Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the show. It's Unpacking Peanuts, and today is a very, very special day. We get to talk about Charles Schulz. We love Charles Schulz. We get to visit, with other people, though, sometimes. And sometimes when we do that, they're new people. There are people that are just coming into our orbit. and sometimes, they're old members of the family. And that's what today is. It's a very special day here on Unpacking Peanuts.
And who am I? Well, I'm your host, Jimmy Gownley. I'm also the cartoonist of Amelia Rules, Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up, and the Dumbest Idea Ever.
Joining me, as always, are my pals, co hosts and fellow cartoonists. First off, he's a playwright and a composer, both for the band Complicated People, as well as for this podcast and the Amelia Rules musical. He's the co creator of the original comic book Price Guide, an original editor of Amelia Rules, and currently the creator of such great strips as Strange Attractors, A Gathering of Spells, and Tangled River, Michael Cohen.
Michael: hey there.
Jimmy: And he's an executive producer and writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a former vice president of Archie Comics, and he's currently the creator of the Instagram sensation Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: guys. We have a very special guest in the house today. Our guest is Mark Crilley. Mark is a cartoonist, author, and illustrator. His classic comic book series, Akiko, ran for more than 50 issues, FIFTY, 5-0, before spinning off into a series of ten illustrated prose books from a little publisher called Random House. He's also the creator of Miki Falls and Brody's Ghost. Mark is a wildly successful YouTuber and author of several how to books on the topics of manga, comics, and drawing in general. So, everyone, please welcome to Unpacking Peanuts, Mr. Mark Crilley.
Michael: Hey, Mark
Mark: thank you so much for having me here today. this is going to be a blast because there's nothing I love talking more about than comics and comic strips.
Jimmy: It just is so much fun. I also would like to add, Mark is also a great person to wander aimlessly around Las Vegas. Like you're in one of the lesser Hunter Thompson novels.
Mark: Yeah, it was funny how circumstances put the two of us, Jimmy, in Las Vegas that time. I'm the least Vegas man on earth.
Jimmy: So, Mark, talk to me about your origin story as a cartoonist. If and when Peanuts met, with your life, and how did it affect if it did affect your aspirations to be a cartoonist?
Mark: All right, well, I guess I'll start with my early childhood memories of, the Peanuts strip. And I did listen to the Will Hines episode and some of the other episodes, and I think for a lot of us, maybe of our age that those paperbacks, those paperback collections were a big part of how we dove headfirst into the world of Peanuts. And I remember sitting in the back of the car, reading over and over again, those paperback strips. And of course it was still running in the paper and I would see it periodically. Yeah, just was always hugely impressed with the depth and the drawing skill and the just hilarity on display year after year with that comic strip. And so when it came time for me to try to make it in the publishing world, I started with creating a comic book story. I was teaching English in Japan at the time, just a few years out of college. And I decided to make something that would be inspired by those old classic children's stories like The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. And I came up with this story called Akiko on the planet Smoo. or Akiko, you will hear me say sometimes the Japanese pronunciation. And yeah, I was 25 years old or so. I tried my best to make it publishable, like professional. It was only 33 pages long, but that was all it took. A couple of years later, I was able to pitch it to a number of different smaller comics publishers. And one of them, Sirius Entertainment, turned it into a series.
Michael: Did it ever catch on in Japan?
Mark: No, unfortunately the number of titles from America that are published in Japan. I mean it's a very select club. And if anyone in the comics world who breaks through and has a Japanese edition of their comic, hats off to them because they're in a very small circle. But I did eventually get one of my books published in Japan. It was called the Realism Challenge. And that was an instructional book on how to create photorealistic artwork.
Jimmy: Well, that's actually one of the things I wanted to bring up with you. You're someone who can literally, at least from the outside looking in, draw in any style you want. You have very cartoony styles. You have that Realism Challenge where it's indistinguishable from a photograph in some ways. can you talk about the different using those different types of styles within the context of creating comic and maybe the challenges and advantages of someone like Schulz would have and how you decide how a particular project is going to look?
Mark: Yeah, well it's interesting because I think that the Schulz approach and my approach to having a career are polar opposites. Not just in terms of how successful he was compared, but he's emblematic of the person who does and is able to do this one project and builds upon it year after year and perfects it, right? Whereas I'm the kind of person who keeps changing gears with each new project and to be honest. Sometimes it's in the spirit of, let's keep throwing things against the wall and see if one of these styles will work for me. You know what I mean? But the, other thing is that I'm just kind of restless as a creative person. I enjoy kind of starting all over again from the beginning with each new project. And yeah, when I was in college, I honed all those realism skills. And, in a way, it's sort of fun to be able to imagine people looking at one book that you've done and then saying, this is the same guy who did that cartoony thing. I sometimes envy, though, I got to say, people like Jeff Smith or Stan Sakai, people, who really perfect their style, and they've got this very single, instantly recognizable style. But unfortunately, my sort of spirit of constant churning change prevents me from being that kind of creator.
Jimmy: Well, it's inspiring to see, though, especially as an artist, I love seeing all those different styles. Let me just tell you a story real quickly. I met Stan Sakai once in my life, and I really like him. He's great. And, it was the first issue of Amelia Rules was out, right? And so he had not clearly not seen anything else I had ever done. And it was unlikely he had seen this. It had been out for like, two weeks. So I went over to his booth in San Diego, and I just introduced myself and handed him a copy of my book. And he starts raving about how wonderful I am, and on and on and on, and I'm just waiting for him to stop so I could say, you have the wrong person. And then we finally figured out he thought I was James Gurney.
Mark: Oh, my goodness. We should all be so lucky to be James Gurney.
Harold: Stan took a bunch of starving artists out to dinner, just randomly at a convention once. It was he was just a very generous, kind...
Mark: oh, yeah, he's the best. I was lucky to be on this trilogy tour thing. I don't know if you remember that Jimmy. Six different creators of us all going to the conventions together. But yeah, there's no kinder, soul on Earth than Stan Sakai.
Harold: Could I ask a question about being in Japan when you're young and you're teaching, what was the comics culture there like to you? Were you kind of seeking it out? Because it's just a huge thing. There's so much content coming out of there. Did you immerse yourself in that while you were there, or was it kind of on the radar?
