Today is the 60th anniversary of the first time Lucy fooled Charlie Brown into trying to kick that football
Nov 16, 2012, 2:26 PM EDT
Perhaps no single image in the history of comic strips is more identifiable than the one pictured here. Ask an Indian in the deepest portion of the Amazon rainforest what is about to happen, and he’ll tell you the entire story. Because Lucy snatching the ball away at the last second speaks to us all … it’s that eternal, cockeyed optimism Charles Schulz tapped into that made the Peanuts gang the most defined characters in comics history.
Lucy’s Great Deception first ran on Nov. 16, 1952, and here it is right here. Note that in this one Lucy has a perfectly logical — to her — explanation for why she didn’t let him kick it. And that sets us up for the next time Charlie Brown is tricked. And the next, and the next …
- Lucy wasn’t the first to fool Charlie Brown with the football gag. The first one actually ran on Nov. 14, 1951, and it was Violet holding the ball (seen here). She pulled it away at the last second because she was afraid Charlie Brown would kick her hand. (I’ve actually seen that in real life).
- Schulz broke out the gag every fall, with the exceptions of 1984, 1985 and 1990 (no one knows why). In 1983, Charlie Brown refused to kick the ball.
- The 1987 edition of the gag was quite prescient. Schulz ran it a bit earlier than usual, in September, as Lucy explained that she was quite busy and that was the only time she could fit it in. After snatching the ball away as per usual, she corrects herself and says that she has an open date in November. In the last panel, Charlie Brown says: “November will be fine … in the year 2000.” Schulz would discontinue Peanuts in Feb., 2000.
- In 1992, Sally speculates that the reason Charlie Brown tries to kick the ball every year is that he’s secretly in love with Lucy. SALLY: “Love makes you do strange things.” CHARLIE BROWN: “So does stupidity.”
- In 1994, the entire gag occurred “off camera” for the first time. That’s the mark of a pop culture institution — when you don’t even have to show it, and people still laugh.
- 1995: probably my favorite. Charlie Brown runs toward the ball, accompanied by his attorney.
- The last one: 1999. Lucy has to go in for lunch, so Rerun holds the ball. Did Charlie Brown kick it? We’ll never know.
- John Romita Sr., presumably with Schulz’ blessing, drew a strip at a comic convention showing Charlie Brown finally kicking the football, with the help of Spider-Man.
- From Peanuts Wiki: In The Schulz Museum, there is one exhibit, of a mural composed of 3,588 Peanuts comic strips, that when they are all put together form a picture of Lucy pulling away a football from Charlie Brown.
So tonight let’s raise a glass to eternal optimism in the face of crushing reality, and that one day a year when all things are seemingly possible: even Charlie Brown kicking that football. Or, as you Cubs fans call it, every day of your life.
H/T to the great Al Olson.
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