Good grief. It’s been two thirds of a century since Peanuts first appeared in daily papers on Oct. 6 1950. And while a great deal has happened since to grab headlines, I suspect that once again culture has had more influence on the course of human events than politics while getting less ink.
Charles Shultz’s ironic, sometimes depressing but usually determinedly upbeat vision shaped people’s sense of the world and of themselves in ways that windy stump speeches about our values did not. We saw more of ourselves in his everyman Charlie Brown, philosopher Linus or endlessly imaginative Snoopy than we did with Joe Politician.
Curiously Shultz himself seems to have felt a lot like Charlie Brown. He suffered from depression and was apparently surprised to hear that his work was popular. Which is a bit weird when you’re syndicated in 2500 papers worldwide. And I do wish he could have given Charlie Brown a few more triumphs over the years. But Charlie Brown never does quit.
Its odd to think that Peanuts bridged the gap between strips with very long story lines like Terry and the Pirates or (no one knows why) Prince Valiant to today’s almost invariant single-day stand-alone format. And it’s also strange to dig out very early Peanuts strips and see how the characters began and fairly quickly evolved into the familiar versions that greeted us for decades. Certainly any aspiring cartoonist should study how Snoopy changed (and Pogo, Opus and others) to save themselves a lot of time and heartache in their own artistic development.
Charlie Brown didn’t even have a stripe on his shirt at the very beginning. And Peanuts did change a bit with the times. But through it all there was a comforting, if sometimes slightly gloomy, sense that decency must persevere and would somehow come out all right.
Again, such things were not often found in the headlines.