. In the next panel, he walks along cleaning up the messy string. And then finally, he arrives at the tree saying, “now look tree, that's my kite you've got up there and I want it back.” He's now sort of ranting low, low key ranting at the tree. “I paid 79 cents for that kite. You have no right to take it.” Now he's full on ranting. “You can't go grabbing every kite that flies by, you know. Now give it back. Do you hear me?”

We then have a silent panel. The tree does not respond. And Charlie Brown just sighs. Eyes closed. Then he walks away saying, “You can't argue with a kite-eating tree.”

Jimmy: Now tell us what about that made you pick it?

Benjamin: Well, that is the first naming of the kite-eating tree.

Jimmy: Whoa. Benjamin: [41:15] And this is going in my kite exhibition because actually the Schulz Museum has the original of this strip of this Sunday. And so this will be on exhibit beginning next March and as part of that exhibition. So it's really cool. You know, when when the kite eating trees first appearance is, in the strip is kind of a matter of debate among fans because is it the kite? Is it the tree in 1954 or whatever that he snags his kite on? Is it the tree that more eats it, you know, later? [41:52] It's kind of a thing, but the naming we can pinpoint. It's this. This is it.

Michael: So is the tree drawn consistently?

Benjamin: No.

Michael: Very distinctive. Oh, so it's always different?

Benjamin: So yeah, looking at the Kite-eating tree for this exhibition, I realized that Kite-eating tree is a type of tree. It's not a specific tree in his neighborhood. It's more like a species of tree or something.

So and actually something else with this, we were looking at, so when I'm planning exhibitions And I've kind of got a lot of the, the stuff, you know, I've got a rough framework and I have most of the art picked out and what we're going to do.

I share it with a committee of people, uh, including, you know, Jean Schulz and, and some others to get some feedback.

And, and one of those people is, Rosie McDaniel, who's, uh, the widow of Mark Cohen, who a lot of old time cartooning folks will know. Oh yeah, of course.

So Jeannie says they, you know, Rosie and Mark were their social secretaries. They were the ones that would line up all the meetups and stuff with cartoonists because Sparky was just not you know social enough to do that,

So anyway, Rosie's in these meetings too, and she's a lot of fun.

As we're sitting there. [43:08] Looking at this strip blown up on a huge screen in the original, she suddenly almost jumps out of her chair.

Harold: I think I know where this is going.

Benjamin: And she says, Do you see that?

Harold: Panel two?

Benjamin: She says, Look at the throwaway panel up there by, you know, next to the title panel. [43:24] Look at the string on the ground. Yes. If you look, it says Elm Elm. Yeah.

Harold: Oh, I was I was just going to bring that up. Yeah.

Benjamin: I was like, is this our clue from Sparky of what kind of tree this tree is?

Jimmy: Mind blown.

Benjamin: So it's like this little Easter egg. It's like, is it deliberate? It's like, it must be, you know, if you got to be. And it's, you know, I asked, I asked Paige Braddock and, and Lex over at the studios. Like, what do you guys think? You know, is this for real, like deliberate or what, you know? And they're like, yeah, it must be.

Jimmy: Because if you were just cartooning a curled string, I think you would continue the curls in the same, right? It would be like a penmanship exercise. But he deliberately reverses the curve coming out of what looks like the L loop to make that M. It's got to be intentional.

Jimmy: That's wild.

Benjamin: So now I'm looking at all the string on the ground in every strip. Did he hide any, did he do any other Easter eggs for us?

Jimmy: It's amazing. You know, and the other, the last panel obviously confirms your theory because it's not, you can't argue with the kite eating tree. It's you can't argue with a kite eating tree.

Benjamin: [44:41] It's wow. So yeah, and he also, you know, he didn't draw it really consistently either. I mean, this tree in particular does, you know, this more or less this tree shows up quite a lot, but there are some very, very different trees that are also kite-eating trees. Jimmy: [45:03] Can you tell us, for people who haven't had the experience of looking at the original art, what is the difference when you get to experience looking at that original versus what we're looking at now, which is just a reproduction on a screen or a book?

Benjamin: In the original, there's so much more subtlety. The way to the line. [45:24] Sometimes you can even see the motion of it. And they're just big. [45:32] Gosh, dailies are 20, 22-ish inches long and six inches high. [45:41] And Sundays are even bigger. And so they're just, they're huge. And when you're only used to ever seeing them in the newspaper, you know, one of those daily, you know, how the daily show up in the newspaper would fit in one panel, you know, be, you know, in length. [46:01] So there's just so much more richness, uh, seeing them in the original, uh, you get all these little subtleties and Schulz was just a virtuoso penman. I mean, he could, he, you know, you can look at, especially in the original, you know, you, he talks about how he, when he was drawing, he was drawing Snoopy's doghouse and he's drawing the slats of wood. He's like, I would think wood and it would look like, and the way he could pull and just let that ink flow, just that, that, you know, immeasurable tiny amount down. It was just enough to achieve [46:44] something that your brain says would when it looks at it. And he could do that with between like, you're looking at a line of ink both times, but your, brain says wood, metal, you know, whatever. Yeah. And you just, you can do, he, he was able to do that.

