Monday, August 29, 2011

October 18-23: Towards a classification system of comic jokes

October 18

Did you know that there is a complicated system of categorizing folk and fairy tales? Like, assigning letter and number codes to them, so someone can say something like "Oh, Little Red Riding Hood? That's a 73-B, juvenile travels through woods to relation, who has been replaced by wolf." Strips like this make me want to come up with such a system for jokes. This could be 13-G, kid gets tripped up by minor misunderstanding concerning meaning of word.

October 19

26-Q, part of dog takes on dual-role as inanimate object.

October 20

930-A-IV, smart kid finds clever way to remind friends they are to bring her birthday presents.

October 21

8-W, sight gag causing dog to resemble hand puppet. (Not to be confused with 8-V, dog pushed off table by irate cat. Okay, I'll stop now.)

October 22

It's easy to forget the relative sizes of the Peanuts characters compared to the world around them. The sight of the bathtub behind Patty shows just how young the kids are meant to be. Even in the early days the kids behave more like small adults than children, but the age discrepancy back in 1954 seems almost shocking to me.

October 23

This strip is almost a trope for Schulz at this time; a character gets in the way of Snoopy watching television, or vice-versa, with a sight gag showing the obstructed character restoring his view at the expense of the other.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

October 17, 1954: Outing Flannel

Read this strip at

This isn't Linus' first time with the security blanket, but it's the first time it's presented in terms of providing security. It's not called a "security blanket" yet, but it's almost there, it just needs to connect those two nouns with nothing else in-between. This is a term that entered our language largely because of Peanuts, so this is a momentous strip.

I like Lucy's loud "INSANELY happy!!" I can't picture that coming out of Nancy or Sluggo. Here Lucy is generally in favor of Linus' blanket. Her attitude later on wavers between for and against, with their blanket-hating grandmother pushing her against I think. Charlie Brown, contrary to his general opinion later, seems to be against it on principle, but willing to give it a try. Isn't a blanket more than just a swath of material, though?

Linus' expression in the first panel is interesting, an expression that doesn't read easily. The sequence from panels 6-8 are interesting for how unconcerned Charlie Brown and Lucy are about Linus' feelings throughout their conversation; his reactions to them are pretty funny.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

October 11-16, 1954: Charlie Brown's dog begins to drive him mad

October 11, 1954

There is a role-playing game out there called Call of Cthulhu, which involves players encountering horrible creatures from beyond time and space. That game gives players a statistic called "Sanity," or SAN, which is rated on a scale from 0 to 99. Whenever something happens to a character that tests his grasp on reality, he's told to make a sanity roll, rolling a couple of dice to generate a number from 1 to 100. If he rolls beneath his sanity, he loses no or a few points. If he rolls above, he loses more, sometimes a lot more.

That paragraph is just to explain the following statement: In the next year Charlie Brown will receive a ton of sanity rolls. A lot of things seem to drive the poor kid crazy.

This is another version of the strip for September 20, 1953, although much shorter.

October 12, 1954

Does it seem to any of you that, sometimes, Schroeder is a bit defensive about Beethoven?

October 13, 1954

Snoopy was very energetic as a young dog. Someone should drop a piece of candy just to give him a focus for all that nervous tension.

October 14, 1954

The lid may be on the pot for now... but the fire is lit, and the water boils.

October 15, 1954

Lucy has seen Snoopy's nose enough times that she should know it's not a handball. Snoopy's nose is a bit strange though, as dogs don't really have round noses like this, and this joke is as much a self-referential sequence about Schulz's art style as were all the jokes about the size and shape of Charlie Brown's head. Schulz had been known to say later on that it was difficult to get the size of Snoopy's nose exactly right.

October 16, 1954

Most of the time, when characters express annoyance or frustration at Charlie Brown, he internalizes their words and gets depressed. This looks at these exchanges from the other point of view; Violet really is overreacting.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Four Years

I overshot it by a few days, but it's true: we've now reviewed four years of Peanuts. Only 45 to go!

