That corner box


If you’ve seen early Peanuts strips in old newspaper clippings, certain reprints, or even certain reprints, you’ll have seen that the name of the strip is printed in the upper left corner of the strip — indeed, printed right onto the original art board that Schulz used. “What,” you may have asked, “zup with that?”

Was that normal for strips at the time? No, it wasn’t. Looking through the papers of the day, I don’t find any other strips handling the titles similarly — I wouldn’t be surprised if there were one or two, but it certainly wasn’t the standard of the day. So what’s happening? I think we need to go back to a decade before Peanuts began to understand. At the time, papers would run the title of the strip above the strip. (Indeed, on early strips, there would often be a title for the individual strip episode as well.) Here’s a couple examples from October 2, 1940.

Example of the title above the upper corner of the strip for Smilin' Jack episode "Friends to the End"

Then, during World War II, there was a call for newspapers to use less paper, because paper was needed for the war effort. One of the ways that was recommended was for papers to put the title of the strip not above the strip, but on the strip itself. That way, less space was needed between strips, and maybe an extra item or two could be put on the comics page. The more you could put on each page, the fewer pages and less paper needed. Cartoonists cooperated by making sure there was no text in the upper left corner of the strip. There might be some art, but nothing that would ruin the strip if it was covered, as seen in these examples from 1945


During World War II, however, most papers just kept putting the title above, rather than on, the strip.


Upper corner of Dick Tracy strip with title above the stripEven after the war was over, strips maintained that open space in the upper left corner, even though very few of the newspapers used it. In fact, in my sample of the November 5, 1955 papers, most of the papers that put the title actually on the strip put it in the lower corner, despite the big space being held for it in the upper corner.

What was the one strip on that page (from the Tucson Daly Citizen) that wasn’t subject to that treatment? Peanuts, of course. Presumably because it had the title built in, they didn’t feel the need to retitle it.

That’s not to say that there weren’t papers that deleted the printed-on title; there were, but that was generally to put the title above the strip, rather than on it. And thus Schulz’s art was spared the indignity of a bad paste-up job covering or distracting from the art (or changing the natural flow of the eye over the panel.) I can’t say that was the reason this was done, but it was surely a resulting advantage.

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