Jimmy: This, this might be an unanswerable question, but do you have any idea when he switched to that radio 914 pen nib that he did use for decades?

Benjamin: I do know. Um, it was,

Jimmy: hang on a second. Hang on. Wait, I got to savor it. All right, go ahead.

Benjamin: In my new book, you can read all about it. Um, I'm pretty sure we, we have to have told that story. So, um, the radio nine one four pen nib is not a drawing pen nib. It is, it was designed, it was kind of the, a slightly fancier version of a pen nib designed for basically keeping ledgers at a bank. [47:53] There's the Esterbrook had a, a near clone is called like the bank one four or something like that. So it was, this one is just plated. Then the radio nine one, the radio part is just, it's just a plated nib. So it, it, it cleans a little easier and that's about it. So, so at art instruction back in, you know, this would have been early, early, early days. [48:19] Probably, you know, late forties, you know, He's hired by them in 46, he's back from the war. And he works there for you know a few years so you know sometime in forty six forty seven don't know exactly when but it's in that range of time. Yes the sign ‘cause when you graduate from art instruction correspondence school you got this great big beautiful diploma and it was signed by all the instructors. [48:50] And not all of them but you know a lot of the instructors would sign them. Anyway, one day he was given a stack of these diplomas that he had to sign. Whoever dropped them off also gave him some pen nibs to use to sign with. They dropped off these radio 914 pen nibs, because they're just work a day, a very fine point so you can squeeze a bunch of signatures on this stack of diplomas and that he was supposed to sign. And as he's signing these diplomas with this pen nib, which was unfamiliar to him at that point beyond like, oh, that's just something you would use. You know, it's not like a fine drawing instrument. [49:33] And he's signing away and he's like, hey, I like this. Wow, I could, boy, I can really get a nice line on that. I can get, wow. So as he's doing that, that is when he discovers the radio 914. Is signing his name innumerable times on correspondent school diplomas.

And that, that was it. So that was what he would use until, you know, we don't really know exactly when this happened, but he, he like reorders some or, you know, a gross of them or whatever. And, um... [50:11] Somebody let him know hey by the way, Esterbrook is quitting making these and you're just, they still have quite a stockpile, but they don't make them anymore. At that point, Esterbrook had gone into just only making fountain pens instead of dip pens. I think they maybe even were going out of business and some other things were going on. I don't know exactly when that happened, but at some point Sparky found out that they were no longer making them. He gets in touch with Esterbrook and buys all of them. He buys the rest. He does his calculations and he figures out, okay, this, this, this quantity will last me the rest of my life. It should. And, and it does. When he, he dies at the age of 77, he has like, think like, I think we had like three boxes left.

Harold: So Benjamin, I wanted to ask you though, is you, is it your understanding that he's using that at the beginning of Peanuts? Cause my theory was, When I look at the line, it's so different in like the blow up that you have behind you, the very first panel of Peanuts, but he's using something different. And my theory was when he started to do the Young Pillar strips, he was working very fast and loose with that, with these teenage characters. [51:24] And I thought maybe that's when he said, Hey, I'm going to use a radio nine, nine one four for that. And then he, at some point that would have been like what 1956 or something. Maybe that was when Schulz then said, Hey, I could maybe transition to the strip with that.

Benjamin: No, he's using the radio 914, but he's using other nibs too. I mean, he's not using...

Harold: So you think in 1950 he was using that 914?

Benjamin: Yeah. Jimmy: [51:49] One of the things I find interesting about it is that it is that writing penmanship pen. I got to do a story for the 65th anniversary book that Boom Studios put out a few years ago. So I went online and if you go online, you could find vintage stationary places and stuff and I got a bunch of them. I was trying to get them to work and I couldn't get it to do anything. I just, it was just, and I could use a dip and you know, I used to ink with a Hunt 102. [52:20] And so I was reading up on it, you know, his interviews and I read, oh, it's a writing pen and I thought, well, I'll just try to write like if I'm right. And that's like, Oh man. And then suddenly it's like magic happens. And you're like, that's that line. Now you can't draw as well as Schulz. So it's never going to be that, but that one moment of making it happen for just, it was like, Oh, I've arrived at Valhalla. That's it. That's that's being a cartoonist buddy.

Benjamin: Yep. Yeah. I've heard Moe Williams tell a similar story, you know, about trying to, he did a whole book with radio 9 1 4. He did one of his naked mole rat books and with the I think it’s Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed with the radio 9 1 4. And it was, he just, yeah, it's just such a struggle.

