Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. It's a very special day here on Unpacking Peanuts. One of the things really wanted to do when we started this podcast was just get to talk to as many cartoonists as possible. And I love that I get to talk to people that I've never met before, but who I have admired for years and years, and that's the case today. We have a guest. It is Ivan Brunetti. Ivan is a world renowned cartoonist. His autobiographical comic book series Schizo first appeared in 1994 and was later collected as the book Misery Loves Comedy. He has produced two collections of Gag cartoons, and his brilliant nonfiction book, Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, won a 2012 Eisner Award. His second nonfiction book, Aesthetics: A Memoir, appeared the following year. His illustration work has been seen in places like The New Yorker, and he is currently writing children's books for TOON Books, including the upcoming Shapes and Shapes. Ivan is also an associate professor at Columbia College, Chicago, where he teaches classes on comics, drawing, and design. Please welcome to Unpacking Peanuts, Ivan Brunetti.
Michael: Hey, Ivan.
Ivan: Thank you for having me.
Jimmy: Oh, thanks so much for being on the show. Great admirer for years and years. So it's thrilling that you're on the show with us. I just want to start out and kind of ask you, where were you and how old were you when Peanuts first collided with your life?
Ivan: yeah, great question. well, again, thank you for having me here. I didn't actually start reading Peanuts until my family moved to United States, which was in January 1976. And my cousins all had comic books. And, it was certainly being published in Italy, but not in any newspaper in the small town that I lived in. So it really was 1976 was the first time I encountered Peanuts, and I got obsessed with it very quickly. As soon as I could read English or even, maybe one of the ways I learned was just from reading all the comics that were around. And there was, luckily a public library just a block and a half away or two blocks, and they had a lot of Peanuts collections. And I just went through every single one that was at the library.
Jimmy: Did you have a favorite era at that time? Were there certain books, that you had access to that you gravitated to more often?
Ivan: Well, at first I couldn't really place, like, a chronology on it, but a lot of the ones that I really liked were probably, I would say, like, late 50s through the 1960s, when the characters were really, fully developed. But I was, really intrigued by some of the paperback collections. These are like, the small paperbacks, that were around at the time, some of them look really different, and those, I realized, were the very early ones. And I was maybe even more captivated by the drawings in those. Although I think, as far as reading them goes, the kind of mid 60s Charlie Brown, when he's in probably in fully depressed mode, kind of captivated me.
Jimmy: That's interesting that you say that the art in those early ones is something that spoke to you even more maybe, than the writing. What was it about the art in those early ones that made you think, oh, this is something special, or this really resonates with me?
Ivan: well, in the earlier ones, I think that kind of cartooning was more rooted in a classic kind of traditional style. And that would have immediately appealed to me because I was very familiar with, Disney comics. Having grown up in Italy, those were everywhere. So, those Disney characters and those comic books would reprint older stories in the newer collections. So, I think the proportions in the early strips with the big heads and the tiny bodies that may be connected to my love of cartooning. I also remember going to the library quite a bit and getting any book on animation or, history of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. There were a few books in the mid 70s that kind of celebrated those early Disney cartoons. So I think, that looked more familiar. But I love the calligraphy. Just the way he used the pen. It looks so fluid. but then in the later ones, hereally invented his own way of drawing. Like, I don't think anyone really drew like that before as he got into the sort of maybe the classic era, which I would say from the mid 50s, all through the I'm just saying classic, because that's classic for me. Those are the ones that really spoke to me. But I was reading it through when I discovered it. Then in the newspaper, I saw that there were newer strips, that were in the so eventually I pieced together a chronology of it, and you could see the drawing changing into something really idiosyncratic and personal. And of course, I love that too, but I love all the eras, even toward the end, where he had trouble, he had to hold his hand to get the pen to make the marks he wanted. It's still so unique, and I don't know any other cartoonists that pushed themselves so hard to just keep drawing, even though it was physically painful. And you could almost feel it in the drawing, because, the hand isn't as confident, but you also feel the work of it.
Jimmy: Yeah, I find those late strips really deeply moving, because he's so far beyond having to prove anything to anyone. He's so far beyond having to need to do it for any kind of financial reason. And he's just doing it because this is who he is and what he loves. I just find it amazing. I feel like almost a gift that he gives us those last ten years of the strip, when he didn't have to at all.
Ivan: He didn't have to, exactly. And he could have hired assistants at any multiple eras in his career. He could have gotten help to do it. And obviously, the strip, it just meant so much to him. It's sort of inseparable from him. And I'm sure he couldn't think of someone else drawing it, or even if he wrote the stories, the jokes, or whatever. Nobody else could really do it the way he would do it. In the volume of McSweeney's, that was a special comics issue. I think it's from 2004, 2005. My friend Chris Ware edited that. And there's some crumpled up little doodles that Schulz did on, it was, like, yellow legal pad paper, and he thrown them in the garbage, and I think they salvaged them. they're just little pencil sketches, and they're so beautiful. I mean, those are probably some of the last drawings he did on paper.
Jimmy: Now actually so that's interesting, because that's his process, was he would sit there with his little yellow legal pad and start to doodle until something occurred to him. And, one thing that we talk about a lot is how simple the art seems. But simple doesn't mean simplistic, and it certainly doesn't mean easy. So I was wondering if you could talk us through a little bit about your process, and then I want to get into, something you did in your book, about cartooning. So, can you tell us a little bit about your process, how it works today?
Ivan: such as it is, my process changes sometimes, but I always start with really cheap paper, like notebook paper or legal pads. And, I don't know if it's even drawing. I mean, I just have to keep my hand moving, and I make doodles, and I sort of doodle the same things over and over again, but eventually they start to go in unpredictable directions. And that's sort of the seed of an idea, usually. I can't have an idea in my head and then start drawing. They only come together from this process of making a lot of really kind of terrible drawings. I'm just, moving the pen around, and like I said, it's a lot of sort of repetitive movements. And I'll draw the same head over and over again, like, a hundred times, and then eventually, they just start to mutate and then the drawings, some idea starts to take shape. It's interesting because Schulz wrote about that in, an article he wrote for the Art Instruction School. It was reprinted in the Comics Journal, and then I reprinted it when I edited an anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories for Yale University. So I really love that essay. He talked about, how the ideas develop with you and the characters develop with you as you draw them. You can try to do it ahead of time, but it really only happens when you start drawing. And I found that to be true over and over and over again, even though maybe overly analytical, and I know I overthink things, but it always comes back to what Schulz said. Like, you can't get ahead of yourself.
Jimmy: yeah, absolutely. I always feel like the best cartooning, like the guys that work at the highest level, it's something that's being almost revealed to them at the same time that they're putting it on the paper, that's what's the difference between something that's at least striving to be art versus something that's just an entertainment story. It's a difficult place to put yourself sometimes because you can't do things necessarily on a deadline with that type of work. or maybe you can, I'm not sure. But it seems like that part the pre drawing, let's say the pre finished artwork stage, the longer it takes, sometimes the better the ultimate strip is. But it does mean that you're going to have less output, I assume, than some other people.
Ivan: Yeah, I'm sorry, I was going to say it varies. Sometimes you hit upon the thing right away, so it's not always that long a process. It just depends the state of mind and mood that you're in.
