Sunday, May 31, 2009

April 14, 1951: Scenes from a world without spellcheckers

Another Catch-22 joke, another version of the finding-flashlight-in-dark-attic bit from earlier, this time involving the difficulty of using a dictionary to confirm spelling.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

April 13, 1951: She's right


Welcome back to Violet's mud pie corner. When life hands you dirt, you make dirt-ade.

Friday, May 29, 2009

April 12, 1951: More shirt stuff


More playing around with Charlie Brown's shirt. I like how it's Snoopy who's offended by Patty's confusion.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

April 11, 1951: "This is an exclusive number!"

Charles Schulz must have come up with Charlie Brown's "Crayola shirt," as I call it, as a way to make the character visually distinct from the others.  It would not be overstating things to say that it is known the world over.
Snoopy edges still closer to humanity here.  Notice that he has no thought balloons in these early strips.  I might be wrong here, but I seem to remember that Peanuts was the first strip that used them to present a way for unspeaking animals to kinda-sorta talk.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

April 9, 1951: Maybe he IS a blockhead

One of my favorite early strips, in this one Schulz mocks his own art style.
I've mentioned the repetition of gags we've had up to this point.  There comes a point somewhere during the career of any good cartoonist where he must realize the enormity of the task he's undertaken for himself: to say something funny, every day, for the rest of his career, a task even more challenging than drawing them.  By this point, Charles Schulz had already done a comic strip for over a year and a half, Li'l Folks for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, so he has been through the crunch before.
The first defense a cartoonist has against brain drain is by building a backlog.  Cartoonists usually work weeks in advance of their publication date, and stockpile ideas to use.  The nature of writing is that there are sometimes "on" times, and sometimes "off."  The idea is to save up the good ideas during the on times and use them to cover the dry spells.  It's easy to speculate that the Patty chase strips, and the Violet mud pie jokes, may all have originated from a single brainstorming session.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

April 6, 1951: Why does he EAT them?

The day after one of Schulz's most recognizable early formulas, we get another one, Violet and her mud pies again.  The challenge here each time is to present a variation upon the theme, some aspect of the situation that has yet to be mined.  When a situation is mined out, it must be discarded.  You might not believe this, but it's not even finished yet.

Monday, May 25, 2009

April 5, 1951: Who's on first?

Turnabout, chase, bad joke, etc.  Charlie Brown's quip this time, "Someday I'll probably drive this poor girl crazy," shows Schulz's recognition of the pattern.  It's pretty funny this time anyway.
Whose house is Patty and Charlie Brown in in this one, Patty's?  Which is it usually?  Does Charlie Brown ever go home?
EDIT: Somehow I didn't get the embed code into this one the first time. Shame, as this is one of the funnier strips I've seen yet.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

April 2, 1951: The day after April Fool's Day

Charlie Brown's early versitile powers of expression are given a workout here.  The character would evolve away from that over time.

Reading through Peanuts: A Golden Celebration reveals a later strip involving confusion over April Fool's Day, a cruel joke, and perhaps predictably, Lucy.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

March 31, 1951: The sugar and buttermilk won't help


More of Violet's mud pies here.  This is another strip with what amounts to two jokes, the one about eating "de luxe" mudpies and Charlie Brown not being able to taste them anyway.

Again on the poses, Violet's post in the third panel is appealingly and cartoony. It's funny, but as Peanuts progresses, character poses become much less cartoony and more understated. I like the direction it goes, but will miss this earlier style.

Friday, May 22, 2009

March 28, 1951: The artistic challenges inherent in jumping rope

Schulz continues to work out the problem of how to handle character arm lengths when doing things like jumping rope.  This one's a little better than Patty's early jump rope session, but her head still seems to shrink in size in the forward-facing frame.

Another thing that's difficult with these jump rope strips is what to do with character legs when facing forward while jumping. The first panel here is good, but the second, the legs don't seem to be in the same places.

