Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Greatest Peanuts Strips--Honor Bag

Ranking seventy strips from the greatest newspaper comic of all time is probably the most daunting achievement I will ever perform for the sake of this blog. It took 33 days (September 1st to 29th, then October 1st to 3rd) to go through all 17,897 strips, pick stand-outs, then narrow that batch down, then finally put two lists in order. How many days it takes to review the strips for the purpose of manipulating them to fit a thesis masquerading as a biography, I could not tell you.

The honorable mentions featured here--the strips I could not place among the best but just couldn't bear not reflect upon--are presented in chronological order.

8/12/57



Art purporting to be rooted in realism is plentiful, but the truest examples ultimately turn out to be desultory reflections on pointless effort that leaves the beholder in despair, with any moment of joy and hope contained therein understood to be mere accidents in context. The truth is, many films, books, and songs that boast the "true-to-life" stamp frequently diverge into the absurdism borne not of existence itself but entirely of the creators fancy, where fantastical situations abound not for the purpose of proving true the pithy philosophy of Vonnegut ("So it goes") but rather to alleviate the pain, or give it a different shape.

Peanuts hit its marks with devastating accuracy: the cruelty of children, the heroism of effort, the demoralization of unrequited love. Still, Charles Schulz understood that no matter how much wit and wisdom he gave to these oddly-drawn little creatures, they were still the stars of a comic strip. Not a novel or epic film. Above all else, Peanuts had to be funny.

Here we see Charlie Brown the outsider, pretty much the only kid not having a blast in the pool. There is no room for him, and he knows better than to ask, bully his way in, or wait his turn. Despondent, he trudges to the only option he can find--a water bucket.

The sight gag/physical impossibility is brilliant, especially since Charlie Brown has a big fat watermelon head. Schulz repeated the gag 28 years later, giving the impression that this turned into something of a tradition for ol' Chuck.

6/10/59



This lone example of Linus showing interest in Charlie Brown's li'l sister would later be outnumbered by strip after strip of his strident denials that he was her "sweet baboo." Less an instance of retcon, more of childish capriciousness.

4/29/63




Feel smart the next time someone asks how Snoopy keeps from falling off the doghouse while he sleeps! This may also explain why he's so simpatico with Woodstock.

8/22/66



As far as character introductions go, only Charlie Brown's was better. And I don't mean Roy. "A real swinger"? My sweet lord.

10/7/69



Frieda was notorious for: briefly owning a cat; her naturally curly red locks; and badgering Snoopy to hunt rabbits, as was his birthright. (He wasn't even her dog!) All three prongs of this trident made for good strip runs for the limited time that Schulz felt her worthy, but not many individual strips stuck out. This one I couldn't pass by; Schulz' diabolical rendering of the beagle in the final panel has left an indelible impression on my little mind.

11/6/74



Hockey nut Charles M. Schulz makes a point that is still unfortunately cogent in todays game (the superlative career of Jarome Iginla notwithstanding). It's Peppermint Patty's casual manner of delivering her pointed question that gets me.

10/23/77



Charlie Brown's unrequited love rarely made him explode. Implode, yes. But one of the things that created such sympathy for the poor fella was his tender heart, resigned as it was to disappointment. His little sister, however, did not go gentle into that good night, morning, or afternoon. The Sundays gave Schulz the opportunity to fill his speech balloons with biting text, and Sally's self-recrimination in the face of a placid Linus is perfectly executed.

Also, this is the strip from the day I was born.

3/31/79



This is so accurate I got a chill.

4/11/80



Over the course of fifty years, the Peanuts reader discovers that--

--Snoopy weighs 23 pounds

--Snoopy's doghouse roof is 23 inches long from one end to the other

--Snoopy can be rendered fat and useless by 23 hot dogs

There's a magic there.

9/19/81



A prime example of how Schulz' artistic style developed over time.

Unlike the usual smirking beseechments Snoopy usually addresses World War II with, this time he's calling on the cat next door whilst in great pain. How can Snoopy be the Snoopy he wants to be, the Snoopy that everyone loves, the Snoopy that fox trots on box tops and grins cheese on Jenn's tees, with a splinter? He simply cannot, so he must do the unthinkable and appeal to the solicitous side of his feline foe. Look at the Twist-ian pleading of his face in the second panel; how could anyone resist? Sure enough, World War II assists Snoopy in his own special way. Many Peanuts strips end with the realization of a price paid for getting what you want, and this is one of the funnier ones.

1/29/86




"Pizza for rent" is just an amazing concept. Just pay a predetermined amount every month for some delicious frisbees to be delivered direct to your door. I dunno which of the big boy chains would adopt such an angle, but I sure hope it ain't Dominos. Snoopy would never eat at Dominos.

3/21/90




Following Charles Schulz' divorce, Lucy Van Pelt was toned down considerably. To equate Lucy with the former Mrs. Schulz is rather lazy, however; the cartoonist put a great deal of himself into several characters, Lucy among them. Her mellowness is as much a reflection on an increased, if tremulous, inner comfort with her creator as it is a result of a marriage dissolved.

This strip makes a point that is hilarious in its down-home truthfulness, and also gives Schulz a chance to show off his fantastic knowledge of literature in the form of some lines from poet John Gay.

12/30/90



Snoopy loved Linus' blanket. And why not? It represents security, warmth, comfort, and--if he could snatch it away--the triumph of dog over boy. This Sunday says so much with nothing at all, and the final panel was turned into a sticker design that could be seen on a Fender P-bass used live by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon for much of this decade.

7/19/91



Oatmeal raisin, no doubt. Or coconut. Charles Schulz hated coconut, and let Snoopy speak for him on numerous occasions. Brilliant. It is the responsibility of the artist to use his characters to speak out against evil.

4/14/97



There's preternatural and then there's, like, "super-preternatural". The plot points of modernist Russian literature don't usually rank with preschool kids, but here we go. Rerun was a stroke of genius in latter-day Peanuts.

1 comment:

  1. what a tease

    and the one on the day of your birthday (which anyone with a sense of time was the day prior to the post, fun times and many snoopy gifts), to say that strip is an embodiment of you is just cosmic proof of that stellar bond

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