#150: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Charlie Brown!

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150.1  Genealogically, there isn’t much going on in Peanutsland. There are mothers, fathers, and grandparents…but they are never mentioned by name, and of course never seen. Some of the kids have last names…Lucy, Linus, and Rerun Van Pelt, Charlie and Sally Brown, Violet Gray, Peppermint Patty Reichardt, José Peterson, Joe Agate. The number children 3, 4, and 5 are surnamed 95472, which was the zip code of Sebastopol, California…north of San Francisco…where the Schulz family was living in the mid-60s, and the strongest clue we have as to where the strip takes place. I’ve seen it said that their father was 1 and mother was 2…plausible, but no far no definite confirmation on that.

150.2  Other children do not have last names…Patty, Frieda, Marcy, Shermy, Franklin, Roy, and a whole lot of others in the later years…but see 150.12-13.  Schroeder is his last name…Schulz said he was named after a caddy whom everyone called by his last name only, and he liked the sound of it…he never knew the boy’s first name. But what was Sparky was thinking with Pigpen is beyond me…check out his first appearance…hasn’t got a name?…huh?

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150.3  Violet’s last name really is Gray…even tho it’s only mentioned once…and wouldn’t you know it, it’s there merely to set up a gag. Otherwise, it could very well have been Jablonski.

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But it works as part of my mnemonic device…because for some reason I never really internalized which is Patty and which is Violet. So my rule is: Patty is Plaid…her dress and her hair bow. And Violet’s hair is Black…Gray…like that.

3 inset150.4  Relatives beyond the siblings I mentioned? Virtually none…the only one I come up with is Marcy’s condescending cousin Maynard who tutored Peppermint Patty for a week in July 1986 (“Are you the dumb one?”) and was never seen again. I did find 2 other alleged relationships, but they are definitely erroneous. What’s more, they’re not from strips but from TV shows, which if you view as non-canonical…then they’re right out!

4 inset150.5  But worth refuting nonetheless, sez me. “Why, Charlie Brown, Why?” aired on March 16 1990 and was a departure for the series in that it dealt with a very serious subject…a little girl named Janice Emmons who has leukemia. Not a show that gets repeated every year…altho in our current anti-bullying climate, it couldn’t hurt…and it takes place at Christmastime to boot. In this show, Linus meets 2 of Janice’s sisters…they are unnamed…but…

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150.6  …Uncle Wiki says they “resemble”  and “most liklely are” Frieda and Patty…and  several other pages repeat this speculation…which is nonsense for 2 reasons. First,  never in the hundreds of times that Frieda and/or Patty appeared in the strip was it even remotely suggested that they were sisters. And second, in a strip with such simple drawings as Peanuts, the identity of a character depends on its specific and constant appearance…true, these can change over time, but so gradually that the continuity remains…as with Snoopy for instance.

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150.7  And as you can see, the curly-haired sister has the wrong shaped nose, hence she’s not Frieda…and the other sister has her bow in the wrong place, plus is not wearing plaid, hence she’s not Patty. Yes, dear friends, the Fan Logic Game can be taken too far, and this is a prime example. Oooo! Oooo! I just discovered something that nobody else knows!  Um, no, you didn’t…sorry…better luck next time.

150.8  Now “It’s Spring Training, Charlie Brown” is a special you may have never seen…because it is one of 3 shows that went straight to home video in the 1990s.* The diminutive Leland joins the ball team, and he’s thought by some to be Frieda’s brother. Nope, not possible…this is a retcon just as silly, if not as culturally significant, as the Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader mess. And without even seeing the show, we know Leland can’t be Frieda’s brother for the simple reason that he lives in a different neighborhood.

* It has a copyright date of 1992…it was available on video tape in 1996 and eventually debuted on Nickelodeon in 1998. The other 2 were “It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown” 1997, and “It’s the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown” 2000.

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150.9  In a series of strips beginning in February of 1977, Charlie Brown bites the kite-eating tree and becomes convinced the EPA is after him. He runs away from home, and ends up in another neighborhood where he mentors a pee wee nine called the Goose Eggs…including Austin, Ruby, Leland, and Milo. Has Frieda and her “little brother” moved to a new address? No evidence of that. But hey, go to the source…watch “It’s Spring Training, Charlie Brown”…and you see what?

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150.10  One thing you see is that the diminutive tyke they call Leland lives in Charlie Brown’s neighborhood, and Charlie Brown knows him by name. In the top row above, left, we see  this “new” Leland…before and after the puts on his oversized batting helmet, which he wears thru out the show…compare him to the “original” Leland in the bottom row…completely different characters. Then we have his big sister, top right…compared with Frieda, bottom right…similar hair but wrong nose, thus different characters. Now this big sister has a speaking part, and a child actor is credited, altho on the show, the names of the actors are not matched to their parts.

150.11 Uncle Wiki calls the character “Frieda”…at the Internet Movie Data Base, she’s called “Ruby”…and yes, that’s the same name as one of the other Goose Eggs, but as you can see, the real Ruby bears no resemblance to the big sister…none. BTW, this dark-haired Ruby is from the TV show “It’s an Adventure Charlie Brown,” where she and the “real,” big-nosed Leland appear.

snoopyson150.12  But speaking of the TV shows, Charles Schulz himself stated they “don’t count”…which is to say, they are non-canonical…what happens in them isn’t really part of the Peanuts universe. Why would this even have to be an issue? Because while the “party line” has always been that Sparky wrote and closely oversaw the shows until his death in 2000, how close is closely? Others say the animators and producers took creative liberties with characters and back-stories, and this was realistically beyond Schulz’ control.