Michael: So Ivan, when you're doodling, are you working on developing characters or are you thinking more in terms of just the look?
Ivan: Well, I'm always interested in telling a story or telling a joke or what have you. My style in the last, ten years, I would say, has gotten really kind of geometric to the point of near abstraction. With the geometry, it's all kind of drafting tools, and it gets, much farther than the way I naturally draw, like in a notebook, where it's much more fluid and you can see my hand a lot more. And I don't know, I got into this way, of drawing that I'm actually trying to get out of now, where I'm trying to get it to be a little bit more organic. Because for a long time I was obsessed with getting a, really spontaneous looking line, which is what I love, especially those earlier Peanuts strips. And I was trying to perfect that, and I spent so much time on that, and then I don't know what happened. I think I had like a block for a while, and then when I came out of it, it was only through drawing really mechanically. and that became sort of my crutch for a while. And now I'm at a stage where I feel like I could go in either direction. I might have hit a wall with the, geometry aspect. So now I might, little by little, go back to a more organic and sort of loose and wobbly kind of drawing. In fact, that's what most people prefer, when I show them my work. And I think they're disappointed when they see the finished pieces. The sketches are always better. But to my mind, I just think they're so rough and imperfect. This is true of, I think, many artists where they sometimes don't see the they can't really judge their work accurately. And I'm probably one of them where, when I hand in a finished piece, it's just so different than the looser drawings I do. And then I think people are disappointed because why doesn't it look more like those loose drawings? But it's hard to be very consistent with looseness. And that's another genius aspect of Charles Schulz where he did find a way to do that. I think, toward the end he said, the last ten years of the script, he wasn't really fully penciling the strips. It's like he'd sort of block in the characters and then he could just do it straight with the ink. And to me, that's sort of like that's the ne plus ultra of cartooning.
Jimmy: Absolutely. Hey, I want to talk to you a little bit about, an exercise you talk about in your book Cartooning. And I'm assuming you've done this with your students now. and I was wondering what the results are. You know, one thing that Schulz can do is he can, turn a fairly complex or philosophical topic into something that basically anyone can understand. And in your book, you do a thing where you turn The Catcher in the Rye into a New Yorker cartoon, which is, I think, one of the most brilliant things.
Jimmy: And I'm doing this off the top of my head, but I think it's reduced down to just a little cartoon Holden Caulfield with his little hat on and he's just saying, Phonies. And it's so brilliant. Can you tell me how did you come up with that as an exercise and what is it like when you show that to students and how do they respond to it?
Ivan: that's a really good question, actually. I don't know if I've told this story before, but the very first time I taught a class ever, which was in 2003, so I'm trying to remember how old I was. In my mid thirties, thirty four? Thirty five? I didn't know what I was doing. Somebody asked me to teach a class. They'd, seen something of mine published in a local weekly paper and said, hey, you should teach cartooning. I used to work as a web designer, but really my job was training people how to, make websites. And I worked at a college where I went around the campus doing that. So one of the people just happened to be in charge of the adult education area. Convinced me to give it a-- didn't like I said I didn't know what I was doing. There's not a lot of cartooning books. Will Eisner did one, but I wanted to do one. I didn't want to do a book. I just, needed to keep notes, of what I was doing. So anyway, the very first class session, I just kind of improvised my way through that. And it might have been in the second class. I can't remember if it was the end of the first class, where I was panicking, like I'm out of material, and I was just trying to show how to structure a narrative. And I thought, well, let's just do something. Let's see how much you can pack into one panel. So that's really one of my big things, is, concision and making, sure every panel does as much as it can, and a lot of times, especially students, and I know when I was starting cartooning, I did this too, just focus on a character. It's kind of a very Western idea, too, like figure character, and then draw the character, and then there's background. And I don't like to think of it as background, where it's just a secondary thing. I think that's just as important. Just like when they make a film, the set design and everything tells part of the story. even the costumes or clothing characters wear. So I just said, let's try, doing a book or something, or a longer story. Let's see if we can actually do it shorter so we could pack things in. And, the students and again, it was an adult education class, so they were a little older. Most of them were in their late 20s, probably. And someone just said, because I think I asked, like, let's just pick a story we all know or a book we all know. And they all knew Catcher In the Rye And I said, sure, let's do that one. And, just like it shows in the book, we didn't get it on the first try, but little by little, we made a character. We thought about the posture, the action of the character. They're walking, their head is down. You've got to have the duck hunter's cap. You have to be able to see it's New York City in the background. you have to show that the character is isolated, so there's other characters that he's not interacting with. And then it just took a while to get it down to just one word. And, I think that was the first moment that I realized, like, I could probably do this for a living-- teaching. We just somehow did this and it came out pretty know. I think another time, years later, we did, The Great Gatsby, but that was a bunch of teachers and librarians and stuff. They were older. That turned out pretty well, too. But you can do that with almost any book. It'd be great to do it with Moby Dick or something.
Michael: I challenge you. How about Ulysses?
Ivan: I think it can be done. of course, you're not going to get everything, but the challenge is how much can you get in there so that people actually can recognize what it is. in the book, it tells you, goes through the whole exercise, but it'd be interesting to show it to people that didn't know and just saw the final panel, if they could guess the book. Obviously, you'd have to have an audience that's read a lot of books. Yeah. No, I think you could, I've done it with fairy tales, too, like Cinderella. I tried different things over the years. But the whole point of it is maximizing what you can get out of every mark you put on a page, so that everything is impactful and meaningful, has a purpose, as opposed to just noodling or showing off. Or like, “I can draw really well.” So I teach a lot of art, well, they're illustration majors, most of them. So they're, very locked into their drawing style. And it's all about showing off the things they've learned, in terms of facility, and things like that. And I'm always trying to pull it back a little bit. It's not about showing off how cool your drawing is. Cartooning, comics, visual storytelling is primarily about moving whatever it is along, whether it's a narrative or it's an abstract poem. It's just having purpose for every mark. And again, you could see the impact of Schulz on the way I draw. And I think pretty much I owe my entire life to him. It's sort of like, there's nothing extraneous in there. He got it to a point where the only things you see in there are the things you need to see, and those are the top level. Cartoonists get to that and it becomes intuitive, this kind of editing process. And that's not to say that only minimalist strips are good. You could have, the exact opposite, where there's so much detail, but it should add something to what you're doing that has like, every mark that a cartoonist makes, gives a sense of tone and mood and, even things beyond telling a story. Just a feel of maybe even what it's like to be that artist and how they see the world. And then for a little bit, as you're flipping through the pages, you are kind of in that artist's head. So it's decisions. It's not that there's a right decision and a wrong decision. It's just that as one learns to do this, you just think about, well, everything you're doing has some kind of purpose, in terms of visual storytelling and whatever it might be. So whether you draw, loose, or really tight or densely detailed or minimalistically, it creates a particular identity and feel for the comic. And I think that's why when you flip through a lot of them, even though there's, of course, a lot of derivative work, but everyone kind of has their own indescribable, some essence is always in there that makes it unique to that person. Whether it's how they break down the panels or how much detail is in the panels. It could be anything, but it's almost like seeing everyone's handwriting. That's one of the exciting things about comics for me.