Jimmy: Yeah, it really, really is the fact that he looked at it. I was like, but I guess guess, cause he started signing his name because it's a lot of the fussy stuff that you have to use with a regular dip pen isn't really present in this pen. And then when you try to make it like the Hunt one, it doesn't do anything like maybe you'll smudge a little scratch it a little bit. But when you just put it up and just start being very free with it, it's, it's cool. It's really cool. Jimmy: [53:35] Their G nib out there for you fans is the closest thing. It's like a manga nib. That's like, but it's, it's not, it's not the same thing.

Benjamin: Yeah. Yeah. You can still find them online and, um, they can be kind of expensive because pen nib collectors, you know, know what, I mean, everybody knows it's the Schulz nib. But you can get the, the, the clone, the, just the regular one for, um, which is, it's identical, except it's just not played at the same. That's, that's the only difference. I understand.

Jimmy: Oh, that is good to know. All right.

June 5th, 1965, Charlie Brown wearing a little sailor's cap is sitting on a bus. He says to no one in particular, “well, here I am on a bus going to camp. These camp buses are pretty nice, I guess.” Leans his head in his hands and says, “sigh, we've only been on this bus for 10 minutes and already I'm lonesome.” In panel four, he looks forlorn and he says, “I feel like I'm being drafted.” Benjamin: [54:34] So this one I picked because it's, this is a very emotionally autobiographical strip. You know, Schulz never went to summer camp ever. [54:45] So a lot of these summer camp strips are actually pretty reflective of his experience in the army during World War II. And this one's the most, you know, was one of the most kind of directly obvious, you know, because he was drafted in January of 44, 43, 43. Yeah, just after his 20th birthday. So yeah. And went to Fort Campbell. And of course, while he's doing his induction at Fort Snelling there just across the river from where he lived in in St. Paul, his mother had passed away, you know, she was pretty ill with cancer for several years and, you know, he had never been away from home hardly. He'd never been away from his parents.

And here his mother has died and he's off to war. So you know, he, Schulz said kind of famously once that, you know, he, he learned everything he ever knew about loneliness while he was in the army. And it makes, it makes sense. You know, there was a, one of his biographers tracked down the guy. Schulz would have Schulz sat next to on the train from Fort Snelling down to Fort Campbell. [55:59] And, uh, you know, it was like, I can't remember the guy's name, but you know, it's alphabetically right next to Schulz, you know, and, uh, he said, yeah, he said we were on that train for three days and he didn't say a word, you know? Oh my gosh.

Jimmy: Oh wow.

Benjamin: And he said, uh, you know, we, he just stared out the window and he said, I found out later his mom had just died. I was like, yeah, that would do it. So,

Harold: wow. Well, that last panel in this strip you picked, Charlie Brown has kind of sunk down in his seat, you're looking at him through the window of the bus and it. [56:30] He just captures this, this terrible, terrible feeling. Yeah. In that, in that last panel. And you know, Schulz was, he carried those emotions, even those like. [56:42] You know, those, those old emotions, those old feelings, he could pull that up. Yeah. And, you know, I have personally, you know, I have a really hard time, you know, like, I kind of remember how I felt, you know, at certain moments in my life, but you know, I can't make myself still feel that same emotion necessarily, you know, thinking back about, you know, something like that. And the thing was, he could do that, not even just about these big feelings, like, you know, his mother just dying and going off to the army, you know, it's a big one, but he can do that all the time. And it's, that was just something in his nature, just the way he was made that he could do that. And he did that in Peanuts. You know, he could recall those emotions and feel those emotions and pour it into his drawing. Just like drawing wood, he's feeling that when the pen is going down on the paper.

Benjamin: Absolutely. I mean, just look at the subtle differences between Charlie Brown's eyes in the second, the third and fourth panel. I mean, the eyes themselves, the two dots. [57:43] I mean, those two dots go from, you know, just like a thousand yard stare in panel three to this bleak, you know, forlorn look in panel four. And it's like, they are still just two dots.

Jimmy: Right. They are maybe one half of a millimeter more of an oval than a circle. And then they have parentheses. And that signals despair.

Benjamin: Exactly.

Jimmy: It's amazing.

Benjamin: We don't even need those, those half circles.

Jimmy:No, you know, no, but that just takes it to that next level of this is existential dread, you know,

Benjamin: Exactly. That helps us read it in, you know, a postage stamp square printed on newsprint. You know, And like I said, you see that in the original, it breaks your heart. You know, it's just, that's the difference.

Jimmy: You know, I'm going to go on record and say it. He was pretty good. Benjamin: [58:37] Sparky Schulz knew what he was doing.

Jimmy: he was all right.

Harold Yeah. And we were talking, Jimmy, about that you yourself as a cartoonist, you said you remember what it's like to be 10. You've got that same kind of memory of things that you were able to capture in your own cartooning. I think that that makes a huge difference in what someone can do in storytelling.

