Friday, December 31, 2010

Sunday, August 30, 1953: It looks a bit like this


There are two versions of this premise. There's the one where one of the characters directly compares CB's head to a ball (usually concluded with a chase), and there's instances such as this one where a character indirectly remarks that Charlie Brown's head is round like a ball.

The very first joke about the size and shape of CB's head was of the second type, when the kid was in the water and Patty and Violet wondered why a beachball had floated out so far.

This is far from the last joke about the poor boy's head.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

August 28, 1953: Lucy fusses, again


We've seen this setup several times by now. Whether Lucy's asking for a glass of water, or for sandwiches with the crusts cut off, she just doesn't seem satisfied. CB's reaction this time is the same as the previous instances. Lucy doesn't yet have the muscle to back up her demands.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

August 27, 1953: Be careful what you wish for


This seems more like a Lucy maneuver than something Patty would do, not because Lucy is spiteful (she hasn't shown a lot of that yet) but just from misunderstanding Charlie Brown's request. Maybe Schulz used Patty because she's physically larger than Lucy, and thus more obviously capable of shoving CB out of his seat.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

August 26, 1953: Charlie Brown the killjoy


Most of the characters in your standard comic strip have what might be charitably termed "quirks." Usually, comics don't intend you to emphasize with them. The humor comes from laughing at rather than with. One of Peanuts' great innovations is in making all of its characters, at one time or another, truly relatable. Even the terrible Lucy, at the height of her fell power, had strips in which she was a more-or-less normal little girl.

But of all these characters, Charlie Brown, the one Schulz himself described as the Everyman of the cast, is the one who is obviously the one intended to be empathized with the most. That's why I like these strips in which the focus is on another character reacting to CB, instead of the reverse.

Monday, December 27, 2010

August 24, 1953: Oh Come ON Charlie Brown


This is at least the second strip with this theme. Currently, Schulz's emphasis is on showing that Charlie Brown's neuroses are paranoid, and even a bit egotistical. That goes away after a while.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday, August 23, 1953: Be specific with Snoopy


There's something of Calvin reacting to his dad in Snoopy's responses to Charlie Brown here. There's a later strip, involving a camera, that's makes this even more noticeable.

In the next-to-last strip, Snoopy's snout is thicker than usual, moving him closer to his modern appearance. But he's still got a long way to go there.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

August 22, 1953: Snoopy vs. the Yard: The Ball


Another chapter in the tale of a poor young dog's persecution by lawn equipment.

Friday, December 24, 2010

August 21, 1953: 6,000 games now


6,000 games now.

If we accept that Lucy is by now maybe five years old, and assume that she was somehow playing from birth, that makes for 100 games a day month. Somehow I think they might have counted wrong.

August 19 is a duplicate. Anyone with access to the Fantagraphics collections able to fill us in on it?

EDIT: Joshua Probert mentions in the comments that "day" is way off. He's correct, it's more like per month. Still, considering the ostensible amount of time these kinds have been alive (which already looks silly compared to the time the strip's been running), 6,000 games is still fairly ludicrous, you must admit.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

August 17, 1953: Potato chips, oh boy!


Walking over the potato chips that she's dumped onto the floor is a nice touch.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

August 15, 1953: Snoopy punches the clock


This one's linked mostly for the perfect view of Snoopy from a three-quarter perspective. We don't see him in the hand puppet pose anymore, but still this is an unusual depiction of the dog if you look closely. Snoopy's face appears to be narrower when viewed from the side than from an angle. Notice, you only rarely see a character's face straight-on; they're almost always at least a little angle in there. In most of the kids' cases this is probably so their nose doesn't look funny since that C-shape best reads as a nose in profile. Although Snoopy doesn't have the nose problem, his snout is even harder to read straight on. It's like how Mickey Mouse, in cartoons, his ears are always shown in profile, and sometimes artists depicting the mouse have to be clever so they read correctly.

Sunday, August 16, 1953: Full Frontal Snoopy


More three-quarters' drawings of ol' Snoops. We also get more of his thoughts, again delivered as speech balloons. Here it is obvious that none of the kids can hear his thoughts. I think we're approaching the point soon where Schulz abandons the speech balloons for the dog's thoughts and switches over fully to thought bubbles.

Monday, December 20, 2010

August 14, 1953: Speech Balloon Typography


I think the real purpose of this strip was just to let Charles Schulz play around with drawing type. This had to have been easier to render than the gothic text he drew for Schroeder's German.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

August 13, 1953: Real peppermint


It's surprising how much of the kids' (and Snoopy's) lives revolve around candy. Although we have more of it now, I think, kids today don't seem to fixate on it like the kids in the comic. And later on the kids mention it far less.