Jimmy: Yeah, it always amazes me. You could spend $250,000,000 to make a movie with all the CGI in the world, and every one of them looks the same. But if you just have a piece of paper and a ballpoint pen, every cartoonist makes something that's totally unique and different. And I just think that's such a strength of the medium. One thing I want to talk to you about. So you have a new book coming out called Shapes and Shapes. It's from TOON Books, which is a children's publisher, Françoise Mouly, right, and Art Spiegelman originally started it. And you started out doing very adult work. What's it been like to transition to doing, comics for kids?
Ivan: Well, I didn't think I could do it. And, I also have older things I did close to 30 years ago hang over me like a spectre of death. That's where my head was at the time, and that's the work I had to make. It's some sort of personal healing process for me, but I don't know if it was beneficial for others. but actually, I did a couple of cartoons for Nickelodeon, over the years. This is quite a long time ago, and I was able to do that. I thought, well, it's actually a challenge to make little kids laugh because you can't rely on all the, adult neuroses you've developed and how I interact with other people. A lot of my humor is pretty verbal in terms of, just even when I'm having a conversation. it was just a great lesson in cartooning. Françoise, I've been working with her, and, she's the publisher of TOON Books, Art Spiegelman did some titles for them. But it's mostly Françoise. She's pretty much the person that spearheaded the whole project. I think there was an issue of their Raw magazine that was for kids. Well, they both had-- Art Spiegelman, and Françoise had this idea that we have to get kids into comics, otherwise this art form is going to die out. So there's a real philosophical mission to TOON books and a responsibility. I've been submitting images for The New Yorker since Françoise edits the covers for that magazine. And, I just wasn't getting any good ideas. But I was drawing little kids over and over again in playgrounds and in classrooms, trying to come up with jokes. And then she just said, you know, you should do a book for TOON since that's her other project. And I said, well, I've never really done a kids comic and sure, you can do it. She has this way of, convincing me that I can do things that I convinced myself I cannot do.
Jimmy: the sign of a great editor.
Ivan: Yeah, she is, the best editor, I would say. And, I just said I need something to bounce off of if you could throw some ideas of what kind of things would be appropriate. And she had a list of topics and one of them was compound words. And somehow that one popped out to me. I said, okay, that one will work. And luckily we had a really tight deadline so it forced me not to procrastinate. I just had to work on it. I kept it pretty simple. It's sort of mostly in one location. Having learned, the English language when I was eight years old and nine years old and maybe I'm still learning it the idea of playing with words seemed kind of like it might be fun to do as, trying to turn that into a story because I do do that in my own head. And one of the ways I learned English was I would just read the dictionary. I still sometimes do that. I just, fascinated by words and language and how things translate. I don't know if the process was really kind of Schulz's recommendation. It was sort of just start making a story. Like, I made up a character and then because the character had to be in a school I had to draw other characters and then they kind of take on their own life. And I had to draw a teacher because the idea I had was that it was a homework assignment and you have to draw settings. and then I thought, well, we should have the main character go home. And so I had to think what's her family like? And it was just sort of not overly thought out, like, well, maybe she has a little brother. And I have to draw a dining room table. There's an empty spot, so let's put a little kid there. And here's the parents. They sit here and I fill up a page. And then they sort of started taking on personalities because, even in the thumbnail stage these characters you're drawing have to do something. They have to say something. And, you're just kind of trying to move a story along but really without planning it too much. They kind of have their own personality. And then now that I've worked with these characters this is the third book. Interestingly, the other characters that were just sort of there to fill up space in the classroom or the playground, they have kind of distinct personalities in my mind now. even though I haven't really given any of them names, I know there are certain things like this kid would do and this kid would not. I mean they're just drawings. But for some reason, I'm like, oh, no, this is this kind of kid, and that's this kind of this. And that's kind of what Schulz was saying. As you draw the characters, your ideas grow with them. Your characters, grow with you, and you develop who they are. And you could have a predetermined idea of who they are and what they do. But until you start drawing the comics, you don't know. And one thing that would happen quite often from teaching cartooning is I'd meet students that had this whole long text, almost like a binder full of here's all the characters, here's the world they're in, here's their relationship to each other. But I'm like, well, that's really great, but you need to start drawing this story and see how this until you draw it, this stuff is just really abstract. And then as you draw, you can't predict exactly what's going to happen as much as you might try to. And the drawing starts to go in their own direction too, because your hand starts getting ahead of your brain, which is, I think, another fun, and exciting thing about making cartoons.
Harold: Ivan, now that you've created that world, do you want to live in it more? Do you want to continue to tell stories with those characters?
Ivan: Yeah, actually, we're thinking about doing another one. This one hasn't even come out yet. I'm holding it. You can't see this. I'm just describing what I'm doing. I had it in front of me. And this book will be out in October and we're already discussing, like, hey, maybe we can do another one. And, the last one I did was sort of about math. And then this one is Shapes as sort of geometry. And maybe the next one will also involve, trying to turn math into something that kids would want to read about, just mathematical concepts. So the challenge
Jimmy: pick something simple for you to do there.
Michael: Something Sally would like.
Ivan: Yeah, exactly. I don't have a story yet. I just have some, topics like maybe it could be about these subjects. And it hasn't clicked yet. But this summer, I have a little bit of a break from my teaching work. And what I usually do is, I might write a quick, outline on a post-it note. Like, here's the basic thing. And then I try to do, thumbnails in a small notebook. I, draw really small too, so that I don't get lost in the drawing. And it's just little stick people and just trying to get a sense of, well, is this going to be 32 pages? If it is, what happens at the beginning, what happens in the middle, and often the end kind of changes in the process. Like, what I might have had in my mind isn't actually what ends up occurring. And there's a lot of back and forth with thumbnails and revising the script with, Françoise Mouly. And I also speak with Tucker Stone, who works at, TOON, and we try to really fine tune the story before I make the actual drawings. Because you have a limited space in a children's book, there's a particular number of pages that's sort of the maximum. and you have to make sure every page has a purpose and works toward what the book is about. If you don't do that, you're just going to be changing a lot of things at the end, and that's just more work. So I like to get it kind of hammered out pretty well, because then, in August, I'll go back to teaching and I don't have the whole week to work on it. So the more I have planned at that point, the more I can focus on the drawing. of course, as we work on it, we still make changes. so Françoise will come up, maybe with some good ideas or point out that some things that work well as a thumbnail don't work quite so well at the larger size. And you can only find that out again from drawing.
So that's the big takeaway here. If you want to be a cartoonist, honestly, all you have to do is draw. But it's the hardest thing in the world in some ways, but you can only learn by doing it. as much as I have a book on it, the book is just to give you starting points on how to find yourself. I think my cartooning book isn't even really about cartooning. It's about figuring out what you want to communicate as an artist. And cartooning is just one way of doing that. Of course, there's many ways of doing it, so I was writing to any person that is wanting to tell a story and using visual, techniques to do so. So it doesn't even have to be cartooning. I got a lot of insights into these things from the act of cartooning, so I was just hoping to share that with everyone.
Jimmy: Well, it is a brilliant book. And for everyone out there, if you got your Understanding Comics or you got your Comics and Sequential Art, this, deserves to be on the shelf next to it. Again, it's Cartooning Philosophy and Practice.