Jimmy Well, not having anything to do with my work. I mean, I can't speak to that, but I think the most important thing in writing is empathy, right? And the way to express empathy is-- You might not know that person's specific situations, but you know, sadness, you know, you know, fear, you know, joy, and you just can't look at the other people in the world as other than you there. And that's and it's, it's easy to say that on a podcast. It's hard to do it over 50 years every day in a comic strip.

But I think at the core of it, that is what it is. Yeah. You, when you see Schulz drawing each of these characters, you don't, usually there's a few exceptions you don't think other. No, no. This, and this little drawing of Charlie Brown, it is a kid going to summer camp that doesn't want to go. It is a young man being drafted. It's a little black kid being bussed to a different school. Like it's all of those things in this one little drawing of this roundheaded kid. It's, it's amazing. [1:00:07] July 12th, 1965. This is a familiar one. Snoopy is dragging what looks like a little suitcase behind him. Then he's pushing it. Then finally in panel three, he opens it. We can't quite see what it is, but then in panel four, he is up on top of his dog house and we see it was just a typewriter case. And he is typing the words of his first story. It was a dark and stormy night.

Benjamin: [1:00:30] Snoopy as the world famous writer is probably my favorite persona.

Jimmy: Oh, nice. We have, we always want to know what the persona-- Michael's favorite is, is vulture. My favorite is, the grocery clerk and Harold I don't know yours. What do you have a favorite?

Harold: You know, I do love the grocery clerk. And I love him as the, the, the pawpet theater. And I also have a real soft spot for Joe Cool.

Jimmy: Oh yeah. Joe Cool. It's great. Yeah. Yeah. So you like the writer, the writers, your guy that

Benjamin: The writer’s, my guy I love, I love, I love the terrible puns and you know, the jokes, the jokes that Schulz wants to do, but can't do in Peanuts. So he gives the gag to Snoopy to do in his writing. And yeah, I think that's hilarious. I mean, that's just, it's also really resourceful, you know,

Jimmy: yeah, it's having your cake and eating it too. Right? I have this corny joke. If I leave it by itself, it's just a corny joke. But if I have this level of remove, it's Snoopy typing it. Suddenly it becomes genius.

Harold: Yeah, it rises above the dad joke.

Benjamin: Exactly.

Harold: When he's typing. And again, talk about classic drawings on panel four. Yeah. That's Snoopy with this kind of this half eye, the half open eye, as if it looks like the picture you would see on the back or on the jacket flap by some author. Yes. And how he drops the nose. [1:01:59] So I don't know what that does, but it kind of gives him this air of, haughtiness, but I think it's just classic classic author image.

Benjamin: And this is the first dark and this is the first instance. This is the first dark and stormy night. It's the first time he's on top of his dog house with the typewriter, you know, all that.

Jimmy: Did you know where dark and stormy night came from with Schulz? Like what, what that, because it has appeared, right? It was like a famous bad line of some old thing. And then it's also like Wrinkle In Time and stuff.

So where did Schulz come through with that? Benjamin: [1:02:32] You know, we don't know exactly where, I mean, it must've been and Bulwer-Lytton, but who knows?

Jimmy: Who knows? Right, right, right. But it's so funny because this really kind of transcends all of them now.

Benjamin: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. And also I love this because I'm so proud of how, I'm proud of Schulz, how he drew this typewriter because it looks great. And we have a letter from him during the war and he's writing to, I think he was writing to his, so his mom passes away and then his dad, his dad's home alone for the first time too. Carl has gone from a father with a wife and son to just being by himself with the dog Spike and that's it.

So anyway, he eventually develops a relationship with a woman in the neighborhood, who is a family friend of some of his relatives and stuff named Annabelle. And Annabelle starts writing to Sparky while he's away at war. I think he must have known her, at least like an acquaintance or something. And now his dad's kind of seeing her. And so they start writing to each other.

Well, he writes… Probably for the first time using a typewriter on one of those letters. And he's like, Hey, I'm, I'm using a typewriter, check it out. It's taken me a long time to type this, you know, and, and he draws a little doodle of himself typing on the typewriter at the bottom of the letter. And it is almost unidentifiable as a typewriter, terrible picture of a typewriter. And it's like, I think that's supposed to be a typewriter. It's either a typewriter, he's jamming his fingers into a toaster. And so, so anyways, I'm looking at this like he got it. He finally could draw a typewriter.

Harold Yeah. So is this a Smith Corona or Remington?

Benjamin: Yeah, he's probably whatever, uh, whatever was in the office with him.

Jimmy: Yeah. Well, what's so funny to hear that is one of the joys for me reading these now in order is every once in a while, You see, he has the perfect, absolutely minimal drawing of some weird thing that no one's ever drawn before.

We've had like a bottle warmer, right? An incinerator, this, this great cartoon typewriter. He just knows how to do it. Like who draw-- who first time ever in history draws a bottle warmer and it's four lines and it's perfect and it's identifiable as that.