To again treat a Peanuts strip as if it is something that could happen in life, I would not think dogs would be fans of hard candy at all, let alone peppermint.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

August 11, 1953: Schroeder and Snoopy


I'm at one of those points again where I feel like I need to link every strip. It's because this is such a formative period in Peanuts history. Many of the things we've seen frequently in later strips and compilations got their start in this period.

Here, it's the team of Schroeder and Snoopy. Snoopy works well with many characters, but Schroeder most teams only with him or Lucy. Up to this point we've also seen him and Charlie Brown in the strips where Charlie Brown draws a cartoon, and the two sometimes meet on the pitchers' mound.

It might be interesting to do a statistical analysis of which characters appear with which other ones, in what frequency. I'm not gonna do it, though.

I'm not sure, but this might be the first time we've seen a single 'Z' in a word balloon used to signify sleep. Later on Schulz has some fun with this convention, especially with giant, serif'd Zs.

Friday, December 17, 2010

August 10, 1953: You're a flop, Charlie Brown


In the past I've said that Violet and Patty often double-team against Charlie Brown, and we have seen a little of that. But as of yet (and in the near future) Violet tends to be rather more harsh than Patty. So it's a little surprising here to see Patty give the kid such a through dressing-down.

At least, at this point, Charlie Brown still has some bounce-back in him.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sunday, August 9, 1953: KRINKLE


I think this is one of the funnier strips, but it's also interesting for the action poses Charlie Brown uses while hiding (although his head seems unnaturally large in the crawling pose).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

August 8, 1953: Dogs playing baseball


So Snoopy is playing baseball now?

(Takes off critic's hat, puts it in box.) That's it, I'm done. I accepted Beethoven sponsoring Schroeder, but a dog playing baseball? That's too weird for me.


What's that you say? Snoopy has already done things far weirder than that, including moving into a doghouse hotel and erecting a TV antenna on his house. Sigh. If you insist. (Puts hat back on.)

I'm not sure if this is actually the first strip that implies or outright shows Snoopy as a player. It's possible at this point that he's just the team's mascot. In Peanuts' odd context, as Snoopy becomes weirder and more capable it makes increasing sense to use him as a player, although Schulz has fun with the idea for many years to come. (Remember "Peppermint" Patty's reaction? It took her years to figure that one out.)

I'm reminded, perversely, of those loathsome "Air Bud" movies Disney puts out, in which a Labrador Retriever proves to be freakishly capable at various sports. You know the ones, they're part of that long and hateful tradition of animal sports movies. They nearly always have a scene with a flabbergasted ref looking through a rulebook, then saying "There's no rule that says dogs can't play, guh-huck!" Yeah, and there's no rule about murdering your opponents either OMG IMA GENIUS.

Let's have a look at the Wikipedia synopsis for that movie:

After the death of his father, who has died in a plane crash, Josh moves with his family to Washington State and is too shy to try out for his middle school's basketball team and too shy to make any friends. He meets Buddy, a Golden Retriever who had escaped from his cruel owner, an alcoholic clown named Norman Snively, who had locked Buddy in a kennel after causing trouble at a birthday party and was taking him to the dog pound when the kennel fell off the truck. Josh soon learns that Buddy has the uncanny ability to play basketball....

Oh look, the dog plays baseball in the 2002 sequel called time to make the scare quotes "Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch":

Josh is off to his first year of college and Buddy has stayed behind with Josh's little sister, Andrea, and the rest of the family. Andrea, attempting to fit in with her Jr. High classmates, decides to join the baseball team and along the way discovers that Buddy also has the uncanny ability to play baseball. Just as the season is settling in, a terrible discovery is made - Buddy's puppies, have mysteriously started disappearing with the help of kidnappers' little helper, Rocky Raccoon. Turns out the kidnappers' were researchers who were kidnapping Air Bud's pups because they thought they had a special gene that would enable them to play sports.

I bring up these upsetting artifacts of popular culture to illustrate, by way of contrast, how awesome Peanuts really is.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

August 7, 1953: This strip blows my mind, Beethoven edition


How is that even possible?

I'll tell you what though. Twisting your brain around so that this strip somehow makes sense in an ordinary way is a fun intellectual exercise in self-derangement.

Maybe Schroeder is sponsored by a local bakery called, for some reason, the "Beeth Oven." Or maybe it's renowned for the cooking of pastry. Pastry that contains beets. Beets, and extraneous H's.

