Sunday, October 31, 2010

June 11, 1953: You DOG You


Snoopy in the first panel looks so serious. Snoopy in the second and third panels is a little weird. Snoopy looks a bit different when seen in three-quarters perspective, I think. His face changes shape a little, becomes more rounded and flatter. Peanuts is so stylized that the characters have what amounts to different designs when seen from different angles.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

June 9, 1953: Violet throws Charlie Brown out again


This strip is another episode of the "Violet evicts Charlie Brown" saga that has been going for some time. At some point, possibly when the art style became more detailed, this stops seeming cute and starts seeming cruel. It's not now because Violet has a change of heart, but eventually her reservations diminish.

Charlie Brown's playing with blocks seems odd here. Although he's represented as being very young, he and his friends more typically play cowboys or spaceships. Blocks are usually used for the (even) younger characters, Lucy and Linus.

Scribble of ire!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sunday, June 7: More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Jumping Ropes


Awesome. I think I even like the joke in the lead throwaway panels better than the main strip!

There are shades here of Linus' pontificating a litany of made-up sightings of the Great Pumpkin.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

June 5, 1953: Back when Charlie Brown had self-esteem


I have to admit to feeling this way myself sometimes. I don't usually take Charlie Brown's tack to resolving it however, because... well, for exactly this reason.

In panel two, compared to the door, notice that Charlie Brown seems very small. There is no way he could reach the door handle. To state it plainly, usually the characters are drawn so they wouldn't have to reach up so far to reach doorknobs.

Made a minor edit....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

June 4, 1953: Charlie Brown No Longer Exists


There is some kind of logical fallacy at work here, although I can't precisely identify it right now. It's the kind of thing I'd say "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" to.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

June 1, 1953: Lucy's infatuation grows


More storm clouds on the horizon for poor Schroeder.

Compare, for a moment, the length of Schroeder's arms (the only straight arms in this strip) with those of the girls. It points out a notable quirk of Peanuts' art style, one that I seem to remember reading somewhere Schulz lamenting. That is, the normal length of the kids' arms only works if they're held straight. If they're bent they're obviously too short, so Schulz has to cheat them longer a bit. If he drew them longer when held straight they'd reach down too far, almost to the knees.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunday, May 31, 1953: Snoopy's not fond of fetch


Another of the earliest strips in which Snoopy gets thought balloons. He becomes much more of a real character with them, instead of just a creature that does funny things and has funny things happen to him.

Snoopy refers to chasing the ball as a way of making a living. Is kind of a throwaway line, but it does imply that Charlie Brown must be feeding him, putting another point in the owner column.

I'm not sure why I'm fascinated by the symmetrical gasping and panting in panel six. Seems a bit overdone, though.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

May 30, 1953: Look out, Schroeder!


I think we all know where this is heading....

How do you say hearts?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

May 27, 1953: Falling off the Tricycle


This is a funny strip I think.

Charlie Brown is the most versatile, by far, member of the cast. He can by turns be a smart-aleck, a victim, a bit of a jerk, a bit stupid, sly, witty, determined or hopeful.

Patty is becoming less of a foil for Charlie Brown, and Violet is turning against him generally. Those two characters mostly exist to bounce off of CB; Schulz seems less able to think of things for them to do on their own. Shermy has even less of his own existence.

Schroeder probably has the deepest private life of all the characters. Lucy and Linus sometimes each get strips to themselves, although, strangely, not too many with just the two of them. Snoopy gets his own strip sometimes too; he hasn't made a habit of having his own thoughts yet, though, so most of the time his strips have to be pantomime which is harder to write.

How do you fall off a tricycle?

Friday, October 22, 2010

May 25, 1953: You 'Ol Charlie Brown, You


This is the unreasoning hatred we're used to seeing from Violet, as well as the self-esteem issues of CB. It's been interesting to watch Charlie Brown's self-satisfaction fade for the past couple of years of the strip. The other characters still a lot of wearing down to perform on him though; Lucy hasn't even come into her full malicious strength yet.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sunday, May 24: Lucy the expert


This strip is very much classic Peanuts in style. The first years of the strip usually used Sunday comics to present a bunch of jokes that might as well have been about any little kids. This one speaks to a definite personality. In fact, the joke at the end is kind of weak; the strip is more concerned with illustrating Lucy's authority on the subject of jump ropes than its result.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

May 22, 1953: The Betty Crocker of dirt


She might be drawn differently now, but Violet still seems fascinated with mud pies.

