Sunday, July 22, 2018

Charlie Brown: The Early Days

Until this summer, I don't think I realized just how profoundly I have been influenced by the work of Charles Schulz. I visited his museum in Santa Rosa, California. If you are a fan of Peanuts -- this is a bucket-list destination.

Many of the original strips are on display. There is a movie theater featuring animated specials, as well as Schulz interviews and documentaries. And next door, is an adorable ice rink complete with the Warm Puppy Cafe. One of my favorite exhibits in the museum was the recreation of Schulz' office.

I love knowing that one man spent fifty years creating a whole world of characters -- imaginary people we know and love. Figments of someone's imagination, yet figments that have brought a very real joy to millions. That's the dream of every children's book writer and illustrator -- at least, it's my dream.

Oh, and lest I forget to mention, they have a rather mammoth gift shop next to the ice rink. There's just about every sort of plush toy version of all your favorite characters -- except the one my wife wanted to buy. They were all out of Spike!

They also had every edition of Fantagraphics reproduction of the complete Peanuts series, year by year, in chronological order.

I couldn't leave without buying at least one copy, so I purchased the very first one. 1950 to 1952. Are you familiar with how different Charlie Brown looks during the early days of Peanuts? I knew about it -- but was more of a vague awareness. Most of the Peanuts comics I read when I was a kid were from the mid 70s and beyond. So, when I think of Charlie Brown, I think of this guy: 

That's a very different look and emotional impact in comparison to the kid on the cover of this book:

Check out the angst! The animosity. The eyebrow! Charlie Brown is known for being the eternal nice guy who never gets a break. Everything always goes wrong for him. His friends treat him unfairly -- even his dog gives him sass. And he's just so nice, it doesn't seem like he deserves it. 

Well, if you read the comics from the beginning, you'll notice as I did that some of the above description applies to Good Old Charlie Brown from the very beginning. Here's the first strip we see in the book: 

Charlie Brown is a happy-go lucky kid, well-known in the neighborhood. That's Sherman sitting on the steps, next to Patty (the non-Peppermint character). Look how happy Ol' Chuck is... and at first it seems like Sherman is admiring him. But once Charlie Brown has left the panel, Sherman says: 

So, from the very beginning Schulz establishes this love/hate attitude possessed by everyone around Charlie Brown. That remains consistent throughout the fifty years of the comic strip. However, as you can tell by Charlie Brown's blank white shirt, he changes. 

It's not until several months into Peanuts that Charlie Brown finally appears in his famous zig-zag pattern. Here's the first moment with his icon shirt. 

I am guessing that it initially happened just to add something visually interesting to his design. Yet, the zizags become emblematic of his character -- how he feels about himself. His esteem rises and falls throughout the four panels, first feeling hopeful, then confident, then crushed and defeated, but then realizing he can tolerate his life, and that he can even return to that state of hope and start the climb again. 

This happens with his unrequited love for the unseen girl with the red hair... it happens with the kite-eating tree, it happens with his baseball endeavors, and it most certainly happens when he tries to kick that football. 

If you are like me, you probably think of Lucy as the one who always snatches away the football, right before Charlie Brown can kick it. (And she always seems to do it as a terrible trick.) 

But the very first time the football gag occurs isn't with Lucy. In fact, Lucy hasn't even been introduced yet. Violet is the responsible.

But as you can see, she's not snatching the football away in order to cause permanent spinal injury. She's worried about her own safety, and chickens out. 

In these early days, Violet is one of the nicer characters, often making mud pies on Charlie Brown's behalf. Not all the characters treat Charlie as kindly. Case in point: 

But, you needn't feel too bad for young Charlie Brown. Sure, he gets a black eye in this panel. But in many other early strips, Charlie Brown is a little stinker who intentionally drives Patty crazy! 

In the early 1950s, Peanuts featured a running gag in which Charlie Brown would say something insulting to Patty, and then Patty would angrily chase him while he joyfully ran away. 

He's a little scamp, not too dissimilar from Calvin -- the imaginative little upstart who loves to infuriate Suzie. 

Another similarity between Calvin and Charlie Brown: they share a fondness for creative snowman construction. 