Or maybe Beethoven was foresighted enough to leave a provision in his estate to support the sporting life of young enthusiasts of his work? And the representatives of that estate, to promote their own firm perhaps, decided to demand that the name of their long-deceased sponsor be put upon the jerseys of the beneficiaries.

Or maybe a local music store uses the composer's name as a trademark. Yeah, that seems plausible. And boring.

Has anyone tried saying "Beethoven" three times in a row, to summon his spirit?

There is still more interesting about this strip... apparently, Charlie Brown's barber Dad's shop is called "Family Barber Shop." This (and tomorrow's strip) may be the only time this is mentioned.

Finally, it is possible sometimes to believe that Beethoven Schroeder is a different character than Baseball Schroeder, since the two don't often express the interests of the other. Sometimes Schulz has Schroeder whistle something while walking up to talk to Charlie Brown, but that's infrequent. Here, at least, we have a solid (if silly) point of connection.

Monday, December 13, 2010

August 6, 1953: The weirdness of Patty's dress


Lucy exhibits surprising self-awareness here.  She loses these introspective powers as she comes into her own as neighborhood terror.

It's worth noting, for a moment, the bizarre attributes of Patty's dress. All the girls typically wear skirts in this phase of Peanuts' development. Some time earlier, when a girl bent over Schulz didn't bother to wrap the skirt around the legs. In this strip, however, he cheats Patty's legs and skirt longer as she stoops down to Lucy's height.

Even more interesting, however... look at the cross-hatch pattern on her dress. Does something look odd about it? It's like the cloth is a shaped hole in the paper, revealing the pattern behind it. Due to the small size of the panels on the page, I think the pattern reads better this way than if it were more realistically drawn.

I love it when comic strips do things like this. A contemporary example, to borrow from outside the artform for a moment, is in the Monkey Island series of computer games. Most of them feature a salesman character named Stan who wears a loud checked sportcoat. The pattern on the coat is applied across the folds of cloth in much the same way as the pattern on Patty's dress. This fan drawing on Stan (taken from here) illustrates the effect:

Recently the series made the jump to polygonal, 3D graphics. The pattern on his coat is considered to be such an integral part of the character that the developers went to special trouble to preserve the effect (source page):

Sunday, December 12, 2010

August 5, 1953: You gotta get the breaks?


Could someone help me out here? What is Schroeder's meaning here? Does it have to do with a specific way of playing? Does "the breaks" refer to randomly-assigned factors, like say talent, in sayings such as "that's the breaks?"

I think Schulz is almost done with the whole "how does Schroeder play Beethoven on a toy piano" gimmick. When he finds a joke he really likes he isn't afraid to use a few variations or iterations, but he does eventually tire of it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

August 4, 1953: There goes Linus again


Another variation on the theme that Linus is freakishly top-heavy. We've seen a few of these strips, and there are still more to come.

Friday, December 10, 2010

August 3, 1953: Lucy Van Pelt in Outer Space


The fun of this strip is the stuff Lucy sees after staring at the sun. This might be the only time in the whole strip Schulz gets to draw Saturn. Why Charlie Brown is concerned Lucy might beg some candy off of him, we don't know. It's not really standard Lucy behavior.

Of course, staring at the sun is very bad for your eyes. But we can see that here!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sunday, August 2, 1953: Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the hose


Linked for Snoopy cuteness.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

August 1, 1953: Plaid Ice Cream


Y'know, I think this is a common attitude with kids. I know when I was little I thought chocolate was just better, generally, than vanilla, which seemed like plain, or "default," ice cream.

Plaid, however, is not one of your more common flavors. Funny thing is, Schulz has used this joke before. I do think it's common for kids to confuse flavors and colors, a state of affairs that is not, I'd say, helped by modern kiddie marketing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

July 31, 1953: A well-established fact


This is an emerging theme of Peanuts strips, where one character reads something in a book and reacts to it. Often these reactions are solitary, just a way to present a statement for a character react against.

Usually these statements are meant to be accepted uncritically. Not in this case however, here Snoopy's reactions directly disprove the book's declaration, which makes the strip into a commentary upon it.

As for whether dogs really can't reason, well, I doubt that severely. I've known a couple of very smart dogs in my time, one really quite freakishly so.

Charlie Brown's personality is still fairly mischievous at this point. He doesn't do this much more often. It seems like all the mischief in his soul disappears as it increases in the other characters, particularly Lucy. So maybe there's some kind of spirit transference going on here.

Scribble of ire!

Monday, December 6, 2010

July 30, 1953: Lucy is inappropriately happy


Lucy's being pleased at her own orneriness is interesting. Being happy that she's difficult to be around is a very Lucy attitude. This might be overthinking a joke somewhat, but it does point the way to her increasing willfulness.

