Compare and Contrast exercise:
Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz (first published December 18, 1950):
Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson (first published December 28, 2007):
GoComics has been re-running Richard Thompson’s excellent comic strip Cul de Sac since his recent retirement due to Parkinson’s disease. I’ve been reading the reruns, and I also happen to be reading Fantagraphics’ The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952. Both of the above installments occur early in the respective strips’ syndicated runs, about 2-3 months after their debuts.
Thompson is a beloved, award-winning cartoonist, and for good reason. You could fairly easily draw a straight line from the legendary Peanuts to Calvin & Hobbes to Cul de Sac in regard to popularity, skill and influence. The benefit book Team Cul de Sac is chock full of artists paying tribute to Thompson and his comic strip. It was released last year to help raise funds to battle Parkinson’s.
Is an accusation of plagiarism, committed sub-consciously or not, appropriate? I think we can reasonably dismiss that while at the same time taking a closer look at both strips. Acknowledgments to the Peanuts comic appear to be too overt to be a sub-conscious swipe. Charlie Brown and Nara in the last panels have similar expressions, opened-mouth and stunned, even looking down at similar angles. The zig-zag on Alice’s hat seems to be a clear reference to Charlie Brown’s iconic yellow shirt (not yet created in the 1950 strip above). Thompson would also be foolish to consciously try to rip off Peanuts, which has a world-wide fan-base that would surely catch the offense. Indeed a commenter at GoComics at the 2007 link above pretty quickly makes the connection. The opening line about a “new model” is also a likely reference to a Peanuts strip first published a little over a month later from the original adult conversation comic, on January 29, 1951:
Thompson concluded his strip by taking the adult conversation joke one step further. Alice’s rhetorical question is probably implied in Schulz’s strip, but it could be Thompson acknowledging the past and picking up the baton. Charlie Brown walks off alone to contemplate his future as a mundane adult. Alice arrives alone but leaves with a friend, perhaps in the next moment promising each other they’ll be different when they grow up.
These are some of the thoughts I had when looking at these two comics. What about you? Whatever the real reasons and intentions behind both comics, they offer a great opportunity to take a closer look at two masters.
The Simpsons writer/producer and The Doozies cartoonist Tom Gammill has a fun video series called Learn to Draw that, despite the title, will not teach aspiring cartoonists how to draw. Instead it offers a fun glimpse into the world of comics as what is possibly the world’s first comedy web-series about comics and cartooning.
Tom Gammill started the web-series three years ago (almost to the date – the first video was posted to YouTube on November 12, 2008) and has since seen guest appearances by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman (Zits), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Tony Carrillo (F Minus), Mell Lazarus (Momma), Cathy Guisewite (Cathy), Jeff Keane (The Family Circus), Matt Groening (The Simpsons, Life in Hell), Bill Amend (Foxtrot) and even Jeannie Schulz, the widow of Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts). Gammill and/or his writing partner Max Pross is an excellent director able to get these non-actors to loosen up and do some pretty silly things. Or maybe it’s that after year years and decades of creating comedy every day, cartoonists have built a natural ability to perform with good comedic timing. Whatever the reason, it’s a
Here are a few favorites, culminating in the crazy Arnold Roth episode:
Yesterday morning, the Hooded Utilitarian posted my list along with 21 others who contributed to a giant survey of comic book creators, retailers, publishers, educators, commentators (like me) and other industry folk from all over the world to determine the 10 Best Comics. In total, 211 people responded.
I sent my list on June 15, in response to the question, “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” I started my email response to the Hooded Utilitarian with the following: “I want you to know, this is IMPOSSIBLE.”
And it is. But despite that…
- Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
- Bone by Jeff Smith
- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
- Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
- Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
- Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
- The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
Start clicking and see if something interests you.
There are plenty of comics that are just as good as the above that deserve to be listed, and even some that are better. But I had a few guidelines to help focus my list down to a manageable size.
First, I had to have actually read the material. Of the above, only Peanuts has material that I have never read. But I’ve read enough of it that what I haven’t read would have to be an absolute bomb for it to tarnish the goodwill. That means there was some material that I am fully expecting to love and that I love for its mere existence and concept that I had to leave out. I really wanted to include Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know on my list. It sits by my desk in my to-read pile from last year‘s Comic-Con.
