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Friday, September 6, 2013

"Kite Series Part 3" It's a Kite Eating Tree, Charlie Brown!

-This is the third and final (for now) piece in a series centered on the theme of kites. The first (August 21) focused on Tyrus Wong, and the second (August 29) on Mary Poppins and the Sherman Brothers.

It's a Kite Eating Tree Charlie Brown!

June 1, 1987
Image Source: “Complete Peanuts: 1987-88” http://www.amazon.com

        “He lifted the Kite above his head and ran a little way. It flapped along the air for a moment and then collapsed hollowly on the grass. ‘Try again!’ said Jane encouragingly.” Such is the predicament that Jane and Michael find themselves in before Mary Poppins returns in P. L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins Comes Back.” Beginning almost two decades after the book’s publication, and continuing for many more to come, another famed character would find himself struggling with the woes of kite flying.
         He was not a master artist of ancient traditions like Tyrus Wong, nor was he a simply hobbyist like Al Sherman, instead he was a round-headed boy who could never manage to overcome his worries in life. The boy was Charlie Brown. He made his debut in comics, but would also find his way onto the painted celluloid of animated films.
         Charlie Brown was the creation of Charles M. Schulz. Referred to as Sparky by friends, Schulz is considered one of the world’s greatest ever cartoonists, if not the greatest. His strip, known as “Peanuts,” originally debuted in October of 1950, and would run successively for the next 50 years. Unlike other successful strips, Schulz remained the sole artist and writer throughout its entire run. He died on February 12, 2000 in Santa Rosa, CA. 

Charles M. Schulz, Sparky to his friends

           Within “Peanuts’” first decade, Schulz introduced a new predicament for Charlie Brown that would take on a life of its own both as a character and as a recurring theme. It was known, affectionately, as the Kite Eating Tree.

         Before the Kite Eating Tree however, Charlie Brown did have some initial experiences with kites, the first appearing in the spring of 1952:
March 21, 1952

April 13, 1952

        Although the specific nemesis of the tree is not yet present, the consistent theme is already there, that of Charlie Brown’s constant tribulations with kites. It is the antithesis to what we see in Disney’s Mary Poppins or with Tyrus Wong’s mastery. Perhaps it is even more accessible of a theme for the general readership found in newspapers. The world has its kite masters, but most of us just can’t seem to get the darned thing airborne.
Here Schulz comments on this theme:
“I have never been a successful kite flyer, and have used the excuse that I never lived where there were good areas to fly them. When I was growing up, we always lived in residential neighborhoods, which had too many trees and too many telephone wires. Recollections of those handicaps inspired Charlie Brown’s troubles with kite flying. As I grew older and tried to fly kites for my own children, I discovered that I still had the same problems.”

         Then, one Thursday in April of 1956, Charlie Brown met a new nemesis other than gravity in his kite flying ventures:

April 12, 1956
Image Source: http://peanuts.wikia.com

         The kite would remain stuck in the tree for the next week’s worth of strips (excluding the weekend). The infamous Kite Eating Tree was born:
April 13, 1956

April 16, 1956

April 17, 1956

April 18, 1956

April 19, 1956

April 20, 1956
Image Source (All above): http://peanuts.wikia.com

         A new tradition had joined the strip, which would take on many, from Linus’ famed Security Blanket to Snoopy’s battles with the Red Baron. The Kite Eating Tree served almost exclusively as an antagonist to Charlie Brown, though Lucy once threw Schroeder’s piano into it, hinting that the tree might have a wider range of appetite.
Some selections:

March 11, 1965 (Color Reprint)

Image Source: http://www.flickr.com

March 15, 1970

Image Source: “Complete Peanuts: 1969-70” http://www.amazon.com

March 8, 1987

Image Source: “Complete Peanuts: 1987-88” http://www.amazon.com
Here Schulz speaks on his creation:

“I observed that when a kite becomes caught in a tall tree, it is irretrievable and gradually disappears over a period of several weeks. Now obviously the kite had to go someplace, so it seemed to me that the tree must be eating it. This is how the series developed about Charlie Brown’s violent battles with his local kite eating tree.”

Some selections from when Lucy throws Schroeder's piano into the tree:
January 24, 1969
January 25, 1969

January 30, 1969

Image Source (All Above): “Complete Peanuts: 1969-70 (Vol.10)” http://www.amazon.com
         Kites found their way into Peanuts animation as well. First is a scene from the short-lived Saturday Morning show, The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show (1983-85). The half hour shows were all adaptations direct from the strips. Schulz would cancel it after 18 episodes. This clip, featuring the Kite Eating Tree, is from the first season:

            You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was the animated adaptation of the famed Broadway musical of the same name. The score was written and composed by Clark Gesner. This sequence does not feature the tree, but does convey Charlie Brown’s troubles in a fun and energetic fashion. First is the actual clip, then the original Broadway song. Note the animated version features a boy singing, and the Broadway an adult:

         If you ever take a visit to the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, be sure to step out into the back outdoor area. Looking up to an unparticular tree, you might notice something eerily familiar… 

         Part of what makes a comic strip precious is its consistency in our lives. When other aspects fall out of tangent, when life or the world changes, the comics can serve as our standard of stability and happiness. A crucial ingredient in such an idea is thematic recurrences of characters and actions. “Peanuts” is plump full of such themes, and the Kite Eating Tree is a most treasured one.

March 27, 1988

Image Source: “Complete Peanuts: 1987-88” http://www.amazon.com

-"Kite Eating Tree." Peanuts Wiki. N.p., 2013. Web. <http://peanuts.wikia.com/wiki/Kite-Eating_Tree>.
-Schulz, Charles M., and David Larkin. Peanuts: A Golden Celebration : The Art and the Story of the World's Best-loved Comic Strip. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. Print.
-Schulz, Charles M. The Complete Peanuts: 1969 to 1970. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2008. Print.
- Schulz, Charles M. The Complete Peanuts: 1971 to 1972. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2009. Print.
-Schulz, Charles M. The Complete Peanuts, 1987 to 1988. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2013. Print.
- Schulz, Charles M., and M. Thomas. Inge. My Life with Charlie Brown. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2010. Print.
- Solomon, Charles. The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle, 2012. Print.
- Travers, P. L. Mary Poppins Comes Back. Orlando: Harcourt, 1997. Print.


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