In this strip, Lucy is alone but she's still talking. Her speech is more like her thoughts than things she is actually saying. This is akin to the theater trope where characters turn and address the audience, unheard by others in the scene. Overturning this, later on there will be strips in which a character actually overhears another character's internal dialogue, which could be taken to mean that either Schulz is playing around with the convention, or that his characters really do frequently talk to themselves.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

July 29, 1953: Schnozzle


One theme that Schulz returns to over and over is that of personal empowerment vs. the domination of others.

That is to say, here Charlie Brown is happy that another character has made a bigger mistake than he tends to, and takes delight in pointing that out. When Patty corrects him, he immediately retracts and feels sorry for himself. He goes directly from happy-extrovert-superior to sad-introvert-inferior, flipping along all three axises at once.

Charlie Brown comes to dwell most often in the later triad in the years to come. This seems to tie in with his "wishy-washy" character, although that is a term that hasn't been mentioned in the strip yet and won't be for some time. We'll discuss this more later.

How does one come to believe that it's called a "schnozzle?" Is this related to the slang term for a nose, a "schnozzola?" A quick Google search suggests it might be.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

July 28, 1953: Loudmouth Lucy


Characters in Peanuts tend to interact in pairs. Snoopy and Lucy as a pair are sometimes friendly and sometimes antagonistic. This is the first hint of the discord to come.

Friday, December 3, 2010

July 27, 1953: Schroeder's On Fire


It is the summer months in the strip right now, making this feasible. I can't help but think that big hole overhead must affect the acoustics somehow.

One interesting thing about Peanuts' art style is how the characters' mouths disappear when closed. It's particularly evident on Schroeder's face here, since he doesn't speak in this strip.

When viewed from the front, the characters' mouths have generally been visible up until now, even if only as a short line. We'll see in the years to come that Schulz plays around with this a bit, that there will be times when characters seen from the front will strangely have no mouths.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sunday, July 26, 1953: Guess what's for dinner


Another mud pie strip. I don't think girls largely bother with mud pies anymore, but I can't bring myself to mourn this development. The only reason eating one of these would not cause food poisoning, I would think, is because it's not even food in the first place.

The word "de-luxe," meaning luxurious or opulent and nowadays usually represented as "deluxe," is one of those terms that the world of advertising has brought us. I'm not quite sure of its origins however, and a minute spent in Google doesn't clear the matter up much.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

July 25, 1953: Fussing with Lucy


We've already seen strips in which Lucy fusses over something to Charlie Brown, who blandly walks away, sometimes after dumping something on Lucy's head. This won't be the last one, either. Charlie Brown seems to lose this ability as Lucy becomes a more formidable opponent. These are "turnabout" strips, even though they don't involve a chase.

This strip also brings in another developing concept, Lucy's propensity to go wildly overboard in describing something, first seen back when exulting in her Checkers winning streak.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

July 23, 1953: Context


This might seem like a throwaway joke, but I think it points to something very important. The characters are missing a commonality of experience that would enable each of them to understand the other.

Without commonality, only with effort can people understand another's perspective. Here, by each assuming the other is speaking in familiar terms, the characters are unable to communicate effectively.

Using Schroeder for this strip works because he's the character with the most dissimilar perspective of the kids. He's an artist, and his focus is a higher goal. This, I would say, is at the root of his differences with Lucy. Even Snoopy is more in tune with the other kids than Schroeder.

We still get strips in which Schroeder is playing ordinary kid games, but as the strip continues we'll see him doing this less and less.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

July 22, 1953: How did we get from there to here?


This is a common pattern for strips around this time: Charlie Brown is exults in being right about something, and the character who was wrong, instead of giving him satisfaction, responds with a non-sequitur cut down.

The ages of the characters have already become somewhat obscured, and we're not even three years in. Remember, Patty is older than Charlie Brown, who is older than Violet. She's already taller than him (she might even be the tallest character), and she teams up often with Patty as equals, which implies comradeship. But when it comes to the characters' intelligence, Schulz still seems to go by the pre-established age order: in cases where characters are arguing, the correctness hierarchy, highest to lowest, is Patty, Charlie Brown, Violet, then Lucy. (Schroeder's sphere is specialized knowledge so he trumps them in his area of interest, Shermy doesn't appear very often, and Linus and Snoopy don't talk.)


Saturday, November 27, 2010

July 20-21, 1953: Piano interlude

July 20

The first strip comments on the plight of the working artist.

July 21

The second, the artist's quest for respect.

