Reprint: Why I love Peanuts, Charlie Brown

–I haven’t been completely idle, writing-wise, over the past year. For instance, I wrote the opening chapters of an actual novel…maybe novella…anyway, I wrote some stuff. I thought it might be fun to repost the best of it here, from time to time.

This particular bit is a response to a feature on Comics Should Be Good, the blog mentioned in the previous entry. The poster was doing a series of columns on his favourite comic strips, and had mentioned that Peanuts would not be appearing. During the ensuing howl of shock and anguish he asked respondents to explain why it should be included. This is my contribution.

It picks up just after another poster had mentioned that after watching the specials/TV series etc, she couldn’t understand the hype re: Snoopy. ‘He’s boring!’ Naturally, I couldn’t let that go unchallenged…

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!’)

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