So, Ivan, can you tell us a little bit about the five strips you picked, from the run of Peanuts to discuss today? Because you went a unique way. So tell us why you chose the ones you chose.
Ivan: Well, I'm the kind of artist that has trouble starting things. That's the worst part for me. And then once I get going, once I start drawing, I feel like I get into the rhythm of it. And once I start something, I will finish it. But the problem is, I never truly start a lot of things. They're just sort of notes and rough sketches. But I never want to get the nice paper and start drawing. But I just thought about, well, let's look at something that lasted 50 years. And I'm sure, Charles Schulz was hoping that that would be the case, but there was no indication that that would be the case. Very few strips last that long. It's kind of inspiring just to see, well, how did he introduce these characters to the world? And it's also interesting that so much changed. It's sort of like nothing was really set in stone in the beginning, but you do see things that establish patterns. So it's kind of nice to see it from both directions that when you start drawing, nothing is set in stone. And it will probably change, but at the same time, the root of something is there. Maybe some of the superficial aspects, go by the wayside. So, I just thought it'd be interesting. This is the first week of this strip that ended up lasting basically the rest of Schulz's life working on this. But how did this get introduced to the world? These characters became part of our consciousness. It's kind of fascinating to just see, like, here's, the first five attempts to, have these, little drawings make an impact on people. So I find that interesting.
Jimmy: That's fantastic. Okay, so what we're going to do, we're going to take a break right now and what you guys are going to do, we're going to have to do it a little differently this time since it's the first five. So, of course, if you have the beautiful Fantagraphics Edition, you're just going to pull out volume one. But if you're reading along on GoComics.com, in this instance, the easiest thing for you to do is to go to Peanuts Begins and just hit that first strip button and you'll be there. So we will meet you guys on the other side of the break back in 1950.
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Jimmy: And we're back. Did you miss us? Because we missed you. We're all the way back here in 1950, the early part of October. And we are going to read with Mr. Ivan Brunetti, the first five Peanuts strips. So remember, you're on GoComics.com. Peanuts Begins first strip. Here we go.
October 2, 1950. Shermy and Patty are sitting on some steps out by the sidewalk. A little boy walks towards them. Shermy says, “well here comes old Charlie Brown.” In panel two. Charlie Brown walks past them as Shermy continues. “Good old Charlie Brown. Yes, sir. Good old Charlie Brown.” Then in panel four, his expression changes totally and he says, “how I hate him.”
Jimmy: Now. I say Shermy. But of course he is not named at this point but he is the character that will come to be known as Shermy. So Ivan, what do you see when you look at that?
Ivan: Well, I see that function follows form as Louise Sullivan said because the strip was one of the sort of post war era strips where newspapers got smaller. And so the challenge was to get comic strips into very tiny panels. So they took up less space on a newspaper page. And Schulz was maybe the first person to kind of take advantage of that there's it's so minimal. There's nothing extraneous in there. I mean, what do you need to establish the scene? A horizon line? We can tell there's grass and sidewalk and some steps and you don't need to see Charlie Brown in every-- you know you see him really small when he's in the background. In the second panel he's more in the foreground and then he kind of disappears. And we focus on the other characters, as yet unnamed Shermy and Patty. There's nothing drawn in here that doesn't need to be there. It's kind of just enough information that you have the setting, the characters, there's a sense of movement through space. I mean this is kind of a great lesson in cartooning and it also sets the tone for the entire strip because the whole thing is like what did Charlie Brown ever do to anybody? And for some reason he's just tormented by the other kids. Of course it's taken into much more complex territory as the strip goes on but you see the root of it here and also that Charlie Brown is just kind of happily walking which is another aspect of the strip that makes it work. That Charlie Brown has some kind of built in optimism or delusional aspect somehow that “I can fit in.” There's always hope, which is what makes him like a tragic character. I mean that's why he keeps trying to kick the football and he just never really learns that lesson of how cruel the world is. But if he did, then you wouldn't have a strip.
Jimmy: Absolutely. Here's something that we wonder about aloud from time to time. And I wonder what you think about. Look Schulz talks about the things he loved as a cartoon in cartoons when he was a boy and he talks about Krazy Kat and he talks about Popeye and stuff. But what do you think his visual influences are? I mean there's the New Yorker style gag cartoon. I guess, but so much of it seems unique to him, even at this stage.
Ivan: Yeah. Another cartoonist, Percy Crosby. I'm probably getting the name wrong today, but Skippy kind of had a loose line like that. It was another kid strip. I mean, he clearly took a lot from the cartoonist. That sort of a distinctive calligraphy, which in the 1920s and 30s, most of them did have, and they tended to work with dip pens, which he did as well. So it has a particular kind of line. it's fluid. A dip pen is fluid, but not as much as a brush. With a brush, you can make really long lines, and you could vary the thickness and the thinness of the line over kind of a pretty large space. And pens, they're kind of interesting because you can only work in short strokes. You can only kind of go as far as your wrist can go. And so the challenge is to get as much expression as you can out of it, at least for a lot of cartoonists. It was, I think, of course, there's cartoonists that don't work that way, and it's more about getting a mechanical line, but I think that's a later development. at this time, he grew up with these plastic strips that had a very distinctive sense of pen work.
Harold: Ivan, what do you think of, panels three and four with Shermy's mouth, where you kind of have that Picasso-esque profile nose and mouth, which he abandons later?
Ivan: Oh, as far as, where that came from, I'm not sure. But, I think, as the strip went on, I think I said earlier, it gets almost a little bit more abstract and idiosyncratic. And he's established these characters to such a point that he's even able to reduce detail that's not a filtrum under Shermy's nose. Connecting to his mouth sort of helps us understand the position of the face. But I think he realized, like, well, if I take that, like, I'm not really losing anything, and everyone can still tell what the character's expression is. And, interestingly, the only thing that might be an exception to this is Charlie Brown doesn't have the zigzag shirt yet. He just has plain, you know, looking at the strip, if he had the zigzag in the first panel, that would really be a problem. Again, like, if you remember that these strips are being reproduced kind of like the postage stamp size, the more detail you have that's clustered in a small space, it tends to kind of glob up as black. So he made a good graphic design choice there. In fact, probably in later strips, the characters aren't really that far in the background. So he's kind of figured out a way to always keep them pretty close to us. And we're right there with the characters kind of at their eye level.
Ivan: This one, we're moving through space in the earlier strips, he does experiment with that kind of thing. Like, he draws more elaborate backgrounds and movements through space, and then he gets a little kind of away from that for a while.
Jimmy: Yeah, it's interesting. We're up to 1972 in our rereadings of the strips, and it's fun to now see he's starting to put some of that back in. We're thinking maybe influenced a bit by the animation and the specials and stuff like that. It's wild to see how basically it evolved to the end, which is an incredible testament to him as an artist.
Ivan: Yes, he could have just decided to do the exact same thing over and over again, but then that's, probably a horrible way to spend your life. This strip meant everything to him. So it just developed with him. As he changed, it changed, and he went through a lot of different things in his life. I just love the calligraphy, I'll call it. You know, Patty's hair, especially, that the side, it's just this little mark that goes from thin to thick and back to thin. And to me, that is the essence of cartooning. And Schulz did talk about that in a speech he made to the National Cartoonist Society, where he mentioned for him it was drawing Linus's head and just describing the way the pen, would follow the curve of his head and as it reaches the neck. And just that movement, which he got to, almost a science, but he was still excited about it, like when he made that mark and it came out right, the movement of his hand went just so, and it sort of makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. And if you don't have that, my thing is, why are you wasting our time? Because I don't get it otherwise. You have to get that moment. If you don't care about it, why should we care about it? So the fact that he was still, after 20 plus years of drawing that line, still excited when it came out right to me, you could never lose that.