Mark: I'd like to say that I became this devoted student of Japanese comics at that time, but I didn't really, it's sort of funny, the way I remember experiencing Japanese comics is that when you went to a Ramen restaurant and they didn't have seats yet, and you had to wait by the door. They would invariably have a little shelf there filled with manga for you to read while you wait for a seat to become available. And so I remember that was maybe my first time starting to flip through and admire, those styles. I think the thing that really impressed me, and still to this day, impresses me about the Japanese comic industry is the variety of possible types of story. So you can have a manga that is about fishing, for example, or cooking or bowling or something, and you're just sort of like in the 90s, when it was in America, was so dominated by superheroes that you're just like, this is unimaginable. You could never have it. Now things have changed happily, and I think that you can imagine the comic book about cooking or whatever now. But the Japanese were decades ahead of us in that regard, I think.
Harold: Yeah. and I also wanted to ask you, when you were in Japan, did you see any Peanuts there at the time? Was that at all in the culture that you could see, or was it.
Mark: Kind of absolutely a big part of the culture, but I would have to say, sort of like the product culture, right, of t shirts and toys and different stuff like that.
Harold: And Snoopy, does it have a different feel, that version of Peanuts had a different vibe to it, I guess, than, say, what you might have?
Mark: No. Well, I think it was very faithful licensed, designs and artwork. It's funny, now that you've asked this question, I'm trying to think of any specific examples. I just remember Snoopy. You would see Snoopy everywhere. And, just a little bit of a digression. When I was in Taiwan, which was before I went to Japan, there was, a young woman who was starting her own English school. Now, the copyright laws in Taiwan were very loosely enforced at that time. She literally called her school Snoopy English School, and she was using the artwork, everything anyway. But yeah, I mean, throughout the Far East, I think the Peanuts characters are wildly successful, I would imagine primarily as products, in a way more than the original strips.
Harold: So is it design, or like a feel of the character plus the design that you kind of…
Mark: I think it's the design. I think it's the adorableness, the cuteness, the kalai factor of Snoopy and like Beatrix Potter. You see all kinds of western things that are there as products, almost. And you could see, plates and cups and whole, sets of diningware emblazoned with the Peanuts characters and so forth.
Harold: Yeah, I've always been amazed at the quality of the Peanuts merchandise that's coming out of Asia. It's so much nicer than most of the things that I've seen in the States. I kind of wish more of it would get back over here.
Jimmy: Yeah, absolutely. So I want to talk a little bit about your YouTube channel, too. One of the things that blows my mind is just the level of quality of just artists in the world right now. Young people in particular, the level of craft that they have. And it's in part because of channels like your YouTube channel, really is as good an art-- When I think about what was available to me in the right growing up, compared to what is just available just on your channel, it's a true art education. Can you talk about what inspired you to do that? How did it become so successful? And just what has that meant for you as a creative person?
Mark: Well, first of all, thanks for your kind words. I can only hope that the videos have been that helpful in terms of teaching young artists around the world.
Jimmy: But I really what do you mean young artists? I think I watched one, like, I was, like, 38. Thanks, Mark.
Mark: Well, I'll tell you how I fell into it, and I remember this quite clearly. My daughter was, around one year old, and I was playing with her. And we had this digital camera that really looked like an old fashioned camera like we used to have. And my son said, he was only seven years old at the time, he said, if you turn this knob, you can shoot videos with this camera. And so he switched the knob. And suddenly I'm shooting a video of my daughter. I'm like, I didn't even realize I've got a digital video camera right here. And I was at the time, I was working on Miki Falls and it was about to come out. And I was like, I got to start hyping this series on my own because I don't think the publisher is going to be able to do too much. And I thought, well, I'll shoot a video showing what Miki Falls is going to look like and try to get people interested. And so I uploaded a video like that, and it got the usual sort of 10-15 views or whatever. And I kept adding more videos along those lines. And then one time I decided I'm going to shoot a video while I'm drawing, while I'm working on one of these Miki Falls illustrations. And that video got like 500 views or 1000 views or something. And I was like, oh, they like to be able to see me working on something, right? And that is how I started to slide down the slope into this drawing teacher role that I was one of those lucky people who got in there early. This was like the year 2007. YouTube was barely around more than a year, I think, at that time. And I got to be a bit of a big fish in a small pond. I think initially and the subscriber base grew incredibly quickly. And it was just a matter of keeping at it and trying to come up with new topics and new things to teach.
Jimmy: Although I will push back. It has nothing to do with you at the time. Being a big fish in a small-- the videos are incredible. They're incredible. And, I'm not sure it was on this podcast or on my old podcast where I said to people, just don't watch any instructional videos on YouTube except yours.
Mark: You're very kind. You're very kind. Well, I think people like you and I, we take this stuff seriously. And you've seen schlocky, how to draw books that are not helping anybody. And then that sticks in your brain. And you're like, no, this is serious. If you're going to put out information to, people out there, make sure it's good, solid information.
Jimmy: That reminds me, I was sitting on a panel I think it was a scholastic panel at San Diego. And it was like, they have a good roster of cartoonists. And the guy stood up and asked a question like, do any of you decide you might want to do something more serious someday? And you could just feel like eight people just their blood start to boil.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I remember, Scott McCloud had some sort of cartoon. I think it was in Understanding Comics, where he showed the two people at the bar and the one guy who's, like, drunk is saying, don't give me this comic book kind of stuff, man. The very words comic book had come to symbolize silly children's, unserious,stuff.
Jimmy: Absolutely true. but talking about serious children's silly stuff is also what, Peanuts is all about. So silly children's. Do I get that backwards? I try to, at the last second before we go into a break, play off of whatever the last thing said is. Sometimes there's just no net. Anyway, we're going to--
Harold: stuff serious children.
Jimmy: Serious silliness abounds on the other side of this break. We'll be right back.
