Thursday, March 05, 2009


Today's Peanuts reprint, from March 8, 1962 (they're now actually showing the original publication date at the website, by the way), is one of my favorite examples of a self-aware, self-referential strip. I'm not sure if it was one of the strips that was not reprinted before The Complete Peanuts; I think I saw it in a Peanuts book once, but I can't be certain. (Click to enlarge)

This is one of the very few self-referential strips Peanuts ever did. One of the other ones is also from 1962 (and which I'm almost certain I never saw before The Complete Peanuts), where Charlie Brown turns off the TV in disgust and wonders "what would happen if comic strips showed nothing but reruns all summer?" And an early strip has a very rare open breach of the fourth wall, where Schroeder says "sometimes I think I should put in a transfer to a new comic strip!"

Of course Bill Watterson was presumably tipping his hat to the strip reprinted above when he did virtually the same strip for Calvin and Hobbes: four panels of Calvin and Hobbes from the neck up, never changing expression or doing anything, as Calvin explains that "Grandpa says the comics were a lot better years ago when newspapers printed them bigger. He says comics now are just a bunch of Xeroxed talking heads because there's no space to tell a decent story or to show any action. He thinks people should write to their newspaper and complain."

Though the two strips are a little different in their potential targets. Schulz seems like he's making a bit of fun of his own strip as well as its critics, since the scene is only a slight exaggeration of what happens in a typical Peanuts strip (two characters leaning on a wall and talking for four panels). Watterson is the "grandpa" that Calvin talks about, the guy who crusades against small-print comics and talking heads; he's making fun of the kind of strip he hates and also making a bit of fun of himself in the punchline. ("Your grandpa takes the funnies pretty seriously." "Yeah, mom's looking into nursing homes.")

Walt Kelly in Pogo did a lot more meta-strips than either Schulz or Watterson, or indeed just about anybody else; he would do deadpan jokes about the art of comics or newspapers that had threatened to drop the strip, and he'd also have the characters break the fourth wall and admit they were in a comic strip. (One of my favorites was when Pogo started to say something that was mildly suggestive and Albert stopped him: "It's Sunday!" A reference to Kelly's belief that Sunday strips should be family-friendly because they had a younger readership.)


stevef said...

My all-time favorite in-joke Peanuts strip was the one that ran the day Schultz was the grand marshal of the Tournament of Roses parade. Lucy is watching the parade on TV when Linus asks who the grand marshal is. She answers, "It's nobody you ever heard of."

Mr. Semaj said...

I still recall a Peanuts strip from November of 1968 where "Snoopy" heads off to meet Bill Mauldin for some root beer.

Another comic strip that has its share of fourth wall entries is 9 Chickweed Lane. Brooke McEldowney especially loves to toy with the paneling.

Chris L. said...

I still recall a Peanuts strip from November of 1968 where "Snoopy" heads off to meet Bill Mauldin for some root beer.

Not sure if that was the first time, but the Bill Mauldin shout-out became a Veterans' Day tradition for Schulz in the last few decades of the strip, eventually culminating in a cameo by Willie and Joe themsleves (with art taken from an original Mauldin cartoon).

Slowjack said...

The Peanuts strip about "reruns" is a bit ironic now that my newspaper is running "Classic Peanuts" strips from the late Schultz, thus removing a potential slot for a new cartoonist.

Russell H said...

I seem to remember a strip where Lucy was fishing for compliments about her eyes, and Charlie Brown described them as looking like "two dots of ink."