We watched it happen, but I'm still amazed by how differently the characters look now from how they looked three short years ago. It affects how we feel about them I think; this version of Violet doesn't look to be as sweet-natured as the little girl Schulz introduced originally. That's an important step towards her developing antagonist role.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

May 21, 1953: On the mound: The origin of the pitcher's mound


This is the first strip in which there is an actual pitcher's mound, and not a flat spot of earth. Of course the later mound is a lot wider, but it's not actually much shorter.

One flaw with the premise of this strip: when the other team is up to pitch, wouldn't it help them just as much?

Monday, October 18, 2010

May 19, 1953: Snoopy viciously attacked by yard apparatus


This is one of a type of strip from around this time where Snoopy is attacked by some mechanical device that he fails to understand. These strips rely on the dog being naive on the subject of human invention, which requires a certain flexibility of characterization.

Remember, this is the same dog that lives in a duplex and has been seen with a TV aerial atop his house. But Snoopy is used here more for being a dog than for being Snoopy. Later, when his personality becomes less doglike, these jokes will make less sense.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

May 18, 1953: On the mound: The baseball changes hands


In an earlier strip the baseball was Schroeder's, and Charlie Brown told him to take it and run home when his team was in the lead.

I think this is the first use of the term "good grief."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sunday, May 17, 1953: Dirt, marvellous dirt


I think this is quite a charming strip, despite the return to the theme of mud pie baking. Frames 6-8 contain what I consider to be among the most winning drawings of Patty Schulz ever drew. I think it's the hair; the dirt lends it a shading that makes it seem a bit more real, a bit less stylized.

Patty's willingness to get messy echoes the character of "Peppermint" Patty. Schulz and Peanuts notes that the two are based on the same real-life person, making the flavored version kind of a revision of the original.

Friday, October 15, 2010

May 14-16, 1953: Comics, and the foundation of "Happiness Is"


This is mostly notable because it's Schulz engaging in more metacommentary about comics.


One of the more insipid trends in Peanuts is those cloying "Happiness Is..." pictures. I actually don't think they were ever that prevalent in the comics; I think they were used more in books and merchandising. Still, this is a step in that direction. It is also the first instance, to my eyes, of Charlie Brown bemoaning his fate in the recognized Charlie Brown manner.


I think that would actually be a funny strip, in a New Yorker kind of way. (Which means other people probably wouldn't think it'd be a funny strip.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

May 13, 1953: Baseball Blockhead


First use of the word "blockhead." Also, the first strip in which another character comments on Charlie Brown's lack of pitching skill.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

May 12, 1953: Snoopy's duplex


This strip is a variant of those previous sight-gag strips in which Snoopy's house had a TV antenna and where he lived in a hotel.

It's funny, but it also slowly pushes the edge on what is seen as "normal" in the Peanuts world. Snoopy's growth into his vibrant later personality is gradual, the change accomplished slowly through strips like this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

May 11, 1953: Snoopy and the realistic bird


This is only the second bird ever seen in the strip; the first was seen early on, and actually looked more like Schulz's adult bird design (which to clarify _doesn't_ look similar to Woodstock) than this one.

This is only the third non-Snoopy animal seen in the strip. (The second was a generic dog who chased a car.) The worm would be the fourth, I guess.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sunday, May 10, 1953: Lucy and the Balloon


Here we get a glimpse at the struggle that roils just beneath Lucy's exterior. Notice how she alternates between pleading and threatening? Speaking in terms of the development of her personality, the threatening would eventually win out. Later Lucy would probably pop the balloon just from the dire intensity of her incredible wrath.

The lead panels, not printed by some papers and thus optional, are interesting here. What do put put in those panels so that it's still understandable from their absence, but still in some way contributes to the story? Schulz had yet to hit upon his trick of putting an abstract drawing in the first panel. Here, they're used to underline the point that Lucy has anthropomorphized the balloon.

This is also the first strip I've noticed in which Peanut's catch-all expletive "Rats" is used.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

May 8, 1953: Mania, meet mania


For those of you too young to remember those strange things called "ree-cords," they were fragile platters of vinyl on which were engraved grooves which, when used in the proper player, could reproduce sound.

The shockwave coming off of Schroeder's head in the last panel, is one of those comic conventions, here as a depiction of surprise or dismay, that is mostly just accepted. But what is it supposed to represent? What is it a visual metaphor for? What's to stop us from creating our own such visual metaphors? (I think it'd be fun to do this but make them crazy and nonsensical.) How do these things get invented and agreed upon?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

May 6, 1953: Snoopy in the outfield


Give him some time Charlie Brown. Eventually Snoopy becomes the team's star player, winning the admiration of the team and the respect of competitor "Peppermint" Patty.

