Wednesday, September 30, 2009

November 23, 1951: Patty & Violet Team Up


Violet's status as younger than Charlie Brown and Patty seems to have been abandoned. The two are starting to double-team him as well.

Can you believe that, at just over thirteen months of the strip in, we're over halfway through Peanuts' early period already? If you don't believe me, take a sneak peak at the strip that appears one year after this one. In the next year are introduced Lucy and LinuxLinus, and Snoopy starts getting thought balloons.

EDIT: Fixed the link. Thanks Zachary!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

November 22, 1951: Starring Patty as the Queen of Hearts


It's the Scribble of RAGE! Grrar!

This seems very much like a Lucy maneuver. This seems a somewhat misogynistic strip, doesn't it? How would we feel about this if it was, say, Shermy who was his opponent?

Monday, September 28, 2009

November 21, 1951: Snoopy likes parties


Does this mean Charlie Brown now definitely owns Snoopy? I'm not sure, because he seems to be treating Snoopy as more of a colleague, an equal, than a pet. He says Snoopy has the biggest appetite of "anyone I know."

Check out Charlie Brown's jacket. It's like a suit version of Patty's dress! That pattern of lines, that continues through the fabric of clothing regardless of body contours or perspective, is not uncommon in comics and probably deserves a post off its own. This one isn't it, though.

Also, look at Patty's cross-legged pose while at the phone. It seems like an ungirlish pose, sure, but it's especially weird because Schulz doesn't cheat on the size of her foot there, and so it comes up to the length of her lower leg. It's a pose that's pretty much impossible in real life.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

November 20, 1951: And They Disapprove of Baby Bottles In The Orchestra Pit


Speaking of Schroeder....

Many strips these days aspire to just the crazy stuff from Peanuts, without copying the normal strips in-between. Those strips reset the norm, regrounding the strip's world in reality, which makes it more effective when the strip takes another flight of fancy a few weeks later.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

November 19, 1951: Does He Watch the Dog Whisperer?


This marks the point where Snoopy begins to progress beyond just being a generic dog to being something strange and wonderful but, somehow, other. Like when Schroeder turned out to be a musical prodigy and Schulz could make jokes about an infant playing in a concert hall, now we have Snoopy with a TV antenna.

Those jokes are funny because the characters, up to that point, have been represented pretty realistically. Snoopy has always been a dog foremost and Schroeder was a baby before he became a musician. More locally, in the strips immediately preceding this one (and the last one, which also focused on Snoopy's intelligence) we had several strips which were about CB and the girls, depicting fairly normal happenings that could conceivably happen in real life.

As readers became used to the characters in their new roles, to continue to get laughs from them Schulz will have to vary his approach. In Schroeder's case he reins in the unreality a bit and has him play off other characters. In Snoopy's case he goes all-out, making him weirder and weirder. And weirder.

By the way, that third panel is just marvelous. Look at it, the whole joke is contained just in that one panel. It's an excellent sight gag. The panel could really stand on its own, Far Side-like; the other panels serve to accentuate it, but they aren't really needed. (Although Patty's looking back in the fourth panel, eyebrow raised, is pretty cool.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

November 17, 1951: The Smartest Dog Alive


Snoopy hasn't been appearing for a bit lately. His design is subtly different here; he's wider, his body is thicker, he's less puppy-like, and his ears are rounder. His personality also continues to develop.

The problem, or the continuing battle I should say, of drawing a comic strip for years and years is coming up with new expressive ways to draw the characters. If you don't continue to find new ways to have them express themselves then you might as well be using clip-art. The change in the way Snoopy is drawn between the second and third panels is important, to illustrate his increasing pleasure as being complimented. His uplifted tail, his eyebrows and that aura around his head increase the perception of happiness, so the effect is so much greater in the last panel when it comes crashing down.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

November 15, 1951: The Girls of Wrath


It's been less than a year since sweet little Violet was introduced, and look at how well she hates Charlie Brown now.

Funny, if Violet and Patty didn't pick up their disdain for CB, then maybe it would have seemed less cruel over time, but probably the strip wouldn't have picked up the depth with which it is remembered for today. Little kids doing funny things day after day is funny, but it's not going to be remembered.

There are plenty of comic strips out there, some as old or even older than Peanuts, where the characters just sort of bumble along amiably. Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Snuffy Smith, Garfield, which characters in those strips really hate each other? Which characters experience unrequited love? These are the aspects of Peanuts which are rarely copied. Everyone instead goes for Snoopy.

I recognize that there may be some selection bias in here. It might not be so much that people don't attempt to attain some of Peanuts' emotional depth, but more that those strips are less likely to be picked up for syndicates who care more about merchandising rights and greeting card sales than complex characters. In a way, part of Schulz's genius is that he was able to get it into papers. If Peanuts had started out the way it would become a few short years later, would Universal Features Syndicate have still bought it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

November 14, 1951: Look familiar?


Well take a look at that! It's basically the familiar pulling-away-the-football gag! Sure, it's Violet and not thunderclap Lucy who's doing it, and the football is dropped instead of yanked away, and the motive is fear rather than sheer, unbridled malice, and Charlie Brown doesn't say "AUUUUGGGHHHH!!!", and it's rendered a little less stylistically than the later annual strips.