150.13  The whole issue surfaced in 1977 when the little red-haired girl was actually shown in “It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown” and named Heather…neither of which ever appeared in the strip, before or since. So in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that the 1994 show “You’re in the Superbowl, Charlie Brown” gives 2 last names never mentioned anywhere else on TV or in the strip: Marcie Johnson and Franklin Armstrong. Me, I go strictly by the strip only…otherwise, as you can see, Snoopy has a son…and here I thought he was fixed!

150.14  But anyway…the family trees in Peanuts are mighty bare…the real reason I’m doing this is to celebrate 10 examples of weirdness. I was reading thru “The Complete Peanuts Vol. 1″…reprinting all the strips from the first 2 years, Oct 1950 thru Dec 1952. I noticed some oddities that stuck out like sore thumbs, compared to the comfortable groove the strip would eventually settle into. And here’s my Top Ten…

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#10  The Very First Time…Well, here’s some trivia for you…Charlie Brown’s “first” was Violet…and not Lucy, who wouldn’t debut in the strip for another 4 months. Notice that in those days, Schulz hadn’t decided her hair style…eventually it would be a ponytail, but here it’s pigtails.

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#9  Li’l Specks…Schulz didn’t tend to draw his strips this way, so this one stands out as peculiar, with the tiny faraway figures. Could he have laid it out another way? Sure, but he didn’t…and no do-overs.

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#8  Breaking the 4th Wall…Literally, it means speaking directly to the audience, like George Burns used to do on his old TV show. It happened occasionally in Peanuts…more often a look or a reaction rather than a comment…but it is a bit jarring. Breaking the 4th Wall can also refer to a more esoteric phenomenon…in the case of a comic strip, a character knowing that they’re in a comic strip…see today’s wicked ballsy.

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#7  Who Again?…Charles Schulz once said: “I’ve always regarded myself really as being Norwegian and not German.” Altho his father Carl was born in Germany, it was seldom mentioned, and he spoke English without the trace of an accent. On the other hand…if the topic were delicate enough, his mother and her family would jabber among themselves in Norwegian. And Schulz also said he got his sense of humor from his mother’s side. But apart from that, I have no idea what this means. Olsen, son of Ols? Knowing Spakry’s love of ice hockey, I did check the roster of goalies for the 1951-52 NHL season…Turk Broda, Emile Francis, Terry Sawchuk…heck, even I’ve heard of them…but no Olsens.

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#6  Dog vs. Dog…You see this sort of thing all the time in the Disney universe…”cartoon” dogs side by side with “real” dogs…or even “human” dogs, like Goofy. Then there was the time Gumby’s horse pal Pokey was riding in a wagon pulled by…um…a horse. But this is unusual for Peanuts, I think you’ll agree.

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#5 The Eyes Have It…During those first formative years, Schroeder, Lucy, and Linus were all introduced as infants…and each “grew up” practically over night. In the case of Lucy’s eyeballs, they became more typical Peanuts dots within 3 months or so. The other interesting thing here is that Sparky has signed the strip “A DADDY” instead of his usual name (below). His first son Monte was born Feb. 1 1952.

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#4  Crisscross…Sparky’s dilemma was this: he wanted a back-and-forth dialogue where Charlie Brown and Patty each have 4 lines…but had only 3 panels to do it in. His syndication insisted on exactly 4 panels, so a strip could be displayed 1×4, 2×2, or 4×1. Thus, “swords” are crossed…awkward to say the least, but it does get the job done.

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#3 The Incredible Shrinking Blockhead…There are certain universally accepted cartoon art conventions…like “speed lines” to indicate motion. Getting littler when you’re embarrassed isn’t one that’s caught on really…altho we do get the message of “feeling small,” don’t we?

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#2 Fried Snoopy!…2 things always bothered Charles Schulz…first, he never liked the name they gave the strip…and second, he really did intend it to be for adults, not children. And the image of Snoopy undergoing electrocution…hmmmm. Now granted, back in the day, children were viewed in a much less infantile light than they are today…back then you had B-B guns, candy cigarettes, murder and gore in comic books, playing “doctor”…all kinds of “grown-up” things that nobody gave a second thought. But this is beyond the pale…unless of course your father worked at a prison…or you just had a very fertile imagination…in which case maybe you did play “electric chair” with your cohorts…and that weird little kid who kept yelling: Do me again!

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#1 Role Reversal…As time went on, Snoopy became more anthropomorphized…it started with his thinking human thoughts, then walking upright…eventually he would even wear human clothing if his “Joe Whatever” persona called for it. But at this early stage, it just looks totally wrong…because it is totally wrong. I guess we should be glad this type of “dream sequence” didn’t become a running gag, nez pah?

OK…50 years, nigh on 18,000 strips…certainly there were many other queer & quirky moments along the way. Hope you enjoyed these examples from the earliest years…next time, some frolicsome follow-ups to some recent topics and a preview of Adventures in Cousinland…but before we go, as promised, from the “How Can He Possibly Know This?”  File…

wicked ballsy

wicked ballsy

Can’t get enough? No problemo…check these outstanding links:

The Peanutsiest!: The Music of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Charlie Brown Stocking Stuffers

What a Boner, Charlie Brown!

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Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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