It is easy to see the Schroeder strips as a metaphor for Schulz's own desire to be taken seriously. Maybe this is why he often uses Schroeder as an audience for Charlie Brown's efforts at cartooning, in which we can just as easily imagine Schulz poking fun at himself.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sunday, July 19, 1953: Snoopy's come to accept the sprinkler


This strip, if your only experience with Peanuts is the later era, is striking in how it treats Snoopy like just a dog. No abundant imagination, no literary pretensions, no "world famous" anything, no Woodstock, no "Happiness is" smarm, no walking on his back legs, and no thought bubbles.

This strip is, I think, padded out a bit. Particularly Schroeder's line "We can't.. we just can't" and Lucy's "You don't understand," both of which seem kind of hollow; the only reason they don't just say "We can't because he's sitting in the sprinkler" is because that would spoil the reveal. Probably panels seven and eight could be removed and the rest rearranged to make the point in fewer panels. Remove the top line of three panels and just four remain, exactly the length of a classic Peanuts daily strip.

Still not a bad strip though. It is a funny joke in the end. Snoopy's smiling expression sells it for me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

July 18, 1953: Picnic-school


This is the first time in my life I've ever heard of picnic-school.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

July 16-17, 1953: Linus, the Baby Gravity Hates



Linus falls over a lot. Yet oddly for such a clumsy child, when he manages to stay upright he shows himself capable of great feats of dexterity. I think it's due to the relative size of his head....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

July 15,1953: A trapeze?


Lucy's gym set sounds hardcore. Overlooking the parallel bars and trapeze, does it really need a siren?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday, July 12, 1953: A page-turner


The various characters are picking up quirks that help to differentiate them. In the near future:

Lucy is a reader, but also gets facts wrong readily and laughs off suggestions that she might be wrong. Charlie Brown, on the other hand, when he gets something wrong he's very self-conscious about it, and Lucy's continued willful ignorance will give him ulcers. Linus, even when he starts really talking, is pretty quiet. Patty and Violet aren't that different, but Violet is more antagonistic, cold, sometimes even hostile to Charlie Brown. Schroeder, well, is obvious. Snoopy has problems with inanimate objects.

I think it's obvious that Shermy is in the pool in the first panel, but it's less evident that the kid he's with is Schroeder. It probably is, but that's mostly because I don't think Schulz would throw an extra in there just to have one.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

July 9, 1953: An innocent question


This is another version of the "Can I put my hand in your glass of milk" strip from some time back. There are a number of jokes that are repeated enough to take on the status of running gags, but this one isn't repeated too often.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

July 8, 1953: Stormclouds on the horizon


That loud noise you hear is not the shouting of a little girl. It's the rumble of destiny.

Friday, November 19, 2010

July 7, 1953: Charlie Brown gets it wrong


A scene from the midpoint of the arc of Charlie Brown's personality, on his way towards the lovable sad sack we all know. I'd say it's only partway there because there's actually a bit of egotism in this, that CB assumes the girls must be talking about him, that he lacks in later strips.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

July 6, 1953: Whither the pigs?



Lucy has quickly become the most frequent female character, and second only to Charlie Brown in recent appearances. Patty and Violet are nearly interchangeable now. Although Violet joined the cast as a "young" kid character, she was never as naive as Lucy can be.

Lucy is especially unique because she can combine her naivety, somehow, with sarcasm. That combination sticks to the character for quite some time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sunday, July 5, 1953: First use of "real" extras


We've seen one-use animals other than Snoopy before (a dog and two birds), and we had one strip in which we saw other kids from a distance. But this here is the first time in Peanuts we've seen entirely non-regular character designs as throwaways. Also included: the first kid with glasses, and a kid with a "Jughead" hat.

Note: of all the extras in that sandbox, only two of them are girls, and both are cast members. Also, Violet wears her hair down this time; she's got it in a bob most appearances now.

The tiers of Peanuts characters:
"Cast" characters are the main guys. There are some characters who, once they arrive, are frequently seen for a while. Some of these are long-term characters (like Charlie Brown, who was in the first strip and the last).

We might call "understudy" characters those who join for a little while, like Frieda, but then digress into occasional appearances, usually disappearing completely some time later. Eudora is also one of these, I'd say.

Some never seem to progress beyond being bit characters. These guys are usually introduced as part of a story, and sometimes get used as extras in group scenes. Roy is a good example; he's not quite an extra, and in fact has an important place in Peanuts history for introducing Charlie Brown to "Peppermint" Patty, but he never really joins the main cast. I think "5" and his sisters, the twins "3" and "4," are also in this category. (The digit kids aren't much remembered now, but are notable for appearing in the dance scenes in A Charlie Brown Christmas.)