Friday, October 8, 2010

May 4, 1953: Charlie Brown has a big, round head


More turnabout/chase shenanigans with Lucy. It's another version of the beach ball strip. (And in fact, it seems fairly easy to get CB's goat.)

By the way, May 3 is not up at Does anyone know if the strip is in Fantagraphics' compilations?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

May 1, 1953: This is why I like Schroeder


It's odd, isn't it? Here Schroeder decries commercialism, and in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" CB spends a lot of the time complaining about the crassness of marketing culture. And yet no strip has been merchandised and exploited even close to the extent that Peanuts has. Income from Peanuts made Charles Schulz a billionaire.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

April 30, 1953: First reference to kites


The word "kite" isn't even mentioned in this strip, but it sets up, already, the most important thing about Charlie Brown's relationship with them: he can't fly one to save his life.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

April 28, 1953: How does a cotton ball fly like that?


Other than from showing Peanuts' continued fascination with golf, the only real reason I picked this strip is that it has some nice drawings of Snoopy. All the versions of all the characters have their strong points, but in Snoopy's case I think I prefer this style most of all. It's a long time until the long, lean Snoopy of the "Snoopy dance" arrives, and longer still until we see the "balloon animal" Snoopy of the most recent era.

Monday, October 4, 2010

April 27, 1953: Dig that crazy rain


The sketchiness and wavering line of later Peanuts has a charm that goes well with the personality of the strip, but let’s never forget that early Peanuts showed great technical ability.  We saw that back in the golf strips a couple of days ago, and we see it again here in this wonderful depiction of a rain storm.

The thing that makes it really appealing to me is the darker hatching used to represent obscured scenery in the background.  It’s wonderfully suggestive without being too precise.  It actually looks better to me this way than the backgrounds that would usually be back there.  It must have taken a long time to draw.

Here's some more rain from a few days later, just because I probably wouldn't link to the strip otherwise:
May 2, 1953:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

April 25, 1953: Dismissed!


Remember: at this point in his life Charles Schulz has served a full term in World War II. It's kind of surprising this hasn't come through more often, actually.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sunday, April 26, 1953: Lucy's skill at golf, and Peanuts' 60th Anniversary


These frames contain some of the more action-oriented Peanuts poses. Particularly frame 5. Later on the female characters' dresses sort of stiffen and flatten out, becoming like dinner plates around their waists, but Lucy's skirt in that panel is one of the most skirt-like skirts Schulz ever drew for Peanuts.

This strip is a foreshadowing of one of the weirdest sequences in the entire strip, the "Lucy in the golf tournament" sequence that played out over successive Sunday strips. That's not coming around for another year, though....

From the comments to yesterday's post:
Michael Jones said...
Happy 60th Anniversary! I hope you have something special planned for Oct. 2nd.

Er, why, yes! Yes I have, I, uh, I've been planning it for months, yeah, just let me for a sec--


...well it is a special occasion. For today, the 60th anniversary of publication of the first Peanuts strip, let's break the sequential ordering and take a look at that strange sequence alluded to in the post above. What we present here is nothing less than... and this is deserving I think of the full-out giant text treatment:


Oh yeah, for all you trivia quizzers this should be like gold. I'll present all four Sunday strips then discuss them afterward:

Sunday, May 9, 1954

Sunday, May 16, 1954

Sunday, May 24, 1954

Sunday, May 30, 1954

Oh, where to begin?

First, Peanuts hasn't had many sequences up to this point. To this point we haven't seen any week-long "stories" of themed strips. Yet in these strips we not only have a sequential story, we have square-bordered "CONTINUED" notes, a big promotional box at the end of the first strip, and we have very little actual humor, replaced here with straight narrative.

It's almost like... (gasp)... a continuity strip. It's a bold experiment on the part of Mr. Schulz, although not really a successful one. As far as I know Schulz never returned to the style. It's enough to make one wonder why here, three-and-a-half years in, he considered changing it up.

Was he trying to attract a new audience? Possibly. I don't think Peanuts was unpopular at the time but it had yet to hit upon its greatest popularity, possibly because, although an excellent gag strip, its characters hadn't yet achieved the depths which marked them as works of genius, which would imprint them indelibly upon our age. Here Linus is still a baby and hasn't quoted the Old Testament, Snoopy has yet to have had an imaginative leap, and while Charlie Brown's losing streak at checkers is up to an improbable 10,000 games (thanks to Lucy), at baseball it's still only a game or two.

It's also possible that he was tiring of the limits of the form. I've said before that drawing a daily comic strip is basically a creative meat-grinder; having to come up with something funny to say every day for the rest of your life. Many strips eventually resort to hiring a writing staff (as is the case with Garfield). Schulz, however, famously wrote and drew every strip himself.