VO: Hi, everyone. We all love listening to Jimmy describe what's going on in a Peanuts strip. But did you know that comics are actually a visual medium? That's right. You can see them anytime you want at gocomics.com or in your very own copy of The Complete Peanuts, available from Fantagraphics. Plus, if you sign up for our monthly newsletter, you'll know, in advance which strips we're talking about each week. Learn more about the great Peanuts reread @unpackingpeanuts.com.
Jimmy: And we're back. And not only are we back, we're back with Mark Crilley. And, Mark, we're going to go through your top picks. You have thought about this. We usually contact people three, four years in advance so they have serious time to think about what strips they are going to choose. But these are the ones you picked. So what I want to do is I'll just, read them and then we'll discuss them on the other side.
So if you guys want to follow along as we read Mark's picks, what you can do is you go to GoComics.com, and I'll announce the date before we read it. So you could just pause then and type that date in GoComics.com, Peanuts. You could follow along there and read along with us. Now, if you don't want to be a slacker doing this at the last minute and you want to get a little heads up ahead of time, what we're going to be covering, then you can go to unpackingPeanuts.com and you could sign up for our newsletter where my good friend and, co host, Mr. Howard Buchholz, will once a month send you, a newsletter telling you exactly what we're going to cover.
Harold: Yeah, it's at the top of the main unpackingpeanuts.com, web page. I think it says, Sign up for the great Peanuts reread. That'll get you the newsletter.
Jimmy: So, Mark, tell us, before we get into it, how did you choose these particular five strips?
Mark: Well, I guess I was thinking back, first of all, to strips that I remembered, the ones that really stuck in my mind. And there's at least, two of these strips, that fall into that category. And we're going to get to one of them pretty early on where I'm going to have to admit that I've chosen a strip that is representative of a whole series of types of strip that he did and that there's secretly another one that I just couldn't find it. And I'll reveal it when we get to that point. And then, yeah, I think basically, these were one of them. I think I chose because he had fun with Wordiness, which I think we usually think of great writing as less is more, and strip it down to the bare basics. But I've always got a kick out of when Schulz would allow himself to get a little wordy, in pursuit of the punchline. So, yeah, I suppose those were the different things that, got me to choose these particular strips. Oh.
Jimmy: Ah, fantastic. I can't wait to, get to it. Let's go.
May 26, 1952. Charlie Brown is reading a little book, and Lucy comes up with a question. She says, “Lucy wants a bread and budder sandwich.” Charlie Brown says “oh.” Then we cut to the kitchen where Charlie Brown is fixing the bread and butter sandwich, and he says to Lucy, “Is that enough butter for you?” Lucy says, “um hmm.” Then we go over to the little counter, and Charlie Brown is cutting the sandwich. This is very upsetting to Lucy, who yells, “don't cut it, don't cut it. Just fold it over.” Then she walks away smiling at her sandwich and saying, “they taste better just folded over.”
Michael: I like to say, congratulations on picking one of these really early ones, because they're really overlooked and definitely overshadowed by the later stuff. But they're really charming.
Mark: Well, thank you.
Michael: And the kids are really kids. I mean, Lucy's almost a baby at this point.
Mark: Yeah, I was about to say that, he really did begin having them as kids. And like the way she says bread and butter, B-U-D-D-E-R. Right. He was trying to even emulate the speech pattern.
Jimmy: and referring to herself in the third person.
Mark: Yeah. and so it is sort of interesting that he started clearly with the idea of these are kids, and we will find the humor in childhood, and then, little by little, they sort of become an interesting hybrid of child and adult.
Jimmy: actually, there is an important philosophical point, though, that is brought up in this strip, which is, do they taste better folded over or cut? I have a very strong opinion on this. I am Team Lucy.
Jimmy: Oh, absolutely.
Michael: What about grilled cheese sandwiches? should be cut in quarters.
Jimmy: That's communist talk. I don't have any--
Michael: They’re so much better if you cut them in four pieces.
Jimmy: This is how Unpacking Peanuts comes to an end. We can't reach agreement. What about you Harold? were you pro folded over?
Harold: Well, I think it's it's that sensitivity to the the flavor of stainless steel on that that knife, that butter knife cutting through the bread.
Mark: It's so subtle.
Harold: But you can just.
Michael: I've never had a peanut butter sandwich. That'll be on my tombstone.
Jimmy: that's amazing.
Michael: I wanted to have something special in my life.
Jimmy: Never had a peanut butter sandwich.
Harold: Never did I ever.
Mark: Well, yeah, there's something about this script that just stuck in my mind, and this is one of those ones that I would have read in the backseat of the car when my parents were driving me somewhere. And, it's just, to me, you're laughing at the passion of what seems like an illogical argument that Lucy is making, and yet we all, even in adulthood, sort of like yeah, I know what she means. You have your little preferences about things.
Jimmy: Yeah. It's just her thing. It doesn't matter if you can scientifically prove it tastes better. It's just her aesthetic experience of it.
Mark: Yeah. But, yeah, the characters, and I suppose we'll see a little of this as we go along, but these really are those super early versions of the characters. And, it's interesting how much and I think Charles Schulz allows us all to forgive ourselves a little for our characters gradually changing over time, because he showed that that's the way it goes. And you're a fool if you don't gradually, alter them and tweak them and get them to the state that you really prefer.
Michael: But Mark, do you think it was conscious on, Schulz's part to slowly morph their appearances? I don't even know if he noticed it.
Mark: Yeah, I don't know if he set, about doing it in such a conscious way, but surely he would have seen that it was changing and he didn't attempt to halt it, and turn the clock back. Do you guys know? Because I heard that he had to re-copyright Snoopy.
Jimmy: Yeah, we did discuss that at one point. Harold has some info, right? 1957- 58.
Harold: I'm sorry, I'm drawing a blank on this.
Jimmy: well, we were talking about when you see the licensed properties and stuff, and they would have yeah, it's new with two separate copies.
Harold: It's kind of weird that they even did the copyright thing, because normally that would be a trademark. You don't take a but you could send in a model sheet to the copyright office. And, I don't know if that's what United Feature was thinking when they put those dates on there, as it's referring to a copyright of a model sheet. And so when Snoopy became more banana nose, maybe it was so far off of whatever they had sent in. This is just conjecture on my part. Maybe they had to send in a new one so that they felt they were covered. But yeah, it's unusual. I've never seen on any other cartoon character that when you have a T shirt or a trash can or whatever that has the Peanuts characters, they used to put those copyrights I don't think they don't do it anymore, but for years they would do that. And it's very unique to Peanuts, as far as I know.
