Shattered Illusions of Peanuts

Having paid off my outstanding balance of $9 in late fees that kept me away from the library for months, I've been eagerly consuming The Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, collecting all the dailies and Sunday strips.

My understanding of the Peanuts mythos has been recalibrated by the first volume of strips from 1950-1952. For one thing, somewhere in the first two or three years was a strip in which a word balloon pointed to an adult out of frame, when Charlie Brown hears his mother calling. A purist could explain this away by saying that we don't know it was Mrs. Brown: it could have been some other kid calling him or pretending to be his mother. Surely that event would have been incorporated into the story, so it's not a plausible explanation.

Another weird bit is that Lucy's famous fake-out, pulling away the football at the last minute while Charlie Brown runs up to kick it, was actually pioneered by Violet. In that first version, Violet slips or turns away at the last minute, so it was more of an accident than a trick intentionally played on Charlie Brown.

A nice discovery was that Schroeder's first word in the strip was "Beethoven." He's shown as a baby who doesn't speak for his first several appearances, although he plays the toy piano before speaking.

At the back of Volume 1 is an interview with Schulz from 1992. He makes a few pronouncements about mistakes in Peanuts and other comic strips. It starts off sounding like wise judgments of general storytelling technique (especially admitting that it was a mistake to introduce Snoopy's brothers and sisters), but some sound like his own personal, arbitrary complaints about other strips and stories:
Rick Marschall [with Nemo magazine]: You've never pictured adults, parents or otherwise, in the strip. Maybe once or twice you've had the hand of an adult at a magazine counter or something like that. Was that something you set out to do?
Schulz: Oh, I never thought about it at first. It was the way I drew the characters, they filled up the strip and I drew them from the side view. ... At one point, I think, years and years ago, I drew a whole bunch of adults in a gallery where Lucy was playing in a golf tournament, which is something I never should have done. But it was an experiment. ... And then I used to have off-stage voices, which again was simply because I didn't know how to handle it. Now the strip has become so abstract that the introduction of an adult would destroy it because you can't have an adult in a strip where a dog is sitting on a dog-house, pretending he's chasing the Red Baron. It just doesn't work. So, it's taken all these years really to learn some of these things. You make mistakes, but fortunately it's a medium that allows for mistakes if you recognize them right away. It's possible--I think--to make a mistake in the strip and without realizing it, destroy it. ...I think Eugene the Jeep was a mistake. I think Eugene the Jeep took the life out of Popeye himself, and I'm sure Segar didn't realize that. I realized it myself a couple of years ago when I began to introduce Snoopy's brothers and sisters. I realized that when I put Belle and Marbles in there it destroyed the relationship that Snoopy has with the kids, which is a very strange relationship. And these things are so subtle that when you're doing them, you can make mistakes and not realize them. ... What made Popeye great was that he solved all his problems by whopping somebody, but then by having Eugene the Jeep be able to predict the future and do all of these things, I think, was just the wrong direction. And once you go there, it's almost impossible to pull back. I think the Jeep was a great idea, but it shouldn't have become as dominant as it became.

... The same with Superman. Superman was destroyed on several levels. In the first place, a comic strip cannot appear in its original form in too many areas because then, the tension goes out of it. You cannot have a daily strip going, a Sunday page going, Action Comics going, another Superman comic book going, a movie going. You can't have all these things going because he can't be damaged in one area and be undamaged in another. There are too many things going on at the same time. Now, Superman was great until he began to be able to see through things and fly. Superman shouldn't fly; Superman should jump. ...

Huh? I can see where readers from that earliest era would disdain the creeping increase in Superman's powers. But it's already fantastical to imagine an orphaned alien able to leap over a building. Why would it be too fantastical to imagine he can fly or see through things? Maybe it's just more interesting to see a character with limits, instead of one who's so powerful you can't sympathize with him anymore.

