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A Peanuts Prospectus: Of Charlie Brown, the EPA, and Baseball

Since it’s founding in 1970 by former President Richard Nixon, The Environmental Protection Agency, has claimed to try and protect human health, as well as the environment.

However, in the early months of 1977, it ended up playing a small role in Charlie Brown’s constant struggles, with the local Kite-Eating Tree. The incident soon snowballed into a strange little cross-town adventure for our favorite blockhead.

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It all started on February 21st, 1977, when Charlie Brown addressed the Kite-Eating Tree, now that Winter seemed to be over. Tensions boiled over a few days later, when the tree catches one of Charlie’s kites in it’s branches.CBEPA-2

“You stupid tree,” he yells. “If you bite my kite, I’ll bite you!”

It isn’t an idle threat either, as Charlie quickly takes a bite out of the tree (see right)!

It should be noted that up until this point, Schulz had not decided if this storyline would be expanded upon. Charlie’s business with the Kite-Eating Tree, would trade off on some days, with some story strips regarding Snoopy and Woodstock.

CBEPA-3It wouldn’t be until March 1st, 1977, that Schulz would zero in on Charlie’s predicament, and further develop his story.  On that day, Charlie Brown received a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in regards to him biting the Kite-Eating Tree!

At first, Charlie Brown is unsure about what he should do. While he wonders about hiring an attorney for fear he’ll be sued by the EPA, Lucy seems to revel in him possibly being incarcerated (“Fifty cents says they’ll throw you in the slammer,” she tells him).

Finally, Charlie comes to a decision, and decides to run away.

Packing some things, he leaves Snoopy in the care of his sister Sally, who doesn’t seem that concerned that her big brother is leaving (“Can I have your room?” she asks, as he leaves the house).CBEPA-4

After walking for some time, Charlie finds himself in a different neighborhood, where he is promptly beaned by a ball, and collapses!

He is revived by two kids named Austin and Ruby, who claim they are looking for someone to coach their baseball team…an offer that seems to sit well with Charlie!

CBEPA-6However, it soon becomes apparent that this might not be so easy.  The team is made up mostly of younger kids. After accepting Austin and Ruby’s offer, Charlie is introduced to two other members of the team: Leland, and Milo.

Charlie does his best to coach the younger players, while also staying in a cardboard box nearby. Also notable, is that even though he introduces himself as “Charlie,” the kids all refer to him as “Charles.”

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Of all the kids on the team, Schulz seems to zero in on Milo, as the one whom Charlie acts like a mentor figure towards. There’s also a fun little scene where Milo brings Charlie some cold cereal one morning. A nice gesture, except Milo has the cereal in his cupped hands, along with some milk.

While they are practicing one day, Ruby asks Charlie about the term, “goose egg.” When he explains that it can stand for when a team doesn’t score runs during an inning, Ruby grows excited.

CBEPA-10“That’ll be the name of our team…’The Goose Eggs,'” she happily proclaims, as Charlie rolls his eyes.

Eventually, the time comes for The Goose Eggs to play against a visiting team…who just happen to be Charlie’s old team!

Naturally, Lucy finds the whole thing to be ridiculous, while Linus tells Charlie that he can now return home. A recent storm caused the Kite-Eating Tree to fall over, wiping out the evidence the EPA had against him.

Milo overhears, this, and inquires if Charlie is some sort of criminal.

“No, not really, Milo,” he replies.

Of course, the fun ‘cherry-on-the-top’ for the scene, is Milo proclaiming he wants to be like Charlie when he grows up!

“Did anyone hear that?” Charlie calls out to his team, happy that someone there thinks rather highly of him!

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With most multi-day storylines, Schulz seemed to know what direction he was going in. However, with this one, it felt like he was toying with where to take the story.

In an article on the Charles M Schulz Museum’s page, his wife Jean talked about some of the strips from this storyline, when they were displayed as part of an exhibit in 2010.

Jean related how Schulz had reached the point where Charlie runs away from home because of the EPA notice, but wasn’t sure just where the journey would go from there.

Of course, it sprouted into the storyline of Charlie finding the younger kids and their ball team in another part of the town, before finally wrapping up.

cbepa-11This would often be the way some of Schulz’s longer stories would go. He would start with an idea, and it would often snowball from there, with no clear end in sight. A prime example is in 1973, where Charlie Brown wakes up, only to see the rising sun resembles a baseball (see left)!cbepa-12

In regards to the EPA-related story, Schulz has often found size differences to provide humor, and he uses that plenty of times throughout this story. The Goose Egg’s player named Leland figures into a few scenes. We see his role as catcher is in jeopardy, when the mask seems to cover his whole body, as well as him being rather disturbed at how high up he is when atop his team’s pitcher’s mound.

There also comes a fun little joke when Charlie asks Milo how many bases he’s stolen. When he inquires about the year before that, and then the year before that one, Milo claims he hasn’t been alive that long.

CBEPA-9I will admit that the ending somewhat peters out, though I will give Schulz some credit for a very minor bit of continuity.

Linus mentions in the final story’s strip on April 2nd, how the kite-eating tree fell over in a rain storm. The week before, on March 28th, we got imagery of Charlie in his cardboard box, as rain poured down.

It’s a minor detail to some, but I feel it backs up Linus’ words on the 2nd of April.

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Like much of my exposure to some storylines in the comics, I saw this story re-purposed through animation first, in the 1983 TV special, It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown. The special collected a number of the short stories from Schulz’s comics, and brought them to life on-screen.CBEPA-7

The animated story rarely deviated from the comic strips, though they added some extra stuff in building up Charlie’s opening problems with the Kite-Eating Tree. The fun part is the animators adding a rather devilish grin on his face, after he has bitten the tree (see right).