It's possible to see some simularities between Schulz's art style and the later Japanese manga/anime style called "super-deformed," and I think there may be something to that. However, I can't help but thinking if it had been a stereotypical manga artist who had rendered the second panel here, regardless of appropriateness, he wouldn't have been able to resist giving little Violet an upskirt shot.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

March 24, 1951: Latest in canine eyewear

Slowly, surely, Snoopy's personality continues to develop.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

March 22, 1951: A lot of hope

Some good gags around this time.  Schulz's attention to detail should be noted here; in the first two panels the lock on the chest is plainly visible, and Patty is leaning against it, keeping Charlie Brown inside, in the third. Patty's leaning would be an unusual pose for Charles Schulz later on, but earlier the characters were a lot more dynamic in their posing, probably due to their increasingly-stylized designs. While the strip would unquestionably become much better in a few years, there's a part of me that wishes it could have kept some of the dynamism of the early days.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

March 21, 1951: Snoopy is irate

A surprisingly angry Snoopy chases Charlie Brown around the place while Patty and Violet look on.

When I was a kid, I had opportunity once to leaf through a kids' book called something like A Charlie Brown Dictionary, which was a list of words and definitions punctuated with Peanuts strips.  There was a spot where, in explaining one of the strips, the book took pains to communicate to my prepubescent mind that, despite what was seen in the comic, Snoopy would never bite anyone.

Yeah, right.

Monday, May 18, 2009

March 20, 1951: Death by Beethoven

Another reference to Beethoven, the Peanuts characters' go-to guy for classical composer names.  It's a fairly funny joke, too.

This is a fairly dark thing, if you think about it, for Charlie Brown to say. We'll see one of the darkest things ever to appear in Peanuts in a bit, inside of one of Snoopy's very first thought balloons....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

March 17, 1951: A bona-fide supraman

Charlie Brown and Patty at a table, another suspiciously kid-sized one, and have dinner as if they were married.  Charlie Brown's expressions in panels two and three make this one for me.  His logic is from what I like to call the Yossarian School of Philosophy.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

March 15, 1951: Charlie Brown's youth-preserving regimen

Another turnabout joke, that being my name for these strips where there's a sudden rush of anger in the last panel based on something a character said, flipping the mood instantly from casual conversation to rage.

The cause here is another insult to Patty, resulting in another exclamation point, and another comment from Charlie Brown during the following chase. The joke here is actually rather funny.

Friday, May 15, 2009

March 13, 1951: What's so great about rocking?

Patty and Violet have a somewhat stereotypical conversation in a primarily verbal joke.  I like noticing what characters do during these jokes; here, it involves them picking flowers for wearing in their hair, if anything an even more stereotypically-female activity.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

March 10, 1951: Good riddance

More matters of mud.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

March 8, 1951: Clickity clickity

This is the first time I've noticed sound-effect words other than percussion noises from someone getting socked.
The characters continue to progress, in design, towards their modern versions.  I have to wonder how much of that progression was intentional and how much just happened.  Notice Shermy's little eyebrow raise at Patty's comment in the last frame.  This is often used to show characters reacting subtly to a joke.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

March 5, 1951: A toy beagle

What the heck is that thing Violet's dragging supposed to be?  For some reason I'm reminded of something Daffy Duck was once turned into during his fight with the animator in Duck Amuck.  Another character finally meets Violet here, although without comment.  Snoopy seems okay with becoming a toy in the last panel.

Monday, May 11, 2009

March 3, 1951: From the earth they came, and so shall they return


More of Violet's mud pies.

Take note, here, of Violet's hair. She's the only character at this point with hair that doesn't cling completely to the head; it hangs down a bit. This doesn't last forever actually, later on Violet's hair is changed to be more like the other characters.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

February 28, 1951: Shermy named again

Shermy's name is mentioned again.  I'm obsessing a bit on this because learning character names is fairly difficult in many comic strips.  Most individual strips of many comics are intended to stand alone, but even so, characters are only named once in a great while. You'd be forgiven for not knowing Wally, from Dilbert's, name, or... hey, I just realized I still don't know what the triangle-haired woman is called.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

February 27, 1951: Om-nom-no-- is that a worm?!

Back to Patty and Charlie Brown here.  I'm given to wonder what differentiated Patty and Violet in Charles Schulz's mind.  I get the sense that Violet is younger yet a little more matronly with her skills at dirt-baking.  Patty is a bit more insecure.
The main reason I point out this strip is how Charlie Brown is drawn eating in the last panel.  I find it appealing.