Mark: Well, in any case, I do think it's helpful for cartoonists who are worried about consistency and feel embarrassed about, oh, boy, my character doesn't look the way-- I had this character Spuckler that I drew a certain way at the beginning of the Akiko series. And he changed drastically over time. And I think somewhere in the back of my mind was, well, Charles Schulz allowed his characters to change, so this makes me a genius like Charles Schulz.
Harold: That's right.
Harold: Did you notice that process? Was there a moment where it's like, I'm going to change him. I'm going to change him again? Or was you were you just noticing that he was changing and you were fine with it?
Mark: I think it just happens naturally. And in a way, I would almost argue that the characters that don't change at all, that that is the you know, I don't want to say unnatural, but that's that is exceptional consistency and very impressive to me that, a person could, continue a strip over the course of years and have those characters not change at least a little.
Jimmy: Although one thing I find strange about that, and I don't know if this is just my prejudice that I'm applying to it, it probably is, but it seems like those strips are also stagnant thematically, and in regards to their storytelling and their humor, as well as the art, because I think they're searching for an immaculate consistency.
Harold: Can you think of some strips that had that level that I don't want.
Jimmy: To be-- I'm trying not to slander.
Harold: Well, let Mark say it then.
Jimmy: He didn't have that theory about slander people.
Mark: let me first say that this does not at all fall into this category of stagnant or anything, but I feel like Jeff Smith, before he got to page one of Bone, had been drawing these characters for so long that he had really perfected their look. And then from page one to page what is it, 1000 or more? I think those characters do hold pretty steady from beginning.
Harold: That is pretty amazing.
Mark: It's beautiful.
Jimmy: The Bone characters, I would say there's some shift with, I can't think of the princess's name, Thorne. But he had an amazing, path in that he did it as a college strip and I believe as a daily college strip, which is insane. And I don't think he got to the end of it, but it's the same story. And he got a huge chunk of it done in that four years. So to have a whole rough draft of your masterpiece and then go to do it again when you've because he opened that animation studio and all that stuff. Yeah, he's a great example of someone who I remember as, self publishers. We all be like, what cracks the code? What would make something a hit? What is it? Is it being out on a regular schedule? It's actually just be really good.
Jimmy: And when he came out, oh, you have to be that good. Oh, that's disappointing.
Mark: I was hoping it was a mathematical equation that I could
Jimmy: yeah, I really Figured I could crack the code and just, move on with it.
May 30, 1953. Schroeder's practicing away at the piano. Lucy comes up and rests her hands on the piano as she stares lovingly at Schroeder. Two little hearts above her head. Then she actually kneels on top of the piano, says, “ahem,” to try to get Schroeder's attention. This actually works. He looks up. He's terrified that there's a little girl staring him in the face from about an inch away. But Lucy walks away absolutely delighted, saying, “he noticed me, he noticed me. I've never been so happy in all my life.”
Michael: She'll never be so happy again.
Jimmy: You got to worry about peaking early.
Mark: So I have to admit right off the bat that this is kind of a replacement strip for an actual strip that I couldn't find. But in fact, I just love all of these Lucy and Schroeder at the piano strips that he did, over a period of decades, I believe. And I don't know if anyone here will be able to identify or remember the one that I was thinking of, but the one that I kept remembering is that Lucy said something at the beginning of the strip that just makes Schroeder almost explode at the erroneousness of what she has said. Probably something to do with Beethoven. Right. And he launches into this tirade of, like, telling her how wrong she is, and how just blasphemous what she just said was and then at the very final panel, she's just staring at him, and she says, you fascinate me.
Jimmy: Oh, yeah.
Michael: It was probably playing, she said something about polkas.
Mark: Okay. So, yeah, I wish I could have located that one. I just didn't know how to google it properly. But that I bet Harold knows.
Jimmy: Stand by in 2 seconds. Hang on.
Mark: so true confessions. If I had been true to my heart, that would have been the one I would have shown.
Michael: This one's really good, too. Lucy is looking kind of cute in this.
Mark: Yeah, it's funny. I forgot about the polka aspect.
Jimmy: All right, you ready?
September 30, 1956. Lucy is hanging out at Schroeder's piano, and he is playing away a beautiful little Beethoven score. Then Lucy not wisely, says “Schroeder, do piano players make a lot of money?” Schroeder says, “money!” Sending Lucy flying. Schroeder continues ranting. “Who cares about money? This is art, you blockhead. This is great music I'm playing, and playing great music is an art. Do you hear me? An art.” Then he pounds on his piano. “Art. Art. Art. Art. Art.” Wham wham wham m wham wham. Lucy leans on the piano, stares Schroeder in the eyes, and says, “you fascinate me.”
Mark: thank you so much for finding that one. Yeah.
Jimmy: That is the kind of full service details you get here on Unpacking Peanuts.
Harold: Are you going to reveal your secret? jimmy, for all those people who are thinking of that Peanuts strip and just can't quite find it?
Jimmy: All you got to do is all you do is type in Peanuts or the character's name and the quote that you can think of in quotes. So for that instance, it was Schroeder, Lucy, and in quotes, you fascinate me, and it'll pop right up.
Mark: All right, so miracles. Miracles. But I'm so glad that you found it. That was the one that really stuck in my mind. And, I mean, talk about the perfect punchline and the way he builds it up with the art art art art art. Yeah. For me, that's one of the all time great Peanuts strips.
Harold: That's great. Mark, I wanted to ask you, looking at the strip that we read before this with Lucy and Schroeder and then looking almost exactly a year earlier, what do you see different for those of us who are following along at home? What do you see different in just one year in what Schulz is doing, with Lucy?
Mark: Well, Lucy? Yeah, it's a great question. Lucy. The proportion of Lucy's, face to hair has changed quite a bit, it seems to me. And the shape of her, particularly the back, lower part of her hair and profile has sort of elongated But, yeah, these are sort of subtle things, I think in that first strip, we don't get to see if Charlie Brown had changed in the one year, but you can already see him starting to move towards the Platonic ideal of Lucy. even just one year later.
