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Good grief!
March 11, 2009 11:14 PM   Subscribe

Good grief! Described as "arguably the longest story ever told by one human being", the entire run -- just shy of 50 years -- of Charles Schulz's Peanuts can now, legally, be read online.

The first strip, October 2, 1950, introduces Shermy, Patty, and Charlie Brown.

Snoopy appears two days later.

Many characters first appear as babies: Schroeder (introduced by Charlie Brown to the piano); Lucy; Linus (first mention) (first appearance); Sally is born (first appearance) and Rerun (first appearance).

Peppermint Patty first appears followed by Marcie.
Pigpen's first appearance.
Frieda's first appearance.

Other characters faded away, including originals Shermy (final appearance) and Patty (final appearance) (or is this her?) as well as Violet (first appearance) (last appearance); 5 (first appearance) (last appearance) and the long-forgotten Charlotte Braun (first appearance) (last appearance).

Woodstock is first mentioned by name.
Snoopy first fights the Red Baron.
Lucy first pulls away the football.

We said goodbye to Charles Schulz and his creations on February 13, 2000. Schulz died the night before the final strip appeared.

(Decided to do this after I snarked in the Frank Miller thread.)
posted by evilcolonel (106 comments total) 154 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's now legal? Was there a Peanuts Pirate Bay at one time?
posted by crapmatic at 11:27 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, so Franklin gets no love? I see how it is.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:40 PM on March 11, 2009 [13 favorites]


Great post, incidentally.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:42 PM on March 11, 2009


Fantastic post. Thanks evilcolnel.

crapmatic, the full run of Peanuts was just not available online in an officially-sanctioned fashion. There actually is a large number of comics torrents out there, and though I don't know if Peanuts is being torrented it's likely.
posted by ooga_booga at 11:43 PM on March 11, 2009


Epic.
posted by dhammond at 11:53 PM on March 11, 2009


How, indeed.
posted by hifiparasol at 11:55 PM on March 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I grew up reading the comics every morning, and Peanuts was consistent in never making me laugh. It's by no means Marmaduke bad, but I'd love it if someone could point me to some of the funnier strips so I can understand the hype.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 12:13 AM on March 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


You know, when I got my first volumes of the Complete Peanuts, I was amazed at how much meaner and funnier the early strips were - and I've always been a fan, mind you, since we had books around the house ever since I was a kid. At some point, the strip lost its bite.

Also, maybe it's just me, but I like Snoopy better on four legs. Ditto Garfield, not that he deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph.
posted by bettafish at 12:14 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]




*sigh*
posted by fatbird at 12:23 AM on March 12, 2009


Awesome post.
posted by Phire at 12:28 AM on March 12, 2009


Excellent post, but I'll never understand how the comic reached the heights it did. I never found it funny or interesting or touching. It just was....
posted by lattiboy at 12:43 AM on March 12, 2009


Excellent post, but I'll never understand how the comic reached the heights it did.

Try drawing a comic strip that conveys a loving melancholy, without cynicism or politics, every day for almost 50 years, then maybe you will see how he inspired so much awe.
posted by shii at 12:48 AM on March 12, 2009 [14 favorites]


Try drawing a comic strip that conveys a loving melancholy, without cynicism or politics, or humor, or a story, or anything but dumb fucking nostalgia every day for almost 50 years, then maybe you will see how he inspired so much awe.

I'd say FTFY, but that shit is cheap and I'll get called out on MetaTalk.
posted by lattiboy at 1:17 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Think of Peanuts as the Citizen Kane of comic strips. When it debuted, it was groundbreaking, fresh, and a complete departure from those which typified the medium at the time. Over the course of the nigh-fifty years of producing the strip, Schulz had to contend with the shrinking comics page and other cartoonists who were following his lead. On top of that, there's the perennial challenge of keeping the material fresh, a job made all the more difficult as Schulz eschewed hiring assistants and instead continued to write and draw the strip himself until the very end.

I also think that the majority of the strips in the mid-eighties to late-nineties were rather middle-of-the-road and not particularly outstanding, especially when compared to Bloom County, Calvin & Hobbes, and the Far Side, all of which served to make the comics pages a joy to read in those days and in comparison with which any strip would shine a little less brightly. However, I believe Schulz did get a second wind and seemed to recapture some of the spirit of his earlier work during the last five or so years of the strip.

And I still say "Good Grief!" at every opportunity.
posted by ooga_booga at 1:19 AM on March 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


Good grief, lattiboy.
posted by ooga_booga at 1:21 AM on March 12, 2009


Yeah, I know, a lot of people really love Peanuts (my sister included) and I don't mean to be shitty to you all, but it's just that every time I'd read a great Calvin & Hobbes I'd look down the page at the absolute wasteland of imagination that was Peanuts and think, "fifty years?"
posted by lattiboy at 1:26 AM on March 12, 2009


This is a great post.

I've read a huge number of Peanuts strips. Devoured them as a kid, checked out every Peanuts compilation at the school library and have seen a good many since. Peanuts was, and is, awesome, so all you haters who claim it shows no imagination can clam it*.

A few that stick out in mind, I don't know where they are in the list but they gotta be in there somewhere:
- One strip actually contains, courtesy of Mad Magazine, a reproduction of Alfred E. Neuman. It's at the end of the "Charlie Brown's head develops baseball stitches" arc.
- There is an early series where Snoopy picks up a talent for visual impressions. He does a great Lucy, and an excellent Mickey Mouse.
- There is a series where Snoopy gets elected "Head Beagle," sort of a canine president. He abdicates.

The best place to look for classics, I think, is mid-to-late 50s to early 70s, but there are great strips throughout. Here's a good one, a sunday.

Surprised there's no love for Eudora in the FPP, or Roy, or Franklin, or Mrs. Othmar, or "World War II," a.k.a. the cat next door.

*Thinking about Peanuts tends to cause my thoughts to take on a 50's-ish tinge.
posted by JHarris at 3:03 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Schulz died the night before the final strip appeared.

This little bit of trivia is the weirdest thing I've heard in some time. Think about it... so intertwined with his creation was Schulz that both of them had to die together. In the last strip Schulz apologizes for not being able to continue any longer and then says goodbye and thank you. He knew he was dying of colon cancer, but he couldn't have planned that the last strip would run the day after after he died.

Some more: Schulz had been asked if, for his final Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown would finally get to kick that football after so many decades. His response: "Oh, no! Definitely not! I couldn't have Charlie Brown kick that football; that would be a terrible disservice to him after nearly half a century."

When Schulz died fans of the strip must have felt some grief. But after 50 years of humor and an amazing finale I'd have to call it good grief.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:13 AM on March 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm not saying that everybody needs to love Peanuts, but certainly everyone who loves Calvin and Hobbes has to at least acknowledge that without Peanuts there would be no Calvin and Hobbes -- at least, not as we know it. Watterson cites it as once of his three major inspirations in the C&H 10th Anniversary books (along with Krazy Kat, also brilliant, and Pogo, which I can't say I've read much of).

