DFHC 8/3/2011

Broken 4th Wall

In comic strips, the “4th wall” is the window thru which we peer into their imaginary world. And when a character in a comic strip “breaks the 4th wall,” he demonstrates knowledge that he ought not to have: that he in fact knows that he’s in a comic strip. He may do this by simply saying that he’s in a comic strip. He may treat an element of a cartoon’s limited drawing style as if it were literally real. Or he may interact directly with the reader, seeming to look at him or talk to him.

Some strips are strictly realistic in the sense that they never break the 4th wall. But you’d be surprised the ones that do, and over the years, Charles M. Schulz broke it in Peanuts in every conceivable fashion. Not often, mind you, but he did. I was reminded of this by this past Sunday’s strip…

Now this is a funny gag to start with, and Linus could very well have delivered the punch-line while still gazing in the direction of the TV. Instead, he looks thru the 4th wall and addresses the reader directly.  One of my favorite strips, from 1965, supposedly does something similar, and is often sited as another example of this technique.

To tell you the truth, I always viewed this as Charlie Brown looking out into space as he delivers the punch line, not looking at the reader. It’s a subtle difference, comparing it to the Linus Sunday strip, but that’s how it always struck me. Proponents will suggest that when he says “our little group,” he literally means “the cast of characters in this comic strip.” Again, I always read if differently…he’s simply referring to his group of neighborhood friends, nothing more.

In the category of interacting with cartoon elements as if they were real, probably the most famous is when characters like Snoopy or Woodstock “play” with the symbolic notes that emanate from Schroeder’s piano when he’s playing it. But Schulz couldn’t resist, on at least 2 occasions, poking fun at the conventional style of comic strip eye-balls, the first from 1955, the second from 1963.

These certainly go beyond the Charlie-Brown’s-round-head jokes…like using it as a globe or a model for a jack-o-lantern face…because he really is supposed to have an especially round head. But in the Peanuts world, eyes are intended to be real eyes, ocular organs you see with, not black dots of ink. Hence the gag.

A  strip ran last year in Classic Peanuts that transfers the idea from eyes to shoulders…again Sparky poking fun at his own drawing. style. Oh sure, you might argue that in the 1st and 3rd panels, he really does have shoulders, but notice that they are only discernible when his stubby little arms are outstretched…otherwise, he’s bell-shaped, straight down, neck to short pants…

And on October 1, 1952…with the strip one day shy of it’s 2nd anniversary…he crossed the line entirely…

As far as I know, this is Peanuts‘ only example of something this blatant. Tomorrow, some  Peanuts oddities I call “Off the Peanuts Path…”

shamelessly blockheaded plugs, good grief…

Podcasts at http://stolfpod.podbean.com  and   http://thewholething.podbean.com

Other Daily blog at http://stolf.wordpress.com  (the legendary Stolf’s Blog)

More bloggage at  http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com  and  http://www.examiner.com/retro-pop-culture-in-watertown/mark-john-astolfi

Resume at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com/p/resume.html

Audio samples coming soon…or just check the podcasts…twc-rr so still giga-blows to infinity & beyond…

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