Harold: It's pretty remarkable to jump. We're usually just reading straight through and then picking within a year. But it's fascinating to see how much develops in just a single year. The lettering too, right. It's like he's getting closer to that lettering that we know so well. From this 1952 to this 1953 strip.
Jimmy: Schulz talks about there being a period of Snoopy and that we called the banana nose period, which is like the late fifties. And he once said that he was appalled when he looked back and saw how he drew it. That's strong. But every once in a while I sort of know what he's talking about. In reference to my own work, I drew Rhonda in Amelia Rules. She was supposed to have crazy hair, but then it got to a point where it's like, okay, there's crazy and there's whatever's happening here. Have you ever had that? Especially in something like Akiko where it lasted for so long, where you realized, oh, there's a period here where I was going off in a direction I didn't even realize.
Mark: Yeah. Well, especially with someone like me who's constantly trying out new styles. And there's to be honest, a lot of hubris in which I think, oh, I can do this style, I can do anything. It's just lines on paper if I just roll up my sleeves. And I think, well, actually, Akiko is not the best example. I think Miki Falls is a better example that I thought that I could blend manga styles with my own instincts and come up with some new, interesting, one of a kind artwork. And I think the first, to be honest, 200 pages or so of Miki Falls, you can see a guy struggling to get the proportions right, get the balance of facial features right. And looking back, that's kind of one of my career regrets is that I didn't try a little harder to do like we were saying before, as Jeff Smith did, and just like figure it out before you get to page one. Don't think you're going to rock and roll on day one with this entirely new style that you've just come up with.
Harold: Are you a straight ahead artist? Mark, if you have a story, do you start with page one and move your way through or do you kind of jump into the middle or the end and then kind of move your way around when you're actually creating the artwork?
Mark: Oh, that's a great question. My first stories, and there was one before Akiko, my very first completed story was called The Beast That Ate Morioka. And that was another one that I did in Japan. And that was what you call straight ahead. I haven't heard that described that way. But you're making it up as you go. Right. And you don't have an outline. You certainly don't know how it's going to end, but you don't know how it's going to middle. You don't know how the next two or three pages are going to go. You literally are just making it up nearly panel by panel. And I think part of Akiko, part of the secret sauce of Akiko at the beginning was that the whimsy of a story that was being made up as I went along somewhere. By the time I got to the end of even the Akiko series, I was starting to plan these things out at least a little. And then by the time I got into something like Miki Falls or Brody's Ghost I had a very thorough outline. Now, I leave it loose enough that things can change, and that if I get a good idea for an improvement, I can leave the outline and add this new idea that I came up with. But I certainly want to know what the ending is, before I launch into the project. Because it allows you to set things up.
Jimmy: Yeah. Well, while we're talking about the process, one of the things we love to geek out about with Schulz is his devotion to the Radio 914 pen nib, and how that was, like, the thing that carried him through, and he bought the company's entire stock of them when they went out of business. Do you have favorite, drawing tools that you use especially for comics? I mean, I know obviously, your realism challenges and stuff like that. You're using all kinds of different tools, but I've also seen you use colored pencils and stuff for texture within the comics. Can you just talk about that kind of process?
Mark: Sure. Well, I'm one of these guys that's very kind of simplistic in terms of the materials I'm using. I'll, start out with the Dixon Ticonderoga as my pencil, and then for the inking I'm sure you've heard people talk about the Pigma micron.
Mark: And, for me, it's the eight is the sweet spot of you push down hard, you get a good thick line, you let up on it, and it can get quite thin. and I don't even-- I guess every once in a while, when I need a super fine spidery line, I might switch to zero five or zero three. But they make pens that are like, one or whatever. Incredibly, I would never have any use for something like that. And then what is the other? Oh, yeah, like you said, I got into using a black prismacolor black colored pencil that's sort of softer variety to almost do a form of inking that is actually pencil. so I might do the artwork with an ordinary writing pencil like the Dixon Ticonderoga, and then go on top of the lines or any darker part of it with black, colored pencil, which, of course, is much less erasable. And if you push down really hard, it cannot be erased. Right. so, yeah, that became, I suppose those are the three, things. And lately, to be honest with you, I've started to devise techniques of doing pencils and transforming that by way of Photoshop into finished line work without there being any inking stage.
Jimmy: huh. Well, that's interesting. Do you enjoy that? Does it give you a significantly different look, or is it just able to cut out some time for you?
Mark: Well, yeah, you just said it. It's a huge time saver. But again, I think it also is a matter of does my work look different from anyone else's work? And you know how it is. Sometimes the looseness of the first sketch is that beautiful thing, and then you lose it when you ink. Right. And so, yeah, over the course of the last few projects, I have been sort of honing a technique of sticking with my initial pencils. And if you look at the work, you can see, you can see some of the sort of sketchy lines and in some cases, even erased material and stuff like that. I feel like it adds a little character, but certainly it helps me. And I've recently gotten to where I'm m trying to do full color comic book pages, graphic novels. Usually someone is handing it off to a colorist. Right. I'm trying to do all the
Jimmy: wimps wimps
Mark: Yeah, you and I can sort of lord over. I'm trying to do full color all on my own. And so, yeah, if I can cut out the inking stage and just get right into the coloring, that's going to help a lot.
Jimmy: I got heavily into the color pencil thing based on wherever I saw it from you, whether it was in a book or on a YouTube video. I thought, oh, that's so groovy. I want to do that. And then I started thinking, oh yeah, you can get that Disney animation style where they weren't inking the cells, and you could see some of the grit and the underdrawing. And I'm like, this is so hip. And then I found out on a call with Scholastic, they had some guy in their art department going in and taking all of that out. Okay. I didn't even get into it. It's like, all right, thanks.
Harold: Mark, do you have to put any kind of fixative on it to keep that pencil from getting smudged? Or is it pretty much hold up right as you've done it?