Second, I leaned much heavier on the “most significant” portion of the question. As some have pointed out, the question asked by The Hooded Utilitarian is really three different questions which could result in three very different lists. Because what interests me is comics’ efforts to find new audiences, I interpreted “most significant” as the comics that have been most successful in winning over new readers. That was probably my biggest barometer. Each of the above have helped establish a genre or publishing strategy or level of skill that has expanded what comics can be and are today. In retrospect, I might’ve leaned a little too heavy on modern material but I think some of the most innovative and inclusive material is being made now (if you know where to find it).
OK, so let’s hear it. What did I miss?
(More random thoughts after the jump.)
The seminal Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz ran for 50 wonderful years (1950-2000). The characters have lived on in new TV specials, a graphic novel, reruns of timeless TV specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Charles M. Schulz Museum, and a reprinting project of every Peanuts comic strip ever in chronological order. There’s even a campaign to get a Snoopy license plate in California. The strip’s uncanny ability to tap into a childlike perspective has resonated with generations of fans. And as fans have grown up, it’s only natural to wonder how Charlie Brown grew up.
Director/writer Brandon Ford Green had the same thoughts, and is putting his theories into film with an independent feature currently in development. Good Grief is a dramatic comedy about eight friends who return to their home town to attend the funeral of the one person that was the bridge between them. Growing up tends to change people, so this actually gives Brandon a lot of freedom in crafting his own characters and stories that end up being very loosely based on Peanuts. But it’s still fun for those familiar with the strip to imagine “what if”.
Prequel shorts spotlighting each character have been getting previewed online but only for a brief time before they’re taken down again. This weekend, from Friday, July 1st at 10 AM to Monday, July 4th at 10 PM Pacific, you’ll get to see the video for Penn.
To follow the film’s progress and get the link for the Penn video, be sure to check out the Good Grief Facebook page.
One of my favorite regular columns is the monthly Comics College by Chris Mautner at Robot 6, hosted by Comic Book Resources. Each entry is a great introductory overview of what’s best to read from the great comic book masters and why they are so good, making this a fantastic source for newcomers or people who’ve always wanted to expand their reading. It also covers their lesser known work and stuff that maybe should be avoided.
The great part of the column is that it is looking at masters from all over the art form of comics. It’s not just superhero creators, or just alternative comics creators. It’s both those, as well as manga, newspaper strips, underground comics, euro-comics, comics journalism and more.
This month’s subject is the Norwegian cartoonist simply known as Jason. This prolific creator tells funny genre mash-ups with a deadpan economy of dialogue and understated emotion with characters struggling over love and guilt. Next month, George Herriman will be featured. His classic comic strip Krazy Kat is among the most highly regarded in the history of comics.
The Comics College column debuted in August 2009 and has covered the following comics masters past and present (click on the link to be taken to the column):
- Los Bros. Hernandez (Love and Rockets)
- Jack Kirby (The Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World)
- Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Phoenix)
- R. Crumb (Zap Comix, Book of Genesis)
- Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Mr. Punch)
- Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Acme Novelty Library)
- Lewis Trondheim (Dungeon, Little Nothings)
- Harvey Kurtzman (Mad Magazine, Frontline Combat)
- art spiegelman (Maus, In the Shadow of No Towers)
- Eddie Campbell (Alec: The Years Have Pants, The Fate of the Artist)
- Harvey Pekar (American Splendor, Our Cancer Year)
- Kim Deitch (The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Shadowland)
- Kevin Huizenga (Ganges, Curses)
- Hergé (Tintin)
- Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts)
- John Stanley (Little Lulu, Melvin Monster)
- Seth (George Sprott: 1894-1975, Wimbledon Green, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken)
- Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City)
- Joe Sacco (Safe Area Gorazde, Palestine)
- Jason (I Killed Adolf Hitler, Hey Wait…)
- George Herriman (Krazy Kat)
- Jack Cole (Plastic Man, Betsy and Me)
- Adrian Tomine (Summer Blonde, Scenes from an Impending Marriage)
- Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman, We3)
- Jessica Abel (La Perdida, Artbabe)
- Gabrielle Bell (Cecil and Jordan in New York, Lucky)
- Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, Zot!)
- Charles Burns (Black Hole, Big Baby, X’ed Out)
- Jacques Tardi (It Was the War of the Trenches, West Coast Blues)
- Phoebe Gloeckner (A Child’s Life, The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
- Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums)
- David B (Epileptic, Babel)
UPDATE: I’ll keep updating the list as new entries get posted.
