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.

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