The potential conflicts between all the different media and formats in which the Superman stories have been retold doesn't seem to have destroyed or harmed their popularity. The Hitchhiker's Guide series also comes to mind, although something in the nature of that beast with all the discussions of paradox and chaos and confusion makes it helpful to have conflicts between all the retellings in different formats. The novels made changes to the radio plays, and neither of those matched the text video game or the tv show or the movie. But those changes were approved and designed by its creator. Schulz sounds like he prefers to create a canon and not have it tampered with, whereas Adams kept tinkering and trying to improve the story, right up to the drafts of the screenplay where he emphasized a romance between Arthur and Trillian. He probably would have felt that holding to a strict canon was just embalming an early draft that could stand to be tweaked.

If you have a rosy image of Schulz as someone who would never offend anyone (which would have been cured if you had read Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis), you might be surprised at how much smack he talks about Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury ("unprofessional"), Walt Kelly's Pogo ("near the end, it became boring") and others in this interview.

Now here's a bit of storytelling advice that should work for any medium:
Schulz: ... I think there is a similarity to the lead characters in a lot of scripts. There is one simple character who is kind of innocent. He's not too strong in his personality; if he were, then he would dominate the strip. He's the one that holds everything together, and it's the other characters who have the unique personalities. He can't be a terrible character, but he has to be somebody that you like that holds things together. ...

There are exceptions to that rule, but it explains why a lot of people don't like movies or stories featuring unsympathetic protagonists or anti-heroes. There Will Be Blood, for example, or some Wes Anderson movies where the heroes stumble along hurting each other while trying to create family connections. Maybe what Schulz explained are guidelines for creating a character that Midwesterners will be able to care for and follow, characters that anchor a story so you can explore other weird or fantastical personalities.
Schulz: ... The whole business of Charlie Brown and the red-haired girl came from listening to a Hank Williams song. I was home alone one night listening to it and it was so depressing that it occurred to me that I would do something with Charlie Brown and the little red-haired girl and that's how it all started.
Marschall: You'll never show her, right?
Schulz: No, and I think it was a mistake to even show her on television, but you make a lot of mistakes when you do a lot of media. But I could never draw her into the strip now. You reach a point where the reader has already drawn her. And you could never live up to the way the reader has drawn her in his or her imagination. ... I'm not good at drawing pretty little faces. That would be the number one fear. I could probably be tempted into drawing her, if I could draw a real knockout of a cute little girl, but I don't think I could. So I don't think I will. I like the little face on the girl that keeps telling Linus, "Aren't you kind of old for me?" Even that face was a struggle to draw.


Where's the outrage? Ed Begley Jr has broughten it.


Larry the Cable Guy comes out

Q: Did you hear Larry the Cable Guy came out of the closet?????

A: Now he shouts GLITTER-DONE!

Q: What did Fozzy the Bear shout when the Muppets went on strike in the middle of filming?

A: Walkout, walkout, walkout!
(Pronounced like waka, waka, waka).


Phantom on The Darjeeling Limited

Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas star as three brothers on a spiritual journey that goes off the rails...into horror! A Hammer Film Production by Wes Anderson. *Opening Night Selection, Loomis County Bedsheet Projector Fest 1978*

Audio is from the official theatrical trailer for The Darjeeling Limited (2007).
Clips are taken from:
Horror Express (1972)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
The Steel Claw (1961)
The Big Trees (1952)
Casablanca Express (1989)
Battle of the Eagles (Partizanska eskadrila) (1979)
... all in the public domain or apparently orphaned works (except Darjeeling Ltd).

Kirk Douglas can be glimpsed for just a few seconds rolling around on the riverside fighting some other guy, and embracing a woman on a caboose near the end of the clip.

"Phantom on The Darjeeling Limited" was not made or endorsed by Wes Anderson or Hammer Film Productions. This non-coincidence is intended to be satire, so hopefully that gets me off the hook.