There’s also a few nice background setups, where we get a wider view of the neighborhood where The Goose Eggs reside. The artists even include the fancy streetlight, that Schulz drew in the panel where Charlie first enters the neighborhood.

Most notable from a behind-the-scenes point-of-view, was how the story also served as a starting point for one person’s career with the Peanuts gang. For the voice of the character Milo, producer Lee Mendelson cast his son, Jason.

It would be the start of a small voice-career for Jason, who a few years later, would be voicing Rerun Van Pelt on The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, and later go on to voice Peppermint Patty during the This is America, Charlie Brown TV series (btw, it wasn’t that odd to have a boy voicing a girl. During the series, Charlie Brown was voiced by a girl named Erin Chase).

CBEPA-8In the early 2000’s, Jason would follow in his father’s footsteps, and do some work on several of TV specials for the Peanuts gang, acting as a story developer on several shows.

I always liked the little bits with Charlie and Milo in the special, and one can hear Jason at his young age, trying his best to say the lines. Plus, just like the Kite-Eating Tree bit, the animators add an extra bit at the end, showing Charlie really happy about Milo wanting to be “just like him.”

I will admit, the overall storyline isn’t one of the comic’s best, but it has stuck with me over the years, enough to put together this little prospectus.

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A Peanuts Prospectus: Politics is for the Birds (and Beagles)

During its almost 50-year run in the newspaper, Charles Schulz’ Peanuts comic strips would delve into thoughts on politics, quite a few times.

One that was most well-known in the series (and eventually became the basis for a Peanuts TV Special in the 1970’s), was Linus Van Pelt running for School President at his school. Lucy agreed to be Linus’ campaign manager (and tolerated his choice of Charlie Brown for Vice-President!), and it looked like they were going to win…until Linus decided to tell the student body about the Great Pumpkin, which ended up costing him the election!

Unknown to quite a few people, Schulz soon found a lesser-used group in the comics, to get across some of his thoughts on politics: birds.

One of the strip’s most famous birds named Woodstock, wouldn’t find his way into becoming a series regular until the early 1970’s. But prior to Woodstock, several bird characters began to be seen around the neighborhood.

A number of stories had Snoopy interacting with a few of them, but in September of 1964, they soon came into light regarding Politics.

It all began when Snoopy noticed one bird walking by, carrying a sign.

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This same bird would be seen over the next few days, showing his support for “!,” but on September 3rd…an altercation occurred.

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It soon seemed that the world of bird politics, was not as simple as one would assume, as the field began to grow a little more crowded.

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Not being a bird, Snoopy was fine sitting on the sidelines, witness to the Politics of the feathered few. Of course, he couldn’t help but get in a little jab or two.

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Before long, a number of other groups began to join the circus.

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There was even an additional skirmish between some more “!” and “?” supporters, but the day after, Snoopy soon saw that the Political struggle was a little crazier than what he had originally thought.

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Eventually after 2 weeks, the Bird’s political storyline came to an end, with an unlikely victor.

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It’s impossible to know just what may have triggered Schulz to consider this storyline, but most likely, it was in response to the impending Presidential election of 1964, between Lyndon B Johnson, and Barry Goldwater.

In truth, I never saw any of these strips in the collected volumes I read from the library as a kid. I had no idea they existed, until Fantagraphic Books’ publishing of The Complete Peanuts volumes some time ago.

Of the many strips that had not been reprinted in previous years, I was most impressed by these two weeks.

But it wasn’t over just yet. The Political birds would get a small return 4 years later, during July of 1968.

Schulz’s design of the birds had also changed over the 4 years. Instead of being a little bigger and bird-like, the ones shown in the 1968 segments showed the evolution to the smaller, big-beaked look that would soon encompass Woodstock and his friends.

Much like 1964, a number of birds were seen carrying signs for different ‘candidates.

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This time, the political bird antics only lasted a week. However, at the end of the story, Schulz took the story in a different direction.

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The bird supporter with the paw-print, added a fun little gag to the standard symbols Schulz had been using, but it also segued into a new story, starting on July 8th.

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Yes, Snoopy decided to run for office…with a very odd campaign strategy.

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This additional political segment, lasted for a few days more than the latest bird candidacy storyline. We got a peek into Snoopy’s campaign headquarters, as well as a few other bits regarding what he’d need to do to stay relevant in the political race.

Finally after a few weeks, on July 16th, 1968, Snoopy’s campaign ended…or as we see here:

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Though his campaign dwindled out on the printed page, Snoopy’s momentum would permeate the public’s subconscious for many years.

From the 60’s on into today, there have often bit bits of promotional imagery calling for the famed Beagle to throw his hat into the ring as a Presidential candidate. Though this is nothing new, as several other comic and famous characters have had little jibes to take on the big job. Characters like Pogo, and Winnie the Pooh, have also been named over the years.

Eventually, Snoopy would get a more venerated position in the dog world of the comics, when in February of 1970, he was promoted to the most important of positions: Head Beagle!

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After being sworn into office, Snoopy soon found the position to be one of numerous decisions and complaints from constituents. Finally after 3 weeks, he abandoned his post, and was replaced.

One figures that in the end, it was easier for Snoopy to just be an average Joe, relaxing on his doghouse, and assuming his numerous flights of fancy.

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When I do pieces regarding the Peanuts comics, I do like to give a shout-out to the Charles M Schulz Museum, up in Santa Rosa, CA. Keepers and retainers of a number of items pertaining to the comics and its creator, I strongly recommend giving them a look if you’re in Northern California. You can find out more about them by checking out their Facebook page.

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