Harold: Do you see a UPA style? Because we were talking about this. I mean, I see it a little bit in Charlie Brown's arms. in the second panel. It's kind of hard to describe, but UPA was kind of pushing the boundaries of popular cartooning in the animation department. And we had a discussion when Schroeder was introduced a couple years later that there was this strong Gerald McBoing Boing vibe to him, in terms of his design.
Ivan: I hadn't thought about that. I mean, I think, Gerald McBoing Boing is also 1950. I'd have to look it up. But by the time Schroeder is a little later so yes, they would have already put out a few cartoons. So it might have had an influence. I mean, UPA kind of made everybody rethink a lot of things.
Jimmy: Yeah. All right.
October 3, 1950. A little girl, Patty, is happily walking down the street in panels one and two. She says to herself, “Little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice.” Then in panel three, she whop punches a little boy right in the eye, giving him a black eye, possibly it's Charlie Brown, possibly not. Then Patty continues to walk, saying “that's what little girls are made of.”
Ivan: What's great about these first five is there's a strong rhythmic sense to them. I mean, if he really did play with that, I think one of the keys to his humor is finding the music of-- I mean, even in the first strip, that you need that repetition of good old Charlie Brown. It's almost like a musical line. And then you get that like clunk-- or not clunk, plunk on the keys, how I hate him. And you don't expect that like the whole hand hitting the piano really hard. And in this one he kind of varies it a bit because the slamming of the hand on the piano happens in the third panel. And so it's sort of a different rhythmic structure to it. But it again plays with repetition. Or the first one is more like repetition. And then the second one he uses what is that? A nursery rhyme or song kids know? And he introduces this unexpected third panel where it goes out of the rhythm and then it comes back to it. But the context has totally changed because of course that's what little girls are made of and doesn't mean the same thing you would have assumed from the third panel. So he's really playing with what can you do in four panels. And there is a music to the four panel comic strip. And I think that's one of the other genius aspects as the strip developed. One thing people talk about is the joke often is in the third panel, sometimes in the second panel even. And then he would just sort of continue the awkwardness of the situation. And I think that he was sort of creating his own music for the four panel strip. And it's been absorbed so thoroughly by every cartoonist ever since that we don't notice anymore that we're all using that. But before Schulz, you didn't have that. In fact, you can look through a lot of strips and it's sort of like well, most cartoonists would have ended it at panel three. And yet he keeps it going into panel four. And that created a different kind of not only rhythm, but just mood and tone to the whole strip. And it also added that kind of melancholy aspect that it has that most other strips never get to.
Jimmy: Yeah, he talks about how he would try to eschew using his first thought or his second thought as the joke for the strip. And I wonder if that's what leads him to put the joke in a different panel because the joke came out of his head and he thought oh, that's really good, but it's sort of ordinary. But then the fact, like you say, that he continues it on and adds another level. whether it's irony or pathos or whatever on top of it, that's what takes it to that next level.
Ivan: Oh definitely. And I mean he even said he wanted to get away from just kind of the simple gag. He could have done that. I mean he knew enough about cartooning, but he was after something deeper, I think, just from the very beginning.
Jimmy: Oh absolutely. I mean these both are beautifully drawn and they're very funny jokes, but they're also like sly observations about real people and real things. It's so far beyond just a slapstick strip.
Ivan: Oh yeah, there's like the everyday cruelty that is there? It's sort of of children and he comes back to that theme all the time of how the actual way kids interact with each other. And it's not always I mean in fact, I'm thinking of with these first two. There's a later kind of Sunday strip where Charlie Brown is humiliated and mocked by all the other kids. And he comes home and he turns on the radio and it says something like now you know, the beautiful sound of children laughing. And he kicks the radio. And you can see the root of that even in just these two strips.
Harold: From a cartoonist standpoint, what do you think of his choice of having Patty facing left as she's walking? So we get to the point when she hits the boy in the third panel. We see him falling backward, then we see his black eye, then if we're going left to right, then we see the question mark over his head, the little sign of the hit, and then we see her following through on it, which I think a lot of cartoonists would flip that right? So that we'd see it in the order of her hitting him, and then we see the black eye. Why do you think he made that choice?
Ivan: I don't know. to me it looks good the way it is. So it might have just that this looks good, but he's got the same again, there's that rhythmic and repetition aspect going. Panels one, two, four and I think a lot of cartooning really is functional, but there's beauty in function. And this is the most effective graphic way for panel three. She just turns a little bit so you can really get the sense of her arm hitting the kid. And there's the central kind of sound effect. To me, it makes sense to such a degree that I can't imagine it any other way.
Jimmy: There's also something about her being confrontational. she's going against the way you're and she's a confrontational person.
Harold: I think there's something to that also, what do you think about the idea that there's two of her on each side of the boy? The way he's drawn it, if he had done it the other way around, you wouldn't have that symmetry of her with her shirt.
Ivan: I see what you're saying,
Liz: but she's right handed.
Jimmy: That's why I will tell you this. the thing that sells this to me as a joke or maybe is not the thing that sells. Maybe it's the cherry on top of the sundae is the drawing of the kid getting whopped in the eye. He's not screaming in horror. He's not completely flying. this probably happens to this kid two, three times a week, and he's just wondering, what now? What was this particular belt for? I just think that is hilarious.
Ivan: Exactly. It's just the everyday horror of-- you know, you just get hit for no, if he did make, yes, the natural reading order is to go from left to right, at least in our culture. so, yes, Patty could have been walking toward the right, but then when you end up with the little boy, he's kind of on the right edge of the third panel, as opposed to the left edge. And I think that actually does affect the rhythm of it. You need an extra space. And in comics, space and time are kind of completely interconnected, just like in life. Having Patty on the right hand side of that third panel, it's like an extra little moment, a little beat, so that we don't have the abrupt the kid gets hit and then right away gets a Patty, saying that's what little girls are made of by him being on the left-- interestingly, I mean there's so many strange, things about comics, like, intuitively, we should see Patty throw the punch, hear the sound effect, and the kid reacts. And getting a black eye, and we would go left to right. But what happens there is it reads totally differently. I'm imagining it, where it's too abrupt then to go from the third panel to the fourth panel. So having the kid be on the left hand side in the third panel, the boy that gets hit, it's just that little microsecond of, breathing space. Because we're very surprised, right. The first two panels, the little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. POW. And we're also shocked as the audience seeing that. And we need that little bit of breathing room. Again, it could have been funny. Just if you think about it as being a slapstick comic, you just need those three panels, in a sense. But then he brings it back with reinforcing. Then she goes right back to normal again, this is what you said. It's an everyday occurrence. Strangely, that's the funnier part of it, is that it's sort of like, well, that's just what happens, and then I move on. I hit the kid. you're getting into sort of the tragic aspect of Peanuts, even in this strip you see it.