Come to think, I can't believe it's only just occurred to me how much Calvin's "dinosaur/Spaceman Spiff/film noir/Stupendous Man/etc." inner landscape adventures are pretty much a direct riff on Snoopy's "World War I flying ace/famous writer/Joe Cool" fantasies. They even operate the same way:

- Calvin or Snoopy's internal narration introduces the reader to the gag: "Here's the World War I flying ace..." or "Spaceman Spiff soars the cosmos..."
- Several panels of adventure within the fantasy, as the tension ratchets up
- Reality abruptly intersects with and deflates the fantasy, e.g. the cat next door claws the doghouse or Miss Wormwood calls on Calvin; the main part of the gag
- The strip usually wraps up with Calvin or Snoopy's confusion or dismay at the intrusion of reality upon their vastly superior fantasy. Sometimes Calvin just re-enters the fantasy, like any stubborn six-year-old.
posted by bettafish at 3:27 AM on March 12, 2009 [17 favorites]


Never was a Peanuts fan, but as someone who's into Old Time Radio, swing music and Sinatra, I can see how nostalgia can make fans and keep fans throughout the years.

I was always more of a Doonesbury kind of guy. That strip started when I was 9 years old, and I've been reading it pretty consistently ever since.

When that archive is free and available, let me know.
Right now it costs you $16.95 a year for legal access.

Boo! Hiss!
posted by willmize at 3:57 AM on March 12, 2009


It's amazing how well associated with the Peanuts the phrase "good grief" has become. After those two words I knew this was a Peanuts post without having to read further. It's nice that they are online now.
posted by caddis at 4:15 AM on March 12, 2009


Lucy first pulls away the football.

Lucy was such a bitch.







When I was a kid, my grandpa gave us a big stack of musty old Peanuts books, from a time when comics anthologies were sold as cheap little paperbacks. I distinctly remember looking at the first one and being amazed at how different the characters looked from the Peanuts I was accustomed to. They were so much rounder and cleaner, and they hadn't grown into their distinct personalities yet; it was hard to believe that was really Charlie Brown.

I read almost all of them in one sitting, starting in the afternoon and on late into the night. Whenever I had trouble sleeping, I would pick up one of the old Peanuts books and read the familiar strips over. They weren't laugh out loud funny, the artwork wasn't dazzling, but the kids and the world they inhabited were familiar and comfortable. I guess the darkness of the strips didn't occur to me at the time because it's a familiar sort of powerless angst that hangs around childhood. Who doesn't remember feeling like Charlie Brown once in a while? The other kids are mean to you, but you don't know why, you want to play sports, but your body won't cooperate, the classmate you have a crush on doesn't know you exist, you try so hard to do everything right, but the world seems to be conspiring against you. As simply rendered as he was, I identified with him, and resolved to myself that were he a real kid, I would be his friend.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:20 AM on March 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


The cartoons are also terrifically funny and edgy, even after all these years. The wonder of "Peanuts" is that it worked on so many levels simultaneously. Children could enjoy the silly drawings and the delightful fantasy of Snoopy, while adults could see the bleak undercurrent of cruelty, loneliness and failure, or the perpetual theme of unrequited love, or the strip's stark visual beauty.

The above was written by one Bill Watterson, in a review of Schulz's biography called "The Grief That Made 'Peanuts' Good."
posted by cgc373 at 5:09 AM on March 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


That's what the review is called. The biography is called Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography.
posted by cgc373 at 5:11 AM on March 12, 2009


I'm trying, really trying, to see in the early strips what the heck was so great about Peanuts. Put me in the "vast wasteland of meh" camp here... I read the comics page regularly from the early 70s to mid 90s, and Peanuts was always bland to me. We've had other Peanuts discussions here, and I've heard the "oh, 50 years though... the early days just set up so much... really need to understand the depth..." etc., so I've been willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, pending my getting the chance to read the early ones. But I still don't get it (and if anyone can explain how Snoopy ends up at the top of the stairs he just walked down in that last strip, I'd appreciate it).
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:22 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a kid, I liked reading Peanuts but never really enjoyed it to the extent that I sought the strip out. When they recently started publishing box sets and my library bought them and I picked up a couple, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the early comics. They were strange - you think of Peanuts now as something very middle of the road, unexciting, not terribly funny, but the earlier comics are anything but.

Then the Schulz biography came out and I read that. The text is accompanied by his comics and the strangeness and introspectiveness of the comics suddenly snap into focus as events and people in his real life.

What I'm saying is, if you were unimpressed by the Peanuts when reading Schulz's more recent comics, it is worth taking a look at his earlier stuff and possibly even reading his biography.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:27 AM on March 12, 2009


Snoopy took over "Peanuts" like Fonzie took over "Happy Days."
posted by ColdChef at 5:27 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just want to say how pleased I am to find this is all online. Count me in the "fan" category -- I also directed the musical version in college -- but have never been able to justify spending the cash for the gorgeous Fantagraphics Collected Peanuts books. (Maybe someday, but not right now.)
posted by anastasiav at 5:38 AM on March 12, 2009


Great post - thanks. A lot of the early posts you linked pinged a deja-vu feeling for me. When I was a little kid, maybe six or seven, I helped my dad take some stuff to the dump. Right next to where we were throwing out whatever it was, probably some broken furniture, I found a pile of seven or eight little dime-store paper back books that were all early peanut strips. I think my dad saw me eyeing them and he encouraged me to take them home. They were a bit musty smelling but I read them dozens of times. They were very different in tone and style and characters from the Peanut strips in the paper. In fact, I think I was always somewhat disappointed by that newspaper peanuts that I never really got into reading it.

Anyway, I used to think it was the best dump find ever until years later I met a poet who told a story about a time her dad brought home a summer's worth of ice cream that a local dairy had to throw out when their freezer quit working (here's the resulting poem).
posted by Staggering Jack at 5:42 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Non-fans should be sure to start with the early years - vols 1, 2 and 3 of Fantagraphics collected strips will change the way you think about the series. Charlie Brown is much more mischievous early on, for just one major difference, but what strikes you most about those early strips is how *modern* they feel - how much of a clear break they are with previous comic strip tradition.

If you know anything at all about the history of comics, those early Peanuts strips are a revelation.
posted by mediareport at 6:16 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I hear Peanuts fans, I always think of the Zappa fan who says you haven't heard the right album yet. They're always saying I should read the strips from this period, from that period, etc. Whenever I do, it's just the same meh that I saw before. Except I actually like Zappa.

