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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #229

Fine. You win.

8/17/07

229. Peanuts

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Good grief. (Archive link, five cents.)

Peanuts was the brainchild of Charles Schulz, and it ran for damn near fifty consecutive years of original strips, and is still reprinted to this day. “Sparky” Schulz never liked the name “Peanuts”– it was foisted upon him– but Peanuts it was.

The strip came to encompass a cast of thoroughly nutty characters. There was Charlie Brown, of course, the world’s most depressed little boy; Lucy, Charlie Brown’s friend and also antagonist who would dispense psychiatric advice for a nickel and nag for free; Linus, who never went anywhere without his security blanket; Pepper Mint Pattie and her far more intelligent sidekick Marcie; Pig-Pen, the world’s dirtiest kid (and one of my favorite characters); Schroeder, resident pianist; and, of course, Snoopy, the crazy dog, and his little bird friend Woodstock. There were loads of others, of course, from Shermy to Franklin to Sally to Rerun.

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Mostly, the strip seems to be about giving little kids adult sensibilities and worries. It was also about other wacky stuff, my favorite of which was Snoopy masquerading as the World War I Flying Ace. Regardless, Peanuts showed a keen philosophical and psychological insight into its characters.

Charlie Brown never got to kick the football, or fly the kite, or make time with the little red haired girl. He’ll be trapped forever in a web of his own neuroses. And maybe that’s for the best. (We do know he grows up to own his own chain of steakhouses, though, so it’s cool.) Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, and all the rest– frozen in time and remembered forever. Snoopy is a cultural icon. Charlie Brown is the world’s most famous sad sack (he’s totally emo). Charles Schulz’s gigantic one-man masterwork will most certainly stand the test of time. Peanuts will go down in history as the comic strip.

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You all raked me over the coals for not really liking Peanuts, so I’m going to turn this over to you, the readers. Tell us why you love Peanuts!

Roughly ten billion collections of the strip exist, but the ones you need are the fancy Complete Peanuts volumes currently being published by Fantagraphics. Meanwhile, hit up the Peanuts website.

33 Comments

I knew what this was going to be the moment I read the title on the main page.

I’ve always liked Peanuts, its always stood out on the comics pages. Snoopy is just plain fun, I don’t care how you slice it. He is a normal dog AND a full fledged character with more personality than most human comic strip characters. Between him being a writer, the aforementioned flying ace, an expert at just about everything that kids like. He’s the perfect dog.

I think one of the best things about Peanuts is that Shultz was never afraid to admit he made a mistake, change stuff around entirely, drop or add characters. I’m not a comic strip historian, but I believe this was not commonplace for cartoonists prior to Shultz. His influence is immeasureable, his art simplistic yet elegant, and his strips heartfelt, true to life, and sometimes even poetic.

One of my favorite things about Peanuts is that Shultz, even after doing the strip for years, was not afraid to just go out there with a strip. He was experimenting and telling jokes that made seemingly no sense until the end.

Bill, what were you planning to include today if not Peanuts?

I like Peanuts for its simplicity. No need to reinvent the wheel or to do an Alan Moore on the comic strip. Things are familiar and charming with Peanuts, like your family, almost. That’s not to say I don’t like a little deconstruction, but sometimes, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. And that Lucy is a charming devil.

I don’t see the controversy in the choices so far except for Mutts, which I don’t find funny in the slightest, but I do like its efforts to expose shelters.

Dilbert was awesome. Now it’s not.

At least “Rose is Rose” hasn’t been featured. Or “Family Circus”. Either of those would produce an ire from me that’s so devastating that it would take the combined might of Chuck Norris and Patrick Swayze from Point Break to take me down.

I did mention earlier that this was in my top 5 all time comic strips.

It does seem dated at times, and it might be simple, but without Cahrles Schulz’s work, comic strips would be much poorer. He was an influence to many cartoonists–good ones and bad ones. His wit could seem simplistic and child-like one day, but subversive the next.

My favorite character was Sally–her cynicism and perseverance were often an excellent setup for a punchline. On the other hand sometimes she just threw in the towel–and that was funny too. Her pursuit of Linus, and his refusals made me laugh.

Snoopy and Woodstock were great too, and Linus when he got philosophical or theological could make you think and laugh at the same time.

So good job including this one.

