By Josh Hechinger
Welcome to From Strip to Script, where I take a page of finished comic art and try to derive a script from it, to see what I can learn from the exercise.
The comic strip format is something I never quiiiiite got the hang of; while it's frequently formulaic, and I respond well to that, there's an inherent narrative leanness there that confounds me. Basically, I'm just frequently not good enough to nail down an idea in three or four panels and have that be a complete statement.
So then, if we'll be examining my shortcomings, what better exemplar of the form by which to do so than Charles Schulz' Peanuts, yeah?
While I of course grew up with the cartoons as holiday staples, the comic itself isn't one I've dived deeply into, outside of reading the occasional treasury edition back in elementary school. But Peanuts is a comic I appreciate more and more as I get older and older and more and more full of despair on a daily basis wait what?
For real, though: Schulz' mastery of pacing and restlessly philosophical (if occasionally neurotic) sense of humor create these frequently perfect little strips of gentle existential catastrophe punctuated with Snoopy's quiet bursts of absurdity.
Today we'll be looking at a strip that ran on gocomics.com July 15th, 2015.
Strip (FOUR PANELS)
P1. CHARLIE BROWN and LINUS, trotting along.
– LINUS My dad is kind of a philosopher…
P2. LINUS pauses, arms wide.
– LINUS He says that the game of golf and the game of life are very similar….
P3. CHARLIE BROWN and LINUS lean on the railing of the stone bridge.
– CHARLIE BROWN That's true
P4. CHARLIE BROWN looks distressed and rests his chin on his hand.
– AZEVEDA Unfortunately, in the game of life, I'm always hitting from the back tees!
So, What'd We Learn?
– I don't know thing one about golf, outside of "yes, that is a golf ball, okay, that is a golf club", so I don't actually know what hitting from the back tees entails, but judging by Chuck's attitude about it, and the fact that it's the punchline, I'm able to deduce that it's bad.
This doesn't make me Sherlock Holmes or anything, but my ignorance highlights the fact that cartooning and an awareness of what punchlines are, how comic strips generally work, gives the reader enough context clues to follow the strip, if not specifically "get" the joke.
– There's something interesting to me about how the characters go from being in motion, to stopped, to settled, to sinking even further (in Charlie Brown's case, anyway). When I say up top that these strips are a series of gentle existential catastrophes, that's something the strip conveys even at the level of how the characters are placed within the panel. Especially the last panel, where without changing the setting, or even the "camera" angle per se, Schulz has Charlie Brown and Linus at their literal lowest point, showing less of the bridge's railing and having Charlie Brown sandwiched between the railing and the word balloon, like he's being crushed under the weight of his revelation.
– Except said revelation is a golf analogy. Remember: gentle existential catastrophes, emphasis mine. That gentleness is important.
Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger [joshhechinger.tumblr.com] is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+. You can find him being a loquacious dope on Twitter, and read his comic collaborations on Comixology.