Some cartoonists make it work, of course. Ernie Bushmiller, of Nancy, brought a kind of genius to it, but it was genius of a lesser gauge than Schulz's, the genius of endless invention within limited parameters. Schulz, who had wanted to become a cartoonist since childhood, now placed in the role he had long sought and performed it over a thousand times by now, must have thought at some point before now, "Is this it? A joke a day, forever?"

You haven't seen most of them yet, but in the weeks before this sequence there are several strips which have Charlie Brown drawing a comic strip (somewhat humorously on full-sized comic panel boards almost as big as he is), then showing them to his friends who fail utterly to get his joke. In cartooning, I posit, you don't have the luxury of keeping secrets from your readers; when you're forced to mine your brain for new ideas so often, the things that are on your mind will unavoidably come out onto the page. If we accept that, we have to see Schulz in these strips as poking fun as his own pretensions.

It is my theory, and it is not one that I really have any support for except for thinking how he might have chafed at that fate, that it was dissatisfaction with running a simple gag strip, no matter how witty and clever, that caused him, before long, to attempt greater things with his characters.

Second, yes, let's talk about the adult figures. If you go back to the earliest strips and examine how the characters were drawn, it's difficult to imagine what an adult figure of that style would look like. (If you'd like to see, this page has some of his Saturday Evening Post work including one strip with adults.)

The characters have evolved considerably over the first three years, have become more realistically-proportioned, and it's not as much of a stretch to imagine an adult version of one of them.

These strips don't often make it into compilations, maybe for good reason. Peanuts' world can exist only in the absence of adults. How can we justify this rather strange inclusion of full-sized human figures in this realm of children? I do it by observing that the adults are used mostly as scenery. In the second and third strips they extend off-frame before you can see their heads, and in the fourth their heads quite conspicuously don't have faces, which makes them strangely not like real people. When confronted about these strips, Schulz has been recorded as saying the use of the adult figures was a failed experiment.

Charles Schulz draw another strip for a short time called "It's Only A Game," which more frequently featured representations of adults. Fivecentsplease has an informative page on this forgotten piece of Peanuts history, as well as the story of its partly-uncredited ghost artist Jim Sasseville.

Here are some of the more usual nitpicky things:
How on earth could Lucy, who is I think four or five years old at this point, do well in an adult golf tournament? The issue isn't her gender Charlie Brown, it's her size! I think it works, however, by playing off the wonder of her accomplishment.
Speaking of which, the characters actually seem to be smaller than usual in the second and third strips (I'm judging height from those strips where the kids have to reach for doorknobs), but seem to be more realistically-sized in the last.

Other firsts in this sequence:
This is the first time Lucy is referred to by her full first name, Lucille, long before "Peppermint" Patty arrives on the scene. This is also, if I'm remembering right, the first use of her last name, "Van Pelt." Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography reveals that Van Pelt was the name of a friend of Charles Schulz's who sometimes played bridge with him and his first wife Joyce.
It's the first mention of real-world sports stars, and it may actually be the first mention of people living contemporary with the drawing and publication of the strip. (Other "real world" figures mentioned to date have been the composers of Schroeder's musical pieces.)
This is not the first time Schulz has spoken directly to the reader in titles or captions. That was a few Sunday strips earlier, in an oddly-titled strip named "The Croquet Game." It's the first (and I believe only) use of captions, and promoting of future strips.
The sign announcing the tournament lists the current year, which is the first definite in-strip indication of the time the strip takes place.
I think this is the first time we see she characters silhouetted in the distance.
This is the first aerial shot of any characters.
The adults are not the first "extras" used in Peanuts, but they're close. We've already seen the first extras a few strips ago, additional kids added to fill out a baseball game.
The idea of the whole sequence (a character unexpectedly excels, pursues a competition to the cusp of victory, but comes to a halt at the moment before complete success) foreshadows the Peanuts movie "A Boy Named Charlie Brown," where CB goes to a national spelling bee, but at the last word fails in front of a national audience.

One last thing: chagrimace!

Friday, October 1, 2010

April 24, 1953: The Tyrant Pose


The third panel here is the first time in the strip I think the "tyrant" pose is used: a character with balled fists, one arm stretched upward at an angle, the other bent, staring into space with mouth wide open, and with angry eyebrows. Whenever this pose is used, it's usually a signal to the reader that the character is being unreasonably bossy. Sometimes it signifies comeuppance is coming. Lucy uses it a fair bit later on though, and she doesn't get comeuppance so much.