In the upcoming year, 1954-55:

  • We meet the second minor character, and the first really temporary character. You can tell just from the name that Charlotte Braun isn't going to stick around for long.
  • Lucy grows into her role as cast bully, gaining useful practice by terrorizing her brother Linus.
  • We catch a fleeting glimpse of an adult's hand! Gasp!
  • The long-running strip template of Lucy pining away after Schroeder the aloof musician really gets established.
  • Snoopy begins imagining things, which marks the real beginning of the character we're familiar with today.
  • We get the first letter that a character writes that's depicted as words hanging in the air.
  • Lucy doesn't believe what Charlie Brown tells her some more times, and Charlie Brown develops an epic series of stomaches in response.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sunday, October 10, 1954: Snoopy vs. The Yard: Another Leaf

Read this strip at

Snoopy shows a lot of the passion of his younger years here. Later he's a much more sedate dog, maybe because his late-era character design is incapable of much motion.

Panel two is rather cute, I think anyway. Panel four is a transition between compact, sitting-down Snoopy and stretchy, loose running-around Snoopy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

October 4-9, 1954: Get back there

October 4

Back then, often movies would show first in big cities, and then move into suburb theaters if they were popular enough. It's a sly and effective joke.

Good grief!

October 5

This kind of personal devaluation from both Violet and Patty will only get more common in the future.

October 6

Charlie Brown is becoming more of a straightman, someone who reacts in funny ways to the foibles and antics of the other characters. Given Schroeder's past reactions to more modern forms of music, his willingness to (I think we're supposed to assume) adapt Beethoven into a mambo seems kind of sacrilegious of him.

October 7

Actually, I think Lucy has given Charlie Brown far more than half of that piece of bread. She still calls it "bread an' butter," I notice.

October 8

You can tell what people are eating by how many decibels their chewing noises rate, although in Charlie Brown's case we might have to move up to the Richter scale.

October 9

Lucy's power to impress with a quiet word is matched only by her ability to do so by shouting, although this hasn't really been established much yet. Notice that Schulz has drawn her words a little differently than usual; they're wider and the strokes are thicker, almost like block letters. She is obvious using some of her infernal power here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

September 28-October 3, 1954: Beethoven, Forget it, Serif hey, I'M NOT, Fancy signals, Fancy signals and Dog explosions

September 27

September 28

As someone who's often guilty of just the thing Charlie Brown is doing here, I have to say I find this hilarious.

September 29

September 30

Lucy seems to have the ability to exclaim, not just in serif lettering, but with lowercase letters too! This isn't even the fanciest writing we'll see this week.

Charlie Brown's spirit hasn't been beaten down quite so much yet.

October 1

How do the girls hear those fancy signals? Does Charlie Brown adapt a different tone of voice? Those typefaces are very well-rendered. Schulz was a true artist, but he was a great craftsman too. All of this done for a throwaway joke one Friday in 1954. I wonder if he worked from reference typefaces when he drew this one.

October 2

(This strip is a copy of the previous one in gocomics' browse order. I don't know what's supposed to go here.)

Sunday, October 3

Those are some great backgrounds in panels one and three. They must have taken Charles Schulz a long time to do! The juxtaposition of the deceptively simple characters and the elaborate, realistic backgrounds is one of the many little joys of classic Peanuts.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

September 25-26, 1954: That other round-headed kid

Sorry this one's been a few days in coming, I've been trying to get some extra work done on the game project this past week, and yet it's still not coming along real well. Updates will probably be sporadic until after Labor Day weekend -- I'll be at DragonCon again this year, if any of you happen to be there and want to say hello.

gocomics' archive has another hole in it at this point. September 20-24 are all missing. Does anyone know what the missing strips here, or from last week, are?

September 25

This one is odd if you think about it. The only real reason Linus would have to move forward, assuming those being him don't have vision problems, would be so everyone watching TV could fit in the panel at once.

Sunday, September 26

Violet, holding out the chance for affection isn't nearly as useful for behavior modification as a guarantee. We have some more drawings of a clean Pig-Pen here. Other than the hair and clothes, he's actually fairly similar to Charlie Brown in design; he has a similar head shape.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sunday, September 19, 1954: It's no fun if you just give it to him

The week of September 13-18 is missing from It's just completely gone; the strip browse sequence goes directly from the Sunday strip of September 12 to the following Sunday.