Mark: Well, I've never been spraying fixative on these things. like Miki Falls would be an example of something where if you looked at, ah, the finished pencil artwork, it would look like something that's nearly publishable in that state. But of course, I'm scanning it in, and then I'm using Photoshop to add gray tones and different effects.
Harold: So if you can get it to your scanner you're good.
Mark: Right. But I was going to say, as I've gone along and we get to this stage of eliminating the inking process, it is becoming more and more, a very loose, light, pale looking pencil sketch that could never be published, that gets scanned in. And then I start trying to work my magic of heightening the contrast and separating. I don't know how technical we want to get about this, but I try to separate the line work from the rest of the artwork, get it on its own layer so that it really will look like, ink.
Harold: But you're saying what you're scanning is color, and then you're--
Mark: no, there's no color. It looks like a pencil sketch, that is not worthy of being published.
Harold: Then you kind of create that Photoshop kind of K channel, and then you have the CMY as a separate thing.
Mark: Well, I scan it in as, full color artwork again. Are your listeners going to be able to follow all this?
Harold: We have a lot of cartoonist listeners, so, yeah.
Mark: Okay. Great. So I scan it in.
Jimmy: Yeah, but wait, hang on. But you losers out there who use colorists, you could just turn off right now.
Mark: And what I've gotten to and this is only just recently that I've started to figure this out, is I'll take that first scan of artwork, copy it, put it on its own layer, and then start doing the contrast again and again until that layer becomes incredibly high contrast Then I select colors, select black, and that will select all the line work in this highly contrast-y version. Then I copy that and put that onto its own layer. And then I delete that contrast-y layer, and all that remains is the black, what looks like quite dark black inky line work that came from pencils.
Harold: That's great.
January 13, 1961. Charlie Brown and Linus are standing outside. Linus is sans blanket because, this is the middle of a sequence where he has had it removed from him by possibly nefarious sources. Charlie Brown says to Linus, “I have a suggestion, Linus. Why don't you let me try to find some sort of substitute for your blanket?” He continues, “Maybe I could get you a dish towel or something.” Linus turns to Charlie Brown and says, “would you give a starving dog a rubber bone?”
Mark: This is maybe the perfect example of a line that just burned its way into my brain. And I will still sometimes quote this line in conversation in similar circumstances. Whenever someone suggests a poor substitute for what you really want, I will say, Would you give a starving dog a rubber bone?
Jimmy: It is amazing how many of these little things, if you love this strip, how they work into your just daily conversation. We talk about that so often. That's like another level of gift he had.
Harold: Yeah. This often comes up when sweet potato fries are involved.
Mark: Well, I do try to credit him and not take the line as my own, but yeah, that is just genius. I think. I think what we have to say in a lot of these things, and as cartoonists, we all can geek out about this, is that it's not just the writing, but the writing in coordination with the drawing, and in particular, the facial expressions. Right. And so if Linus had been throwing his arms in the air and shouting about the rubber bone line, it wouldn't be nearly as funny.
Mark: He knows just to keep it subtle and let it be the funny thing that it is.
Harold: He has a lot of confidence in himself.
Michael: We discussed that a couple of shows ago, where a lot of lesser cartoonists would be having some kind of exaggerated gesture, and the fact that everyone, most of the time, people keep their arms straight down, even when they're walking.
Harold: Right. Yeah.
Mark: Right. And also the script that we talked about a minute ago with Lucy delivering her final line of you fascinate me. It's made so funny because ah, as I recall, she's got this quiet, subtle expression on her face. And he's built it up with all the exaggerated stuff from Schroeder. So he knows when to pour it on and when to dial it back. Yeah.
Jimmy: It's just masterful. Absolutely. And the one thing do you find as an artist, if you have an idea that requires, let's say, drawing the same thing with very little change from panel to panel, do you find like you want to maybe avoid that because it's boring to draw? Maybe. I know I do, that there are instances where Schulz will draw something with such minimal change across, like a Sunday. It could be like 14 panels. And I know that if I had that idea, I'd talk myself out of it because I wouldn't want to draw it.
Mark: Yeah. I mean the repetition of having to redraw the same details over and over again is just a chore. And I think for sure, people like you and I are coming up with ways of weaseling our way out of it. Exactly. I know we're here to praise Charles Schulz, but I always marveled at Doonesbury and those strips and the repetition of cluttered detail from one panel to the next. and you could tell that this was back in the days before computers. He was redrawing that stuff again and again. Hats off to such artists. But yeah, I try to avoid that whenever possible.
Jimmy: I don't know if he did this throughout the whole run of Doonesbury, but I was really into Doonesbury in the 80s and I would love it when, like you're saying, there'd be three or four panels of the same scene, but in one of them, some detail would be changed just to let you know. I felt like, oh, yeah, this is actually really being at least re-inked each time.
Mark: Well, I can tell you an example of something I did in Brody's Ghost that is sort of simulating. That where I had a highly detailed background that I knew I wasn't going to draw a second time, and I would just cut and paste it and have the characters having moved to a different part of it. And in the first panel, I had this idea of there being a clothesline with clothes on it, so I drew that separately, and I had a separate version of it in which the clothes are flapping around in a different way. That's true. Just so that anyone look comparing the two might say, oh, boy, he must have had to redraw this whole thing.
Jimmy: That's why we love you.
Mark: A little sneaky, yeah.
June 9, 1962. Linus and Lucy are out looking at the stars. Linus is in his glasses phase. Lucy says, “I wonder if the stars really do have little points.” Linus says, no, this is due to our astigmatism, which is a distortion of vision caused by irregularities in the surface of the cornea. My ophthalmologist says that a slight degree of astigmatism is normal, and this keeps us from seeing the stars as round dots of light.” Lucy walks away saying, “tell your ophthalmologist he's ruined my stargazing.”
Michael: Linus is going to grow up to be a doctor. I am fairly certain.
Jimmy: All right, Mark, what was this one?