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Early Charlie Brown is precocious. This is before he develops the defeatist expression of "Good Grief!" In the 50s, he's a bit of a prankster. People may give him hell, but he gives it right back. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Lost Works of Wade Bradford

I probably have a couple lost writing projects... nothing as vast or as crippling as a lost novel. I do have a missing screenplay I wrote back in the 90s called The Silver Squadron, about a group of octogenarian superheroes... But I'm not too sad about that because I was really just ripping off Watchmen, but in a slightly humorous way.

There are probably other half-baked, unfinished scripts that have disappeared over the years as well... And that's fine. But there are a few things that have gone missing that make me rather sad. Here are the three most melancholy-inducing lost works which are currently missing from my library of personal projects:

Issue #4 of Space Bounty Hunters from Hell...

I was so stupid. I had drawn four comics books by hand, which my friends and I loved -- especially my best friend, Joshua. Then, I adapted the characters into a screenplay version. I loved this quirky little sci-fi-comedy world I had created. There was an agent I was working with at the time -- he was never officially my agent, but he kept reading my scripts until he got sick of me... I think that was around High Moon (my infamous vampire western). Anyway, I wanted to impress him with not just my screenplay, but I wanted to show him the comic book origins of Space Bounty Hunters. So I decided to send him issue #4, which was the best one in terms of humor and art work. I went to Kinkos to make a copy, but the young lady working there told me that they couldn't scan the oversized pages and make them fit onto an 8X10 copy. If I remember correctly, the words she used were: We don't have to do that here. Which perplexed and vexed me so that I decided to send the agent the original comic, thinking that the agent would keep it handy and send it back at some point after reading it.

When I chatted with him about it a month later, he said that he had dumped the comic in the recycling. And so the further adventures of Oboe Williams and Trigger Scalpswap are lost forever.

Ninja Man

In seventh grade, there was a kid named Dan Bolton who was obsessed with karate and ninja stars and kung fu stuff. I don't think he was any good at it -- he was a scrawny little nerd like me. But he claimed that he could defeat anyone in the school if he wanted to...

He moved to Reno, Nevada at the end of the year, and despite his dorkiness I guess I must have missed him because I made an entire comic book series (about 60 pages in total, I think) during my eighth grade year. My fellow classmate became interested in reading these daily comics, and I gained a modicum of renown for them. I also devoted far much ore time to the comics instead of school work.

Anyway, I am not sure what happened to that collection, but I haven't seen them since high school. I believe in our garage there is one page of the comic... And that's all that remains of the dazzling escapades of Dan Bolton, full time student, part-time ninja.

Dragonflies and Dandelions

So, this is my lost play... And of all the missing materials, this is the one I miss the most. It's lost in a special way, too... One that gives me hope. I'll get to that later. Let's talk about what the play is about.

It's called Dragonflies and Dandelions because the initials spell DAD. it's a tribute to my father, and written when he was still alive and relatively healthy. But I think my younger self somehow knew that Dad wasn't long for this world -- since he had smoked so much... And already seemed old to me... I spent my late teens and early twenties writing about him and sometimes for him in one way or another.

Anyway, one of my early community college experiences was a directing class. I wrote and directed a one-act play called Dragonflies and Dandelions. It was about a father and son, not-so-loosely based upon my dad and me. The two characters are in the laundry room of their home, and the father is teaching his son how to do the laundry, because soon he will be on his own and he'll need to know how to do it.

During the process, the father tells stories of his early days, including narratives about his surveyor days in Alaska, his dangerous flights during the Korean War, and a Japanese American girl he had a crush on during World War II (she was taken away to an internment camp -- and he always wondered what had become of her...)

I wanted to film a video of the production, but our instructor, Arden Flom -- what a great name! -- would not allow it. And any physical copies of the scripts were kept by the actors. One of my best friends, Jeff Griffith was one of them, but I don't think he has it anymore. The play was stored on a floppy disk, and I still have that disk. The problem is, I no longer have the old Brother Word Processor that can access the disk... it broke way back in the mid 1990s. 

So, until I find the same brand of that old dinosaur of a computer I once owned, Dragonflies and Dandelions will remain a lost gem. 

What About You?

Hey there, writer friends... do you have any lost works? Tell me about'em.