Saturday, July 30, 2011

Week of August 2-7: Linus is very good at building card houses

This week, there is no sign of Patty, Shermy or Violet.

August 2:

The existence of fingerprints is a little convenient, don't you think?

August 3:

In 1954 Linus would be called a prodigy. Now, he'd probably get labeled autistic, or diagnosed with ADD. Although his ability to build things like card houses so quickly, or gravity-defying stacks of blocks, borders on the magical.

The first baby in the strip was Schroeder, who developed into a musical genius. Here we kind of see Schulz taking the same steps with Linus, although his personality became rather different.

August 4:

Do they have little flourishes at the edges of the ridges? Do the whorls form a delightful swooping pattern?

August 5:

Be careful what you beg for, Snoopy. I hope Linus didn't go back to sucking on that thing afterward. Notably, we don't actually see Snoopy link the thumb; we infer it from his reaction.

August 6:

Charlie Brown seeks to branch out into adventure comics. Adventure comic strips are a sad and moribund category any more so some of you might not be familiar with them. The real money now, such as it is, is in comic magazines*, with their X-people and their Superfolk and their Batguys and their....

* I've decided: I'm reviving this usage. Who's with me?

August 7:

Silly Lucy, everyone knows only the index finger contains a gun barrel.

Sunday, August 1, 1954: Whoops!

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Sometimes the heavy stylization of Peanuts works in the service of a gag. In this strip, it isn't clear what exactly it is that Snoopy is doing until he tells us in the last panel. Although "whoops!" is kind of a weird thing to say in response to something cold pressed against your back.

Snoopy isn't as long in these panels as he was a few weeks back, he looks to be of a more reasonable size compared to when he's sitting down. But we do have a few panels where we see his face in three-quarters' perspective and get that weird broad face. Snoopy's snout really only exists in profile.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Week of July 26-31, 1954: Astronomy class with Lucy

July 26:

Charlie Brown began as kind of a smart-aleck. We know his destination is to be a kind of downcast everyman. Here's a bit of a transitional state, that of being kind of paranoid about what others think about him.

July 27:

I image Snoopy moving here in much the same way that snakes do. It's a fun illustration.

July 28:

July 29:

In the first of these strips, Lucy doesn't have a good sense of relative distances. In the second, she's gotten the distance down but wonders, if Mars is so far away, why she should care. Lucy is the type of person who can make a leap from ignorance directly to dismissal.

July 30:

More Pig-Pen strips. Not being bothered by girls is a questionable virtue. I can see the mosquito thing, but I'd think the presence of other vermin might make up for it.

July 31:

Although Schulz returns to Pig-Pen periodically throughout Peanuts' run, it's without any great fervor. Jan in comments a few days ago remarked that, in all of Peanuts, there are only around 140 Pig-Pen strips. We've now seen ten of them.

While there's something admirable about Pig-Pen's lack of self-consciousness, as that prior commenter said, there's not a lot you can say about him. I think Schulz returns to him every once in a while because A. he's kind of a link to the early days of Peanuts, and B. it's a character quirk that never needed updating.

Peanuts lasted up to the dawning days of the 21st century, and throughout that time some updates to the cast were necessary. Lucy changed her dark blue dress for a track suit. Eudora's clothes would have been unthinkable in 1951. Need I even remind you of Franklin? Snoopy's typewriter was out of date at least a decade before he wrote that final letter.

There have always been, and probably always will be, messy kids, so Pig-Pen never needed revising or replacing.

It's funny to think of a dog as being afraid of getting his mouth dirty. Most dogs I've known haven't been what I'd call discriminating eaters.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sunday, July 25, 1954: You crazy dog

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This is one of Snoopy's earliest moments of pure anarchy.

The lead-in panels on this strip, the two at the top that newspapers had the option of leaving off, are important this time. Without those panels, this strip is about Snoopy the crazy dog. With them, it's about how Charlie Brown doesn't take good care of his records. Even without the lead panels the second interpretation makes more sense than the first, but it doesn't have the necessary narrative weight behind it without seeing Charlie Brown sailing that record through the air.

When I first saw this strip in a compilation it was without the lead panels, and I was confused that Charlie Brown didn't see it was plainly Snoopy' fault the record was scratched up. (The reprint did have Charlie Brown rolling the record on its edge, but as a kid I just assumed, rather confusedly, that was a way people transported records back then.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Week of July 19-24: Some more Pig-Pen

July 19:

There are certain problems with having a genius for a friend. Sometimes, when a melody strikes your head at just the right angle, you just have to get it out, your prized copy of Detective Comics #1 not withstanding.

