by Jimmm Kelly
it’s the bottom of the 9th, charlie brown!
One afternoon I was walking back to school, after having had lunch at our house. It was about a ten minute walk and sometimes I was able to make this walk on my own, which is how I liked it because then I could calmly daydream, picking circuitous paths which always turned up new discoveries, before being plunged back into the stress and strife of elementary school.
But this time I was walking as so often with our next door neighbour, a boy who was a year younger than myself. Around when I was four–and he must’ve been three–his family had moved into the house next door to ours. I remember the first time I met him, because I beat him up.
Having just moved in and being neighbourly, his mother came over to visit my mother, and while they had tea in the living room, I was sent outside with this kid to play. I don’t know why I beat him up–I guess I just didn’t like some strange kid being in my yard.
After that, we were friends. Not great friends. We had different interests. He liked cars, I liked drawing pictures. But being neighbours and somewhat close in age, we were forced into each other’s company on a regular basis.
Once he started going to school–the year after I did–I was supposed to walk with him to school in the morning. Coming home I was released from such a commitment and sometimes on my walk back to school after lunch, I could avoid the obligation, as well.
This time, I must’ve been in grade 3 and he in grade 2. I’ll call him William here (not his real name), because he would have a name like that–not Billy or Will–although he looked like Shermy from PEANUTS. And, for reasons I won’t go into right now, I know I couldn’t have been in grade 1 or 2–and after grade 3, we never walked to school together.
But this time something happened that left me speechless. Somehow, we had got onto the topic of what we were going to be when we grew up and I got very serious and confessed my aspiration, even though I always felt it jinxed things if you told people what you really wanted.
I said that I wanted to be a cartoonist like Charles M. Schulz.
I had barely gotten those words out, when William said, Yeah, me too.
I was silent. Here I had spent hours of my life reading Charlie Brown books, researching Charles Schulz and his approach to the art, practicing drawing just like him and dreaming of my own comic strip.
And this kid, who never showed any appreciation for the funnies–who was always on about cars–was saying me too. Like that’s just something every kid wants to do and my aspiration, my dream, was nothing special!
a charlie brown christmas
The original air date for A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is given as December 9th ’65. This may be true, but that’s not when I remember it. Of course Canadian TV never abided by American rules. My memory is first seeing this show on Christmas day, in the middle of the day, on one of the two Vancouver channels that were available on the old black and white set. I remember it because I was being pressed to get ready for going to our aunt and uncle’s house for Christmas dinner, but I resolutely kept with my program.
In a few weeks (January 12th ’66), BATMAN would appear on the TV, but by then I was already a Charlie Brown fan. In the ’60s, I had three passions–the three B’s–Brown, Batman, Beatles.
My brother, thankfully, was a Beatles fan and bought all their singles and albums. There were the Beatles bubbe-gum cards, too, but as I remember it my sisters bought those. When Batman bubble-gum cards came along, I spent some of my allowance on those (and later on the comic books), but I spent a good deal of my savings on Charlie Brown books.
Charlie Brown books were not cheap. They started out being 40 cents: pocket size paperbacks published by Fawcett Crest. And you couldn’t just find these in any old drugstore. I could be in a train station or one of the upscale book stores clear downtown, when I would spot a Charlie Brown book I did not have.
There are times to this day when I catch the faint scent of a Fawcett Crest paperback in the air and I wonder: Are there Charlie Brown books near?
Other than collecting bottle caps, this was my first experience in collecting. I kept track of what books there were and which ones I needed. And I would line them up on my own bookshelf in order of chronology, feeling very proud as my line-up of books got longer and longer, until my father put a special shelf above my bed long enough to hold my investment.
my peanuts scrapbook
And I began MY PEANUTS SCRAPBOOK (as I had titled it), which included newspaper clippings of the comic strip or any item I could find about PEANUTS.
But also for MY PEANUTS SCRAPBOOK, I would recreate illustrations by Charles M. Schulz, trying as best I could to be faithful to the master.
This took hours. I wondered how I could ever hope to be a professional cartoonist as Charles Sparky Schulz made it look easy. Sparky is what is his friends called him, you know–I learned that from articles about Schulz and TV programs on the PEANUTS phenomenon. Appearing on such a television program, Sparky Schulz would toss off a Charlie Brown picture with a flourish, in mere seconds, like it was simple as breathing.
I didn’t know how to take such a performance. It seemed to me that art ought to be hard. It ought to take sweat and toil. A cartoonist like Schulz dashing off his work, like it was a parlour trick, appeared to cheapen the art.
Charles M. Schulz draws Charlie Brown–
For more of this about that, go to the extra page: Can You Draw, Too?
philosophy and belief
As I added to my library of Charlie Brown books, I came across related publications. There was one paperback I picked up at the second-hand book and comic store, called THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PEANUTS (by Robert L. Short, published by Bantam). This was a book that took a religious angle on the “teachings” of the Peanuts gang. Another book I found new took a more secular approach (though with religious overtones) and that was WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT, CHARLIE BROWN? by Jeffrey H. Lora (from Fawcett Crest).
I knew that Charlie Brown was an intellectual strip–the Peanuts gang used big words. It was no accident, therefore, that I started to improve on spelling tests. And sometimes one of their funnies would give me pause for serious thought.