Harold: And we now know the secret. he just thinks a bottle warmer while he's drawing it.

Jimmy: He thinks his way into it. Benjamin: [1:05:09] Yeah. I mean, he would, you know, one of his instructors back when he was taking the correspondence school was a cartoonist named Frank Wing. [1:05:17] And who's a real old timey, you know, nostalgia kind of guy, you know, kind of good old days type panel cartoon guy and kind of that Claire Briggs, you know, mode if you're not familiar.

Harold H.T. Webster kind of.

Benjamin: Yeah, yeah, exactly. There's a lot of great cartoonists in that kind of genre, I guess. But Frank Wing always said, you know, you have to learn how to draw things realistically before you can cartoon them. And he says, you know, you just practice drawing with everything, just draw all the time. And, you know, you draw, you need to draw a shoe, take off your shoe and draw it, you know, that really sunk in with Sparky.

And he actually ended up sitting next to Frank Wing, his former instructor, when he joined the staff at art instruction. And Frank Wing was the one who saw his little drawings of kids he was sending off to the Saturday Evening Post. He's like, Sparky you should keep drawing these. They're pretty, they're pretty good.

So yeah, that was kind of his, his thing was like, okay, I need to draw it realistically first and then I can figure out how to cartoon it. Because he said he was always doing that when he was, you know, he was just having a conversation with somebody he's, he's looking at the crease of their collar and the way--

Jimmy: [1:06:37] I was just going to bring that up.I remember him reading an interview where he's talking, I think he was talking about Frank Wing talking about sketching and learn the exact, what you're saying. And then he developed this process where he called it like mental sketching, where he would look at you and figure out how the collar would be drawn and all this stuff. And I remember thinking like, Oh, Mr. Schulz, you have OCD, but please don't, don't have anyone tell you that. As long as you don't know that you're just going to continue to be a genius.

Benjamin: Yeah. It was just, you know, it was how he interpreted the world around him. You know, he was, you know, as a little kid, you know, there's, there's stories about him, just constantly drawing and drawing on any, anything he'd get a hold of, you know, using the cardboard inserts that the laundry would send his dad's shirts home it with, you know, like that. Like he would just draw, you know, it was like, oh boy, this is the best stuff I have, you know, it was just these, you know, just all that stuff figuring out along the way. But when he finally was taught, he just soaked it up because he's like, oh, finally, okay, now I understand what I'm doing. And there are several little, you know, kind of eureka moments in his life that we, we kind of can, we kind of know about and point to and, and, and being, being taught, like, especially by Frank Wing is like, oh, okay, I get it. I get it now. Yeah.

Jimmy: There was like no possibility of me being able to take that correspondence course when I was a kid, but I really wanted to. My neighbor up the street actually did. I got to see it as like, it's legit. I mean, it's not like you have to put in all the work yourself because you're out in your own. But if you do, it's a legitimate art education. No question about it. Benjamin: [1:08:18] Yeah, there's we've got this. So sometime between his finishing this, the course as a high schooler and him coming back from the war and being hired. So somewhere in those years, Ernie Bushmiller redid the cartooning like curriculum. And so, so Schulz is teaching Bushmiller cartooning in, you know, 51 or not. Like, no, I'm sorry, back up like 48, 49 ish.

And after he gets the strip, after Schulz gets Peanuts, you know, the Peanuts deal, he writes to Bushmiller at some point just to say, you know, hi, I loved your work. And also, you know, just to let you know, you know, the art instruction people are, The boy, they do a great job and they're really, you know, doing a good job with the materials you gave them and all this stuff.

And it's a pretty cool letter. So it's incredible to think, wow, imagine being those students in like 1949 or whatever, you're being taught Bushmiller cartooning by Charles Schulz.

Harold: That's pretty amazing. Right. And Bushmiller, just for some of our listeners, he did what what strip?

Benjamin: Oh, Nancy and Nancy and Sluggo. Yeah. So yeah, the classic, uh, a classic kid strip. And then he, but, you know, again, you know, they, in those early days when, you know, Schulz is getting some feedback from, from his syndicate, you know, I was like, boy, your, your humor can be pretty subtle and, and things.

And I mean, he kind of went back to them and said, well, you're not getting another Nancy and Sluggo, you know, this is something very different, but he knew, he knew who he was and, uh, and what he was doing.

Jimmy Well, he's clearly had tons of confidence. I mean, from the very beginning, the most minimal gags imaginable and some of those things, spareness of the style. It's bespeaks a great deal of confidence to be willing to do that.

Harold Yeah. And it's self-described as, as sophistication, which I think is interesting because I didn't, I didn't think of the strip as sophisticated, but then once I read the children said that and that that's what he was thinking about the strip, again, it's not for kids. It's about kids. It does change the way I see these strips now. In terms of what he was attempting.

