Thursday, April 30, 2009

February 7, 1951:Violet is introduced

Here is the introduction of Violet, another frequent player in the early Peanuts roster.

Patty lasts in the strip longer than Shermy, but is later completely supplanted by "Peppermint" Patty. Schulz and Peanuts states that the Patty characters were both based on the same real-life person, with the second one being closer to her actual personality, although with decades between the characters' heydays it's easy to allow him some leeway in his depiction.

Violet leaves the strip as a major player a little later than Patty (if my memory holds up), but would occasionally show up even in the 90s.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Shout out: Weapon Brown

Weapon Brown (some images potentially NSFW) is an parody indie comic that places the Peanuts characters as grown-ups. Oh, and after the apocalypse.

I ran into Jason Yungbluth, the guy who draws this, at DragonCon last year. He's cool. And he linked to the site, so the least I could do is link back.

February 5, 1951: Sitting at the kids' table

More Snoopy cuteness here.  Here we see him begging and standing in a normal dog-like pose.  Awww.

But the real reason I picked this strip out is the size of Charlie Brown's table.  Not only is it his size, but it looks a little funny in order to squeeze his legs under it and have his arms above it.  Notice that he's pulled a bit away, probably because he can't sit close to it!  Visual puzzles like this must have been a tremendous test for Charles Schulz's ingenuity in the early days.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

February 3, 1951: Fight my slaves, I command it

Patty is probably the most girlish girl Charles M. Schulz ever put into Peanuts.  Look at her body language in the first, second and fourth panels.  Here she pines that Shermy and Charlie Brown don't love her, and they stage a mock fight over her to cheer her up.  It works, too.

The fight in the third panel is interesting because the characters speak in order to make the fight seem more severe than it would without the text.  I put this down to insecurity on the part of CMS that his abstract characters could depict motion well.  I notice here that they say "What a battle" and "What a struggle" both in the same panel, which is a little awkward from a writing standpoint.

Monday, April 27, 2009

February 2, 1951: The scribble of shame

Look at Patty in the distance in panel 2.  Would someone only familar with Peanuts' later days recognize her as being a Charles Schulz character?  But the design, as opposed to many other comics of the time, is unquestionably modern; you could probably find a recent illustrated children's book out there somewhere with a character that looks like Original Patty.

Also in this one, we see the cartoon shorthand of showing anger with a word balloon containing a scribble. The scribble of shame.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

February 1, 1951: Candy isn't good for dogs

More Snoopy cuteness.  With his tongue in panel two and his head-tilt in panel 3, he's very puppy-like here.  Schulz is known to have said that, once Snoopy developed a personality and began living in his own fantasy world, ordinary dog jokes became progressively less-suitable for him.

Snoopy's design is so winning in the early days that I'm sure there's a market for Classic Peanuts Snoopy toys, in the same way you can get stuff with the original, un-Disneyfied Pooh characters on them.

By the way kids, please do not feed your own dogs candy. Chocolate is really bad for them!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

January 30, 1951: Snoopy is named

At last, Snoopy is named!

NOTE: I wrote these some time in advance, scheduled to go up one a day. As has been mentioned in comments several times up to this point, Snoopy has been named before. I got all this wrong. Bleah.

Friday, April 24, 2009

January 29, 1951: How does it handle in traffic?

Another case of adult words put into a kid context here.  Not a bad joke either, I'd say.

Let's take a moment to compare this with the first strip:
It's been around for just under five months at this point, but already the characters show considerable changes.  We're immersed in the early days of the strip so far in this blog, but although there is a winning style in these early strips, it really doesn't last long.  Already the character's eyes have enlarged into ovals, their hair has filled out, the faces are more expressive and the lines are darker.  Character heads are beginning to vertically expand into the near-circles we knew for over forty-five years of the strip's history.

Three years after the strip's debut, the original style will be almost completely gone:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

January 27, 1951: Then why is it in the attic?

Referring to the last post, here's one of the dumb kid jokes right on the next day.  (Although Charlie Brown's not really dumb here, I think.  He has a point.) 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

January 26, 1951: Viewing them head-on

Sometimes the real humor of a strip comes from a little thing.  Here, the joke would be much less effective if it weren't for two little things: the smile on Charlie Brown's face and the annoyance of Patty, both in the last panel.  Those tip off the reader that the characters know it's a joke, and that it's kind of dumb.  Although the strip does offer a "dumb kids" joke sometimes, more common are these strips where smart kids say something dumb to entertain themselves.