The Formula won't work on Wuthering Heights

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim
The Undead World of Oz
Don of the Dead: A Zombie Novel

The publisher of Pride and Prej and Zombies had already considered public domain titles like War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and Wuthering Heights before starting down that path. I notice they haven't gotten around to any of those yet, and in the case of Wuthering Heights, I don't think they will. Or I should say, if anyone does, it won't come out as well. I haven't read any of these, just like the idea, but the magical part of it is the tension between highbrow women's literature versus lowbrow gore and monsters. It wouldn't be funny or tense if you took Bram Stoker's Dracula and added mummies, or took the text of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein and added sections about werewolves. You'd have a nice episode of Abbot and Costello, or a nice cross-over monster movie, but it wouldn't have that zing of "You got your postmodern archetype in my classic literature!"

Another level of text mashup that they haven't done would be much harder: instead of taking one classic and adding new material, take the text from two classics and mix them together. Mary Shelly's Pygmalion would put a new spin on both those stories, for example. With music, you can blend bits together quickly without worrying too much about what comes next, but it's difficult to keep a narrative when blending different sources, without adding some new transitions to smooth things over. Aren't people supposed to be more creative when constrained?

Anyway, the reason Wuthering Heights won't work in that original formula is that it already talks about ghosts and monsters. You might magnify the horror that's already in it, and that could be fun, but it won't have the shock value of prim ladies suddenly discussing zombies. You'll have ladies who already saw ghosts and discussed goblins, ghouls and vampires, starting to encounter a few more monsters.

From Chapter XXXIV:
"Oh, Mr. Lockwood, I cannot express what a terrible start I got by the momentary view! Those deep black eyes! That smile, and ghastly paleness! It appeared to me, not Mr. Heathcliff, but a goblin ...."

"'Is he a ghoul or a vampire?' I mused. I had read of such hideous incarnate demons."

... "Mr. Heathcliff was there--laid on his back. His eyes met mine so keen and fierce, I started; and then he seemed to smile. I could not think him dead; but his face and throat were washed with rain; the bed-clothes dripped, and he was perfectly still. The lattice, flapping to and fro, had grazed one hand that rested on the sill; no blood trickled from the broken skin, and when I put my fingers to it, I could doubt no more: he was dead and stark!

"I hasped the window; I combed his black long hair from his forehead; I tried to close his eyes: to extinguish, if possible, that frightful, lifelike gaze of exultation before anyone else beheld it. They would not shut: they seemed to sneer at my attempts; and his parted lips and sharp white teeth sneered too!"

... "We buried him, to the scandal of the whole neighbourhood, as he wished. ... But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on the Bible that he walks: there are those who speak to having met him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house. Idle tales, you'll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on 'em, looking out of his chamber window, on every rainy night since his death ...."


Fort Hood and Fred Phelps

Some witnesses at Fort Hood heard the shooter say "Allahu ackbar" (God is great, or God is greater?) before or during the shooting. Thinking of Fred Phelps might put that into perspective. I imagine when he parades around with "God hates fags" signs and protests at funerals with the few members of his family who still tolerate him, Phelps occasionally recites lines from the Bible as if they support his bullshit. Not that he's exactly equivalent to Nidal Hasan, but it's another example of a hateful ass using religious texts to rationalize their feelings and actions. It doesn't necessarily generalize across the whole religion or congregation.


What I like about Hostel

*** Lots of spoilers ***.

1. I like how Hostel explores where the torture hobbyists draw the line between people they treat as subhuman victims and other people they treat as equals. Do they bring their hobbies home and kill or torture in their neighborhood? If the guy in the locker room got angry or aroused while getting suited up for the dungeon, would he torture a fellow hobbyist right there in the locker room instead, or a guard? In Hostel 2, the less excited buddy tries to back out of getting the tattoo. How far would the eager guy need to be pushed before he'd torture or kill his reluctant pal?

