Good ol' Charlie B (text-only version)
26 Feb, 2021
Linus walks down the aisle of an intercity coach bus and settles into his seat. Over the intercom, the driver chatters, "We're on schedule to arrive in Chicago at 2:35pm. If you have to talk on your cell phone, please keep it short and to the point. The audio for the movie will be on channel 9." A dvd screen flips down from the ceiling of the bus. Linus rustles through his pack in dismay.
"Rats! I forgot to pack my earbuds! Ah well..."
With nothing to distract his mind, Linus begins an internal monologue: "The hardest thing about problems isn't the problems themselves--it's that they stick around. Watching movies is nice because you can pretend to have different problems for a little while."
"I haven't felt like myself for years now. Growing up, I really felt lovable. All of my faults--my reliance on my blanket, my naivete, the occasional delusion of grandeur--it was all a part of my charm."
"Things took a turn some time after my little brother Rerun was born. He would needle me about my blanket, he would tell me to be a better role model for him. Rerun approached the world with the sort of precocious wonder that used to be my domain, but he did it with an instinctual edginess that made my shtick seem quaint."
We see two images overlapping from across time, a young Linus and Rerun each drawing a picture with crayons. Linus innocently asks, "what color is a peace conference?" while Rerun states, "This is Tarzan beating up on Mickey Mouse."
Linus's monologue continues: "But even beyond what Rerun did or didn't do, something about me just broke when I became a big brother. I just couldn't understand what my role was, now that I was no longer the baby. My blanket habit started to feel genuinely off-putting, I lost interest in a lot of the things that used to bring me joy... I passed most of my days in a sort of joyless, routine antagonism with Lucy or Snoopy."
"As a child, I used to put a big premium on sincerity. ‘Every Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin flies through the air and land in the most sincere pumpkin patch of them all'... I really believed that."
"In her 1983 book The Managed Heart: the Commercialization of Human Feeling, Arlie Russel Hochschild argues that "sincerity" has given way to "authenticity" as a prized cultural value. Sincerity presupposes a solid, underlying self, which the sincere person simply does not hide. But as our feelings have become increasingly commidified and managed, we've come to romanticize the idea that such a true, artless, unmanaged inner-self might even exist."
"People like to idealize the solemn wisdom of a child. (I still get letters about that time that I spoke about the true meaning of Christmas!) I think it's because wise children are perceived as both unspoilt by ideology and as sharing of that unspoilt self without dissemblance. In other words: they are treasured as both authentic and sincere."
"Rerun revealed that the spontaneous self might be selfish, cynical, and inconsiderate as often as it is loving, joyful, or gracious."
"When it comes down to it, I don't think I was some sort of blank slate of innocent truth. I think people underestimate how quickly children become social--subconsciously shaping themselves around the reactions of others. When I look at Rerun, I don't feel better than him, only more repressed. Maybe the only way to feel very sincere and very Good simultaneously is to bury the uglier parts of yourself from your conscious mind."
Linus sleeps: "ZZZ"
A hand knocks on the window! *knock knock knock*
Linus groggily wakes up and looks out the window. His face lights up in a smile. "Charlie!"
A montage of them hanging out in Chicago ensues. They take a selfie at the Bean, they see an Andrew Wyeth drawing at the Art Institute, and they eat chicken with fries and corn at a restaurant. Charlie is depicted with long hair in a bun and a cute, femme outfit, including a jacket with the phrase "Gay Blockhead" embroidered on the back. Instead of the iconic zig-zag t-shirt, Charlie wears a zig-zag choker.
That night, in Charlie's apartment, they get dressed for bed.
Linus: Thanks for showing me around today, Charlie.
Charlie: Of course! It's been too long, Linus.
Linus: Yeah. I've been having a hard time, just. Figuring out where to go from here. Trying to piece something together that actually... feels like a life.
Charlie: Ah yeah. Adulting is hard!
Linus: But see, that phrase annoys me because we have this static vision of adulthood that presupposes access to, like, a functional social infrastructure as opposed to a strip-mined husk painted in stars and stripes.
Charlie: Oh... sorry.
Linus: No no, I'm not mad at you! I just feel like I've spent decades in stasis and every year it makes less and less sense for me to exist. I'm not even sure what I was expecting? That one day I'd just wake up with a house, a family, a decent job? Gentle trombone voice emanating from my post-physical body...
Charlie: I mean, I hear you. That's what I always wanted, but I was afraid all the time that I'd never get it.
Linus: You *are* different though. You've really changed a lot.
Charlie: Have I? I'm actually still sad and lonely all the time.
Charlie: But you're right. One thing has changed.
Charlie: Yeah. More or less. Like, I don't even know what this means, but...
Charlie: I really want to live.
Charlie: Hey, remember how when you were a baby, you used to blow square balloons?
Linus: W-what?? What do you mean?
Charlie: I was so excited to show you that I could blow up a balloon, but then you went and blew up a cube balloon..
Linus: I--That doesn't make any sense!
Charlie: I know, that's why it's funny!
Charlie: Even though I was the big kid, I always felt one step behind you. I always wanted you to depend on me, but you were just so wise and self-sufficient. When I moved here I thought, "Finally, I've done something first!"
Linus: Charlie... I didn't know that you felt that way..
Charlie: Well, goodnight, Linus! Charlie kisses Linus on the forehead.
Linus and Charlie lie in bed in the dark. Linus is holding security blanket. He looks at it. Then he sets it to the side and holds Charlie's arm like a security blanket. Eyes closed, Charlie smiles.
GOOD OL' CHARLIE B
Thanks for reading this comic!
I was a Peanuts superfan as a child, and I had always identified with the sweet, precocious character of Linus. To me, "peak" Peanuts was the 60s and 70s. At some point, I got the book Peanuts 2000, which simply collects the final year of Peanuts, ending with the final strip. Despite the emotional premise of a five decade project coming to a close, the material itself always struck me as deeply off. It wasn't particularly funny and there were few memorable arcs. The characters felt... tired. The strip's primary energy came from "Rerun", Linus and Lucy's younger brother who bizarrely looked exactly like a smaller Linus. For years Rerun appeared only occasionally, generally riding on the back of his mother's bike. But eventually he gained a consistently distinct haircut/wardrobe and a youthful, rebellious personality that set him apart from his ancient cast-mates.
I kind of hated him!
Perhaps I blamed Rerun for how the other characters seemed to have lost their sparks. Or maybe it rubbed me the wrong way that his very essence (a clone of Linus?? He's called "Rerun"???) seemed like an absurd and short-sighted joke. Over the years, I've felt various different ways about the strange and quiet Peanuts 2000, re-reading it now and then as I grew from a child to an adult. About a year ago, I had the idea to put some of these thoughts in a zine.
Ultimately, these thoughts became this comic: half essay, half tribute to visiting old friends. God, I wish that could be me.
P.S. the dates in the margins are references to the original publication dates of relevant Peanuts strips. For example, I have Linus and Charlie going to see a drawing by American artist Andrew Wyeth (Coot Hunter, which is actually in the Art Institute of Chicago's collection), because Schulz was a fan of Wyeth and mentions him a couple times in the strip. Snoopy gets a Wyeth after his Van Gogh is destroyed in a fire. And Rerun (drawing comics with crayons in school) laments that he'll "never be Andrew Wyeth".