Cute story…at the MoCCA Art Festival a few years back, I got a copy of Weapon Brown from Jason Yungbluth. In case you never read Deep Fried, the story revolves around the Peanuts gang grown up in a postapocalyptic hell. Put it this way: the kite-eating tree is now mutated and eats people. The joke there is Weapon Brown noting, “I don’t remember when they started calling Canadians ‘kites.'” Anyway, I asked Yungbluth if Schlutz’s estate had a problem with it. Turns out said estate collects all sorts of parodies of their franchise. I don’t know…I thought it funny.

Really, parodies is what I take from Peanuts aside from memories of the strip and the cartoons. I think my personal favorite parody was a homage…the TV Funhouse segment where a disillusioned Jesus suffers through a dismal Christmas of people invoking his name for the wrong reasons. Then he catches Linus’s speech at the end of the Christmas special. Jesus sheds a tear…then starts dancing like Snoopy. Crowd went nuts.

How many more strips are on the agenda? I think Doonesbury would be a given, but that might be just me.

Sellout!

Someone had to keep up the bitching on these entries.

Aww. Now I feel bad. We broke Bill’s will. Another individualist crushed beneath the weight of society.

If it makes you feel better (or even if it makes you feel worse), Peanuts would barely make my top ten:

1. Dick Tracy
2. Bloom County
3. Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon
4. Goodwin and Williamson’s Secret Agent
5. Doonesbury
6. Pogo
7. Terry and Pirates
8. Peanuts
9. Calvin and Hobbes
10. Steve Canyon

Wait that can’t be right, Little Nemo belongs in the top ten. And Alex Raymond. And Lee Falk. Dammit, I like too many comic strips.

There’s a quote by Bill Watterson that sums up my feelings pretty well:

“I just knew [‘Peanuts’] had a kind of humor and truth that other strips lacked. Now when I reread the old books, I’m amazed at what a melancholy comic strip it was in the ’60s. Surely no other strip has presented a world so relentlessly cruel and heartless. Charlie Brown’s self-torture in the face of constant failure is a bitter, hopelessly sad way. I think the most important thing I learned from ‘Peanuts’ is that a comic strip can have an emotional edge to it and that it can talk about the big issues of life in a sensitive and personal way.”

I don’t think there’s another fictional character with whom I can identify more than Charlie Brown. I had a friend back in college who was a psychology major, studying to be a therapist. I once made a reference to “Peanuts” to her, and she said she hadn’t really read the strip. I told her (I played it off as a joke, but I was at least half-serious) that I didn’t think anyone could be qualified to be a therapist if they weren’t familiar with “Peanuts.”

I don’t really like the ones with snoopy, and I’ve never got the appeal of Snoopy myself. He’s one of those characters, like Pooh bear that grown women my age and older seem to obsess over, ’cause he’s ‘sooo cute!’ But I remember watching the show when I was a kid and thinking ‘what’s the big deal with Snoopy? He’s boring! I wanna see more from those human characters!’ It was one of the only programmes shown on kids’ TV where the characters had that much emotional depth to them (yes, I was an annoyingly precocious little girl).
Peanuts has a good comic formula, because the characters never get what they want. People can relate to losers, it’s why British comedy is so popular, I guess, because our comic characters are always underdogs. If you laugh at Peanuts, it’s usually through a kind of extreme empathy with the characters.

I think you should feature the best Japanese 4-panel comic strip, ‘Azumanga Daioh’ on this (awaits the inevitable rocks thrown in my direction for mentioning manga).

Something I liked was that Charles Schultz was a genuinely nice man, always willing to talk to people in his field and encourage him to pursue their dream. Tom Tomorrow (of ‘This Modern World’, which I’d also put as a Reason to Love Comics) talks in one of his strips about meeting with Schultz, and finding him a tremendously kind, self-deprecating man who had considerable respect for others in the business, whether or not they had major syndication deals.

I also think he deserves a lot of respect for deciding that the strip should end when he was done with it–the ‘Dennis the Menace’ route really does diminish the reputation of a series, over time.

He’s one of those characters, like Pooh bear that grown women my age and older seem to obsess over, ’cause he’s ’sooo cute!’ But I remember watching the show when I was a kid and thinking ‘what’s the big deal with Snoopy? He’s boring!

Yeah, if you only pay attention to the merchandise/spinoffs and not the strip, I freely agree. But as Schulz was always very careful to make clear…the spinoffs don’t count.