Benjamin: Yeah, I mean, it's an evolution from the magazine panel style, which is what he was doing early on, and was a part of his evolution and genesis, really, is being like Saturday Evening Post style cartoonist. [1:10:49]

August 22, 1966, it's the first appearance of the legendary Peppermint Patty. She is sitting there next to her pal Roy, who was writing a letter and she says, “Hi Roy, who you writing to?” Roy says, “I'm writing to a little kid named Linus that I met at camp several weeks ago.” Patty enthusiastically says, “Is he cute? If he is, tell him your very good friend Peppermint Patty says, Hello. Tell him what a real swinger I am.” Patty continues. Then as she walks away, she says, “put in a good word for me, Roy. And the next time we Indian wrestle, I'll try not to clobber you.”

Jimmy: This is mind blowing to me because cause that's Peppermint Patty. Boom. Four panels, never seen her before. Here she is. And it's, she's one of the greatest comic strip characters of all time already.

Michael: I would guess this is the first Peanuts strip without the main characters.

Jimmy: Oh, that's wild. That's true. Benjamin: [1:11:49] Yeah, it might be. Yeah, that's a great question. Yeah, that might be. Yeah, Roy is an interesting character too. He shows up mostly at camp and is another army life reference for Schulz. [1:12:10] So he gets to Fort Campbell and he's kind of in terrible shape emotionally, for sure. And And this other guy who's a bit older, he's about 10 years older than him, and a cop from St. Louis, and he's been drafted to, and his name is Elmer Haggemeier. And his middle name happens to be Roy. And Elmer Roy Haggemeier is the one who kind of takes him under his wing and looks after him.

And Schulz would describe it. Yeah, he says, he big brothered me. And he would take Schulz home on, you know, furloughs and stuff. And just, he had this big family and Schulz could just kind of lose himself in that. And they just loved on him and took care of him and fussed over him and was just kind of what he needed, you know? [1:12:59] So Roy is obviously, I think a reference to Elmer Roy Haggemeier. So I also chose the strip because yeah, Peppermint Patty, like you said, is fully formed, you know? There's no hemming and hawing. And what do I do with this character? I mean, she's there.

Harold: He's the father of what a 16 year old at this point and then down into, you know, younger ages. That's the feeling I get is that, you know, we know in Sebastopol, they had this amazing little compound that they that that Joyce just built out for for all of the kids and got the tennis courts and in shoot a hole a golf or two and yeah, for this is a place where the kids just just are are attracted to from the friends of all of the Schulz family. And so I can't imagine what he was experiencing through those kids in, in his own home and, you know, in the surrounding area of his own home. [1:13:57] That's what I think of when I think of Peppermint Patty. He must've been experiencing, uh, you know, something that maybe he never had experienced before in Minnesota growing up. This is something new. And he's, and it's like Jimmy's saying, He's capturing something that's going on in the culture with the youth and Peppermint Patty is this wonderful embodiment in a very unique way.

It's not too stereotypical, but she's got this fresh perspective on life that we certainly haven't seen in Peanuts. And I don't think we've really seen in comic strips in general. She's kind of this free spirit that she uses a swinger.

Jimmy: I mean, gosh, wait a second. One of the things that, that I was thinking about when, uh, preparing for this today, this is 1966 halfway through 1964 was the release of Harriet the Spy, which is one I, Louise Fitzhugh, one of my heroes in that book means a lot to me. And that book, you know, it was shocking because the girl wore sneakers and jeans. Right? Among other things, but like, so this is really-- This is less than two years later, 15, 16 months later. And it's that type of character. [1:15:11] And what amazes me is that it's not coming from something that's brand new. Like this is not like the peppermint--This is something that's been going on for 16 years. And suddenly he's still able to like, boom, catch the zeitgeist.

He's in the moment. It's, it's that just the longevity is astounding.

Benjamin: Absolutely. Yeah. And he had Peppermint Patty kind of living in his head for a while before she was on the strip and, we don't know exactly how long, but I would guess it was it was maybe even a couple years. [1:15:45] And because there's a couple of hints he drops in some various interviews and things, you know, kind of pieced together over time. And, and he was, he was thinking about, you know, she could maybe be a character who would do like a series of books. And he readily acknowledges she could carry her own strip. He's, you know, treats her that way. Right. You know, yeah, it's almost like she does have her own strip and stuff. Oh, really? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It's, So yeah, he had the name, you know, picked out and, um, you know, there's kind of a well-known story about, you know, she is definitely named after the candies. And although I did figure out it was definitely not York peppermint patties.

Jimmy: Oh, it wasn't?

Benjamin: No, because they were not distributed on the West coast in the mid sixties. So they must've been some other brand. There were, there were quite a few around at the time. So who knows what brand exactly they were, but they were not York. I know that

Jimmy: Well, I have told many people it was the York Peppermint Patty. So Liz cut that part out.