I can respect Schultz for having helped to inspire Calvin & Hobbes, but even reading what Watterson says, I just can't see it in Peanuts.

Pogo, on the other hand, is every bit as good as Watterson says it is.
posted by echo target at 6:25 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's remarkable too that so many of the "plots" involve children getting (presumably) hurt and, after a moment of disorientation, just brushing themselves off. In the last strip mentioned earlier, there are images of Lucy getting conked by a baseball, Charlie about to fall on his back after the football was pulled away, and Linus being dragged around via his blanket by a rampaging Snoopy--and that was supposed to (and did!) evoke nostalgia.

People who say that Peanuts was bland and out-of-touch forget that by virtue of being so familiar and established, it was one of the last "kid-friendly" voices acknowledging a truth largely at odds with today's American culture: that children's lives, even in the best of circumstances, are rough-and-tumble and that by-and-large they still turn out OK.

(I'm sure there's a dissertation to be written on the existence and treatment of Pigpen, but it won't be from me.)
posted by kittyprecious at 6:26 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reading a handful of early strips, who the heck owns Snoopy?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:32 AM on March 12, 2009


King Features.
posted by ardgedee at 6:43 AM on March 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


Growing up in the UK I read the strips that my Grandma cut out of the back of the Daily Mail (the only saving grace of a thoroughly evil publication) and was a huge fan. I've still got a bunch of badges and lots of the H&S paperbacks. Probably one of the better primers on US culture at the time.

About 5 years ago I got to finally visit Santa Rosa (something I'd always wanted to do as a kid when I found out where CS lived) & went to the museum / ice rink / merch store, which was an interesting if slightly surreal experience.

If your not into it / or don't 'get it' then don't worry about it. I don't think it's any great secret or special club it's just that you're not into it.

Thanks for a great post.
posted by i_cola at 6:53 AM on March 12, 2009


It's difficult for people raised on MTV and Star Wars to appreciate subtlety.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:56 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is awesome.
posted by brundlefly at 7:00 AM on March 12, 2009


I've collected some of my favorite Peanuts strips here.

Calvin and Hobbes was largely an updated version of Peanuts. Occasionally, Watterson would inadvertently create a straight copy of an old Peanuts strip, and many of the gags are very similar: Linus created weird snowmen 20 years before Calvin, etc. Here's a snowball-throwing strip that's very close to several C&H strips.

Schulz was even years ahead of Douglas Adams with this strip.
posted by martinrebas at 7:08 AM on March 12, 2009 [11 favorites]


It's interesting how the strip itself rarely if ever made me laugh, but I laugh when I think about the little running gags and subplots: Snoopy as Red Baron; Linus with his blanket; Lucy with her psychiatric booth; Sally's love for Linus; Charlie Brown's love for the little red-headed girl; Lucy's love for Schroeder; Peppermint Patty in her Birkenstocks; Marcie, who always called Patty "Sir"; Lucy pulling away the football; the Great Pumpkin. It was all just so cute and inventive. And homely and familiar.

I still remember how, circa grade eight, one girl teased a girl named Kelly that her very teased bangs and straight, longish bob cut made her look like Peppermint Patty. Even Kelly laughed as hard as anyone, and our teacher also got it and thought it hilarious. It's one of those cultural frame of references that bridge generations because they were around so long. There's not too many of those around, so it's valuable for that if for no other reason.
posted by orange swan at 7:09 AM on March 12, 2009


Peanuts is a beautiful comic. It spoke to me when I was a kid and it speaks to me as an adult. Nothing else in popular culture has been able to do that.

Thank you for the excellent post.
posted by munchingzombie at 7:17 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


But I still don't get it (and if anyone can explain how Snoopy ends up at the top of the stairs he just walked down in that last strip, I'd appreciate it)

There are two option: the kid fell down many stairs, past Snoopy. Snoopy's not at the top; or, Snoopy quickly ran up to the top of the stairs while the kid was falling, in order to be seen when the kid was done falling.
posted by interrobang at 7:26 AM on March 12, 2009


options
posted by interrobang at 7:26 AM on March 12, 2009


Reading a handful of early strips, who the heck owns Snoopy?

Snoopy owns everybody else; nobody owns Snoopy.
posted by blucevalo at 7:28 AM on March 12, 2009


Willmize: I was always more of a Doonesbury kind of guy. That strip started when I was 9 years old, and I've been reading it pretty consistently ever since.

When that archive is free and available, let me know.
Right now it costs you $16.95 a year for legal access.


Slate.com runs the current Doonesbury for free every day and I think they might have an archive on that site as well.

Here's the link: http://www.doonesbury.com/
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:35 AM on March 12, 2009


I love Peanuts - it's the most character-driven comic out there outside of Doonesbury, which I also love.

Not that every strip had to be funny, or "gotten". That strip was cool because of the sense of place it had - it's perspective. And yes, it's subtlety. There's an interior quality to that comic that goes far beyond your typical daily strip, and it's that quality that also shows up in Calvin and Hobbes.

Great post. The world is so much better with Peanuts in it.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:41 AM on March 12, 2009


I think part of the problem was that Peanuts was really at it's peak in the 60s and underwent a slow decline beginning in the early 70s. Most people have never seen the older stuff, and even if they do, a lifetime of exposure to the Charlie Brown Christmas Carol has stolen it's freshness.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:46 AM on March 12, 2009


Thanks for posting this. Such a big part of my childhood.

For those who don't like Peanuts, coming to this thread and sharing that is sort of like going to any thread with a creative figure featured which you don't like and saying, "Hey, I never understood why people like [name], because [name] sucks!" Doesn't really add anything to the discussion, except possibly flame bait.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:47 AM on March 12, 2009


All right, it was late; my omissions:
Franklin's first appearance
The little red-haired girl sorta appears!

Another interesting thing happens when you read these chronologically: you start to realize that the TV specials, including the immortal "Charlie Brown Christmas", cribbed all their gags from the strips!

By the way, my experience with Peanuts is similar to what some of you recounted: I read the comics page every day starting as a child in the late 70s... but when I was first exposed to the earlier Peanuts strips in old books in the school library, or belonging to older relatives, that's when I REALLY got hooked.

On the other hand, my local paper was very late in jumping on the Calvin and Hobbes bandwagon, so it was the books that first exposed me to its brilliance. Ditto with Doonesbury, which my paper has NEVER carried, but they had a 1970s-era reprint book in my high school library, covering a remarkable period in which Duke was a Rolling Stone freelancer, governor of American Samoa, and U.S. ambassador to China!
posted by evilcolonel at 8:02 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Franzen on the rise & fall of Peanuts, embedded in a personal history in the New Yorker.

The beauty of episodes like: “Everything I do makes me feel guilty,” says Charlie Brown. He’s at the beach, and he has just thrown a pebble into the water, and Linus has commented, “Nice going. . . . It took that stone four thousand years to get to shore, and now you’ve thrown it back.”