Within the strip, Snoopy wasn’t a cute doggie; he was Walter Mitty in a beagle suit. He was a (terrible) Serious Novelist and a flying ace and Big Man on Campus and a vulture and a secret agent and a World-Famous Grocery Clerk and a streaker (really) and a hockey player and the proprietor of the PawPet Theatre, whose production of War and Peace featured a ‘cast of thousands’…ie, a puppet named Joe Thousands. Among other things.

All this pretty much sums up why I love Peanuts so much – it’s not what you expect. That’s why I was bothered enough by Bill’s ‘yeah, it’s charming, whatever’ earlier to keep pushing. Because Peanuts is possibly the most resolutely un-charming comic strip ever.

Which is not to say it wasn’t enormously appealing and affecting – only that it’s so ferociously honest in doing it. But it wasn’t angry or ‘emo’, either. Schulz’ characters were, simply, people – everymen, and women. One of those literary pretentions that’s obvious in theory but insanely difficult in practice. Barring the last decade or so, when he was obviously coasting, his creations never really struck a false note.

Yeah, Charlie Brown & co. were kids, but only insofar as their innocence gave Schulz a ‘storytelling engine’. They asked the questions that every human being does – about security, about being loved, about success or failure, about God, about the meaning of it all – and the answers they got managed to be both heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time. “Go to sleep, sir,” Marcie tells Peppermint Patty when the latter panics about the end of the world. “It’s already tomorrow in Australia.”

As another poster put it earlier, Schulz pointed out that yeah, in this life we spend most of the time behind the eight ball. We’re thwarted, baffled, bewildered…but we keep on going, in our various ways, because we have to keep on hoping. Maybe next time, we’ll kick that football/win that game/get up the courage to talk to that girl…and oh, won’t it all be worth it then?

(Incidentally, the kick-the-football thing did get a resolution, of sorts, in the strip’s last year. Lucy is stuck in the house and forced to send her little brother, Rerun, out with the ball. When he returns, she asks him what happened…and he replies, ‘You’ll never know!’)

My problem with Peanuts is my age. I first encountered the strip when it was trippy, philosophical and LOL funny, only to watch it devolve into a commercial for Snoopy toys. When it comes to Snoopy; four legs good, two legs bad.

My favorite strips;

Thimble Theater
Calvin & Hobbes
Bloom County
Pogo
Tarzan
Doonesbury
Arlo & Janis
The Phantom
Foxtrot
Terry & The Pirates

Tom Fitzpatrick

August 18, 2007 at 7:15 am

How about Little Orphan Annie? (1980’s-current not the older series)

Snoopy was always my favorite character.
“Twas a dark and stormy night … “

“Suddenly, a shot rang out!”

In fact – not to get carried away or anything – but it did occur to me that the complete text of Snoopy’s novel (as provided by the scarily-exhaustive Peanuts FAQ might go a long way in helping demonstrate why this strip is a true Reason to Love Comics:

As firmly established in the Holt, Rinehart & Winston book, “Snoopy and It Was A Dark And Stormy Night” (published in 1971), this is Snoopy’s novel…in all its glory:

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night
by Snoopy

Part I

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed.
Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon!
While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.

Part II

A light snow was falling, and the little girl with the tattered shawl had not sold a violet all day.
At that very moment, a young intern at City Hospital was making an important discovery. The mysterious patient in Room 213 had finally awakened. She moaned softly.
Could it be that she was the sister of the boy in Kansas who loved the girl with the tattered shawl who was the daughter of the maid who had escaped from the pirates? The intern frowned.
“Stampede!” the foreman shouted, and forty thousand
head of cattle thundered down on the tiny camp. The two men rolled on the ground grappling beneath the murderous hooves. A left and a right. A left. Another left and right. An uppercut to the jaw. The fight was over. And so the ranch was saved.
The young intern sat by himself in one corner of the
coffee shop. He had learned about medicine, but more
importantly, he had learned something about life.

THE END

(At which point, Linus asked, “But what about the
king?” He got clonked on the head for his impertinence.)

Joe Casey and Ashley Wood had an excellent send-up to the Peanuts gang in Automatic Kafka, a Comic You Should Own.

And, yes, Pig-Pen was the best.

I have always disliked Peanuts. I have never thought it was funny. That is, until I read the hardcover collections that started coming out a few years ago.