Los Angeles comics publisher Boom! Studios has been releasing info on their re-branded Boom! Kids imprint this and last week, and the big news is the March release of the first Peanuts original graphic novel Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown as the debut title of kaboom! (formerly teased as Boom! Kids 2.0). (Click on the image to the right for a preview, which immediately sold me on the previously unthinkable idea of buying something Peanuts-related that wasn’t directly written and illustrated by the late Charles Schulz.)
Not to be confused with the Mexican comic book studio ¡Ka-Boom! Estudio or the short-lived 1990s comic book series by Jeph Loeb and Jeff Matsuda called Kaboom or the Texas comic book store KABOOM Comics or the Virginia Beach comic book store Kaboom Collectibles or the Australian comic book store Kaboom! Comics, Boom’s kaboom! will also include Snarked! by Roger Langridge, who recently wrapped up an excellent run creating The Muppet Show Comic Book, as well as a licensed comic based on the PBS Kids animated series Word Girl, and a French Star Wars parody imported as Space Warped. The line will also retain their classic Disney comics Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Mickey Mouse and Friends, Donald Duck and Friends, and Uncle Scrooge as well as the Disney Afternoon comics DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, and Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers. (Disney has decided to pull the comics based on Pixar movies such as The Incredibles, Cars and Toy Story in-house where Marvel Comics will publish Disney•Pixar Presents, a magazine currently slated to reprint the Boom!-produced stories.)
Boom! publisher Ross Richie spoke with Comic Book Resources about kaboom! and the Peanuts graphic novel, and I was struck by his explanation for why the re-named Boom! Kids. From that interview:
“We had theorized for a while that we need to change it up for two reasons: one, we were seeing adults apologizing at conventions for buying the kids’ comics for themselves, and we wanted to remove this barrier. Seeing women in their 20s at Emerald City Comicon say, ‘I know the Incredibles comic book is made for kids, but it looks awesome and I love the art and I’m buying it anyway’ — that ain’t right. Let’s remove the perceived barrier,” Richie explained.
“We also knew on the other end that kids that can buy with their own dollars — let’s say 8 year olds for instance — didn’t consider themselves kids, so they were not sparking to the name,” he continued. “A lot of our content is great for this age group, so let’s get rid of that barrier.
“And through the process, what we ended up seeing was that our organic desire as a publisher hewed more towards being ‘all ages’ than a strict ‘kids’ publisher. So why not reflect that? Why not show everyone that our focus is shifting and changing?
I think that realization and change is significant, and it’s smart of them to listen to this and act on it. Many of the strongest material for young readers is in fact enjoyable for a wider cross section of people. It’s why Pixar movies are so successful. It’s why many of the classic Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes cartoons are so timeless. They don’t just speak to a narrow demographic. (As an aside, DC Comics has been publishing Looney Tunes comics for years.)
It kind of ties in with part of a new interview conducted by colorist Chris Sotomayor (Captain America, Hulk) with comics writer Kurt Busiek (JLA/Avengers, Astro City) (via The Beat). In talking about what’s lacking in the comics industry, Busiek said, “What we’re doing wrong is that we’re putting so much of our energy trying to make comics that will keep the existing audience on board, by concentrating the thrills, the hype and the excitement in ways that make the work forbidding to newcomers. And at the same time, not doing enough outreach to new audiences.” He goes on to break down how to bring in new audiences:
The four-part mantra of how to reach a new target audience remains true: 1. Publish material they will like. 2. Publish it in a form they’ll be willing to pick up. 3. Distribute it to places they will see it. 4. Tell them it exists.
When we reach out to new audiences, we often do only one of the four — and sometimes none, and then complain that it’s not possible.
Fortunately Boom! is doing it differently (and there are others too). They get that speaking to the same narrow audience is death in the long term. There’s nothing wrong with being a cult hit or making a product for a very specific audience, but when the majority of a publishing line is developed with that approach, there can only be finite interest.
Those four steps should be plastered on every comics publishers walls.
Today in 1922, Charles Monroe Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He would grow up to create the comic strips “Li’l Folks” (1947-1949), “Peanuts” (1950-2000) and “It’s Only A Game” (1957-1959). “Peanuts” is what he’s widely remembered for, and what has influenced hundreds of artists. The popularity and international appeal of the strip’s characters was nearly without equal during its run. Out of respect for Schulz and his family’s wishes, United Feature Syndicate did not hire a replacement following Schulz’s retirement and subsequent death. For the last six years, the strip has been re-run in newspapers, still remaining one of the most popular and widely syndicated strips today. (Sources: Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, Wikipedia)
(Photo by Brian Lanker, from the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California.)