Charlie Brown’s theory that we are put on this Earth to make others happy profoundly impressed me.
As I came under greater and greater philosophical assault from my parents and my peers for continuing to buy those books, I had reason on my side. I knew these funnies were improving my mind not wasting it.
I might’ve lost faith in Batman and those other super-hero funny books in ’68, ’69, . . . until my purchases of comics dwindled to single digits per year, but I kept faith with Charles M. Schulz. I foresaw myself continuing to value Charlie Brown even in my twenties or thirties.
Still, a book like WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT, CHARLIE BROWN? and the morals it draws from popular entertainment is a little unnecessary. If you need someone else to explain the intellectual weight of PEANUTS to you, you’re not reading it right. I mainly valued WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT CHARLIE BROWN and THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PEANUTS for their selections of strips–they were like greatest hits compilations.
a man of leisure
It seemed to me that all the really happy times happened before I went to Kindergarten. When I was in Kindergarten, JFK was shot. Oh sure there were the Beatles, but the Beatles had a certain melancholy twang to their rock and roll. Before the Beatles you had Elvis singing HAPPY ENDING at the World’s Fair. And our family had really gone to the World’s Fair in ’62!
My brother played on a Little League baseball team. My father coached the team. My mother washed the uniforms. And being just a little fella, I wasn’t expected to be any good at baseball. I could sit in the bleachers next to my Mom and watch my brother at bat, as my father coached or sometimes umpired a game.
With no commitments, I was a man of leisure. On any day, I could decide what adventure I wished to pursue. If I wanted to play in the empty lot, there it was ready to be played in. If I wanted to go to the big swings–it wasn’t that far to go and my mother would usually let me. The world was my oyster.
But when I started school, there was sports, and now I had to compete with others. Not just boys, but girls, too–and they were all better than me. My father and brother had been so consumed with Little League that they had failed to teach me a lick of it. I was pathetic.
In this regard, Charlie Brown and I were very different. He failed at sports but really wanted to succeed. I just didn’t want to be bothered at all. It was humiliating to be dragged out on a field and made to look like a complete loser.
holt, rinehart and winston
Fawcett Crest paperbacks had their peculiarities, which I needed to figure out for collecting my Charlie Brown books.
Let’s take WHAT’S NEXT, CHARLIE BROWN? On the cover of this book in small letters it says: Selected Cartoons from YOU’RE OUT OF YOUR MIND, CHARLIE BROWN VOL II. What does that mean? I learned that it meant there was another book somewhere which would say on its cover: Selected Cartoons from YOU’RE OUT OF YOUR MIND, CHARLIE BROWN VOL I. And there was such a book from Fawcett Crest–VERY FUNNY, CHARLIE BROWN. So there were always two volumes, which would each have selections from some other title–a title that might as well be a myth, because I could never find it.
It turns out these books really did exist (perhaps for sale in another part of the world) but not published by Fawcett Crest (FC). No, these unseen books were published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston (HRW).
I only ever turned up a few of these HRW books–enough to convince me they were not a myth but a reality. I did get the original PEANUTS from HRW, which collects some of the first Peanuts strips ever and these were never reprinted in an FC paperback. The cover price on that was a whole dollar and I even had to pay more for it–$1.25. Which convinced me that trying to pursue these HRW books was not worth the trouble. You could get the same amount of material in two FC books for the same money or less.
Also the size of these HRW books was different (some were trade paperback size) so they didn’t neatly fit in line with the other Charlie Brown books on my shelf. I was all about the uniformity of my collection–when Fawcett Crest updated the little logo they put in the left hand corner of all their books, that was enough to cause me upset. I was a regular fuss-budget when it came to these picky details.
here’s a handy guide to the HRW books:
and this site provides a grid to show all the different PEANUTS collections including FC and HRW:
bottom of the ninth
I was never so old as when I was young. The weight of the world seemed to hang upon me. By grade 1, I was a wreck. I had bags under my eyes from sleepless nights worrying about the universe and the meaning of life.
I tend to think other little children are the same–not to the point of such severe depression and morbid temperment as Thomas Hardy’s Little Father Time in JUDE THE OBSCURE, but maybe as serious as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s LITTLE PRINCE.
For such small bodies as we are, the universe is an imposing thing to consider. Like Charlie Brown, my free-floating anxiety had little to do with my family life or the physical environment. Discovering Charlie Brown, and that such heavy thoughts were not out of the ordinary but very much the ordinary reality of his world, was like having a weight lifted.
I never truly considered that grown-ups could have a problem with Charlie Brown.
Sure, PEANUTS was wildly popular in the ’60s and ’70s–a pop culture phenomenon that extended to every medium–television, pop tunes, movies, musical theatre. But I was oblivious to the social and political controversies that swirled around those funnies. I guess, for the older folks who worried over what Schulz was saying, books like THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PEANUTS were necessary just to cope.
Ah well, grown-ups–they are a hopeless lot.
NUR WER NOCH TRAÜMEN KANN–Helene Fischer
Still to come in . . .
How I Spent
Everything that had to do with Peanuts was clipped and stuck in my scrapbook–including tax-deductible donations.
All on sale dates might be approximate, as provided by Mike’s Amazing World of Comics (The Newsstand) and by other sources.
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