End of Summer
 
THOUGHTS AT THREE A.M.
by editor I forgot my name

Charles Schulz is retiring from "Peanuts" due to ill health. I wish him the best and hope he sticks around for years and years. But as to the ending of the Peanuts strip…it's been long overdue. I say that not as a snobby critic or a hater of Charlie Brown, but as a longtime fan who's seen this strip go from being a truly funny, subversive comic to a boring, unfunny waste of newspaper space that's been going through the motions with nothing new to say for the last decade.

I've read the old Peanuts paperbacks (there used to be dozens of them, and I checked them ALL out of the library at one time or another) and the current Peanuts comics couldn't hold a candle to them. For the 1990s, Peanuts' only reason for existence has been that the characters are established and fondly remembered. And I guess it's still a little more funny than watching Dolly call spaghetti "pasketti" as a punchline or watching Billy walk a dotted line around his house for the millionth time in "Family Circus". But I'm sure it's fears of ending up as unfunny as "Peanuts" and "Family Circus" that have caused Bill Watterson, Berkely Breathed and Gary Larson to retire from comics once they felt they'd done all their best stuff.

None of this is meant as a slam of Charles Schulz, because (unlike "Family Circus") "Peanuts" WAS fantastic at one time. Those comics would be filled with pathos and irony, yet little kids still thought they were funny. Peanuts, as it is today, has forgotten that it was once a commentary on being a kid and growing up and having a dog who seemed to get more out of life than you did…and instead has merely shown some established characters cracking lame jokes in the third panel.

Before Calvin and Hobbes (so kid-centric that the parents don't have names), before South Park (the crude show which is an exaggerated commentary on how corrupted and worldly today's children are), there was Peanuts. And it's now hailed as being so wholesome that people have forgotten how original and subversive it used to be!

Charlie Brown's life was so lonesome and sad and bleak that we could all empathize with him at times. Whether he was being exploited and lied to by Lucy, or saw his dreams of being a great baseball manager crushed every day in every way, or was less masculine than Peppermint Patty (the tomboy so macho that her friend called her "sir"), or feared that his dog would be killed by a giant icicle over the doghouse, or saw his pitcher's mound float away in a rainstorm, or ended up sitting outside the principal's office…or just worked himself into a fit about the red-headed girl that he liked but could never bring himself to talk to…"Peanuts" was so true-to-life and yet unlike anything else on the comics page.

I think the reason the Charlie Brown animated cartoons aren't on TV today like they were constantly in the 1980s is that the 1990s Peanuts doesn't resemble the cartoons in any way! You never see kids berating Charlie Brown for screwing up and ruining things for everybody. You never see Schroeder trying to ignore Lucy. You never see Linus going through security blanket withdrawal. What you DO get in the current "Peanuts" strip is 19 weeks of Snoopy leading Woodstock and the other birds on camping trips, with the punchline every day revolving around cookies…followed by Snoopy's cousin in the desert reading letters for five weeks straight.

Here's hoping that the farewell to Charles Schulz as he retires will begin a Peanuts Renaissance. Maybe people will seek out "Peanuts" books and discover how good the strip used to be.

One final thing: my grandparents have a hardcover Peanuts treasury, and on the cover is a classic cartoon in which a simple question from baseball manager Charlie Brown sparks a theological debate amongst the players. Linus and the others all come in from the outfield and begin quoting scriptures by verse and discussing philosophy. In the end, Charlie Brown grumbles that he "asks for a baseball team and gets a theological seminary."

Can you see a strip like that EVER running in Peanuts today?

Last month's quizlet:

Quizlet


Q: Who would be the toughest opponent for Batman? (See Feature #2)
(of 261 respondents)
13%   Black Canary
3%   Mercury of the Metal Men
36%   Swamp Thing
23%   Metamorpho
6%   Elongated Man
19%   Green Arrow (Connor or Ollie)
 
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This column is © 1999 Michael Hutchison.
 
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