Read this strip at

This is a good strip to contemplate how Snoopy's design has changed so far.

He began as a very puppyish dog, much smaller than any of the other characters. While very cute, he looked almost like a piece of clip-art. Many strips these days use images of their characters in various stock poses, but not Peanuts. Schulz gradually began loosening up the design of the characters. Snoopy is the character that would develop into the loosest, and although he's not there yet, he's a lot more flexible here than he was in those first comics.

Snoopy becomes quite thin (especially when standing upright) before expanding into the "balloon animal" shape of later strips. The drawings of him in the first panels are particularly engaging. The wide smile is a distinctive mark of classic Snoopy. I notice in panels six and eight, where you can't see his mouth at all, his snout looks a little thicker than in the other strips.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sunday, September 12, 1954: Smart alecky kids

Read this strip at

Linus has strange and mysterious stacking powers. Charlie Brown has ordinary and understandable smart aleck perceiving powers.

It's not just that Charlie Brown is bad at making card houses, or that Linus is good at them. It's that the baby character is so much better at it than the older kid. This is kind of a repeat of Schroeder musical genius, and, to a lesser extent, Lucy's ability to beat Charlie Brown at checkers. This stops when Sally is introduced, who appears to have picked up the same gene of mediocrity Charlie Brown got.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

September 6-11, 1954: The first weekday story

What do I mean by a "story?" It's a sequence of consecutive strips that tell a story that builds between them. They may stand alone, but you get something extra out of the strips if you've remembered the prior strips in the sequence. This is what separates stories from the sequences we've had before, which were not sequential and thus Schulz could not expect a reader to remember prior strips in order to get a joke in the current one. There might be continuity, such as with Schroeder's musical talents, Charlie Brown's checkers losing streak, Violet's mud pies or Patty's ability at marbles, but Schulz sets each strip up as if the prior strips didn't exist. These strips work alone too actually, but there is obviously a thread that connects them, they are meant to be read together.

We had one prior sequence that could count as a story, the "Lucy in the Golf Tournament" Sunday strips, which are atypical Peanuts strips in many ways. To my memory, this is the first story-related sequence to stretch over four consecutive non-Sunday strips. (One could consider all Sunday strips to be in their own sequence, since Schulz probably drew them on a different schedule and some newspapers only carried Peanuts on weekdays or Sundays.)

September 6

This is the first time we've seen a drawing of Pig-Pen clean, which is a different enough design to almost count as a separate character. He looks like a cross between Shermy and Linus, in overalls.)

September 7

Violet is talking about career; one could interpret Charlie Brown as talking about something more profound.

September 8

This is the first strip in the story I mentioned above. We had Pig-Pen drawn clean on Monday. Now we can imagine Schulz amusing himself by drawing some of the other characters dirty in Pig-Pen's usual style. Pig-Pen's messiness extends virally to several other characters. First, Schroeder.

The question of people admiring Pig-Pen is interesting. I think there is something admirable about him, but it's not specifically his messiness.

September 9

Next, Snoopy. Although a dog is kind of expected to be dirtier than people, here they seem to consider him of the same status as the other kids.

September 10

Charlie Brown speaks in bold, but he doesn't look angry. It looks to me more like he's dismayed that he's gotten messy like the other kids, only to find out it might not hold the advantages he was expecting. (Whatever those might possibly be.)

If the kids allow themselves to be "influenced" by Pig-Pen so easily, I can only say that they're unusually vulnerable to peer pressure.

September 11

The pay-off strip. This isn't the first strip in which we've seen Patty dirty -- there was an earlier one in which she and Violet were making mud pies. I don't know what it is, but I always thought Patty looked quite charming messed up like this.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sunday, September 5, 1954: Lucy, Patty and Violet

The beginning of this strip demonstrates how Patty and Violet are slowly becoming a double-act, reinforcing each other's opinions and building up the will to confront Lucy. Lucy is also true to form here, fussing and throwing a tantrum about "not playing her way." (That generic reason for the confrontation and tantrum seems kind of weak, but it serves to keep the focus on the characters and their reactions, and not whatever game it is they're playing.)

