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01 December 2008 @ 08:31 am
The greatest_ever Peanuts character, opening round: Charlie Brown vs. TLRHG; Sally vs. Woodstock  
The second greatest_ever competition begins today: our topic will be the greatest_ever Peanuts character.

Peanuts started in 1950 as a daily strip cataloguing the lives of a handful of small children: Charlie Brown, Shermy, Patty, and Violet (Snoopy was added to the strip shortly thereafter, but not named for the first month or so). Originally about four years old (though, as they always would, sounding and acting much older), the Peanuts gang soon aged to their fixed level of seven or eight. The first-ever strip is well known even to casual fans:



For the record, that's Shermy and Patty watching "Good ol' Charlie Brown" walk by.

The cast of characters grew rapidly, and turnover in the Peanuts universe was common--for example, of the three characters pictured above, only Charlie Brown himself remained a part of the strip long enough to enter our competition. What Peanuts meant, both to readers and to people within the comics industry, is best summed up in this excerpt from an essay by Bill Watterson: "Everything about the strip was a reflection of its creator's spirit. "Peanuts" is one of those magical strips that creates its own world. Its world is a distortion of our own, but we enter it on its terms, and in doing so, see our world more clearly. It may seem strange that there are no adults in "Peanuts'" world, but in asking us to identify only with children, Schulz reminds us that our fears and insecurities are not much different when we grow up. We recognize ourselves in Schulz's vividly tragic characters: Charlie Brown's dogged determination in the face of constant defeat, Lucy's self-righteous crabbiness, Linus's need for a security blanket, Peppermint Patty's plain looks and poor grades, Rerun's baffled innocence, Spike's pathetic alienation and loneliness. For a "kid strip" with "gentle humor," it shows a pretty dark world, and I think this is what makes the strip so different from, and so much more significant than, other comics. Only with the inspired surrealism of Snoopy does the strip soar into silliness and fantasy. And even then, the Red Baron shoots the doghouse full of holes."

Charles Schulz was known for being a bit cantankerous and for turning a critical eye on his own creation--he routinely mentioned in interviews that he hated the name "Peanuts," for example, partly because he felt it trivialized the strip and partly because he feared (rightly) that it would confuse early readers as to the name of the main character (in an autobiography, Schulz recalled receiving early fan mail that inevitably referred to Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and other characters as "Peanuts"); he also used the strip to explore social commentary, as in the character "555 95472," a boy whose father had given up resisting the increasing use of numbers to define people in the modern world. "5," as he was known for short, and his twin sisters 3 and 4 were never a major part of the comic, but they famously appear in the Charlie Brown Christmas dance scenes doing some odd, bouncy dance steps.

I once did a report on Peanuts in fourth grade. I don't remember why--I think Mrs. Saltzman was bored that week. I drew the characters, talked about my favorites (Schroeder and Linus back then, if I recall correctly), reviewed a biography of Schulz, and probably ended with something like, "and we all look forward to more adventures from the Peanuts gang in the newspaper." I'll try to do better this time.

Peanuts also offers nearly endless opportunities for internet weirdness, so as we move into our competition, I'll be offering up some of the things I've found while Googling for the images I needed for this contest. Enjoy.

THE COMPETITION

This will be a straightforward 16-person elimination tournament, with characters seeded according to an arcane system devised in coordination with a Gallup Poll and several online sites (seriously. Research is like a disease with me). Our contests will run three times a week, so each ballot will be up for two days or so--and I strongly encourage testimonials from any and all about their own votes or their thoughts about Peanuts.


TODAY'S BRACKETS: Charlie Brown vs. The Little Red-Haired Girl AND Sally Brown vs. Woodstock

Charlie Brown

The “round-headed kid” who may or may not have been Charles Schulz’s alter ego, Charlie Brown was the quintessential loser who never gave up trying. Despite being a bald-headed barber’s son, a lousy pitcher and manager for a perennially bottom-ranked baseball team, a terrible kite-flier, a sucker on place kicks, and a dog-owner of questionable responsibility (seriously, does anyone remember even seeing him walk Snoopy after about 1974?), “Chuck” kept trying to make something of himself. Even his few successes, though, were inevitably tainted by broader failures (he finally met his idol, the baseball player Joe Schlabotnik, on the day Schlabotnik was sent down to the minors; he finally kissed the Little Red-Haired Girl, but was so worked up with terror about the experience that he didn’t remember it afterward). In the end, Schulz, who repeatedly told interviewers he didn’t understand people who thought of childhood as a wonderful experience, hoped to establish in Charlie Brown’s constant failures a theme on the admirable quality of perseverance with universal resonance. Unless you hate people who try and fail. That’s okay too—I’m not here to judge you.