I like how Charlie Brown still calls it a "comic magazine." I guess that term was current at the time.

July 20:

This is before Pig-Pen's messiness becomes a quasi-magical ability in later strips, where dirt appears on him spontaneously while he walks down the street.

July 21:

Snoopy's ear doesn't really have the pointy tip that a shark's fin has. But, then, it's a wading pool.

July 22:

Heh heh, I like this one. Reminds me of Lucy's gray jellybeans.

Pig-Pen is remarkably forward with his request for candy. Charlie Brown will hint and plead, but Pig-Pen (I'm not abbreviating it for what I take will be obvious reasons) just says "Gonna give me some?" Most Pig-Pen strips end up being about his messiness, which is really a shame because he has a unique personality among all the Peanuts cast.

July 23:

This is very much classic Lucy in personality. I joke about her incredible wrath and compare her to Cthulhu, but she's not all bad. She is funnier that way though. This is a pretty funny strip in all. It's not hard to invent gags about a really dirty kid, although later on they become less about the raw fact of his dirt and more about how comfortable Pig-Pen is in his own skin (and the layer of grime that covers it).

July 24:

I love the way Lucy looks at Snoopy in the third panel. I have to wonder about the source of Charlie Brown's "imitation people" comment though. Maybe it was something in the cultural air at the time.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sunday, July 18, 1954: The nature of nothing

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From the Wikipedia article on Virgil Thomson:
"[...] Thomson was famous for his revival of the rare technique of composing "musical portraits" of living subjects, often spending hours in a room with them before rushing off to finish the piece on his own. Many subjects reported feeling that the pieces did capture something unique about their identities even thought nearly all the portraits were absent of any clearly representational content."

A sly strip. Schroeder's looks of concentration, followed by his throwing his hands up, are important for understanding that he's giving up. I think it works better this way, allowing us to see him throwing in the towel, than being told directly that he's got nothing, which would seem a bit harder on Charlie Brown's feelings.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Week of July 12-17, 1954: Pig-Pen

July 12

It's funny, but before Linus comes on the scene, Lucy fills many of the same rolls, as someone Charlie Brown can just talk to. Maybe that's why she's so cruel to Linus.

July 13

He's here! This is Pig-Pen's first strip, and it's also the first real sequence in Peanuts, by which I mean, a good number of strips in a row that all deal with the same thing. Schulz has done multiple strips on a topic many times up to this point, but he's spread them out. (Lucy in the Golf Tournament could be considered such a sequence I suppose, but it's only over Sunday strips.)

Pig-Pen is also the first of a long long of minor characters. (Unless you could the realistic bird that harassed Snoopy recently, who has been seen once before.) And he's the most persistent of all of Peanuts' side cast. Sometimes months or even years may go between appearances, but Schulz never completely forgets about the kid. Contrast this with Charlotte Braun, or 5, or Roy, or Molly Volley. Pig-Pen is also longer-lived than most later major characters. Frieda appears frequently for a while, as does Eudora for a while, but both of them eventually fade into obscurity, while Pig-Pen remains, as steady as the earth with which he is covered.

Pig-Pen's annoyed statement that he doesn't have a name is funny, but is largely accurate. We never, to my knowledge, get a name for him.

Notice that it's Patty that first meets the kid. Violet and Lucy were first met by Charlie Brown. Schroeder was first met by Patty off-stage, but his first strip also had Charlie Brown. There! That's enough OCD for one day....

Patty describes Pig-Pen as "little," putting his age less than both hers and CB's. We don't yet have any information on whether Lucy is older or younger. While the ages between characters tend to compress over time, the order remains the same I think. This puts the order of ages at (">" means "is older than"):

Shermy & Patty > Charlie Brown > Violet > Schroeder > Pig-Pen & Lucy > Linus

July 14

Pig-Pen is the most zen-like of Peanuts' cast, even more so than Linus I think. He's a one-joke character but is very self-assured in his quirk. He sees absolutely nothing wrong with his messiness, he's comfortable with it, and I think there's something admirable in that.

