The newest entry in Fantagraphics’ superb Complete Peanuts project, covering 1973 to 1974, arrived in the mail recently. The last volume, 1971 to 1972, saw an increase in specific cultural references that belie the strip’s reputation as being “outside of time”; it’s certainly timeless, but when you have characters mooning over government-sponsored environmental mascots, you’ve dated yourself.
This new volume sees Charles Schultz cranking up the popular culture references: Billie Jean King (who also wrote the introduction to this volume), Bobby Riggs, Olga Korbut, Comet Kohoutek…and, um, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
The context of the strip makes clear that Landis was involved with baseball—Charlie Brown and Linus have been summoned to the Little League commissioner’s office—but Landis was the Major League Baseball commissioner some thirty years before the strip was published. Probably not a household name even in 1973 and certainly not now.
It’s possible that Landis’ role in Phillip Roth’s 1973 novel, The Great American Novel, helped bring Landis back to public awareness, but the strip in question ran on April 16th, 1973, and Schultz certainly knew of Landis without Roth’s assistance. So this seems more a case of Schultz playing with his knowledge of baseball and planting a name that has enough comic value to make children smile and with enough resonance to evoke knowing smiles from adult readers with a passing interest in baseball.
1974 saw a much more time-bound cultural reference.
Rodney Allen Rippy hawked Jack in the Box hamburgers in the early 1970s, and this strip from July 3, 1974, plays off of that association. These popular commercials featured Rippy saying his full name.
With the 1973-1974 strips, Schultz seems to be experimenting a bit more with his strips, to mostly positive effect. The birthday greetings to his daughter on the side of Snoopy’s doghouse seem a bit jarring, but he’s certainly earned that right.
He adds a new character, Rerun van Pelt (who seems to just appear out of nowhere), throws in a semi-recurrent cookie-crazed Girl Scout, and draws some very elaborate panels in a story involving Lucy, Schroeder, Schroeder’s piano, and a storm drain. The strip from October 8, 1974, where the piano shoots into the river, is worth picking up this volume for all by itself.
(Peanuts images from The Complete Peanuts: 1973-1974)