The downfall: "What first made “Peanuts” “Peanuts” was cruelty and failure, and yet every “Peanuts” greeting card and tchotchke and blimp had to feature somebody’s sweet, crumpled smile." ... "Far more than Disney, whose studios were churning out kitsch from the start, Schulz came to seem an icon of art’s corruption by commerce, which sooner or later paints a smiling sales face on everything it touches."

Great post, btw.
posted by svenx at 8:07 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Excellent post. Favorited, flagged as fantastic.

I've always wanted to read more of the original strips. I'll do more later, as the site is clearly very busy right now - it's taken 15 min to load two strips.

I'm also amazed that there's people on this board jaded enough to shit on Peanuts. Are you serious? God, it must be tough being so cool all the time.
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:08 AM on March 12, 2009


martin, thanks so much for that collection of favorites. For anyone here who doesn't really like Peanuts, I think martin's little collection is a good thing to check out. If you still don't like the strip after reading those, then I guess that's that, but those strips are really good for getting a feel for what I love about the comic -- a series of sad and hopeful events, more focused on wry smiles than guffaws.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:09 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Snoopy took over "Peanuts" like Fonzie took over "Happy Days."

To my never-ending regret. I didn't just identify with Charlie Brown, I was Charlie Brown. I think I still am. So I can't call the feeling I get when I look at those old strips nostalgia, just recollection.
posted by tommasz at 8:12 AM on March 12, 2009


Okay, they're loading quicker now. These early ones are really interesting. I think I like the art style better than the style Schulz would become known for. Also, it sure seems like poor, doomed Shermy was the original male lead. He certainly appears in more strips than good old Charlie Brown. Here he is walking Snoopy.
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:13 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


To answer an earlier question, there is a very early strip that suggests Snoopy is just a neighbourhood dog. Schulz seemed to do some retconning to make him Charlie Brown's. (In a later strip, Charlie Brown talked about a traumatic event happening to him when he was much younger, and his dad taking him to the oft-mentioned Daisy Hill Puppy Farm to choose a dog.)
posted by evilcolonel at 8:17 AM on March 12, 2009


Schulz and Peanuts is definitely worth a read if you're ever feeling like life's a little too awesome; it'll knock you right back down into pessimism and despair. What a miserable man.

Reading the paperback collections of classic Peanuts strips in the late 70s-early 80s was a revelation for me. The scales fell away from my eyes, and I realized that what I thought was entertaining me every morning was a mere shadow of what once had been. Those early strips are amazing.
posted by padraigin at 8:21 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


People always complain that Peanuts isn't funny. Peanuts isn't supposed to be funny. It's supposed to depict a wry truth. If there's truth in humor, there is humor in truth. Most, if not all comics approach things in the way of the former, peanuts does the latter.

Peanuts is a great comic strip when you understand the context in which it was created. It isn't for a 21st century cynical audience. It is for a 1950's audience whose pop culture consists of sanitized and sterile conformist pablum. "Leave it to Beaver", etc. This is a time when it was simply outrageous that Milton Berle would wear a dress on TV. Is that even funny anymore? This was a time when Elvis was considered a threat to our daughters decency because he would shake his hips while wearing a jacket and tie. On one of Elvis's TV specials from the early 60's, they actually required that he perform sitting down, and throughout the show he would simply tease the audience by beginning to stand up and they would cheer.

Peanuts belongs in this category. It is not nearly as overt as a gyrating Elvis or a cross-dressing television host, but it is subversive in the same way. Subtle subversion masquerading as a pop culture diversion. Perhaps the reason the message doesn't resonate as well today is that our culture has changed enough over the strip's 50 year run that what was once subversive is no longer so.

Peanuts, in the first installment depicts, an innocent little cherub named Charlie Brown walking blissfully past some of his friends, and ends with one of those friends remarking unprovoked how much he hates Charlie Brown. He hates Charlie Brown because he's a "good ol'" kid. Charlie Brown isn't smug, superior, arrogant, conceited, rich or any of the other easy target characteristics. He's hated because he's nice. Peanuts is about how the good must suffer. It's a comic strip that models the henpecking wife (Lucy) as the cruel shrew that she is, not as the clever but infinitely patient master who has to train her oafish husband as depicted in since the inception of television from the Honeymooner's through todays awful shows. It's a comic strip that had Charlie Brown visiting a psychiatrist at a time when there was still great stigma attached to mental illness.

And that's it. No explanation. The truth stripped bare, redressed in kid attire. The strip is not supposed to be ha ha funny, its supposed to be funny in that wink-and-nod way that reminds you that you are Charlie Brown, suffering all of life's frustrations and indignities as gracefully as you can. The only children in the strip are the innocent, and they suffer at the hands of their more mature mates.

But even the cruel must suffer. Lucy pines for the artist Schroeder who rebuffs her - he follows his own muse. Linus is the melancholy philosopher who sees the world's cruelty, laments it, but is powerless against it.

And through it all Charlie Brown rages against the dying of childhood innocence. Firm in his belief of the great pumpkin in the face of disappointment, he represents the desire to hold on to the magic and innocence of childhood as long as he can.

Peanuts is the existential crisis as viewed across four panels set in a children's world in written for an America that was still bright-eyed and optimistic enough to deny all of its own horrors. Peanuts gave that America a very gentle reminder of that truth.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:27 AM on March 12, 2009 [65 favorites]


Data point: Linus was the one who believed in the Great Pumpkin.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:33 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]



Data point: Linus was the one who believed in the Great Pumpkin.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:33 AM on March 12

Oh, right. Poor Linus.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:41 AM on March 12, 2009


Schulz and Peanuts is definitely worth a read if you're ever feeling like life's a little too awesome; it'll knock you right back down into pessimism and despair. What a miserable man.

I haven't read the book, but I'm pretty sure that Schulz's family thinks Michaelis got a whole lot of stuff wrong.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:43 AM on March 12, 2009


Pastabagel, the Elvis television appearance you mention is the 1968 comeback special. Not to detract from your other points, but . . . the man was the King, you know? Respeck.
posted by cgc373 at 8:51 AM on March 12, 2009


Peanuts is the existential crisis as viewed across four panels set in a children's world in written for an America that was still bright-eyed and optimistic enough to deny all of its own horrors.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:27 AM


I just wanted to repeat that because part of me wishes I had said it.
posted by marxchivist at 8:53 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was born three decades after Peanuts started its run, and roughly a decade after its decline began (which I peg in the early-to-mid '70s.) I had the incredible good fortune of having an aunt who still had her stack of old Peanuts paperbacks from the late '50s and early '60s. (She showed me the first Calvin and Hobbes collections, too. What a great influence!) I was kind of an introverted kid, and I spent a lot of time with all the comic strips. My hyperactive imagination loved to pull those characters into my world (oh, Calvin, I miss you.) But Peanuts most of all.