I mentioned last time that the characters look more like their later-day versions when viewed from the side, with only one eye visible, than from head on or three-quarters, when both eyes are visible.  It's due, I think, to the distance between the eyes, which is fairly substantial here, and the way open mouths are depicted, with a vertical line to define the nose and mouth when we shouldn't be seeing one.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

January 23, 1951: Why he's called "Snoopy"

Snoopy's personality continues to develop.  Clearly, here is a dog of uncommon intelligence.  At least we now know why he's called "Snoopy."

Monday, April 20, 2009

January 22, 1951: He's asking for it

Another chase here, after Charlie Brown slyly insults Patty, who is beginning to show almost Lucy-like characteristics of ire.  Also, check out Charlie Brown's Shakesperian posing in the third panel.  It's best not to compare the length of his arms to the size of his head here.

Another thing to notice here is that the characters, viewed from the site, don't look tremendously different from their modern incarnations.  When we get a head-on or three-quarters view, however, they'll still look fairly alien.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

January 20, 1951: Dogs and ties

Notice that Charlie Brown calls Snoopy "that dog."  He still hasn't been named yet.

Once again, the joke is a simple visual gag borne of subjecting kids to the trappings of adults.  Why would CB wear an adult's tie?  But there's also the strangeness of the situation.  How could this state of events have come about?

EDIT: karlosthejackal notes, in the comments, that Snoopy was named in the past. Thanks ktj, I should take better notes!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

January 19, 1951: Give him some Prozac

There's a strong New Yorker-cartoon vibe to this one, with kids throwing around psychiatry terms. In the end it turns out to be nothing... or is it?  Surely there must be something wrong with a kid who purosely wears over-tight shows all day without taking them off....  Well, maybe he's breaking them in.

Friday, April 17, 2009

January 15, 1951: No wonder they hate Charlie Brown later

Another CB-and-Patty exchange here.  Boy, wasn't Charlie Brown something of a smart aleck back then? Maybe his later troubles are a result of negative karma build up during the first couple of years.

I think even the shaggy dog jokes from this era are saved, though, by Schulz's winning art style.  Look at Patty's "angry look" there.  So much emotion conveyed with a simple angry eyebrow and a balled fist.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

January 11, 1951: The chair recognizes Patty

Revealed!  The secret origin of all those Peppermint Patty in school strips in the later days!  (No relation to the original Patty, of course.)  This is a pretty topical strip even today.  It's not hard to see one of the better modern strips using this joke.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Site news: Metafilter link, other things

Metafilter linked to the blog yesterday. Thanks for the promotion from Projects, KokuRyu!

Peter From Japan (from comments): I've switched the feed over to Full.

Issac (from comments): I think I will add a "depressing" category, thanks for the idea. Such a flag seems uniquely suited to Peanuts, although not so much in the early strips we're in now.

January 10, 1951: The chase is on

Another example of the last-panel turnabout joke, this time involving a chase.  Be warned: a lot of these are coming up.  It's funny how this joke, about "being hot" would be considered flirtatious today.  I like the exclamation point above Patty's head in the third panel, a way to show surprise without having it register on the character's face.
The punchline from Charlie Brown, "I get my laughs," is rather meta.  The formula on this style of joke is pretty strict, and the ultimate humor relies on coming up with something for the joking character to say in reference to his motive in the last panel.  Schulz used them enough that he must have had a hard time coming up with fresh punchlines for these sequences.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

January 5, 1951: Loyalty, indeed

Another example of female violence.  I have to wonder to what extent Schulz was influenced by James Thurber....
What I like about this strip is the disconnect between Patty's opinion of Charlie Brown (the kid) and Charlie Brown (the name).  At least CB isn't too broken up about it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

January 4, 1951: Dad's not a boxer

Another example of the problem of what to do with the characters as they tell a verbal joke.  The joke itself, by the way, is a rather good one, turning on its end the "My dad can lick your dad" schoolyard argument.  At the end though, Schulz makes sure we know they don't hate their fathers.  For all the hostility these kids can display towards each other, Schulz's basic humanism somehow shines forth.  What a complicated man.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

January 3, 1951: Why you little!

This is the beginning of a particular strip formula that would be used a lot in these months, especially between Charlie Brown and Patty.  The first three frames present either a bad joke or one that insults one of the parties, and the fourth shows the non-joking character's reaction, usually in the form of the joking character knocked down but still mirthful, or being chased.  We'll see this pattern so many times in the upcoming strips that I should think of a name for it.