My opinion is that the early strips are far better than the later strips. The moments seem so much truer in the early strips. They act like children, not like the annoying fake children in Grown-Up Jeffy’s Family Circus or modern Dennis the Menace. There’s bits of adulthood, too, but the characters seem so much more real to me than they do in the later strips, in which they seem more like ciphers designed to deliver setups and punchlines.

If you want some good strips, I recommend Gasoline Alley, Alley Oop, Thimble Theatre, Doonesbury, and Bloom County. Oh, and maybe even B.C. (pre-J.C.).

”Peanuts” is what I consider the gold standard of comic strips. It has wit and pathos and imagination and (most of the time) class, and a collection of characters that not only enter the collective consciousness of Americans but people around the world. (I have a “Charlie Brown” t-shirt, yellow with the zigzag, that I coincidentally wore yesterday. EVERYONE recognizes it, to my point of annoyance. Some guy in a store yelled out “Charlie! Charlie Brown!” at me.) What other strip can you say that about? Garfield and Popeye are the only ones that come to mind.

Granted, I’m not old enough to have been reading comic strips in their so-called golden ages, tho I’ve been exposed to them with time. Peanuts was the first comic strip I ever really liked, among the claptrap on the page in the 1970’s. Actually, the only strip I’m aware of that started in the 1970’s that is still considered good is Doonesbury. (Okay, I checked, and For Better or For Worse started in 1979, but that strip’s good days are way way behind it.)

Among the wide variety of strips I currently read, four are in permanent reruns: Popeye, Liberty Meadows, Calvin & Hobbes, and Peanuts. Of those, if I happen to miss a few days, I don’t check the days I missed of C&H and LM because they’re too familiar, too new. Popeye I’m kinda forced to because it’s serialized (even tho the serials tend to be long and often dull). peanuts is always a pleasure to re-read even when it was re-running strips I had just read in a Complete volume.

There’s been a lot of “Complete” collected editions of comic strips lately. Tho I own several of those, the only one that really deserves it is Peanuts.

Peanuts is brilliant because it’s goddamned funny. Yes, it’s melancholy and philosophical and a testament to the virtue of fortitude and yadda yadda yadda. But I defy anybody to read this strip or this one or this one or this one and not laugh.

Kirby and Lee are the only two reasons better than Peanuts. Including Superman and Spidey.

The early peanuts strips are so beautifully simple and profound. You get these incredible moments where Charlie Brown makes an observation and you realize that it is exactly something you felt or thought about when you were a kid, except you didn’t have the vocabulary or life experience to understand it then. But here it is, in language that communicates perfectly to an adult, and you suddenly realize that things still feel the same as they did when you were young, you just have a better language for it now.

For me, Peanuts is great because it is so archetypal; intentionally or not, every one of those characters represents something: an ideal, an emotion, a fundamental desire. Charlie Brown, the down on his luck everyman, Snoopy, our imagination and sense of fun, Linus, our intellect and yearning for answers. Even The Little Red Haired Girl represents that one thing we desire above all else, but is always out of reach. You can go on and on.

As far as I’m concerned, I read Peanuts for the philosophy, insight, intellect and pathos, and then for the humor.

I’ve often said there’s a little bit of Charlie Brown in everyone (at least, there should be).

Early Peanuts my eye! The strip was arguably brilliant through the early 80s. It began to stumble, I think, when Schulz dropped the four-panel layout he had used for more than 30 years. He started doing single, double, and triple-panel strips in the mid-80s, and they didn’t quite work as well.

Still, though, the strip kept its integrity right up to the end. It was always, always, the product of one man and one man alone. How many other comics can you say that about?

Early Peanuts my eye! The strip was arguably brilliant through the early 80s.

I’d tend to agree…then again, it’s that decade’s strips and onward that fall within my lifetime, so are the ones I’m most familiar with.

Although he never really lost his uncanny grip on human nature, by the early 70’s I do think Schulz had started to wear the deep profundity a bit thin (after two decades straight, it’s kinda hard to blame him). Sheer intelligence and inventiveness kept him going throughout that decade at least.

Come the eighties, steam was more clearly lacking, and the 90’s – with their focus on generically-adorable Rerun – are best quietly ignored.

Overlooked in all the talk of the characters and the philosophy is Schulz’s skill as an artist. His lines are simple and beautiful- nothing is wasted. He did more with less- in terms of the simplicity of his lines and the amount of newspaper space he got- than any of the great comic strip artists. Even in the later days when his shaky hands gave his work that sketchy style, it still looked great. He was a hell of a cartoonist. Peanuts also changed the rhythm of the funny pages. Pretty every significant humor strip that followed Peanuts mimics its cadences.