July 15

Pig-Pen also has a sense of humor about himself. That implies being able to see himself from others' perspective, which itself implies maturity. Alternatively we could consider that this means he's internalized his messiness and considers it an alterable part of his personality, which could be regarded as a problem.

July 16

Snoopy's got word bubbles for his thoughts again. He actually uses them here while around another character; we're expected to see, I think, that his comments are a kind of internal monologue, presented theatrically.

July 17

Pig-Pen must spend a substantial amount of his time in the cleanliness/messiness cycle. Again, he is fully cognizant of his "fault," and doesn't consider it a fault at all. Later strips make it clear that Pig-Pen's dirtiness is actually a quasi-magical attribute; he gets dirty just walking down the street.

Pig-Pen's untied shoes are a nice touch.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sunday, July 11, 1954: Cheese it, it's the fuzz

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Good grief! Is this the first time this trademark phrase has been used by a Peanuts cast member? I don't see it in my previous tags.

Lucy's personality isn't just a festering ball of evil, she has some rather weird quirks. (Fuzz? Really?) This strip helps to solidify Charlie Brown's developing role as long-suffering straight man. Schulz doesn't let him off the hook completely though; his fear of bugs at the end serves to unify his and Lucy's perspectives, showing they really aren't different.

Oh, one more thing...


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Week of July 5-10, 1954: Developing personalities

July 5

This strip has been some time in coming. I love it. Charlie Brown's look of disgust in the third panel, and Schroeder's of dismay in the fourth are what make it. But also making this strip funnier is that we know by now that Schroeder is a Beethoven freak. We have that reminder in the second panel for those just coming to the strip, but Schulz is more confident that Schroeder's character is established now. Schroeder has been the least tabula rasa of the characters since that day he started playing the piano. Charlie Brown, whose attitude has been becoming steadily more defeatist, comes in second. Some other characters exhibit personality quirks (Lucy's winning streak at checkers & skill with golf, Patty's with marbles, Violet's obsession with mud pies) but not much personality yet.

Snoopy and Linus/Lucy/Schroeder-as-baby don't count, since up to this point they're mostly used in their capacity of dog and baby. Remember, the Peanuts characters got their start as a series of New Yorker-style one-off strips for the Saturday Evening Post. That kind of humor (some would hesitate to call it funny, I understand) is mostly about universal types in funny situations. Peanuts started out solidly as that kind of thing, but now the characters have made for themselves ruts, and those ruts are becoming worn in the soul.

As time passes, characters either develop these kinds of ruts (Lucy's loudness, brashness and anger management issues, Linus' philosophy, etc.) or become bland enough that they fade right out of the strip (Shermy, but also Patty and Violet eventually). It is interesting, I think, that after his success with Schroeder, who was Schulz's first unique creation, that he didn't go and try to do that with all his characters. I think it shows that he still values them as general people rather than specific ones, and perhaps that he views Schroeder's personality as something he shouldn't try to force.

Two more things:

First, although people have criticized the book Schulz and Peanuts for relating everything in the strip to Schulz's life (I think the approach has some merit, but maybe not that much), I think it might have been right about the nature of Patty, that the later character of "Peppermint" Patty is kind of a revision/realization of the original. And "Peppermint" is very strongly typed compared to original-Patty's blandness.

Second, next week we have the introduction of Peanuts' many side characters, who tend to be introduced more for having specific traits than for being every men/women. He's also by the far the longest-lived of these characters, for although gaps may occur in his appearance rate he is never forgotten about like the others.

July 6

Snoopy vs. the Living Room. It's cute, but not much else.

July 7

A group of misfits? Is this a 50s counterculture thing?

Notice the completely unnecessary birds in the background in the second panel.

July 8

But Charlie Brown, no one says you have to give some of your ice cream to Snoopy. I think your tendency to be swayed by begging is more what trapped you than your shadow.

July 9

Charlie Brown here talks to Snoopy as if he were a human. This is not necessarily unusual; I've known a few people who, even if they would admit if you directly asked them that animals don't understand our crazy moon language, still act pretty much like animals are just kind of overcoming a difficult language barrier, speaking loudly and slowly to emphasize to them some thing they aren't supposed to do. Sometimes I think animals must consider us to be crazy at best, and Lovecraftian, unknowable entities at worse.

July 10

I like this one. Schulz is referring to his own tendency to draw serif-Zs that would look at home on a wooden alphabet block.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sunday, July 4, 1954: Snoopy vs. The Bird

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Independence Day, 1954. Nothing patriotic or so here, but we do have the return of the Realistic Bird.