Heather, The Little Red-Haired Girl

The long-standing object of Charlie Brown’s affections, TLRHG was admired from afar for decades (so far afar, in fact, that readers never saw her face). Aside from one storyline in which Charlie Brown found her chewed-up pencil, there was little evidence that TLRHG was a creature of flesh and bone, seeming more a Venus on an unseen half-shell than a fellow third grader. It wasn’t until a throwaway 1977 special (“It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown”) that we learned her real name (Heather) and what she looked like. Oddly enough, she looked like Linus in drag, which introduces seriously weird overtones to some of the other relationships on the show.
Schulz later regretted allowing the special to show TLRHG in person, saying that there was no way she could be drawn to fit readers’ idealized expectations of her. Indeed, she thereafter went back to being admired in absentia for the remainder of the comic’s run, living in the same ethereal realm as Miss Othmar, the Great Pumpkn, and the Cat Next Door.



Sally Brown

The younger Brown sibling was notable primarily for her slightly dizzy approach to life (doing a book report on the TV guide, for example) and for her unrelenting crush on Linus van Pelt, her “sweet baboo” (“baboo,” by the way, is also the name of a Swiss airline with unusual floral decals and a Japanese cartoon character now being made into a Lego toy). Sally was introduced as an infant but she rapidly grew up to her familiar age of about six or seven. She generally ignored her brother and his “weird dog” unless she needed help with homework, though that may have had something to do with not seeing them correctly—in early cartoons, Sally had a “lazy eye” that was corrected by use of an eyepatch, which simultaneously introduced many people to the word “amblyopia,” springboarded Sally into a short career as a spokesperson for myopia, and made her the only person in the comic who could reasonably have been mistaken for a pirate.1

1 Except for when Snoopy stole the eyepatch and actually pretended to be a pirate, obviously.

Woodstock

Woodstock, the little yellow bird who played Tinkerbell to Snoopy’s Peter Pan, was more than just a dopey canary with a habit of speaking in hash marks. He (Woodstock’s gender is established fairly clearly on various occasions) ran a card game out of Snoopy’s house, occasionally crashed at the doghouse, and served as a combination philosopher, drinking buddy, and muse to Snoopy in any number of adventures. Really, Woodstock was a pretty lousy influence, and early comic appearances suggest both mental instability (made worse by his inability to fly in a straight line and the resulting head-on collisions into Snoopy’s doghouse) and an unhappy home life (Woodstock’s wife occasionally came by to kick his little birdy ass for staying out all night drinking and partying). Of course, most of this was lost on readers, since Woodstock’s ll11ll1l1l-type dialect didn’t translate well without Snoopy’s interpretation. Maybe a better analogue to have started off with would have been “Artoo to Snoopy’s Threepio.” Whatever. I’m not going back and rewriting it now.

So what do you think?

Poll #1307194 The greatest_ever Peanuts character, Round I
This poll is closed.

Good ol' Charlie Brown or his main squeeze?

Charlie Brown
16(84.2%)
The Little Red-Haired Girl (Heather)
3(15.8%)

The yellow-haired girl or the yellow-feathered bird?

Sally Brown
7(36.8%)
Woodstock
12(63.2%)


This poll will be up until Wednesday morning. In the meantime, here's the first of several days' worth of manga artists' interpretations of the Peanuts gang as teenagers. A little strange, granted, but nowhere near as disdurbing as the stuff I'll be showing you in the next couple of rounds...

Here are some of the more well-known faces from around the neighborhood...


And, to my surprise, someone else actually knew about what the red-haired girl looked like. Shine on, you crazy internet...


Enjoy!
 