I distinctly remember being in grade school and none of my friends understanding what the big deal was with the strip. They mocked it. And they were kinda right. By the 80s, the strip was a pale imitation of what it once was -- odd, meandering storylines with Rerun and Spike and a bunch of other second tier characters. But I didn't much care for those strips (though I still read 'em faithfully every day.)

No, my attention was on the strip in those two decades when Schulz was really on, man. There's been a lot of ink (and pixels) spilled over that era, but wow. It really was a cultural phenomenon -- Apollo landers named for his characters, a hit pop song (Snoopy vs. the Red Baron), some of the first really widespread comics merchandising (the phenomenon that would later drive Watterson, his admirer, up the wall and out of the business.)

But you know what? There really was something in the essence of the strip in those years that gave rise to all that devotion. I fervently believe that. Maybe to some people I'm just another nutter saying nah man you just haven't heard the right Mothers album, Zappa is IT baby. Maybe.

If you've never read the strips from that era, know this: they are cruel. Amazingly cruel. Cruel in a way that kids (and moreso adults) really are, casually, blithely. They're also sweet, without being saccharine (well, most of the time -- "Happiness is a Warm Puppy" was a harbinger.) It was sarcastic, sometimes maybe even insightful. And there was, of course, the sheer silliness, sheer weirdness of it all: a dog, wearing goggles, flying into battle against Baron von Richthofen. It was human. And goddamn, it could be funny.

Illustrated from martinrebas's linked palette of strips -- thank you!

What I cannot illustrate, at least directly, is how much these strips impacted people. When A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in 1963, half the television sets in America tuned in -- to watch a story ostensibly about a holiday play, whining about commercialism, and with a minutelong gospel reading in the middle of primetime. Not a lot of programming gets a 50 Nielsen share these days. When Snoopy left home, the letters poured in -- and then they made a blockbuster feature film. The strip was a behemoth in its heyday, and I suppose that's probably part of its downfall. You can't keep that pace forever, and when you slacken it, the newcomers don't see the sprint, they see the loping gait of what remains and wonder what the big deal is. By the 80s, that was surely true. It's hard for somebody to relay that energy to you when you didn't see it live.

Jonathan Franzen wrote an essay for the New Yorker a few years back, part autobiography, part Peanuts commentary, and I always thought it captured the essence of the strip -- from the oddly deep emotional reactions the strip provoked to the koanlike gems that Schulz from time to time would casually embed in newsprint:
Chapter 1, verses 1-4, of what I knew about disillusionment: Charlie Brown passes the house of the Little Red-Haired Girl, the object of his eternal fruitless longing. He sits down with Snoopy and says, “I wish I had two ponies.” He imagines offering one of the ponies to the Little Red-Haired Girl, riding out into the countryside with her, and sitting down with her beneath a tree. Suddenly, he’s scowling at Snoopy and asking, “Why aren’t you two ponies?” Snoopy, rolling his eyes, thinks, “I knew we’d get around to that.”
And that, right there, is my Peanuts. It's a flawed masterpiece. It's got rich characters, arcing, subtle storylines lived over decades ... and yes, a lousy greeting card line. . It interweaved with my childhood and certainly shaded my real life. But yes, it's imperfect.

Why isn't it two ponies?
posted by theoddball at 8:54 AM on March 12, 2009 [18 favorites]


If you're one of the people who doesn't understand why people like Peanuts, I think it's worth considering (if you're younger than 59 years old) that you've grown up in a world where the tropes and idioms of Peanuts are by now so heavily bitten and riffed on that it's not possible to completely understand what it would be like to encounter that strip for the first time. If it seems stale and humorless, it's because by the time you encountered it the entire world of children's literature, tv, comics, movies and music had already taken the stories, jokes, feelings and settings of Peanuts and used them for other ends. It's like how an anvil dropping on a dude out of nowhere randomly isn't funny any more. It's just "that old anvil joke from the cartoons." And people forget that once upon a time, a couple dudes at Warner Bros. actually came up with the idea to have an anvil, of all things a fucking ANVIL! come out of nowhere for no reason and fall on a dude with no warning, and that when they came up with it it was hysterical. Schulz is like that, except instead of anvils, it's a level of neurosis that predates Woody Allen, but stays subtle enough that kids will think it's funny. He took little kids and used them to comment on modern adult themes almost 40 years before south park. He created one of the most classic Christmas stories of all time, in a completely secular context, to point out that Christmas has become commercial and has lost sight of the Christ-like spirit of humility and charity. He saw a world of selfishness, crushed dreams and perpetual disappointment and made it palatable for every single person who is reading this thread, even if only indirectly. That he made Charlie Brown's most quoted phrase be "Good Grief!" is no coincidence. He showed us how to find the value in our grief, how to love our lives despite all the many ways it will daily torment us. Maybe it was because he found it so difficult to deal with the manifold disappointments of his own life that he was so singularly proficient at showing us how to deal with ours. I don't know. What I do know is that through all the tiny annoyances, the minor griefs and Murphy's Law moments of my life, somewhere - even in the back of my mind, when I forget it's there - there has always been the image of a haggard boy missing a football and ending on his back, or a kite-eating tree, or that bent and sad little tree with one heavy red ball hanging on it that I can identify with and move on.

And I'm not saying this because I'm so much older and I get it when you don't, or anything like that. I'm saying this because I'm 29 going on 10 years old, and for most of my life I've grown up thinking Peanuts was lame, even while I cherish the memory of the tiny ragged Snoopy Blanket I had as a tiny little shmegegge. All I did was give the strip, and its creator, the same consideration I advise people to take at the top of this comment, some time after he died. So I can say with authority that there is something there to love, and to value, if you give it a chance. Its effect on you has been immeasurable, even if you don't realize it. And the strength it has given all of us is something truly unique, even if only because it created this one little boy to be the mascot both of our frustration and the nobility with which we confront it.
posted by shmegegge at 9:21 AM on March 12, 2009 [22 favorites]


Another important first appearance: the zigzag shirt!
posted by hangashore at 9:42 AM on March 12, 2009


'But I still don't get it (and if anyone can explain how Snoopy ends up at the top of the stairs he just walked down in that last strip, I'd appreciate it)'

That's a classic example of overthinking a plate of peanuts, right there.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:51 AM on March 12, 2009


I was another one of those kids who grew up AS Charlie Brown (blame a balding ex-Marine father who forced me to keep my very blonde hair in a crewcut so it was virtually invisible until I was 12), and pastabagel, theoddball and shmegegge said everything I wanted to say about what made Peanuts good. And special. And important.