But still, there it is.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

November 12, 1951: 50 Words or Less


These kinds of essay contests used to be all over the place. There was a woman some time back who managed to support her family entirely on winning contests such as this one, and writing jingles, and the like. There was a book about her, written by a daughter, but I've forgotten the title. (Probably one of you out there remembers it....) Anyway, if such a person could exist, who could win these contests with any kind of consistency, then it implies pretty strongly that there is a certain technique to winning them, maybe a specific type of phrase that resonated with contest judges.

Now, contests are a lot more likely to be about being the person who just happens to draw a winning game piece. A lot less vulnerable to gaming, but entirely uninteresting as "games."

200 posts!

Monday, September 21, 2009

November 9, 1951: Return of the kiddy table


Again, the tiny table and chairs. I like this strip in general actually. It's hard to imagine later Charlie Brown saying something like "Bread isn't worth it."

November 10, 1951: The claws come out


Another unexplained burst of rage from Patty and Violet, who in later strips would become almost defined by their disdain for Charlie Brown. When I was a kid reading 50s and 60s Peanuts strips in compilations, I thought the characters existed mostly to hate him.

This one implies that the two characters were reacting to something distasteful Charlie Brown did. Is it possible that the characters were always considered to be reacting to something CB said, offscreen, but in later strips the setup was just left out to save space?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

November 8, 1951: Schroeder Learns the Score


Maybe the kid is annoyed with his status as Peanuts Resident Musician. I love his annoyed expression in panel 2, his patronizing "plink plink" in panel 3, and his focused, furious look and how he's thrown in the air with the effort of his playing in panel 4. I think Schroeder's fury here must somewhat mirror the effort Schulz himself put into the strip.

Let's talk a little about how the characters changed over time.

I really can't believe how much the Peanuts guys (in my opinion people who are serious should not use the word "Peanuts gang" to describe them) change in the first few years of the strip. They've already began edging towards their later appearances here. What's odd about them is that the characters move towards becoming less cute and more iconic.

Compare how the Peanuts characters evolve to the evolution of Garfield. Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, used to be an assistant artist on the bizarre-looking strip Tumbleweeds, and maybe a little of that comes out in the very earliest Garfield strips, which have markedly different-looking characters. Arguably the characters became cuter over time, and that helped the strip to gain traction with readers. But going the other direction, becoming less cute, giving his characters less-over, more circular heads, pushing their stylization beyond the point of maximum attraction and making them still more stylized, that is a strange choice to make.

Right here is, to me, about as cute as Peanuts characters would ever get. The attribute of this style that fixes it in my mind is the expressions on the characters' faces, especially Schroeder here. Eyes wide apart, and with long eyebrows almost mirroring the mouth line. I think this general style continues on later, especially on characters like Lucy, but it's not as balanced, compositionally, as it is in these strips.

Why did Schulz abandon this look? It might have to do with how much time it took to produce. Line thickness, and even the precise thickness of the eyes, is very important to the look.
The more modern versions of the characters tend to have lines that are the same width. The eyes are not just dots but little ovals, and become thick commas when the character is looking around.

And just look at how rounded the character's heads are; there's not a tremor anywhere, it's perfectly smooth every time, the same curve no matter how the characters are facing or posed. That takes skill, and probably at least a little time. (One must wonder how Schulz must have felt about it later in life when hand tremors forced wavering into the perfectly round head of Charlie Brown; even now after Schulz's death, all official depictions of the characters continue to include those tremors.) Also, the characters look very fifties in these strips. If the strip continued on in this style, the characters probably would have turned into something like Calvin and associates.

In terms of the long-term health of the strip it's probably a good thing that it changed. There is still a lingering perception that Peanuts was about cute, and trite "Happiness is a Warm Puppy" sentiment. The move towards less cute, more abstract figures would help the strip as it picked up intellectual depth as the years passed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

November 7, 1951: All Hail The Machine That Goes....


If guns actually did go "ping" instead of "bang," I get the feeling they'd be loads less popular.

Friday, September 18, 2009

November 3, 1951: Gesundheit


Not really much of a joke here, but there hasn't been a lot of Snoopy in the last few weeks.

How about Shermy's expression, with his tongue out the side of his mouth? In the strip there have been two instances when this has been used: a character is eating or wants to eat, and when a character is focusing hard on something. I'm not really sure how either usage got started. Has anyone who's hungry ever stuck his tongue out like this? People hard at work might bite their tongues, but stick it out?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

November 1, 1951: Money or Eats


It's that profile doorstep scene that would play a role in so many later strips. I don't think this is its first appearance though.

"Tricks or treats, money or eats," did Trick or Treaters really use that line? Seems awfully mercenary to me. Around here I don't think it's common for people to give money for Halloween.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

October 31, 1951: Halloween #1


This is actually not Snoopy's first instance talking! The first was another strip, coincidentally also a one involving costumes, in which he, covered with a sheet, says "Boo!" That's some vocabulary that dog has.