Jimmy: Absolutely. Speaking of seeing things here on October 4, your best bet is to be reading along with us. I will do my best to describe it.
In panel one, we see a cute little puppy. The dog soon to be named Snoopy, and he has a very large daisy tucked in his collar. Panel two, he's walking along the road or on the sidewalk, rather. And there's Patty, who is watering some other daisies in her flower box outside the window. In panel three, she continues to water the flower on Snoopy, which, makes him question what's going on? And then in panel four, we just see sad little Snoopy with the flower now wilted because Patty overwatered it.
Ivan: Yeah, this one seems, maybe less sophisticated, in a sense, than the first two, or less kind of out, of the ordinary. It's kind of a little slapstick gag. But I think what makes this one interesting is that Patty is not in the fourth panel. This act, this thoughtless act occurs in panel three and she-- I think maybe, another cartoonist might have had Patty's reaction shot there of, like, either laughing or surprised or sorry. And instead, she just leaves. She doesn't even know she's done it. She just left and, goes about her day. And Snoopy is left in this panel sort of feeling dejected. but I think what makes this one interesting is that we don't see Patty at all. She's just left. And you could have added her in there for an extra little bit of kind of enhancing the sort of physical humor of it. Or, like I said, she could have had any number of reactions. But the fact that she's not there sort of like this emptiness. Again, there's this existential aspect to it all.
I'm reminded of I have this seven-page handbook on cartooning that was done by a Disney artist. And this little handbook, it's a seven-page little thing that one of a Disney artist sent to a fan, like how to do cartooning. And there's a panel, where it talks about staging and how you want to get close up on, some kind of dramatic thing happening. Because if you have a wide shot from far away, it lessens the impact. So I think it's Goofy is playing tennis, and he falls over the net, or he trips on the net. And so it just shows, like, the most effective way to do that is you go close in and you see Goofy fall, and then it shows the next panel. Here's what it would look like if you didn't do that. And it's a really wide, shot or far away view. Right. And it's the most tragic panel I've ever seen. It's Goofy tripping over the tennis net. But you see everyone around him in this big wide shot. So it's this small event. It's sort of like if a Goofy falls on a tennis court, does anyone hear it? And I thought, I kind of like that panel better. And it's sort of like that's kind of Schulz's approach sometimes, where it's sort of like counterintuitive to heighten a different kind of feel. I mean, it reminds me of, there's a Bruegel painting where, it's called The Fall of Icarus or something. And, it just looks like people farming in the 1500s. And then off in a corner, there's Icarus, and you see his legs are splashed into the sea. He's fallen from the sky, and it's like nothing right. People are just going about their day, and this mythological hero, there he is. He's way off in a corner. You can barely see. mean, it's always made that painting have a little bit of a humor for me. But it's also like sort of the tragedy. It's an everyday thing. And I think Schulz really captures that these things are just everyday cruelties. We all experience or know in this panel. Patty's not trying to do anything, right? But then she just goes her way and, then you have a dog with a wet--
Michael: One thing I find interesting about this is it seems like from the beginning, it's a suburban strip. And this seems very urban, even though you don't see much.
Ivan: Yeah, there's probably not enough context other than there's a brick wall, so it's just the building. you're right. I mean, we probably would interpret these areas as being sparsely populated, especially from the first two. But the third one, it could almost be anywhere. There's buildings everywhere, but maybe the bricks, indicate something like an apartment.
Jimmy: Yeah, rather than like a sided house, which is what you normally see later in the strip.
Harold: It's interesting that this really is all about how the dog feels. It's not that it's funny that he got water on him. It's that he's disappointed. I mean, you feel for the character, which is what Schulz seems to be so good at. And, I'm looking at this also from that silent comedian perspective, where Buster Keaton would try to get everything in that one long shot. So the comedy is unbroken by the choice of cuts, and I kind of see that here as well. And the other thing I noticed was that same thing where Snoopy's going, right to left instead of left to right. And it does seem to create a different feel when he's going against the grain of the reading.
Ivan: I think a lot of it is, just kind of intuitive. You could flip it. I mean, I'd have to do it to see what it would really look like and read like. And I don't know, maybe when he doodled it, he just figured out it actually works better this way. It kind of delays the water pouring. if you're flipped the other way, then the water being poured on his head happens that microsecond sooner. And then, the question mark would have to be also probably on the left, and then the question mark would happen before he gets wet. So it could have just been again, just functionally. That question mark needs to be on the right, so it just makes more sense to not cloud the panel there.
Jimmy: Just going back to the urban thing, I think the fact that there's the window flower box and no lawn is what makes it actually feel urban for some reason. Yeah. Very strange.
Ivan: Yeah. If it was the 1400s, somebody would have been emptying their commode onto the side.
Michael: We did discuss early on that there weren't a lot of suburban strips.
Ivan: Yeah, it's interesting because, he grew up in I mean, it was the city, but he wasn't, like, in a tenement house or anything. I walked around a little bit in the neighborhood, that he grew up in, and it's sort of like the neighborhood I lived in when my family moved to the United States. It was just kind of an industrial corner of Chicago, and it was very residential. We were very far from the center of the city, and I thought, this just kind of looks like where I grew up. It's sort of nondescript, and it could either be the edge of a city or a suburb. It's definitely not, urban, like something like Popeye, the animated cartoons especially, where they're always, like, on these docks with garbage everywhere and stuff.
October 5. Oh, here's one. This is one for the ages. It's a rainy day. Patty, with a scowl on her face, is tromping through it. She says to herself, “rain, rain, rain, rain.” Panel two, a very happy Shermy who has thought ahead and is carrying an umbrella, is walking in Patty's direction. In panel three, we see that now it is Patty who has the umbrella and a smile on her face. And in panel four, we see Shermy now continuing to walk without his umbrella, a scowl on his face, saying, “rain, rain, rain, rain.”
Michael: Shermometer time
Jimmy: We did a thing where we tried to identify a character trait for Shermy every year to see exactly how complex a character he became. We did pretty good. He ended up with a good little run of personality traits. All right, talk to me about this one, because I think this one's up in the pantheon of great comic strips.
Ivan: Well, Schulz must have struggled with the same question, where, it's sort of like, I don't know what Shermy is adding to these stories. He doesn't have a super clearly defined role in the dynamic or the ecosystem of know. It's just sort of like an extra character. When people think about the strip, they don't think about, like, oh, yeah, Shermy's personality.
Jimmy: But what's weird here on whatever we are Day four, we've seen him more than we've seen Charlie Brown. Right. I think you could look at this first year, and there's an alternate universe version of Peanuts, where it's a romance strip between Patty and Shermy and Charlie Brown's, like the third wheel foil of it.
Ivan: That could be an interesting, reboot or retake on it.
Jimmy: Well, it's with my agent.
Ivan: what is it? Just an alternate universe version of it. So yeah, it's also another interesting thing I wanted to mention. We've really only seen Charlie Brown once in the first week, because in that second, cartoon, I don't think that’s Charlie Brown. He doesn’t have the he doesn't have the squiggly hair. So here this famous strip has so far, like, one character who's never introduced again in the second strip, and we have Patty and Shermy, and clearly they seem to be the stars, and Snoopy starting to become a star. And that's the impression you might get from the first week you're reading this comic. And of course, it goes in a whole different direction, where Patty also never quite distinguishes herself. Patty and Violet, sometimes they could be the same person, or they're just sort of like reinforcing each. You, know, you get the impression, as you said, this is a strip about Shermy and Patty.