"Turnabout" strips are the best I've come up with, referring to the sudden, undepicted change of attitude between the third and fourth panels.  The punch from the formula comes from the sudden break between the last two panels.  Notice that Patty hasn't changed expression between the second and third panel of this strip, and we only see the result of her wrath in the fourth.
It's fairly amazing, really, that with all the hostility the Peanuts characters are capable of showing for each other, so much of it is understated or not shown.  It wasn't until crash of thunder Lucy showed up that a character could commonly get away with much wrath depicted directly on the page.

EDIT: fixed formatting.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

December 29, 1950: What were they doing?

I like the look on Snoopy's face here, resenting Charlie Brown's intrusion on his and Patty's private time.  But what were they doing?  Was Patty reading to Snoopy?  The current-day, South Park-informed joke to make here, of course, is to suggest some naughty activity they were engaged in.

I will resist these implications with every fiber of my being.

Friday, April 10, 2009

December 27, 1950: They grow up so fast

One source of jokes in early Peanuts is in puncturing the premise.  Children behaving like adults, right up to the moment in which they suddenly don't.

Look at Shermy's expressions and body language as he goes through panels two through four.  Angry in three, pleading in four.  They're a little exaggerated, but on purpose since they can't move on the page.  It's not as easy as you might think to come up with good poses for characters as they play their roles!  It's one of those little things that cartoonists have to do to give their characters life.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

December 22, 1950: Put your hand inside the Snoopy head

Another somewhat pointless strip, Schulz must have been close to his deadline for some of these.  Snoopy is especially cute and puppet-like in this one however, especially in panel two, where we get a three-quarter perspective into his smiling mouth, and in panel four, where his eyes are winningly far apart.  As Snoopy became a much stranger creature later on, Schulz would lose the ability to draw him like this; Snoopy became a creature of imagination far more than a placeholder dog in a world of child jokes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

December 21, 1950: Tick tock

I've actually done this thing, with the hands, in real life.  I believe the joke here, which is a little subtle, is that Charlie Brown doesn't know how to tell time.
This strip is notable for, I believe, being the origins of Charlie Brown's distinctive zig-zag "Crayola" shirt.  (hangashore pointed it out in the Metafilter thread first.)

December 20, 1950: Don't you know, about the bird?

This rather straight-forward and pointless strip is notable for being the first appearance of a bird in Peanuts.  It looks quite different from Woodstock later on.
Woodstock originated as a hachling from a bird that built its nest on Snoopy's stomach as he lay atop his dog house.  The mother bird, if my memory holds up, looked fairly realistic, a lot like this one.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

December 17, 1950: Shermy?!

At last, Shermy-the-mystery-boy is named!  Notice that all four of the original characters have an "ee" sound at the end of their name: Charlie, Shermy, Patty, Snoopy.  While I appreciate that Schulz always thought the name "Peanuts" for his strip was unnecessarily trivializing, with names like that I don't think he was helping his case.

But then, it was the 50s.

Monday, April 6, 2009

December 16, 1950: Hope you like dirt!

Mud pies, yum.  I was actually never under the impression that kids actually ate mud pies.  Note that Patty's mania for this dubious treat will in no way approach Violet's in coming months.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

December 14, 1950: Upstairs, downstairs

A long-standing question for comic strip artists is, if the joke is wholly verbal, what do the characters do while they talk?  In this one, they walk up and down stairs, stairs that seem to exist to go nowhere.  Much later, Schulz will use the hang-out wall for this.  Bill Watterson, who has obviously read a lot of classic Peanuts, would adapt this into Calvin and Hobbes' wonderful sledding sequences.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

December 8, 1950: Not receiving visitors

Unusual story construction in this one, basically two jokes in one four-panel strip, which is uncommon even today.  Dilbert pulls off two or more jokes sometimes in one weekday strip.

Friday, April 3, 2009

November 27, 1950: Everything is food, food, food


Snoopy's gluttony is established here for pretty much the first time.  Notice the "smile with tongue" he wears in the last frame.  This will often be used for Snoopy when he's looking at food, or is actually eating, in upcoming strips, almost to the point of cliche.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

November 25, 1950: Improbable bedspread


Charlie Brown's bed appears for the first time. Look at how the grid pattern on it sort of slides off the bed.

In this strip Snoopy seems to be more obviously Charlie Brown's dog. It's hard to get a fix on his owner until the character relationships gel a bit.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

November 22, 1950: But he's too young for school!


I bring this one up specifically because, next year, it's revealed that Charlie Brown is too young for school.  In fact, a previous strip established that he's only four at this time!  There's a sense in these early strips that the characters are not intended to have consistent stories, that they're more generalized stand-ins for types.  This may derive from the characters' origins as cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post.  No one asks who owns Thurber's dogs.