Cutting Up Charlie Brown: What Can Subtraction Add? – by Tyler Crissman
Is spring just too cheery for you? Do you need some glum, existential lamentation? Well, there are plenty of ways to find that. But for any comics-inclined folks looking to get some good grief in their lives, 3eanuts is worth looking into.
3eanuts is a website dedicated to sharing Peanuts strips with a slight modification: the final panel of every strip is removed. (The “3” in 3eanuts comes from the fact that since most of the original strips were four panels long, most of the truncated ones are three panels long.) The idea is to end each strip on an existential, often depressing note. As the site’s header puts it, “Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comics often conceal the existential despair of their world with a closing joke at the characters’ expense. With the last panel omitted, despair pervades all.” This might sound to someone less familiar with Peanuts like either idiocy or irony, but there really is something to it.
Here’s a good example:
This is the original strip:
The difference is pretty clear. In the three-panel edit of the strip, Lucy’s goofy punchline doesn’t come in to change the tone. Instead, the strip ends on an almost King Lear-like repeated cry of anguish. To the right person, this edited version is funnier. Instead of the punchline being something we’ve been trained to expect as a punchline, instead of the punchline being something lighthearted, the new punchline utilizes impact and a somewhat dark relatability. It doesn’t de-escalate the strip like Lucy’s punchline does; it leaves the reader with an unmitigated crescendo. And then it ends. The abrupt end, with the emotional height of the last moment, makes for a high-impact punchline. Plus, it’s a bit unexpected. It would be pretty great to see a traditional newspaper strip end with a proverbial punch to the face, wouldn’t it? Of course, that novelty would wear off, but the relatability of Schroeder’s anguish gives this unofficial punchline a solid foundation that doesn’t fade away. Sure, the fourth panel might be equally relatable, but what is more satisfying to laugh at? It would be presumptuous to say that humor predicated more heavily on pain is always funnier, but there is a deep power in laughing at the things that sting or weigh us down the most. In this strip, it’s Schroeder’s rage that fits that paradigm.
This isn’t to say that 3eanuts is a superior or more true form of Peantus. It’s just an alternate version that highlights certain aspects, namely the darker and more existential ones, of the original work over others. Of course, this is very subjective. I doubt that everyone would agree with my opinion on the above pair of strips, for example. Indeed, there are 3eanuts edits that I think aren’t necessarily funnier, or even darker or more existential than the original strips. It’s a toss-up sometimes, and sometimes, Schulz is actually the one playing more on our dark sides.
For example, look at this original Peanuts strip:
Here’s the 3eanuts cut:
The original strip (an older one, from when Schulz might arguably have been more overtly dark) is a personal favorite of mine. For one thing, Linus exhibits a surprisingly violent imagination and a surprisingly precocious understanding of violence and its rhetoric. The mere fact that Linus would go around pretending to fire bullets at others (a recurring motif in a short series of strips) is surprising compared to more recent preconceptions about the character. Moreover, Schulz executes (pardon the pun) some solid satire on humans and their tendency for violence. The imagined gunfire of a child is no more senseless than the real gunfire of “grown-ups”. Arguably, the humanity-wide scale of the critique is highlighted by the fact that the violence is committed against a peaceful dog. At the same time, Schulz layers on pretty heavy ethical questions: is mercy killing right? In this strip, Snoopy is perfectly fine and obviously doesn’t necessitate a mercy killing. But there are times when it might seem that ending suffering with death is the compassionate thing to do. To what degree is that just an arrogant assumption of authority? Is killing your sick and dying dog taking too much into your own hands? The dog can’t ask for life or death, but humans make that call for the dog. Is such a mercy killing predicated on arrogant notions that humans are superior and hold true authority? Linus’s mock-mercy killing is un-called-for, and Snoopy looks at him at the end with a disturbed look that might even suggest a knowing wisdom beyond Linus’s supposed knowledge of right and wrong. To see Linus walk away in this moment, with a conviction that may be just as real as it is imagined, leaves the reader with some questions, and probably a dark and possibly existential feeling. Well, that’s an impression I get, anyway—there’s certainly plenty else you could take away from the strip.
Meanwhile, the 3eanuts cut loses some of this. Its ending may be, perhaps, more nihilistic (at least, under a certain interpretation of nihilism) in a sense of chaos and futility. Snoopy’s imagined execution closes the strip with no explanation. While this version generates a focus on death and lack of reason, I don’t think it has the same depth or the same darkness as the original strip.
There are a ton of potential examples, but going through every 3eanuts/Peanuts pair, or even every pair in which I don’t see the proclaimed effect of 3eanuts, would last for…I don’t know how long. Regardless, 3eanuts is worth checking out. Taking a new, altered look at Peanuts can be both entertaining and thought-provoking. In a way, 3eanuts presents an interesting exercise: try cutting a Peanuts strip short, and see how it changes things—or see how Charles Schulz already put a lot of darker humor and depth in his work. Heck, do whatever you want. Cut ‘em up, mix the panels all around. Get some other comics and mess with them. Combine comics; I don’t know. The possibilities are endless. Maybe you’ll even disregard the representational and make borderline or full-on abstract “found” comics.
Maybe you’ll have something to keep you occupied when the existential dread sets in.
Or when you’re just worried about Miss Othmar.