Aw, Bill, you caved!

The case for Peanuts can be made by the fact that almost every important comic artist since regards the strip as a major influence. Bill Watterson’s comments on Peanuts, for example, have been quoted above.

For me, two things stand out about Peanuts. I hear a lot about the “culture war” against Christians that the “liberal media” has supposedly been perpetrating for decades. To hear some people tell it, identifying yourself as a Christian invariably means being ostracized and blacklisted, while Christian values are relentlessly attacked by secular humanists.

Some people take this argument pretty seriously. But when you look at Peanuts strips like the Job argument on the baseball mound, you can see that it doesn’t really hold water. Schulz was a Christian and did this sort of thing for fifty years(!) and was never criticized for doing it. On the contrary, he was possibly the most beloved artist of the last fifty years. Whenever the Jerry Falwells and the John Hagees of the world get me down, Schulz is the one I go running back to. This was evangelism done properly: intelligent, friendly and so subtle you miss it if you’re not paying attention.

The other point is the ongoing war that newspapers have actually been waging on the comics page itself. As everyone here probably knows, comics have been repeatedly made smaller over the years by newspapers determined to cut costs. I think it has reached the point where a lot of papers would eliminate the comics altogether if they thought they could get away with it. Peanuts is one of the reasons they can’t get away with it.

If you consider how few papers (relatively speaking) have dropped the strip since Schulz passed away and it went into reruns, you can see how reluctant editors are to get rid of it. As you’ve noticed yourself, dismissing Peanuts tends to provoke a lot of outrage, and can you imagine what would happen if all the major papers cut it (along with the rest of the funnies) at the same time? No, Peanuts will stay on the comics pages for a good while yet, and the comics pages will stay along with it. To me, that is one great reason to love Peanuts.

On a more personal note, Schulz has been part of my life since I bought a copy of “Here Comes Charlie Brown” at a school book sale when I was five or six. I still have the book, and I believe it is the only book I could have bought at the time that I could pick up and enjoy just as much nearly thirty years later.

I didn’t see anyone else mention it, so I’m giving a link to an article Mark Evanier wrote shortly after Shulz passed away.

http://www.povonline.com/cols/COL280.htm

“This was evangelism done properly: intelligent, friendly and so subtle you miss it if you’re not paying attention.”

In Peanuts, religion wasn’t a stick to bap readers on the head. Other writers would place the emphasis on the speaker rather than the message: “_JOB_ said this”, while Schulz would put the emphasis the other way ’round, “Job said _THIS_”. It also balanced things out that it was Linus providing the wisdom 9 out of 10 times, since he would be just as likely to quote Voltaire or Jefferson with the same weight as scripture… Or even channeling the author’s thoughts:

LINUS: I don’t like to face problems head on. I think the best way to solve problems is to avoid them. This is a distinct philosophy of mine.. No problem is so big or complicated that it can’t be run away from!
— Peanuts, Feb. 27, 1963

Amen, brother.

Aw, Bill, you caved!

Nope, he didn’t. In fact, I think he handled the whole thing brilliantly – we’re the ones who asked for this entry, so let us take on the burden of proof. And we have. Closure on both sides.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

August 19, 2007 at 6:39 pm

My favourite is one where Woodstuck rescues one of the kids stuck on a barn. He does this by flying Snoopy like he’s a helicopter.
Asked where he learnt to fly, he responds ‘Nam’.

Awesome.

Automatic Kafka #4 rocked as well.
It showed what really happened to the kids a few years on.

I’m pleasedd to see other people have noticed the things I did.

the world would be a less funy place if Charles Schulz had never done Peanuts–not just because that strip wouldn’t exist–but others wouldn’t exist as we have known them.

km –

I know, I know, I just figured this was my chance to be the one hassling Bill for once, so I took it.

Peanuts is great because, well, at one time or another most of us can certainly relate to Charlie Brown. One of the very first Peanuts collections I owned when I was about 10 years old was titled My Anxieties Have Anxieties. Sometimes I think that ought to be the motto for my life story.

And I’m sure we all wish we had a pet as cool as Snoopy.

Tyson – No worries. Stick around, you’ll find a reason sooner or later. ;)

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