This is uncharacteristically violent of Snoopy. If he had caught that bird what would he have done with it? The thing's smaller than his mouth.

It is making a bit of an assumption, but it is possible that this is THE bird, Woodstock's mother. Woodstock came into the strip as one of a number of birds who were born there in a nest on Snoopy's stomach in a well-remembered sequence. She disappeared from the strip and was never seen again, although Schulz made a big thing about Woodstock's pining for her.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Week of June 28-July 3: Chin scratching, angle worms and treads

June 28

Which is weirder: that there is a source that catalogues the tongues of different animals, or that Charlie Brown is referring to it? If Peanuts were being drawn today, CB would probably be editing a Wikipedia page.

This strip reminds me of a favorite Sunday entry from later in the run, the "Linus is aware of his tongue" strip, that injects just a tiny bit of Lovecraftian biological horror into the cartoon world.

June 29

Imperfect circles? This strip is really about defining terms: mathematically, there are only perfect circles, but practically we call all kinds of things circles that aren't precisely obedient to the rules of geometry.

June 30

Continuing from last week, more of the "Snoopy gets scratched on the chin" sequence. Charlie Brown's amused smile in the last panel makes this one for me. No one can have a character pass judgment with a simple smile like Charles Schulz can.

July 1

Charlie Brown must have rather some serious self-esteem issues here, but really, what kind of insult is "angle worm" anyway. It's got to be a real insult, of that I have no doubt because the joke of the strip relies on the reader having prior knowledge of the term, but it still seems silly, which is probably why it's no longer, to my knowledge, in currency.

July 2

Third of the chin-scratching strips. It's okay when Lucy does it, but not when Charlie Brown does? This suggests either that CB has a harsh scratching technique (perhaps clued by the fact that Lucy's "tickles" are in word balloons while Charlie Brown's are without), or that Snoopy gets something out of having his chin scratched by girls.

July 3

Oh no, Charlie Brown's been run over by a truck!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sunday, June 27, 1954: Snoopy should lay off the sugar

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This strip sets a couple of precedents all by itself.

First, for a while now, there have been kind of two designs for Snoopy. One is when he's sitting down, where he is a cute, compact little dog. Then other is when he's doing anything else, in which case he'll stretch out into an animal more than twice the size of the other one.

This strip doesn't have any drawings of Snoopy sitting dog-style, which become less frequent as Peanuts continues. The other one, the one depicted here, eventually becomes predominant. It is difficult to think of a beagle so large as a puppy, which is probably why this part of Snoopy's character is allowed to be forgotten. This is a much looser style for the character, which in turn allows Snoopy to become much more expressive and energetic, which fuels the growth in his personality.

Second, this is the first strip in which Snoopy's energetic personality annoys Charlie Brown. Once it's conclusively stated that Snoopy is his, he'll say things about wishing he had a normal dog, but until then it's more like being annoyed at a weird friend (a "Kramer") than a family member. Notable is that Charlie Brown refers to Snoopy as a "person."

The drawings of Snoopy here are very attractive generally. I especially like the ones in the first two panels. The first one is iconic, the second shows him running dog-style, which we don't often see.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Week of June 21-26, 1954: Self-love and baseball pictures

June 21

I like how the word "tickle" is drawn larger and darker to express how the force of Lucy's tickling is increasing. This is the first strip in a sequence actually; two more are coming next week.

June 22

The clever bit of this strip, I think, is how Snoopy is just sitting there up until the last panel, where it's suddenly revealed he's the umpire. A good strip I think.

June 23

1. It should be obvious that the intent of this strip is to express "Charlie Brown is a narcissist." This strip was drawn 47 years ago. So the implications of "Charlie Brown loves Charlie Brown," that is to say self-love, are rather different now, in the age of South Park, than back then.

2. Wait, Linus loves Violet? He's like one year old! We've barely seen him in a speaking role yet.

June 24

When you trade pictures with Schroeder, what do you expect you'd get?

There is something rather melancholy about this strip for me. Already we're seeing the age of baseball card collecting receding into the past. Here they're trading full-sized pictures of ballplayers, which I expect was never really popular but might have been a fad once. The day will come, and not too far from now, when this throwaway strip meant to be understood by kids and adults of 1954 will be one of the sole surviving records of baseball player picture trading. In fact, given both Peanuts' survivability and huge place in our culture, it may some day be the last record of a fad that may once have enthralled whole schoolyards.