So there's a genius cartooning, move right in the center here, and it happens in between panels two and three. And, our mind has to fill in what just happened there. And that, again, is one of the essences, of cartooning. And it's all about rhythm. Again. I mean, rain, rain, rain and repetition. He uses those kind of ideas throughout the strip, like the playing with repetition. And you can think about certain runs of the strip where it's not that he beats an idea to the ground, but he will take it as far as it needs to, like Snoopy dancing and annoying Lucy. It'll just keep going and going. He just wanted to push everything to the limit. And you start to see that with the sort of playing with the repetition of words here. But for us to make sense of this cartoon, it's actually pretty sophisticated. You have one character walking toward the right, another character walking toward the left. At this point, we're just thinking they're walking toward each other. And in the third panel, we only see Patty, and it's actually quite a bit of narrative that went on here. We don't see what happened. Was it a forceful struggle to get this umbrella? Did she just grab it as blithely as she punched that kid in the face? It's like, we have to fill in what happened there, but all we really need to know is, and again, this is one that could have ended in the third panel, because that's the gag, basically, she took it away from him. But then again, there's that kind, of almost existential mood, like where we see Shermy again. I mean, it does give the strip better visual symmetry to see him again, but then being able to use rain, rain, rain. Now, it's not the, introduction of the joke, but it becomes the finale of the joke. So it adds another joke to the third panel because you didn't even need to see that we get it. Shermy's probably mad. And again, it's the distinctive kind of, rhythm that Peanuts has.
Jimmy: Well, the confidence you have to have as a cartoonist to draw what was undoubtedly a beautiful drawing, I'm thinking of those Charlie Brown on the pitcher's mound in the rain strips and then scribble essentially over top of it, but scribble so deliberately and so beautifully that you're right, you feel the rain. It's not just like a nice visual representation that you kind of grok as rain.
Harold: You feel it. I love the way he suggests the edge of the sidewalk with the way he does. There's a little more concentration of rain on the edges of that.
Jimmy: Yeah, the hazy shapes that almost form out of it. it's great.
Ivan: Again, what doesn't need to be there, it would be very intrusive would be the horizon line or the sidewalk line, where then it kind of fights against the beauty of those diagonal strokes. And, he just realized, like, now this is going to look bad. Let's get rid of that. And you can easily suggest it just through the density of the hatching. And, it actually is closer to life because the edges get blurred when there's this, heavy rain. We don't see things as sharply, and so it's actually more realistic in a sense. I love that, just in the very first week, he started doing this thing with just the marks on the page are so beautiful. And he explored that over the decades as fully as, any cartoonist could. And I just always love the way he drew the rain. And like I said, if I could do that, I feel like my life would be complete.
Michael: How about the shadow? Just right at the beginning, he's doing this thing where people are kind of floating. Is it expressed the fact that they're kind of bouncing along?
Ivan: I think so. I mean, if you put that line again, it's hard to really visualize what it would look like unless we Photoshopped it. I think it gets too intrusive, and then it almost starts to look like that's the sidewalk line. And so the sense of them moving is accentuated by them. It's like a little bounce. And I think that helps to sense the fluidity of movement, the character. It does add some grounding. You see, okay, there's a shadow there. They aren't really floating, but it's not so, aggressive that it grounds the characters too much because you do have to get a sense of movement here.
This whole script is based on these characters moving through space, the invisible confrontation, and we don't see what actually happened, and then they go right back to just moving along. cartooning is really a lot of little decisions like that that I don't think, especially like in the olden days of cartooning, it's not like cartoonists went to specifically, like, cartooning school all the time, or a lot of them didn't have really formal art training or theoretical kind of, frameworks for what they were doing. It's just intuitive good sense of design. And that's something Schulz also said. Good cartooning is good design. And in some ways, you either have that sensibility or you don't, because it's a million little decisions like that. And, if you sat there overthinking every one, you'd never get your first strip mean, by the time Schulz started drawing Peanuts, he'd been drawing a long time and sort of absorbed and he absorbed, as much as he could from the history of cartooning and took all the things he wanted from the cartoonist he admired. And you do have to do that for a long time. My, thing that I always say to students is you're going to have to draw 200 really bad pages before you draw a good right. And I mean, this isn't Schulz's, first rodeo with cartooning. He'd even been teaching before this, so he's done a lot of drawing to get to this point. You don't just start off making good design decisions where the composition works better, and you just know it does intuitively.
Harold: That's what I wanted to ask you, Ivan. Since both you and Schulz have been instructors for others who are doing art, what has your experience been of having to not only work through your own art, but you're working through the art of others to try to help them get to a better place? Have you found that that really enhances your own cartooning? Because you've got to think it through, not only the way you do it, but you're seeing it through the eyes of other artists?
Ivan: No. Just being honest. I'll tell you, the first few years of doing it. That was true. It was kind of exciting to try to put into words things that I'd sort of figured out and trying to share with others. And it did feel like, almost like, rediscovering what you're doing. And you get a lot of insights when you start teaching. And I think every teacher has talked about this. At some point, you're just repeating yourself over and over, and you start to have fewer insights, and it starts to become a grind at a later point. I mean, you could probably make a graph, and at some point, it kind of starts up pretty high, and then it goes low, and then it gets kind of to a middle plateau. And I really did burn out on it. Teaching cartooning and the last four years, just before the pandemic started, I decided to not teach cartooning anymore. I teach a history of illustration class. Mostly I teach history of Illustration and might, teach, like, history or graphic novels next year and moving more into lectures. I don't know. It gets away from you. It is exciting at first because you're almost rediscovering what made you excited about cartooning, because you're trying to convey that to others, but then you're just repeating so much.
And I'm getting older. The students don't want to work with ink on paper. For the most part, they're just on their iPads, which is great for them. They've grown up with it. But I have very little connection to that way of drawing. In fact, I sometimes get depressed. I remember this is pre pandemic. Like, we're in this beautiful classroom. There's these big windows that face like, I'm close to the lake here in Chicago, the building where I teach. And you're looking out west, like, huge windows, and you could see a lot of the city. Like, a lot of the landscape of Chicago is right there, and the sun's coming in the room. And then there's 20 students that they're back to the window, working on their iPad in a sort of five or six inch area. And I just asked, is this fun for you guys? Because it doesn't look fun to me. I don't know. It's fine. People use, especially artists that have already learned a lot about using other techniques and materials. It's a great tool. You can go a lot faster, especially if you're an illustrator or cartoonist. You can go way faster. You can fix mistakes easier. You can try different things. I see the benefit. I see the appeal of it, but it just doesn't excite me to draw on that little I like to have my drawing table. I like to feel my wrist moving across the page. I like to look out my window that's right in front of me. and it's just alien in a sense. it doesn't compute as well.
Jimmy: Well, I also worry about you talked about the calligraphy of, an individual cartoonist and how that's like, their handwriting and all. I feel like with so many parameters that can be controlled on an iPad, you're going to risk losing that. I mean, the example we were talking about not long ago, if Schulz worked on an iPad. the tremor thing could have gone away.