This is a pretty silly strip, but I like it. The fancy shadow on the first "Boo" is probably a first for the strip.

By the way, we can tell it's Violet beneath the sheet through simple process of elimination. There are only five human characters right now, and Schroeder's still too short to be confused with the other characters.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

October 30, 1951: The Day Before Halloween


Like the hiding-behind-the-tree and floating-beach-ball strips before, it's another strip making fun of Charlie Brown's appearance, which only makes sense if the characters seem each other as the reader sees them, that is, as stylized cartoon characters and not flesh and blood.

Monday, September 14, 2009

October 29, 1951: Ghosting days


This is a predecessor of Schroeder's "X days until Beethoven's birthday" gag. It's also another reference to a real-world day, in this case Halloween. The extraneous "boo" in the last panel is one of those things that's funny for no real reason. It's like he just added it as an aside.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

October 27, 1951: Why am I reminded of Mr. Bean?


Notice how she goes effortlessly from viewing Dolly as affection object, to melee weapon, then back to affection object.

Why did Violet leave the doll on the ground where it could be run over by a tricycle, anyway?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

October 26, 1951: Could someone PLEASE help this poor girl out?


She's labored under this delusion for almost a year now. You're not supposed to EAT them, Violet!

Friday, September 11, 2009

October 25, 1951: How do you pronounce that?



The heart-in-a-balloon is kind of a manga-ish touch, but it does read fairly well. No, this doesn't count as Snoopy speaking, or even thinking, although it's a step in that direction.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

October 24, 1951: Dog vs. Toy


We've not seen much of Snoopy lately, so here. It's not really a very special joke, but we do get to see a little bit of a fang on Snoopy in the third panel.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

October 23, 1951: Finding only half a worm


Another Calvinesque strip, right down to Charlie Brown's angular smile in the last frame. I can picture Calvin doing this to Susie very clearly.

The outline of the tree in the third frame seems rather artsy for Peanuts. It's a nice effect though.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Meta: Strips visible again

Just letting you guys know that's site has been down over the weekend and that caused inlined images to not appear on the site. They seem to have gone back up some time yesterday, so you might want to go through the last few days of archives to see what you missed. (I try to do these in batches some time in advance, so the posts were made before the strips vanished.)

Anyway the site seems to be back up and strips are appearing again. I hate being beholden to's somewhat iffy webmastering, or linking to a place offering videos of something called "", but it's what's legal.

In other news, I've been at DragonCon for the past weekend. Unfortunately I didn't find the artist's room until the final day of the con this time, and just before closing, so I sadly missed seeing Jason Yungbluth, the "Weapon Brown" guy this time. I did manage to meet Bob Burden, creator and writer of Flaming Carrot. What an awesome guy.

October 22, 1951: You dig?


I find this one to be pretty funny. It's just the image of Charlie Brown digging furiously right behind Patty in order to evade her finding him in Hide-And-Seek. It's a well-constructed punchline too, with CB's words playing off of the traditional H&S line.

Monday, September 7, 2009

October 19, 1951: Christmas Tree Prototype


I've been trying to skip over a few strips here and there, since if I keep posting every Peanuts strip we'll never be done, but it's hard when things like this keep cropping up. It's one of the rare Shermy strips with no sign of Charlie Brown, it's the first mention of Christmas in Peanuts, the characters are outside of their usual attire, and most of all, we have a Christmas tree that seems like a prototype (without decorations and considerably more needles) of the one from the famous Christmas special.

It's enough to make you want to gorge yourself on Dolly Madison cakes, isn't it?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

October 18, 1951: I'm sure Hobbes could think of something


I've mentioned before that, as I go through these, at times Calvin and Hobbes seems like it must have been directly inspired by early Peanuts. The characters are of similar proportions to the kids in C&H, and this bath-avoiding trick could have come directly from Calvin's playbook.

It's not a sure thing, but it does seem like it might be possible.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

October 17, 1951: Quicksandbox


I just like this one. I make no excuses.

Friday, September 4, 2009

October 16, 1951: A familiar joke


The premise of this joke should seem somewhat familiar, as Patty and Violet behaved in a similar way in a previous strip, except they were talking about how sweet and gentle girls are.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

October 13, 1951: Bang! Bang!


How about Charlie Brown's look of annoyance at the mention of House in panel two? Or his rather overplayed enthusiasm for (singular) Cowboy and (plural) Indians in panel three?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

October 10, 1951: Humph!


Schulz had been heard to say that Beethoven was Schroeder's idol primarily because it was a funny word, but it cannot be denied that the idea of a young child fixating upon the notoriously stern composer adds a certain complexity to his character, which this and later strips take advantage of.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

October 9, 1951: Gag


Some people complain about cloying sentiment in Peanuts, and it is true that there is some of that at times. This strip is proof.

However, I find that most of the people who complain about it haven't really been exposed to much of the strip. For every saccharine "Happiness Is A Warm Puppy" there are a hundred "Lucy Demolishes Charlie Brown Utterly, Destroying His Soul Like Some Demon Girl." For giving us all of those, I think I can excuse the occasional spoonful of sugar.