Friday, May 8, 2009

February 24, 1951: Does this qualify as gross-out humor?

This strip marks the beginning of a strange theme, Violet's fascination with making mud pies.  The "pardon my fingers" comment is a nice touch.

By the way, I just noticed that none of the other characters, besides Snoopy, have met Violet yet.  Patty and Shermy have yet to see her.

The book Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis observes that most of the characters in Peanuts had analogues in people from Schulz's life.  While this is an appealing explanation to me, I wonder how accurate it is.  While I think an artist ultimately takes everything he creates from his life in some fashion, I'd say that sources are often heavily obfuscated.

The book notes that the name "Van Pelt," the last name of Lucy and Linus, was taken from some real-life friends of Charles and Joyce Schulz.  The name of the two Patties, both vanilla and "Peppermint" varieties, come from the same person, a cousin of Charles Schulz, with the later character being closer to the actual person.

Schulz often picked unusual names for characters: Linus. Marcie. 5. Eudora. Woodstock.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

February 22, 1951: Violet's birthday

Funny thing about this strip, when he finds out Violet's birthday was last month he says he wishes he had known as he wanted to get her a present.  But they met just fifteen days ago!

This one is just funny, I think.  My first exposure to the characters of Patty and Violet were in compilations that painted them in a pretty negative light, often ganging up to denigrate poor Charlie Brown.  The little girls in the strips I saw almost seemed like different characters.  Though of course they paled beside the magnificent, maleficient Lucy Van Pelt.  

LUCY VAN PELT. Her her name, ye gods, and tremble!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

February 20, 1951: Lost ball

Patty's joke here at Charlie Brown's expense is exceptionally deadpan, she doesn't break expression at all.  Take a gander at Charlie Brown's look of dismay in the last panel, part of Schulz's continued search for effective ways to display emotion.  It's great, but kind of strange.  His face reminds me of a Chinese hanzi character.

This is also another self-effacing reference to Schulz's art style.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

February 19, 1951: Belittling remark

A rare piece of cartoon metaphor here, as Patty's words literally diminish Charlie Brown in stature. I think this is probably the only strip which does this. Schulz must have been dissatisfied with this solution, as later strips show embarrassment using cross-hatching to represent blushing.

Snoopy's smug look in the last panel is a winner. There are strips where Snoopy just sits there smiling, uncomprehending, like a real dog, and there are strips like this one where he has more of a personality. Not close to Snoopy's later brilliance, but still, a step along the way.

Monday, May 4, 2009

February 17, 1951: Radio used to be cool

Notice: the only signal that the radio program is exciting, essential to understanding Violet's question and the point of the joke, is Charlie Brown's body language in the first three panels.  In later strips Charles Schulz would probably provide some additional visual signal, like some words hanging in the air.

Ah, for the days when turning on the radio would more likely present some exciting adventure show or comedy, instead of lame pop music or a blustery cadre of demagogues. The world changed greatly during Peanuts' run, the peace and love generation were yet to be seen at the strip's start, and both the creator and strip had to adapt to the times.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

February 16, 1951: Beethoven

Schroeder's introduction is still some months off, but here Charlie Brown provides the first in a long line of Beethoven references.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

February 14, 1951: Valentine's Day

Another turnabout strip, another chase, and more of CB's playful insulting of Patty's looks.  The punchline, "It's risky, but I get my laughs!" is almost the same as a prior chase strip, I notice.

At first, Peanuts didn't take much notice of holidays. My theory is that, as a cartoonist's run continues, their initial stockpile of ideas and energy becomes depleted as the enormity of the task settles in, and they start having to riff on whatever comes to mind. That is the true test for a published cartoonist, not how great the strip is at first, but can they keep it up?

Friday, May 1, 2009

February 8, 1951: More Violet

Charlie Brown reminds the readers of Violet's name again here.

Violet's style is already something that might not have been possible in those tentative early strips, with their head-hugging hair.  Violet's hair is the most complex seen yet, with strong highlighting and thick, black shapes suggesting strands of hair.

Notice the girl's use of a bookstrap.  Are these ever seen anymore?

Thanks for the feedback, Aaron!