 
 
[redacted]: surprisedelsewhereangel on December 1st, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)
TRhG, obviously. Plus, it would be against the overarching meaning of the comic to ever let Charlie Brown win.

I hate Sally. I've always hated Sally. I even hate the name Sally.

Whoopi Goldberg has a tattoo of Woodstock on her boob. I actually hate Sally more than the thought of Whoopi Goldberg's tits. And that's saying something. Yeesh.
michael: cartoongomi_no_sensei on December 1st, 2008 04:17 pm (UTC)
TLRHG
You beat me too it -- I was going to say the same thing.

On the other hand, I went with Sally for the same reason as kristenlou.

Now that I think about it, that came off as kind of negative; I didn't vote for anyone, just against.
greatest_evergreatest_ever on December 1st, 2008 04:38 pm (UTC)
Whoopi Goldberg has a tattoo of Woodstock on her boob? How did I not learn about this while googling for a picture of Woodstock?

I've always thought of Charlie Brown as being almost the Everyman of Peanuts. His actual character is fairly static; the crazy people and eccentrics are those around him (this comes out most clearly in the specials; in the comic, his thought-balloons give him a richer interior life). The fact that he inevitably ends up the goat in his dealings with the lunatics who make up the rest of his world is exactly what makes the comic such a cynic's dream...
Kristenlou: fpgirlkristenlou on December 1st, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
I always hated The Little Red Haired Girl. She somehow represented the popular kids, which rankled me.

Conversely, as a kid I always loved Woodstock, thought he was cute and funny. Now he strikes me as overly dippy and a ploy to lure in small children, where the annoying Sally seems amusing in a Gracie Fields sort of way.
greatest_evergreatest_ever on December 1st, 2008 04:53 pm (UTC)
I totally agree with the Sally-as-Gracie logic; on the other hand, I have a soft spot for Woodstock going back to his days as a more bird-like bird in the 1960s. I honestly don't know who I'm rooting for here...
marimbadog: Burrmarimbadog on December 1st, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
OK, so I've obviously got no gravesite visits to guide my voting patterns in this competition. I went with Charlie Brown. While I understand the concept that, by the rules of Peanuts itself, Charlie Brown ought to lose, I just couldn't not vote for him. Of course, voting his love interest out will break his heart, so I guess Charlie Brown loses either way.

In the second competition, I went with the bird. Don't know why. I've got nothing inherently against Sally. I enjoy her consumerist recitation during the Christmas special. But, nonetheless, I went with the bird.
greatest_evergreatest_ever on December 2nd, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC)
Having to eliminate his would-be girlfriend from the competition to stay in himself really is a horribly Charlie-Brown-esque situation...

You might need to get in the car and go find Schulz's grave just to keep your streak alive. He's in Sonoma County, so pick yourself up some wine while you're there...
thepardoner on December 1st, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)
I read Peanuts as a kid, but I was always more of a Calvin and Hobbes fan. Hearing Watterson talk about Peanuts makes me realize just how much Schulz influenced him, even beyond their drawing styles.
greatest_evergreatest_ever on December 2nd, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC)
I've seen similar testimonials from people like Gary Larson and Berke Breathed. Schulz was really something of a hero to most of the better comic writers of the last half-century.
Shaking the Etch-A-Sketch of life.: OMG Stop the Drama!lizsybarite on December 2nd, 2008 07:41 pm (UTC)
OMFG she DOES look like Linus in drag!!!
greatest_evergreatest_ever on December 2nd, 2008 08:09 pm (UTC)
Totally. I feel like someone in the animation studio was having a little fun at good ol' heteronormative Charlie Brown's expense.
michael: cartoongomi_no_sensei on December 3rd, 2008 03:54 am (UTC)
vice presidents
Oh man, I found out about this a week too late. You ever make it to DC? Alas, it looks like they aren't disqualifying folks who made it to top dog.
greatest_evergreatest_ever on December 3rd, 2008 12:10 pm (UTC)
Re: vice presidents
Oh, wow. I am SO getting down there for this...I haven't been to DC since about 1985 anyway, so it's about time.

I'll print off a copy of the "greatest_ever" VP page announcing Garner as the winner and pass it out to everyone who goes by his portrait...