Ivan: It would have, right?
Jimmy: He could have just cranked up the control to nothing. But it wouldn't have been authentic. It wouldn't have been him. And that's what I worry about with the digital stuff.
Ivan: Something would have been lost. Something about the strip would have been lost because it would have become doing it by the numbers. In a sense, there was something about that struggle, which is one of the best things about working with traditional materials is you're kind of constantly battling the tools and the materials and the surface you're working on. And, you can't hit redo or undo so easily. And I think that's, something that appeals to me. But if I grew up in a different situation with completely different technology, this might just sound like complete insanity. And in fact, the iPad, the program people use on there, Procreate, it can imitate many different kinds of materials and tools. So it's very appealing. But also it doesn't really fit well with my personality. Because if you give me 5000 choices, I'll never even get down to making one, right? It's almost better if I'm limited. That's why when I am sketching, I use really bad paper or I buy a lot of kids materials as well, for doing things. Because it just limits, it's a constraint. I like the constraints. If, I go to a candy store, that's what the iPad is like to me. And there's like 5 million things, I'm going to buy too many of them and I'm going to get sick. Just give me a choice. Snickers, Butterfinger, Bit-O-Honey, just a few. And I know I probably just want the Snickers and maybe the Payday. Even my studio space. I use my attic and it has a big room and a little room. And when I first moved to this house, I thought, well, I guess I have to use the big room because that's what I should do. And I couldn't work in there.
Harold: I totally get that.
Ivan: And I overstuffed it. I need to feel like I'm hemmed in and closed and limited and then what can I do here? or maybe it's just like being in the womb. I don't know.
Harold: Yeah, well, I mean, you think about Schulz--and you say that he's got these four panels for years. It's always the same size, but he's like, thriving in this set of rules that have been laid down for him.
Ivan: Yeah, exactly. And there's different kind of like I'm describing myself. There's people that work in a whole different way. Probably most people work in a very different way. And, this is what I tell my students, or especially when I was teaching more studio-based courses, is there isn't like, a right way, wrong way, and they need to get that out of their heads. You need to find your own temperament and the things that work for you and the things that inspire you and keep making you draw something. Those are the things you want to cultivate, not ideas of, this is how it's supposed to be done. Right? So and so does it this way. So I should do it that way. Because every artist is different. And if they're not, then, what's the point? You want that variety. You want that unpredictability. Everyone's looking for something that any kind of art that, makes you feel something you haven't felt before, makes you think something you haven't thought before. So that can only come if we dig deeper into ourselves and let our weirdness and idiosyncrasies and just these things that are, whatever not right or not the way you're supposed to do it. The more those come out, the more interesting it comes out to me.
Jimmy: Absolutely. All right, that brings us to October 6, 1950.
Patty is watering a little flower in a little flower pot, and Snoopy, who is smiling, is sniffing it. in panel two, we see it grows just a little bit while Snoopy continues to sniff it. In the third panel, Snoopy now notices it has shot up quite a bit. And in the fourth panel, Snoopy, with a look of confusion, dismay, notices that now it is now twice as tall as he is and probably three times or four times as tall as it was when it started in panel one.
Ivan: Yeah, this one, it might seem like an anticlimactic strip in the sense of, well, this is more like just a gag. But what's interesting here is there's an element of Peanuts, and especially through the character Snoopy, of fantasy and surrealism. And I feel like this is the beginning of it right here. So if we go back to the end of the strip, and if we burrow down, like, through a drill core, like, where did this begin? It's like here it is on the fifth strip. The world of Snoopy is a separate world from a lot of the other things in-- I mean, his dog house is magical. It has way more space on the inside than possibly be realistic. He sleeps on the edge of the roof, which makes no sense in real life. Has a Van Gogh. He's got a very active fantasy world. And sometimes it's fantasy, and other times, the Peanuts characters go inside the doghouse and see his wealth and riches that he's acquired. It's the one place where fantasy really comes in. And I think that's something that was important to Schulz. Like, he was obviously a very internal person, as every internal person has a rich inner world. And a rich inner life that they don't always get to express, especially when you're younger. Like, you probably just get made fun of. And, he went through World War II. it was like a brutal reality that he had to go through in life. But he also had a sense of, to call it whimsy, but like, fantasy. And Snoopy was a way he could live out, like a fantasy version of himself. And in this strip, you see that the humor is not real, right? I mean, there's no flower that can grow that fast just from the breath of the dog's nose. But in the world of Snoopy, that does make it makes a sort of sense because we sort of suspend disbelief a lot more when we're in Snoopy's world.
Jimmy: Well, here's my crazy take on this. And, when anyone asks me who my favorite Peanuts character is, I say Charles Schulz. And when I see something like this, I see Schulz playing with us. Where could a flower grow four times of its height in four panels? Well, in a comic strip. And who controls the comic strip? The cartoonist. Right? And there's time and again, sort of separate from Snoopy's fantasy world, like the flying ace or whatever. There are these things that happen that can't happen. And to me, that's Schulz's hand, right in the strip.
Ivan: Oh yeah. I mean, in like, Snoopy stops being a real dog very soon. Right. He's walking on all fours. I forget which year that happens. and every character in some way is a part of, you know, some of them fell by the wayside because he wasn't really expressing himself through them anymore. And then he found new characters. And his strip changes, too. Like, sometimes he's definitely more into Snoopy, sometimes he's more into the Charlie Brown or Linus, or later Rerun becomes almost like a stand in for him. It's interesting that he allowed the strip to reflect where he was at that time. Sort of like the strip meets Schulz where he is.
Jimmy: Absolutely. And if we're smart readers, we do the same thing. Ivan, thank you so much for, being a part of this and coming on our show. it means the world to us that we get to talk to such world class cartoonists as yourself. So thank you.
Ivan: Well, thank you. I mean, I'm honored to be a part of this, and thank you for the kind words. Really appreciate it.
Jimmy: So your new book, Shapes and Shapes, is coming out in October. Is there any other place people can find you online or anything like that?
Ivan: Well, I did build a website like a year ago for myself. I caved in. And, I have an Instagram page, which you can find. It's @actuallyIvanBrunetti, because there's other Ivan Brunetti's out there. Not a common name, but there's several other ones. So @actuallyIvanBrunetti is my handle. And, I posted on last year, and Instagram kept banning me because it thought I was a bot, because I don't use my phone, I use a desktop computer and all this stuff, like you're following too many people, too quickly. What did I do? And it kept shutting down my account for a week or two at a time. And I thought, Why am I bothering? And then a, year went by, and I'm like, okay, I'm going to try it again, do it a little differently, try not to overthink it. And it's sort of like a little journal or diary of just whatever I'm working on instead.
Jimmy: Fantastic. All right, well, thank you again. And for you, guys out there, we're going to take a couple weeks off before we hit the back nine, as they say. So for Michael and Harold. This is Jimmy. Be of good cheer.
Michael and Harold: 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 UnpackPeanuts on Instagram and Twitter. UnpackingPeanuts on Facebook and YouTube. For more about Jimmy, Michael and Harold, visit unpackingpeanuts.com. Have a wonderful day and thanks for listening.
Ivan: Rain, rain, rain.