Peanuts was not written to be a cultural artifact but to be comprehended to readers of the time. Comic strips are particularly ephemeral because of their nature, because it's too much to ask of a cartoonist tasked with producing new material daily to give thought to his work's long-term relevance. Yet so they remain, and will only increase being so in the future, vestiges of an age long dead.

But, you know, ha ha! He gave him a picture of Beethoven!

June 25

It may seem weird that Snoopy could hold so much water until you realize that he must be mostly sponge.

June 26

That's a damn frilly sandbox for Charlie Brown. And it's also a rare show of affluence for the kid. It's usually Violet who would have the frilly, expensive sandbox, and Charlie Brown who would be the observer, and it'd also be Violet who would be showing it off.

The attitude of Charlie Brown here is interesting. Who must have built this sandbox? I don't think his parents, and anyway I can't picture Charlie Brown speaking so badly of his folks. I think he must be talking about the workmen who installed it. But what could that mean, that he commissioned the thing?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sunday, May 20, 1954: psspstpssp

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Well whatever you do don't let the audience know what you're whispering, I mean sheesh.

By keeping the information being whispered from the reader, the reader can't mistake the point to have something to do with the specific message. The message is unimportant; the joke is in the communication.

Three characters are left out of this strip. We can figure for ourselves why Snoopy and Linus aren't included. That Schulz shows preference for Schroeder over Shermy just goes to show how already poor Sherm is kind of a second-class cast member.

Odd rounded frames on the panels here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

June 14-19, 1954: Let's play H-Bomb Test!

June 14
No cutting and pasting here. Charles Schulz draw out every "BANG" in this strip, or I don't see any at duplicates at least.
June 15
A simple Murphy's Law type of premise. It's another look at the famous doghouse too, which implies that Snoopy must have an owner, whoever it is.
June 16's image for this strip is a duplicate of June 14th's. Can anyone with access to the Fantagraphics collection fill us in as to what's supposed to be here?
June 17
The drawing of Snoopy eating the ice cream scoop is rather charming.
June 18
History: Wikipedia notes "The first fusion bomb was tested by the United States in Operation Ivy on November 1, 1952, on Elugelab Island in the Enewetak (or Eniwetok) Atoll of the Marshall Islands, code-named 'Mike.'"
This is one of my favorite early strips, it really sticks out in my memory. Lucy is extremely, panel-fillingly loud for the first time, an ominous development from the young girl. The seriousness with which Charlie Brown pushes down the plunger and Patty holds her ears is great. And of course it's a reference to the biggest damn firecrackers the human race ever made, which were new developments at the time.
As a purely random aside, the comparison, however slight, between a child and a piece of nuclear weaponry unavoidably reminded me of this.
June 19
When you have two characters talking to each other in a comic strip, and their words are the point of the strip, it becomes necessary to have them do something with their bodies during that time. Unlike as with mere text, here a comic strip's graphic nature provides extraneous information, and could actually be distracting if not handled well, but if not considered could lead to the infamous "talking heads" effect. It happens enough, in most humor strips, that a cartoonist must make plans for it. (In dramatic strips, the quality of the drawing and the "camera angles" might be enough to sustain interest.) It is a fundamental problem for most cartoonists who hope to have careers longer than a couple of years. Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes would sometimes approach talky, philosophical strips by putting the two in a wagon and sending them over a cliff; this is one of the many reasons we love Calvin and Hobbes.
Throughout Peanuts' run, characters do various things when there's a talky strip, such as walking across a field, sitting beneath a tree of standing behind The Brick Wall. There are probably thousands of such strips, and this is one of them. It is probably not the case that Schulz obsessively planned these out, but in this one at least the art serves to accentuate the conversation: the balancing in the first panel illustrates the carefree nature of the conversation, Charlie Brown hiding behind the tree shows he's anxious about his upcoming revelation, and having the characters sit at a curb in the four panel lets Schulz draw CB in an appropriately slouched pose.
One thing about this strips that has always subtly bothered me is how rapidly the characters change poses. They go from playing on the curb, to walking across a field, to a small tree, then back to a curb, over the course of a three-sentence exchange in a single conversation. Peanuts characters are not generally shown as being hyperactive, but there is a certain restlessness here.