This strip also demonstrates that Lucy's behavior is, to some extent, an act she puts on to attempt to get her way. When it's evident that her ruckus is to no avail she comes around quickly.

The drawings of her tantrum are very energetic. Panels five through ten show particularly varied reactions. Schulz must have put some thought into how to illustrate characters pitching fits or otherwise expressing anger/dismay. Note, Charlie Brown hit his own head against a tree not long ago, and now Lucy is doing it too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 30, September 1-4, 1954: Not short from choice

August 30

More consequences of Pig-Pen's extreme dirtiness. Nearly every Pig-Pen strip is a variation of this theme, in case you haven't figured it out by now.

August 31

This strip is missing from's archives. Hooray. Can anyone with the Fantagraphics collection fill us in?

EDIT: Myron found a scan of the missing strip! There are no words in it, just a sight gag of Patty jumping rope in eight panels with her hair up. Thanks, Myron!

September 1

This is an uncharacteristically energetic response from Charlie Brown. Even ignoring the fact that bombing and strafing is unlikely to be in his power, this seems somehow un-Charlie-Brown-like. He's looking very self-satisfied in the last panel.

One thing about the art from this age is that it's found a pleasing middle-ground between the extreme stylization of the first couple of years and the slightly more realistic proportions of later and modern Peanuts. The wide smiles, the shorter bodies, the looser art style, I think this is about as good as Peanuts has looked right here.

Yet I can't think that Schulz wasn't conscious that the art moved away to less cute figures over time. Is it possible that he purposely moved away from cute kid appeal to encourage readers to not trivialize these kids and their concerns?

September 2

You can tell everyone who's sent you that pass around email about using buttered toast strapped to the backs of cats as a source of infinite energy, or as the basis of a levitating train, that the toast part of the joke has been around for almost 57 years now.

The joke itself is another one about science, as usual in Peanuts from a layman's view. Schulz tends to view artists more empathically, maybe, than scientists, although I don't think he's really antagonistic towards them. One can certainly read the strip as just a joke about Lucy's misperception, anyway.

September 3

I don't think Peanuts' male characters ever went through a girl-hating phase like Calvin. In that way, they seem fairly emotionally mature (or immature, if you consider CB's question to show him to be clingy).

September 4

Snoopy vs. the Yard: Football edition.

Monday, August 8, 2011

EXTRA: The Peanuts Wiki

There is one, a Peanuts Wiki that is, and it's pretty good! Check out the article on Shermy, where it notes:
Schulz said he had no regrets about dropping Shermy from the cast, and stated many years later that it had gotten to the point by then where he only used Shermy in situations where he "needed a character with very little personality".

Sunday, August 29, 1954: And there on the fence I saw drawn a giant X

Read this strip at

I find the huge 'X' at the end of Lucy's aborted count to be starkly evocative. Those tally marks could be raindrops, or stars, or maybe lives.

Charlie Brown remembers Lucy counting the stars in previous strips. The spectre of continuity rears its head here, and with it, unavoidably, the characters move closer towards being individuals more than interchangeable placeholder images for jokes.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Week of August 23-28, 1954: Charlie Brown still has an ego

August 23

Only the second bit of negativity we've heard from Pig-Pen, the first being in his introduction.

August 24

That's not Snoopy, someone switched his bust of Beethoven for a figurine of the RCA dog!

August 25

Is this sarcasm from Schroeder, or condescension?

August 26

Charlie Brown still has some of the old ego in him, I see. I wonder when is the moment when that's finally pounded out of him, and when it happens, if ultimately it's Lucy, or Patty and Violet who are the cause

August 27

Her beleaguered mother has resorted to trying to play her and Linus against each other. Lucy takes the long view here. Lucy is forward-thinking in the next Sunday strip too, although she doesn't look quite so far ahead.

August 28

This is a fairly standard comic inversion. Not really terribly noteworthy, but I've commented on all the other strips this week, so why not?

(If I do leave strips out, I will still link to the gocomics page for the absent strips. I don't think it's proper to present strips I don't have much to say about, since I'm hosting these copies to avoid hot linking gocomics, and not to provide an alternate archive of strips. As I said before, they are presented here for commentary purposes only.)