In the era before LOL, Charles Schulz never tried for LOL (although one strip every couple months in the first 20 years did achieve it). It was wry when that word still had meaning and ironic when that word meant something different than it did today. If you can appreciate Peanuts, then I think you are better able to understand what the @#$% has happened to America and the World since 1950.
posted by wendell at 9:52 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


shmegegge's comment had me lunging for the favorites link halfway through. Thanks!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:53 AM on March 12, 2009


I don't know when this sequence ran, so I can't look it up and post it, but I recommend the sequence where Charlie Brown is at camp and for some reason must put a bag on his head, and for a couple of strips, while his head is covered, he is a hero and does everything right. The ending of this sequence is cool, if memory is correct.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:56 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I know lots of people who enjoyed Peanuts but I don't think I ever found it funny, even as a kid. Maybe its a cultural thing?
posted by modernnomad at 9:59 AM on March 12, 2009


I agree with shmegegge, insight. Also, to me one of the reasons that people may not find Peanuts so funny is that its humor has been so deeply integrated into our society. The bitterness, the surreal non sequiturs, the reversals...modern humor and attitudes owe as much to Peanuts as they do Ernie Kovacs.

It's like looking at a jar of air and saying it's emmpty. We just aren't used to thinking the stuff we breath in and out all the time as being important.

And finally, peanuts can always be used as references to almost anything. For instance, this strip I think, defines internet debates.
posted by happyroach at 10:11 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks much for this post. As someone who was born not long after the strip, I was lucky enough to be reading it in the '50s and '60s, when it was still great. I can understand why some people don't "get it," but I feel kind of sorry for them, as I do for those who don't like jazz or baseball. But not everything is for everyone.
posted by languagehat at 10:35 AM on March 12, 2009


shmegegge's comment had me lunging for the favorites link halfway through. Thanks!

Peanuts is ruining Metafilter?
posted by explosion at 10:47 AM on March 12, 2009


If you've never read the strips from that era, know this: they are cruel.

And they were cruel from the beginning. From the very first strip.
posted by dersins at 11:08 AM on March 12, 2009


wittgenstein, that series is great.

The "Five." "FIVE?!" exchange has turned up twice so far in this thread. I'd forgotten about that one, thanks.

A word of warning to those following theoddball's New Yorker link, there's an untelegraphed tragic moment halfway through. But it's a great article.
posted by JHarris at 11:32 AM on March 12, 2009


Yeah, I know lots of people who enjoyed Peanuts but I don't think I ever found it funny, even as a kid. Maybe its a cultural thing?

It's an expectation thing, maybe. Peanuts was never really funny the way other comic strips were. It wasn't meant to be.
posted by padraigin at 11:40 AM on March 12, 2009


Maybe it's a cultural thing?

The strip has always been a huge part of my life, but I never understood how Peanuts got to be so popular in America. It's so... existential. Also surreal: "So this dog fantasizes that he's the world's greatest supermarket checkout clerk...". Wow.
posted by queensissy at 12:21 PM on March 12, 2009


For as long as I can remember, a particular early strip resonated with me: Charlie Brown opens a box of cereal expecting to find it full of snicker-snacks with a single marble inside as a toy, and instead the box is completely full of marbles and only one snicker-snack. Then, instead of rejoicing his good fortune, he calls to complain.

Growing up with a pessimistic, depressed father, you can see why I'd find that compelling.
posted by davejay at 1:05 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder what a Venn diagram of people who love Peanuts and had a sucky childhood would look like. Maybe that's the problem I have. I just don't look on life with the same despondency I feel creeping into many of the comments above, and never have. I don't ask why "it" isn't two ponies, because what it actually is can be amazing all on its own. Taking pride in wallowing in grief is not something to cherish. Yes, bad/cruel/ironic things happen all the time, and there is a way to present those things in amusing or otherwise satisfying ways. But Peanuts just feels like someone standing there with a scab on their knee, pointing out that they have a scab on their knee, pointing out they *still* have a scab on their knee, and then just looking wistfully at your scab-free knee.

I'm up to the start of 1955 with them, though, and I'll keep plugging through. I have no problem putting other cultural works from bygone days into their proper perspective and appreciating them for how good they would have seemed at the time, but Peanuts escapes me.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:26 PM on March 12, 2009


As a kid, I loved Peanuts and would always make transfers of it using Silly Putty. Then I went through the obligatory teenage scoffing period. One day, when I was almost done with music college, I was singing at a tiny music festival in the middle of Scotland and I found one of the old, tiny Peanuts books in the guest room I was sleeping in. The baseball story made me smile, but as a musician, the ones with Lucy and Schroeder made me laugh like a drain. They're so true.

Thanks to Peanuts, I never forget Beethoven's birthday.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:35 PM on March 12, 2009


How, indeed.
posted by hifiparasol at 11:55 PM on March 11 [2 favorites +] [!]


Of course, it would be an iParasol now.
posted by stargell at 2:43 PM on March 12, 2009


Metafilter: I got a rock.
posted by tzikeh at 3:52 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Taking pride in wallowing in grief is not something to cherish.

It is if that's all you have. If people who have had bad childhoods, or some sort of existential dread in general, find the strip enjoyable, who do you think you are, as someone apparently spared the slings and arrows of childhood, to say that they're wrong? We could get into a whole thing about pessimism as a life philosophy, but seriously, man- backhanded bragging about how you weren't emotionally crippled during childhood is not going to endear you to anyone around HERE.
posted by 235w103 at 4:02 PM on March 12, 2009


After some substantial work, here is the sequence I was talking about above. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to read the strips in order. I give you, ladies and gentleman, the Mr. Sack Saga.

(Skip the Sunday strips. They are out of continuity.)
posted by wittgenstein at 5:59 PM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


For some reason, I remember one Peanuts strip where Linus speculated that James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake began in mid-sentence in order to demonstrate how nothing really begins or ends, but that one event flows from the next continuously. Or something to that effect. I could have imagined it, but I'm pretty sure it happened, and he was talking to either Lucy or Sally about it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:29 PM on March 12, 2009


Nobody escapes the human condition, Ghost. But to fully acknowledge that, and all its implications, can be overwhelming. Better not to think about it, right?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:16 PM on March 12, 2009


Damn, I'm late to this fantastic thread. I love Peanuts, always have. I have a tattoo of Charlie Brown on my left arm (from this strip; C.B. in the second-to-last panel, including the motion lines).

I first encountered Peanuts around the end of the '70s, when I was six or seven. At first I just read the contemporary strips and enjoyed Snoopy and his adventures, but one afternoon I found a box of the old paperbacks in my grandparents' basement with strips from the '50s and '60s, and I was hooked. Right off the bat I liked the art better, but as I got a bit older I really appreciated Schulz's take on childhood, which was a lot more honest than the usual version shoved down your throat as a kid (i.e. it's all sweetness and light, kids are completely innocent creatures made up of sunshine and rainbows, everything turns out okay in the end, etc.). Kids, and life, could be cruel and horrible and depressing...but they could also be kind and fun and full of adventure.