Benjamin: [1:16:52] So it was a, but yeah, she, and he said, you know, I had to use the name before Mort Walker did. So, yes, I love that quote. Jimmy: [1:17:00] And, uh, for aspiring cartoonists out there, please note the use of unnecessary quotation marks around peppermint and hello. Fantastic. Love it.

Harold: And I love in that panel Roy's slight recoil at her forwardness. It's just so subtle and so funny. Yeah.

Jimmy: Well, and I love the panel three with her, with her head in her hands, which is a Peanuts pose, but she has a very different look. She's looking up and she's like Luke Skywalker, you know, she's optimism. She's not being forlorn or too contemplative, right? She's all about action.

Jimmy: So Michael when you were reading this what were your thoughts when it was expanding with the cast and stuff cuz you're an original reader was this slipping out of your purview.

Michael Yeah i was familiar with these. I think I was probably paying less attention at this point.

Jimmy: Yeah cuz you would have been sixteen at this point

Michael: right, now it's more into buying marvel comics at that point I think I might not have been buying the books. Which I think we're coming out once a year. Jimmy: [1:18:15] That around this time Yeah, because it really is the launch of a whole nother wing of Peanuts and a whole nother realm of expression Which is really cool. Yeah going back to that second panel. Not only is he recoiling She is ever so slightly leaning in from you know, it's great great cartooning,

Harold: Yeah, and Roy's just kind of lifting his arm a little bit and yeah This little shoulder action is really funny. Roy's a great design too. I love the kind of the shininess of this curly head of hair. [1:18:46]

September 19th, 1966, Charlie Brown is laying in bed. It is at night and he sniffs “something's wrong. I smell smoke,” he says and sniffs again. We cut to panel two, it's outside. Snoopy is very upset and he's kicking at the door. “Bam, bam, bam, bam.” Charlie Brown runs outside to see what's going on. We see Snoopy looking off panel right into something which is casting a very bright light. Charlie Brown says, “what in the world?” And then in the last panel, we see Snoopy's dog house is burning. Charlie Brown is hugging him and says, “good grief.” Snoopy looking absolutely devastated, thinks to himself, “my books, my records, my pool table, my Van Gogh,” and he sobs.

Jimmy: So, okay, well, a little history for you, Benjamin, about me. That last panel is the first Peanuts panel I ever saw in my life.

Benjamin: Oh yeah, wow.

Jimmy: It was the cover of a book called What's It All About, Charlie Brown. And I saw that and it was like, I gotta know what's going on with this thing. This is bizarre.

Benjamin: Yeah, that would do it.

Jimmy: So why would you pick this? I think this whole sequence is amazing.

Benjamin: It's amazing, yeah. We've got, I mean, it's just, yeah, beautifully drawn, of course, and so much going on, the emotions and all this. And it's also actually happened, you know, this is another part of Schulz's life coming into the strip. [1:20:13] This was in January of 66, there was a fire at the Coffee Grounds property and his studio burned. And, He, uh, he'd actually had gone through a fire before in, shortly after he came back from World War II, there was a fire at the building where his dad's barbershop and, and their apartment was. And, and they said everything, you know, they lost a lot, you know, in the, in the, especially down in the Bay, I guess they had a bunch of stuff stored in the basement of that building. And, and I think that's when he would have lost his whole, like he had at one point in time a huge collection of like little big books and comics, all of his comics, probably all of his, you know, juvenile drawings.

Jimmy: Any strips and stuff?

Benjamin: No, well, maybe there may have been some of his earliest, you know, tryouts. Yeah, we know. I know he drew at least one page of a adventure strip. There was a French foreign Legion themed like a Beau Geste, you know, inspired adventure strip, a Hal Foster kind of style thing. [1:21:24] And I know he did a page of that, but I, you know, it's never been seen. Nobody's, you know, it was probably lost. He, he filled a few notebooks. He said, you know, those like of, uh, Sherlock Holmes stories.

Jimmy: Are you serious?

Benjamin: And, um, he shared those with Shermie back when they were like in high school. And, um, those were, those are, those are, those are my like personal, like holy grail objects. And that they were probably lost in that fire.

Harold: Didn't he allude to before he sold Peanuts that he was sending around to like the Chicago syndicates, multiple takes on comic strip ideas.

Did you know anything about that? Was he doing like a mixture of, you know, comic, comedy strips, adventure strips? Do we know how many different things he might've attempted at that time?

Benjamin: I don't think it was a whole lot. I think there were a few things that he was running with. Yeah, but I don't think he got too far along with those before the kid stuff started happening, little folks. And so I do know there was another kind of kid themed strip that he was circulating called, I think it was called Oh Judy.

And there's a kind of a hint of that. There's a character called Judy in one of the... [1:22:43] Topix Comics pages. He did two pages for Topix Comics as kind of a he got the opportunity after kind of doing a special job for them and who he's working for lettering his lettering for topics comics and. [1:22:58] They did a spot he did a special job for them and they let him do a page of just you know panel cartoons And they let him do it twice and one of them has a kid comic where one of the characters is named Judy. And so I was like, okay, that might've been what Oh, Judy was like. That's what that was.