2. Porn, prostitution and torture porn. Critics threw around the phrase "torture porn" when talking about Hostel, as if viewers get off on it. Meanwhile it's a story exploring the morality of paying to screw or torture or kill somebody. It's about people who pay prostitutes (good guys who pay prostitutes? or do they deserve the torture later because they fornicated with prostitutes?) and bad guys who pay to torture and who definitely get off on it. In case you manage to forget the link between those ideas for a moment, there's even a guard watching porn in the dungeon hallway. At the start of the movie, one kid backs out of seeing a hooker that his buddy already paid for. In the dungeon there's a callback, one guy who seems on the verge of backing out of torture. Is it a lack of courage, or wavering morality? Does the torturer need to feel his victim is subhuman before he can go through with it? Does the john need to forget that his hooker is human before he can go through with that?

While we're watching this movie about people doing torture, and it may or may not make us sick, other people are watching the phenomenon of torture movies getting made and viewed by us, and *that* makes them sick. I was kind of leaping to the conclusion that everyone who enjoys this must get off on torture, but it's just plain old horror. Most people who enjoy scary movies don't seem to be sadists or masochists. I suppose this debate has been circulating since long before my dad told me to turn the channel when "The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism" aired on a Saturday afternoon, circa 1983.

3. Traumatized victim becomes a traumatizer. At the start, you may wonder how people can stand to torture and kill anyone. Why do they do it? After it happens to our heroes and one of them is getting away, I kept yelling for him to kill the torturers, the guards, anyone at all involved. It transforms the hero and the viewer, if they started off thinking that you wouldn't want to kill anyone.

4. Very economical body count. Although we can assume lots of others are killed throughout the dungeon, we only follow three people from start to the end of the movie, spread out over 90 minutes, yet it doesn't drag. Plenty of slasher movies kill more than three just for an appetizer.

5. You know how "Deliverance" is supposed to be sort of a random attack, but it ends up seeming like a warning that hicks are gay rapists who hate city slickers? The Hostel movies have a subtext that Slovaks are creepy, kidnapping human traffickers who hate Americans and rich tourists. But it's Americans and other rich Euro tourists paying for it and making it possible.

6. Callbacks to Tarantino.
...A. Pulp Fiction is playing in the Hostel lobby.
...B. A guy standing up torturing a guy strapped to a chair reminds you of Reservoir Dogs. The ball-gag reminds you of Pulp Fiction.
...C. Victim escaping in car sees his enemies in front of him and runs them over.

1. Hard to believe the escaping hero coincidentally runs across (then over) three people who led him to get tortured, and then the wannabe-surgeon torturer, and has the opportunity to kill them all.
2. How many American can disappear from the same Hostel before it gets conspicuous?
3. If you pay some secret society to kill someone they captured, in their dungeon, how can you be confident they won't take video or keep other evidence and blackmail you? They don't mind kidnapping, human trafficking, abetting murder and torture, but they're too honorable to blackmail you? I guess they figure repeat customers are worth more than what they'd get from blackmail.

Druggist ads from 1897

Some products advertised in 1897 issues of American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record.

Liquid Bread
Stearns' Electric Rat and Roach Paste
Wine of Cod Liver Oil
Witch Hazel Jelly
Dunkley's Genuine Kalamazoo Celery Compound
Glass Urethra and Ear Syringe

"Liquid Bread" is a malt extract that's supposed to provide ultimate nutrition for sick people, probably intended to be like "Ensure". I'm guessing Electric Paste is metaphorical, or else they ran some electricity through it and think that makes it more poisonous? Strap a magnet to the roach's wrist, that'll fix it.

And I can see where the same design of glass syringe might have useful applications for ear problems as well as urethral problems. I just don't want to imagine the same syringe used for one and then the other.

Arnold's Bromo=Celery. Effervescent! Cannot be surpassed as an active antidote for the after-effects of Alcohol, Opium, Chloral and Tobacco. Can be safely used by the most delicate lady or child.

Check out Lush's Celery Sarsaparilla Compound below:

(No, I don't work for Google Books. Our company happens to be scanning these same issues. I'm sure there will be some kind of value-added functionality in our version to make it superior to Google's.)