Mark: Well, yeah, this one fits that category of the wordiness. And in fact, I just noticed right now, in the second and third panel, the words literally are occupying more of the real estate than the drawing, which is kind of a no no, I think, among cartoonists. But again, Schulz could rewrite the rules and get away with this. And this is all set up, I think, for Lucy's punchline. Right. I remember as a kid trying to pronounce ophthalmologist in my brain and failing horribly. It's interesting that he would sometimes do that, choose these words that were like astigmatism, ah, that, he probably knew a lot of the younger readers were not going to be able to get. but in any case, you'll remember Jimmy in Akiko, I had this character named Mr. Beeba, and he was like the brainy character. And that was my opportunity to lampoon, intellectuals who throw their knowledge around as a way of impressing people. And I would do this exact same kind of gag of having Mr. Beeba speak usually all in one sentence, just a ridiculously long wordy sentence, filled with unnecessarily long words and so forth. This one is a little bit of a cheat, because I don't necessarily remember this one from childhood, but I, did like that characteristic of, him using length of sentence and so forth to set up the punchline.
Harold: What do you think of the, character's heads kind of floating, in front of the word balloons?
Mark: It's like Peanuts in yeah, that boy, that's interesting. I hadn't noticed that. That's another thing that is some people might say, oh, you're breaking the rules. Right. Because the speech bubbles are supposed to occupy a different level of reality from them. Right. But yeah, the more we, look at it, the more we see that Schulz was fine with playing fast and loose with rules.
Jimmy: We talk about Snoopy a lot and how from pose to pose, Snoopy doesn't make any sense. Sometimes he has a thumb, sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he doesn't have a tail. Just ah, we don't need really strange. The width of his neck is three times as wide sitting up.
Mark: Yeah. Well this is a good one though, if we're comparing, and I know this is a podcast, people can't see it. But the contour of Lucy's, head is drastically different from those 1950s versions. But he's found that contour that she was always destined to become.
Jimmy: yeah, Schulz was a big fan of the funny word too. he talks about how, optometrist isn't funny but ophthalmologist is, or his favorite composer is Brahms, but that's not funny, but Beethoven is. And he knows those words to put within these that really just make it funny.
Mark: Well, and I think in this case, this strip gets to the heart of something. I mean, this is where as he went along, he became more and more philosophical. And I think all of us can sort of identify with this tug within us of heart and brain and wanting to remain sort of sentimental about things and having the facts of science ruining our fun. Right. And so, that final panel is both funny and also it just gets to the heart of something that we have all felt at one time or another.
June 13, 1974. Snoopy is atop the dog house typing away on his little typewriter. Secretly he types “Kitten Caboodle, wished she were a dog.” He continues typing. “She was aware of the natural superiority of a dog and it bothered her.” In panel three, Linus comes up and reads what Snoopy has been writing and says,”I think your anti cat stories show too much prejudice. I think you're going to make a lot of enemies.” He hands the paper back to Snoopy, saying, “not everyone hates cats you know.” Snoopy thinks “I find that hard to believe.”
Mark: actually. All of these strips have in common this sort of toned down, facial expression for the punchline. Right. Yeah. Snoopy looks very low key there, but it just makes it that much funnier because, you can hear the tone of voice in your brain. I find that hard to believe. It's just very sort of like that can't be possible. Everybody hates cats. I can't even conceive of such a thing. but again, this is another one of the wordy ones, and I think it shows you, I'm realizing, from the 50s through to the he was still very much at the top of his game. And in a way, I think this 74 one, from a certain point of view, is one of the funniest of the bunch. Every panel is funny, so he just never ran out of steam. Certainly not, through, the 70’s I don't think.
Jimmy: Well, one of the things I'm looking forward to, we just, are starting the 70s in our read through, and everybody agrees on the 60s. Obviously, it's like the toppermost of the popper most, but I'm really looking forward to going through and discussing some of the eras that aren't as discussed, because there are a lot of little gems that just get overlooked because you're not going to have the first psychiatry booth, the first World War One flying ace. All of those things have already happened, but he still is reaching and searching as a cartoonist right up to the very end.
Mark: Well, this is another one of those ones where I think I chose it for its representational nature of a whole slew of scripts that he did based on, Snoopy as writer. Right. And, another one that I might have chosen if I could have found it, was there was one where he types something, and the writing is just very plainly bad. And in the final panel, he's like, there's nothing like that feeling when you know you've really written something great. And he gave himself this chance to poke fun, maybe even at himself, but, at creative people in general. And that feeling of like, oh, this is fantastic. I've just made something, a work of genius, but I wanted to get something in here that represented all of those kinds of strips, because some of them really do ring true for the creative type.
Jimmy: Well, let me ask you a couple of general questions now, before we sign off for the evening. A couple of things we do every year, we pick an MVP or most valuable peanut. Now, it's unfair for you to do that for the whole series, but do you have a particular favorite, like the one character that speaks to you the most?
Mark: I think I'd gravitate toward Linus.
Jimmy: Yes. Everybody's a Linus.
Mark: Yeah. I'm trying to think of, there was one, and I couldn't remember which character did this, but there was a character that was building snowmen, and they would build the snowman, and then they would kick it until it broke apart.
Jimmy: Torn between the desire to create, desire to destroy. Yeah, I think it's Lucy.
Mark: It's Lucy. Okay. All right. So that was the other one that was sticking in my mind. And so somewhere between Linus and Lucy, have the greatest number of lines that really, make me crack up.
Michael: Well, it's almost impossible to pick five strips.
Jimmy: It's hard. It is absolutely hard.
Michael: I mean, you pretty much have to go with just random what you're thinking at the moment.
Jimmy: But do you have a favorite era? That's my other question. If you were just going to tell someone, hey, I've never heard of this, Charles Schulz guy, what should I read? If you're going to point them to a year or maybe it's not a year, maybe it's something else, I don't know.
Mark: Well, part of me wants to have them look at those really early strips just because I think, a lot of people aren't as familiar with those. But, I think, yeah, somewhere in the 60s, he probably, hit his peak of genius, in terms of creating new things again and again. One thing I was going to talk about is the whole format of creating a three or four panel strip. to me, I have never attempted to do such a thing. And it seems so hard, because the humor that I get out of something is born of an ongoing story and you can sort of build up a joke or over a period of many panels. I mean, just the very idea of having to sit down and deliver humor in four panels day after day blows my mind.
Jimmy: And for those 1st 35 years, the panels, at least on the dailies, had to be the exact same size. There was no variation even in that.
