Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happiness is a glass jaw....

Snoopy punches Lucy
RECENTLY re-discovered in the humor archive of the Trivia Wing was this precious, precious image I think everyone who enjoys reading the Peanuts comic strip or watching the cartoons (or maybe only eating Zingers) will be ecstatic to see.

This one's a beauty! No digital manipulating was used to create this picture, and what you're looking at is an un-enhanced photo of said image.

Can you guess where it came from? (HINT: it's not from Mad magazine, a "Tijuana Bible" or The Onion.) Think about it....

Give up?

It's from the Peanuts comic book.

No, I didn't just "blow your mind"! Let me elaborate....

As the popularity of Peanuts gained momentum in the mid-1950's, Dell Publishing Company, makers of kid-friendly, "Comics Code"-approved comic books came calling to creator Charles Schulz and United Features Syndicate, his employer.

The majority of Dell's comics were licensed from properties as varied as Donald Duck, Little Lulu or The Lone Ranger; they also did an array of adaptations of movies and TV shows like Lassie, Leave It to Beaver or No Time for Sergeants (the movie with Andy Griffith). Now they wanted to take a try at Peanuts; an agreement was reached sometime after initial contact.

The first comic (dated 1953-54) was a "one-shot" containing reprints of the strip. A few other Dell comics series would also include reprints until Four Color Comics #878 (Feb '58 cover date), when what author David Michaelis (in his Schulz biography, Schulz and Peanuts) called "extended play" stories [with new stories and art] began. With Schulz's workload already burdened with doing two comic strips at the same time (the other being the short-lived It's Only a Game, a strip about sports that debuted in '57), the primary work would be handled by others, while he contributed new artwork for covers only.

The main person who wrote and drew stories for Dell was Jim Sasseville (born in 1927), a friend and colleague of Schulz's from the days when they both worked at Art Instruction, Inc. in Minneapolis. Sasseville had since become Schulz's assistant, and his main duty up until the Dell books came along was inking finished artwork and lettering for IOaG. Now, he'd be "ghosting" the comic books for $100 a week. After three Four Colors, the new material graduated to its own comic, the numbering starting at number 4 (Feb-March '60).

According to Michaelis, Sasseville was a very good artist in his
own right, and his greatest asset was a unique one; after Schulz, he was one of a select few who could draw Charlie Brown's round head. (It's not easy, as this amateur artist can testify!) Though the comic book which this picture came from is the first issue (May 1963) of the Gold Key run (Dell under a new name, actually), the material inside is copyright 1958, so it's reprints of a Dell book from '58. Based on the quality of some (not all) of the art (including some renderings of Charlie Brown's head), evidence suggests Sasseville's handiwork is in here.

He might have done "The Hero", which is where this picture came from. The actual story (like all the stories in the book) is too long and lacks Schulz's humorous touches and comedic timing; the priceless illustration is the absolute highlight of the entire mess, it's so masterfully executed. Considering the "violent" content of the drawing (arguably, a touch stronger than what sometimes happened in the strip), I thought Dell would've objected to it and have the panel changed. Then again, it's a beagle belting a "fussbudget", so there's no harm or foul!

Check out the full story below! I decided on taking photos of the pages so their warped nature will simulate reading an actual well-worn comic! (NOTE: pages have been enhanced for an attempt at clarity; click on them for a better look.)

The last Dell was lucky number 13 (May-July '62). The last Gold Key was number 4 ( Feb '64), all of them reprints.

As for Jim Sasseville, Schulz eventually decided to devote all his energy to Peanuts, so he let Sasseville assume full control of IOaG; the strip ended a 63-week run in 1959. In 1960, he'd leave cartooning to be a graphic artist. He died on November 30, 2005, at the age of 78.

I think it's cool he got to work with Schulz in the capacity he did. (All written accounts I've read strongly maintain Charles Schulz never had help with the drawing and writing of the Peanuts comic strip, period!) Most of all, I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the guy who drew what I consider the pen-and-ink equivalent of The Mona Lisa.

It's the best Peanuts drawing Schulz never did!

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.


  1. What a pleasant surprise! I love that Peanuts cover. It reminds me of a certain someone and a certain dog that I live with. :)

  2. Glad you liked it, duriandave!

    I have two old Peanuts comic books; the other one is a Dell, and it's in much better condition than the Gold Key one. However, no stories in that one had Snoopy punching anybody, so I went for the GK comic!

    I wonder if Schulz ever looked at any of the stories before publication? I'm guessing he did very little or not at all; otherwise, I feel strongly he'd have the content in that panel changed.

    Interestingly enough, years later at the end of the movie Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown, Snoopy belts a cat! (It was the bad pet of the gang of bad kids Charlie Brown and company had to deal with.) An invention of the animators, or was it part of Schulz's story, hinting that he may have had a flashback to "the panel"?

    Good grief, we'll NEVER know!

  3. Looking at these scans made me remember what Peanuts actually used to look like. I had forgotten.

    If the cover of the comic was me and my dog, she'd be the one sitting on top!

  4. Thanks for liking this, achillesgirl!

    I've liked Peanuts ever since I was little, and as I've got to know more and more of the history of the strip, it's interesting to look at how Charles Schulz's art on the characters evolved over the years.

    Is your dog in charge of the remote, too? ;o)

  5. I work the remote because I have opposable thumbs but she always chooses which movie to watch. She likes HK cinema and kung fu movies, which is probably why we get along so well. :p

  6. PEANUTS used to be a huge fave of mine, too. I used to have these books filled with the cartoon strips in them. Also, there was a PEANUTS movie I loved where they were in a rafting race of some sort. Oh, and the Great Pumpkin special was something I watched every year.