There were strips that made me laugh, strips that made me cry (I'm not exaggerating...there was one where Charlie Brown watches Linus effortlessly fly a kite, goes home, changes into his pajamas, goes to bed in the middle of the afternoon and says "I didn't think it would be right to let a little kid see me cry"...and that shit brought tears to my ten year old eyes), and strips that didn't make any sense at first and had to be thought about and figured out. And I have yet to encounter another comic strip - or book or graphic novel or whatever - that I can say that about. God bless Charles Schulz.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:27 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


> I give you, ladies and gentleman, the Mr. Sack Saga.

Oh my God...I always wondered if I was remembering this strip correctly. And I was. Thanks, wittgenstein.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:32 PM on March 12, 2009


Thanks for posting this, evilcolonel. I'm one of those who was a bit mystified by the love for Peanuts, but I've started reading through them from the beginning and I'm quite enjoying it.

After reading maybe a dozen of them, I thought "oh, Bill Watterson must have *loved* these" - coming back to the thread, I see I was right, they were a big influence.

Peanuts is still not quite my cup of tea. But I feel like I get it now, I see why other people have such a huge affection for them. Plus, Snoopy as a cute puppy is way more fun than the shark-jumper he became later on :)
posted by harriet vane at 1:10 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


People still enjoy Garfield too, 235w103. Who am I to say they're wrong? Truth is, they're not wrong. The "your favourite band sucks" response is idiotic, because honestly, your favourite band is awesome. It truly is, even if it's Milli Vanilli. Because there's something about it (be it a band or a comic strip) that resonates with you, and if I cannot appreciate your favourite band, I see that as my failing, not yours. I want to see what others see in Peanuts, because if I can learn to appreciate that, hell... there's 50 years of content there for me to enjoy. As for trying to endear myself... can you show me exactly when MeFi became a self-help group for the emotionally crippled?

And Crabby Appleton, park it. "Nobody escapes the human condition" indeed. But it is possible to fully acknowledge that and still have a positive outlook. There's absolutely no reason why we have to be so self absorbed in the suffering that is inevitable in life that we exclude the inevitable joy as well. Peanuts is the aunt who rotates between the five major complaints of her life without ever stopping to put that aside and say, not today. Today I laugh in spite of it all. I've seen more joy in the oncology ward of my local children's hospital than I ever got from Peanuts.

But I must admit, I prefer his art style from the 50s far more than the later stuff.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:32 AM on March 13, 2009


...I also directed the musical version in college...
posted by anastasiav at 5:38 AM on March 12 [+] [!]



I just remembered a story my mother and her best friend from school have told me numerous times. It's been a long time since I've heard the story proper, but here goes.

Mom and her friend were, and still are, theater nerds, so they hung out with theater nerds. One of their friends had landed himself the lead in a production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Near the beginning of Act 1, Charlie Brown has a somewhat lengthy monologue wherein he laments his inability to speak to The Little Red Haired Girl and ultimately hides his head in his lunch bag to escape possible humiliation. Since he had a difficult time remembering the whole thing, he wrote his lines on the inside of the paper lunch sack.

Early in the production, the troupe were performing for a large group of young elementary school children. Our man Charlie Brown took his place onstage, unsure of his lines but confident his little trick would pull him through. Unfortunately, his original lunch sack had been replaced with a clean, monologue-free version.

Upon discovering that his bag contained no lines, he exclaimed "SHIT!"

He did not have his lines, had sworn loudly in front of an auditorium full of little kids and there was just no saving it.

He put the bag over his head.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:28 AM on March 13, 2009 [7 favorites]


Peanuts is the aunt who rotates between the five major complaints of her life without ever stopping to put that aside and say, not today. Today I laugh in spite of it all. I've seen more joy in the oncology ward of my local children's hospital than I ever got from Peanuts.

That's probably the weirdest response to Peanuts I've ever seen. I don't know what it is about it that sends you in that direction, but I'm pretty sure it's in you, not the strip. Not that there's any reason you should like it, but oncology ward? Wow.
posted by languagehat at 7:33 AM on March 13, 2009


I wonder what a Venn diagram of people who love Peanuts and had a sucky childhood would look like. Maybe that's the problem I have. I just don't look on life with the same despondency I feel creeping into many of the comments above, and never have.

I don't think you have to have a crappy childhood to love Peanuts. My childhood wasn't totally crappy, although I was the unpopular nerdy guy in school. Really, I think Peanuts just works for people who have known disappointment at any age. It's not so much about being miserable all the time. It's more about finding some semi-sweet, melancholy joy in life having its disappointments. If you've ever been disappointed and smiled a little bit to yourself and thought "well, fuck it," then that's the side of things Peanuts might apply to. at any age.
posted by shmegegge at 7:52 AM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


wow, that Mr. Sack series is a gold mine.

for reasons I don't totally understand, I absolutely adore this strip.
posted by shmegegge at 7:58 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Ghost, that interpretation of Peanuts seems a little... limited? I mean, I also had a pretty happy childhood, and love Peanuts more than just about any other comic-strip out there.

But it is possible to fully acknowledge that and still have a positive outlook. There's absolutely no reason why we have to be so self absorbed in the suffering that is inevitable in life that we exclude the inevitable joy as well.

Dude, you just defined exactly what it is that I love about the strip. It's not in any way nihilistic; it's full of hope, full of the urge to make the world better, full of kindness. This strip, for example, is one of a little series in which Charlie Brown states his basic philosophical outlook: to make other people happy. And here, that outlook's played for laughs using the often-vicious Lucy, since it sounds like a hopelessly optimistic approach to the world.

But for as much suffering and ridicule as Schulz consigns Charlie Brown to, we're never led to believe that Charlie Brown is anything but the just moral center of the Peanuts universe. He's a Good Man, that Charlie Brown is. How anyone can read Peanuts and think that it involves self-absorption or the exclusion of joy is completely beyond me. The whole point of the strip, to me, is that while the world may be a filthy place to live in, it's the kindness within us that's worth reaching for.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:29 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's not in any way nihilistic; it's full of hope, full of the urge to make the world better, full of kindness.

Really? This is full of hope? Patty and Violet have just affirmed the inherent, wonderful goodness of Charlie Brown, and that makes him feel worse. It's as if the whole town showed up to shower George Bailey with money, and he still wants to slug the teacher who sent Zuzu out with her coat unbuttoned.