Mark: Yeah. so I wanted to just say hats off in general, to anyone who does this on a daily basis because, as a creative person, I have to say that the form itself is an incredible challenge. And I think you have to be particularly well suited to that. I mean, I'm working on a project right now where part, of it includes a comic strip that I have invented that is going to kind of be like Family Circus or one of these older strips that has been around for a really long time. And I had to create just a handful of examples of it. And once I sat down, I was like, how do you even do this? Because part of the humor was that the joke was supposed to be, unfunny. Right. And so I looked on the Internet for like, dad jokes or dumb jokes.
Michael: Just swipe Nancy
Mark: Well, what I found was just a bad pun, basically, about like, fish can't get good grades because they're always below sea level. Right. I literally had the characters just delivering this stupid pun joke. But I felt a little ashamed of myself because I was ducking the real challenge of creating an actual strip. Right. That is a real joke with a set up on a payoff.
Jimmy: Yeah. It's extremely difficult.
Harold: It's so burned into me. Those Schulz beats are so burned into me. That that's more natural to me, I think, because of reading so much of it as a kid versus doing a long form story, because my long form stories tend to just kind of spin off into oblivion. But when I know I have to hit something that is hopefully funny after just a short number of panels, then that's a comfort to me. That's where I'm heading, and that's where I have to land. And then if I can continue the story after that, that's great. But yeah, it's interesting how we gravitate toward different storytelling styles that feel more natural to us.
Mark: Yeah, I think it is. You have to be born to do it, this kind of thing. Although you do see that Schulz would allow himself ongoing stories. I remember one where Snoopy, there was a big icicle over his dog house. Do you remember this one? And that became an ongoing he got, like, I would think, eight or ten strips out of that. Yeah so he had both the strip format and a little bit of an ongoing format there.
Harold: But essentially when it was animated and he had the chance to do long form, he did gravitate toward the beats of the strip in the animated format, which was so unique. I don't know if that was just his preference, or he couldn't actually go back and try to create something totally new on top of this pressures of a daily strip. But it's interesting that that was so much a part of the storytelling when you had, like, a half hour. I mean, the the feature films are probably the most interesting to look at that he was involved in, because they had to expand the world and it was something you hadn't seen in the strip.
Mark: Yeah. Well, it is interesting what you were saying about how different people have different instincts. And, for me, I can write a story and have this feeling of, like, I'll come up with something funny here and there. it'll just sort of naturally come out of the situations. I don't have to be funny every three panels. You know what I mean? Right. So for me, I feel like a burden is lifted off of my shoulder. Whereas for you and for other people who do work in this script, there's probably these other burdens that come with the long form project that, I'm not even really thinking about so much.
Harold: Well, that leads me to a question I wanted to ask you, since you started Akiko in a comic book form, where it was roughly 30 pages, to tell an installation of a story, and you got to do 50 issues of that, but then you were able to translate that into prose. What was it like for you making that transition for a character in a world? What did you notice was different? And what were the challenges, and what did you like about each of the different formats, you were using?
Mark: Well, thanks for that question. And I feel like I'm one of the few who got the chance to adapt their comic book story into this chapter book format. Immediately you're faced with the challenge of describing locations and stuff, rather than showing them. And I never actually had a creative writing class ah, in college, apart from one on poetry, basically. And I'm really glad that I took that, because it made me super attentive to writing on a, word by word basis. And you talked about Ophthalmologist being funnier than optometrist. And I think when you get into poetry, the sound of the words more than the meaning, or just as much as the meaning, anyway, becomes something that you're focusing on. And so I suppose I applied a little of that to when I was writing the novel. But basically, I was leaning on my pretold comic book stories and doing my best to convey that when I read early reviews of them, some of the reviewers would say, he fills the manuscript with sound effect words, just like a comic book. Yeah. And I thought, oh, yeah, maybe that's not so common. That's something that I'm doing. But when it came time for the rocket ship to go, I would just write brrrrum, give it its own line, and italicize it, or whatever. And so, yeah, I was probably bringing the comic book brain into the chapter book format.
Harold: How literal were you? Because I guess the one constant we could say for sure is the dialogue. Right. Because the prose novel put that in put it in parentheses, then you have it, in the comic book form, where sometimes you need to be more spared just because of the nature of the art and the text moving together. Did you find yourself changing anything in how the dialogue was done when you had more freedom with, the writing style, or did you pretty much stay true to what you had in the originals?
Mark: I probably allowed dialogue scenes to go a little longer than they would in comic book form. I feel like there is this sort of pressure when you're doing a dialogue scene in comics after a certain number of pages. It's like, it's time to pull down the curtain on this scene, of them chatting with one another. the readers won't accept 10-15 pages of nonstop dialogue. Right. whereas in prose fiction form, I think you can get away with dialogue-- people-- You're not on the clock so much as you are with comics. I think I would say in general, though, that writing chapter books did not come nearly as naturally to me, as writing comics. And I always felt like I had maybe one hand tied behind my back, and I wondered if I was doing the job as well as other people who have, more chops, more writing chops, than I do.
Jimmy: Well, listen, Mark, thank you so much, for coming and spending this time with us and talking about your work and Peanuts. Before we wrap up, I just want where can people find you? What is happening now? what's your next work coming out, all that kind of good stuff.
Mark: Well, thanks so much for asking. I think I've got a website that I haven't updated in years, so that's MarkCrilley.com. YouTube is probably well worth checking out. Like you said, there are hundreds, something like 400, 500 videos there, giving, all of my in fact, this Friday, I'm going to unleash a new video that is on the seven types of stories. I came up with my seven categories that I believe all fiction falls into.
Jimmy: Oh, that sounds right up my alley. That's exciting.
Mark: Okay, thanks. Yeah, that'll be coming out this coming Friday. Then I think I try to guide people towards Twitter, people who have questions and want to interact with me. Twitter is probably the best place to do that. And I do maintain well, that would be Twitter.com, MarkCrilley, and then, Facebook, is MarkCrilleyOfficial. I had to do over there, and there's an Instagram, and I guess I'll go ahead and say what that is.