Harold And I do have a question. So we know he lost a lot of things from growing up and we know that he had that big little book collection. He said that he obviously loved comic books. He was kind of the librarian of his community for kids who wanted to get a back issue of a comic book. But he obviously still loved comic books and read them up to a certain point of time. Is there anything in the archives? Did he save comic books? Do we have a sense of when he stopped reading like the popular comics or did he ever stop reading the comic books of the day?

Benjamin: Yeah, I think he did pretty early on. I think he was just too busy. Harold [1:23:51] Because we know he did stuff for Mad. He was aware of what was going on with his fellow cartoonists and.

Benjamin: Yeah, yeah. So I mean, he was looking through Mad for sure, especially those years when he's writing back and forth with them and. [1:24:04] You know, he was writing letters for their letters column and stuff and, you know, but those were just kind of, that's just him, you know, he can dash that off pretty quick. Right. So, but, you know, he's reading, he's definitely, he never stops reading the comics in newspapers. Like he's reading that every day studiously. He talks about how he was, you know, he was very competitive, how he wanted to win the page every day. So he's looking at the page and he's like evaluating, Okay, what was the funniest? What was clever? What was, you know, who knows what and what all those criteria were that he's comparing himself to. And so he felt like he had to win the page. And it was kind of how

Harold: I wonder if any other cartoonists were doing that as as studiously as Schulz was.

Benjamin: I don't know about that. But I imagine other people are. Yeah, didn't something similar.

Harold It's like looking at the sports scores, you know, you're just like, okay, how did I fare this, this time? Do I pop out? Do I stand down with, do I think I did the funniest joke or did somebody, but yeah, that's, that's so interesting, you know, because that's a side of Schulz that is we know about, but it doesn't often come to the surface of how competitive,you love sports, of course.

Jimmy: And it's funny, cause I always think, you know, people say even like very big media outlet, actually, maybe sometimes mostly the big media outlets when they'd interview would be like, are you, you must be Charlie Brown, right? And of course, yeah, we all are Charlie Brown, but he's also the most successful cartoonist of his time. He's created something that will live on hundreds of years after he, so, you know, he's not really a loser.

Benjamin: [1:25:40] No, yeah. He's yeah. He's all of them for sure. He's all those characters and yeah, it's, it's remarkable. And he just poured so much of himself into the strip. up. That's what makes it special is he is just his ability to translate so much into it, those experiences, those feelings. So you know, in 19 January 66, there's another fire.

He's already been through a fire and lost a lot of precious stuff. And he's interviewed by the newspaper in San Bernardino, just like right after the fire, just like a brief little snippet from him. And he says, yeah, I went in and grabbed my weeks worth of strips off the table that were in, because I didn't want to have to redraw them. [1:26:26] Because that had happened at that point. He had shipped up, like sometime, We don't really know when exactly, but at some point between 58 and 66 is after he moved out to Sebastopol, he had mailed in a week's worth of strips to the syndicate and it never got there. So he had to redraw them from memory and we don't know what week that is. We don't know. We just know that it happened. Anyway, so that was the first thing on his mind when he sees his studio going up in flames like, Oh, I got to get those strips. Because it was in January and he said, if I had to redraw them, I wouldn't make the the Crosby tournament, go play golf. [1:27:03] See, that was like, that was the highlight of his year. It was going to go play at the Crosby golf tournament. So, I wouldn't, I wouldn't make it.

Jimmy: So Benjamin, thank you so much for taking this time today to talk to us. It was extraordinary and so special for us. And thank you for your book and for all the work you're doing at the, at the museum. I mean, if there's one cartoonist who deserves this level of scrutiny and attention and preservation. It is Mr. Schulz.

So thank you for all your work on that.

Benjamin: Absolutely. Oh, gladly. Thank you. It has been such a thrill to talk to all of you. It's been, I mean, yeah, it's been awesome. Thank you so much.

Jimmy: So for the rest of you out there, if you want to follow along with the conversation, you can find us at unpackpeanuts on both Instagram and Twitter. You can visit our website where you can see what we've picked for the strip of the year. You can check out our store and you could go our Patreon where you could maybe buy us a cup of coffee. Go to our store and maybe buy one of our books because we're cartoonists too. We're probably not as good as Mr. Schulz, but we do all right. Other than that, thank you for listening. Can't wait to talk to you again next week when we go back into the world of Peanuts.

Until then, for Michael and Harold, this is Jimmy, be of good cheer.

Harold and Michael: Yes. Be of good cheer.

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 @unpackpeanuts on Instagram and Twitter. For more about Jimmy, Michael, and Harold, visit Have a wonderful day, and thanks for listening.

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