There is no melancholy joy here, just melancholy. The more of these I read, the more depressed I get. It's a constant stream of life sucks, life still sucks, oh and look! life sucks. Obviously there are those who find some sort of perverse enjoyment out of that. Blues music trades in that emotion, but even there the spirit is about being down so low there's nowhere to go but up. Peanuts revels in just staying down.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:14 AM on March 13, 2009


And what's up with Hi and Lois? Seriously, we get it already - sometimes spouses misunderstand each other, and kids can be a trial. Why do they have to keep harping on it? I keep expecting the dad to come home drunk on bourbon and trash the place before falling into a sobbing fit. What a joyless funerary march of pain and despair that comic strip is.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:44 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dunno what to say, Ghost; I think you're missing the point in a way that's sort of stunning, but to each their own, I guess.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:00 AM on March 13, 2009


What a joyless funerary march of pain and despair that comic strip is.

Funky Winkerbean?
posted by brundlefly at 11:03 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love lovingly crafted posts like this, and when people crawl out of the woodwork to share their obsessions.

Despite not growing up in America, I too grew up with Charlie Brown. When my dad came back from a 2-year scholarship in the US in the 80s, he brought me back a gigantic green Peanuts puzzle book, and when I showed him a particularly difficult puzzle I had just completed (I must've been 6 or 7 at the time) and was simultaneously proud and SO offended when he thought I must've looked at the answers at the back of the book. Hmph! But he did also bring back Betamax tapes of Charlie Brown specials that he'd recorded off the TV during his stay - Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Snoopy Come Home (I cried so hard when Snoopy said goodbye to all his friends!). My dad also got a Snoopy game for the Commodore 64, where you had to help Snoopy navigate through various obstacles, with The Entertainer as background music. Good times.

My first real encounter of the actual comic strip was not in the newspaper but through unearthing several of my parents' and my aunt's paperback collections unexpectedly. The characters looked very different from what I was used to: Snoopy's ears were more scraggly, the kids' heads were less perfectly round. Because the animated specials weren't ha-ha funny, I didn't expect the strips to be. I liked Peanuts as a whole on a superficial level: I found the drawings cute, and it was about kids like me. Sometimes it was funny, and sometimes it was insightful. I learned a lot from it, as in I had to ask around what a "psychiatrist" was, and what was that funny shaped object that Charlie Brown wanted to kick? I liked it a lot better than the comics I did see in the newspaper (Blondie, Dennis the Menace, Beetle Bailey, Family Circus, and local ones like Baltic & Co, Cesar Asar).

But the real draw for me was that it (truthfully, I thought) portrayed how life as a kid wasn't always fun, because grownups didn't always understand, your dog doesn't always follow you, and kids can be cruel. I didn't read any overt "life sucks" into it, although I did wish that the other characters would stop being mean to Charlie Brown, who I felt was the good guy, the hero, the moral compass who we should try to be like, not the other clearly flawed kids. Lucy was mean, Peppermint Patty was insufferable, Linus had a bad thumb-sucking, blanket-dependent habit, Sally was insignificant, Pig Pen was dirty, and the others were sometimes quite shallow and just went along. (Except Schroeder, my favorite, who never swayed from his singular obsession and often rebuffed Lucy, rightly so!) Charlie Brown was everykid, puzzled with the world, asking all sorts of questions, frustrated with his dog, the grownups, the other kids, and sometimes himself. Charlie Brown always tried his best, even if he repeatedly couldn't kick that football, even if he always lost the baseball games. Good ol' Charlie Brown.

Now that I'm much older, I appreciate that the Peanuts strips were philosophical, nihilistic, and painted adult issues into a children's world. The beauty of this strip, as Bill Watterson acknowledges, is that it can be appreciated on different levels. It's not just nostalgia, and I didn't have to know about the history and evolution of comic strips or Charles Schultz's life to see that Peanuts wasn't meant to be ha-ha funny, but true-funny, and at times sad-funny. It could be about children, it could be about adults, it could be specifically about Schulz's life, it could be a pointed commentary about society. Is Snoopy a real dog, or anthromorphised in the characters' imagination? Will Charlie Brown ever get his way?

Is Hobbes a toy or all in Calvin's head? Did the sheep eat the flower?

So many levels.
posted by Lush at 11:34 AM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


One hundred comments in and no one's used the word "zamboni"?
posted by kimota at 9:54 AM on March 14, 2009


Zamboni zamboni zamboni!
posted by JHarris at 9:48 PM on March 16, 2009


zamboni
posted by brundlefly at 11:24 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is that strip really Violet's last? NOPE!

(Found that one in my copy of Peanuts: A Golden Celebration.)
posted by JHarris at 3:05 PM on March 21, 2009


Found another later Violet strip, too.

Interesting thing about that book I mentioned, it presents Charles Schulz as alive and drawing, and has many comments from him, but the last strip in the book is dated 8/1/1999. Schulz died just over six months after that. Given publishing lead times, his newspaper strip lead time, how he stopped the strip due to health problems, and fact that his last strip appeared in papers the day after he died, he must have written those comments extremely close to the time he had to give up the strip.
posted by JHarris at 3:44 PM on March 21, 2009


I have been a fan of PEANUTS since the age of two. No, seriously, two. (I got a big stuffed Snoopy doll for my 2nd birthday and used to carry it around by the black pompom nose until it fell off; my parents have all these pictures of me with a noseless Snoopy. I later found the pompom stuffed into my mother's sewing kit when I was twelve and repaired Snoopy myself; I am 39, and I still have that Snoopy doll.)

I think that the kind of humor PEANUTS had was that kind of humor that's just a little bit....off. It's more David Letterman than Jay Leno. More LITTLE BRITAIN than MONTY PYTHON. A little subtle, a little surreal, and...doesn't appeal to everyone. But it isn't trying to appeal to everyone. Schulz just said what he said and trusted that other people out there would get it, that there was an audience out there, and we were. We marched to our own weird little drummer, most of the time feeling like people didn't quite get us, but...Charlie Brown did. It dropped references which lots of times you were one of the few people who got, or sometimes you didn't get, but...it wasn't trying to be clever, that was just the world in which the strip worked, and you were there too, this kind of oddball niche place that you sort of secretly felt like a freak for belonging to. But here was something that lived there too and was funny to boot.

My favorite strip of all time (which I tried to link to, but the site isn't working for me) references The Second Coming for no reason whatsoever other than it just sounds weird. It wasn't trying to be smart or make a point in that; Schroeder just walks out to the pitcher's mound during a game and says to Charlie Brown, "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold." And then he turns around and walks away, leaving Charlie Brown to observe that catchers get a little weird after they've been hit with too many fly balls. The strip isn't quoting Yeats to be smart or witty, it just...is. And I dug that.

I also should admit that I have not missed a single televised broadcast of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" since 1973, so I am probably a "geeked out fangirl" and what I say should therefore be taken with a few grains of salt.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:22 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


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