Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Greatest Peanuts Strips--20 to 11

20. 9/14/90

Chuck was not entirely luckless in love; for a couple years (in strip timeline, anyway) he had an on-off thing with Peggy Jean, a girl he met at summer camp (you will recall her from last post as the girl who initially confused Snoopy with Charlie Brown). They even shared a little kiddy kiss. Alas, the lad's luck ran well and dry by the end of Peanuts, when he learned that Peggy Jean had moved on for good, with a new, jock-stud boyfriend.

This strip shows Charlie Brown dealing with the aftershock of a letter from his beloved, wherein she swore her possibly-at-some-point-dying-but-as-of-that-moment-still-breathing-heartily affection for him. His bliss caused him to blank out in the batters box, blowing yet another game for his woebegone crew.

He doesn't even seem to notice Lucy screaming in his ear; the agony of defeat will always trump the thrill of victory. Remember what Charles Schulz said when asked why he set up his characters to live out life as a series of miseries: "Happiness isn't funny."

19. 1/7/56

Pigpen's popularity struck his creator as inexplicable, and to read Peanuts in his entirety, you see that fans were more into the concept of a perpetually filthy kid than anything he ever actually did. (Other than be dirtier than a New Jersey public pool, that is.) After his introduction, his only major story was to be an unlikely, super-brief crush for Peppermint Patty. Dude never even got an unrequited love to call his own!

What transpires in this strip is instantly recognizable to any of the millions who cherish A Charlie Brown Christmas. Although the show swaps Violet with Frieda, the dialogue is lifted near-verbatim. And why not? It's utter perfection. 10 out of 10, two thumbs up high, gold star, A++, would laugh at again.

Is it too much that I say "On the contrary, I didn't think I looked that good" when I get ready to leave the house in the morning whilst appraising myself in the kitchen window?

18. 2/9/60

Ignore for a moment that Snoopy's doghouse is in a place we have never seen it before or since. Charles Schulz has a story to tell, and he's gonna tell it. And the moral is: Uneasy rests the head that faces impalement via a perched liquid sword.

How bold for Mr. Schulz to place this poor pup in this perilous predicament. Normally reigning o'er the Ministry of Funny Dogs (damn a Cleese), Snoopy awakes one white winter morn to impending doom. Dance your way outta that, buddy! His rambling fright-train of thought concludes with what is pretty much my philosophy on mortality. (Kids read this stuff back then? Like over cereal? Mommy, is Snoopy gonna die? Never question why I love Charles Schulz; question why you don't.)

17. 3/6/56

One thing about Shermy, and this isn't as smart-ass as emotionless font may make it seem--Schulz could sure draw a mean buzz-cut.

This is another example of a devastating, adult observation made by a child (who shall most assuredly not lead anyone). "Mental scars"? But don't dare call Chuck B "proto-emo"; he's way too real for that.

16. 1/25/60

Lucy, even in her absence, is the greatest antagonist in the Peanuts universe.

The build up makes this piece so classic. Linus and Charlie Brown walking placidly along, talkin' 'bout the inner war that no man is safe from. With each successive panel, however, the blanket-less mini-philosopher grows increasingly freaked out by his innate turmoil, and the reality of the treaty-less years ahead, and his body shakes like some invasive supernatural force seeks release until, finally, he cries out, as if putting the very word "peace" into the air will cause it to form and tunnel its way into his long-suffering soul, replacing the ambivalent monster that he forced out through sheer will.

I can't stand it.

15. 10/3/50

Second strip ever features original Patty--she of the bow and plaid dress--moving daintily down the sidewalk, reciting that hoary couplet about one of the two original recipes. Of course, she stops briefly to "whap" a poor boy so hard that his eye blackens upon impact. She will laugh at the memory much later, whilst forcing dolls to eat mud pies.

It confuses me when I see the occasional critical opinion that Mr. Schulz somehow shortchanged his female characters, or villainized them. On the contrary, I didn't think I looked that good. (Sorry! Damn window.) I mean, on the contrary, he created several young girls with personalities as rich as Charlie Brown and Linus, and certainly more intriguing and genuine than most of the roles written for women on television and film these days. Just check out the strip above. Patty is very feminine, yet not above random violence. She seems to have no difficulty reconciling the two. You will, if you are paying attention, notice this effortless dichotomy in the majority of children as they develop.

14. 6/10/58

Another strip famously animated. "Let's all kick him" is so wonderfully Lucy.

Couple things: if Chuck's baseball squad is so notoriously terrible, how are they in any championship? Plague take out every other team except one, and they were placed against each other by default? Why aren't Linus and Violet wearing caps?

13. 5/11/60

Ah, more baseball! More dog undermining owner authority!

Charlie Brown's attempts to coach the hell out of his team are infrequent, and cute. While he puts emphasis on key words like "speed," "running," and "runningest," all it does is encourage Snoopy to get silly. "Go go go!" Eventually, the Snoopometer needle has broken, and multiple beagles dance before us in insouciant delight around manager Brown, who is clearly writhing both inside and out. This is why Snoopy is the coolest. He's carefree, in and of the moment, following his heart (and feet). He can imagine it, he can do it. Life's too short for strategy, Charlie Brown.

(This scene was also animated, yet I enjoy it more here jumping from still motion renderings. Easier to appreciate Snoopy's coolness throughout. He never opens his eyes once!)

12. 1/26/83

We join the Van Pelts mid-conversation. Linus is typically earnest, Lucy atypically tolerant. "When I was your age, I was dumb too."

I say the exact same thing whenever I read comments left by young True Blood fans on the Internet. So young, so hormonal, so hymen-having, so convinced in the utter rightness of their mere baby opinion. The joke of the strip is that Lucy is not so much older than Linus--and honestly, she is nowhere near as thoughtful--yet feels those mere few years have accorded her a weary wisdom he cannot yet even fathom. That understood, we can all take different things from works of art, and what I take from this strip is that certain age groups are not to be taken seriously, namely teenagers who fantasize about overhyped steroid monkeys who play characters surpassed by Dick, Jane and Spot for overall depth and development.

When I forget how dumb I was as a teen, I just read the poetry I wrote then. Masochistic, but helpful.

11. 11/16/93

And y'all? Stop smirking. Indulge me this.

I loved Schulz' latterly dependence on the beanbag. Comfortable, comical. Just the word "beanbag" is chuckle-worthy, and Schulz loved words that just sounded funny. (Cf. "zamboni".)

There's not much to the joke here, another wry Sally comment on the relative worth of her wishy-washy big brother. What propels this to just outside the Titanic Ten is how Snoopy is drawn in the last two panels. In the third square, he is reacting to Sally's zinger from his cozy nook on the beanbag. His ears are not visible, his eyes are closed in delight, and a grin is just creeping up on his face. In the last panel, he has turned ever so slightly to reveal a bit of ear, but his eyes are still closed, and his smile even wider. Unbelievable cuteness that I shall not apologize for loving to pieces and bits.

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