Good grief, we’re killing ‘Peanuts’
Not long ago in the funny pages of the Post Independent, Snoopy set off for Grenoble, France.
For the Winter Olympics.
To summarize the story line: Cartoon beagle with rich fantasy life (he’s also a World War I flying ace and overall charmer) decides he’s a figure skater and sets off walking to France, leaving the “round-headed kid” behind to worry. Then good old Snoopy finds out that an ocean is in his way, so he returns home, where Charlie Brown discovers him sleeping atop his doghouse.
Ah, the knee-slapping good times of my childhood.
Those times were so good that in the intervening 47 years, regular comics readers have gotten to relive Snoopy’s abortive trip over and over and over and over — just like most of the rest of the “Peanuts” strips.
As of today, that run ends in the Post Independent. “Peanuts” will be replaced in the daily paper by “Baby Blues,” which we already run on Sunday and is one of the nation’s most popular modern cartoon strips. (“Modern” being a key word there.)
In “Baby Blues,” Darrell and Wanda MacPherson navigate middle-class parenting of three kids, Zoe, Hammie and baby Wren. Hilarity ensues.
The strip has been running since 1995, and likely owes a measure of its success to “Peanuts,” just as many rock bands today wouldn’t be what they are had the Beatles not been what they were.
“Peanuts” changed cartoon strips in America and was at the core of a multibillion-dollar franchise that spawned a movie released just last month. It’s been in reprints for 16 years, nearly as long as “Baby Blues” has been running.
Charles Schultz, the cartoonist who created the Peanuts gang, died Feb. 12, 2000, of colon cancer. The last original “Peanuts” strip ran the next day, a Sunday.
Schulz drew “Peanuts” for 50 years, making Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and other characters cultural icons.
It’s hard not to have loved something about “Peanuts” at some point in our lives, whether it was Snoopy’s free spirit and confidence or Charlie Brown’s everyman struggles — his overall ineptitude as a baseball player, his crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl, his repeated humiliation when Lucy pulled away the football as he was about to kick it.
Schulz’s characters were based on people he met — Charlie Brown was a classmate; the Little Red-Haired Girl grew from Donna Johnson, a woman Schulz met while teaching art after World War II, according to his New York Times obituary. He proposed to Johnson, but she turned him down and married a fireman instead.
Charlie Brown never worked up the nerve to talk to his redhead, but after years of being undressed by line drives off the bats of opposing hitters, he did hit two game-winning home runs in 1993. Those were tainted a bit — the opposing pitcher Royanne Hobbs, who claimed to be the great-granddaughter of Roy Hobbs of “The Natural,” admitted that she let Charlie hit the homers. And, let’s face it, this was in the steroid era.
“Peanuts” had great cartoon story lines, very relatable.
And, alas, very old. A whole lot of cool and memorable things happened between 1950 and 2000, but we don’t put stories in the paper every day now on, say, the Apollo 11 moon landing, dispatches from Khe Sanh or the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ five national championships in football.
This is a newspaper, not an oldspaper, and I’m applying that simple standard even to the comics.
Last year, when “Doonesbury,” the first comic strip to win a Pulitzer Prize, went into repeats while creator Garry Trudeau worked on another project, the Post Independent stopped running the strip.
At the time, I wrote about an informal survey we conducted on our comics:
“As an editor and reader (yes, I still read the comics), I strongly dislike rerunning comics by dead or retired cartoonists. We all know that Charlie Brown is a lousy pitcher and Lucy is not nice. Forty-three readers wanted to vote ‘Peanuts’ off the page, which also would have been my choice. Unfortunately, the PI shares that comics page with our sister paper in Aspen, so cutting ‘Peanuts’ would have created extra production work.”
After nearly a year and a half, I have worn down our friends in Aspen, who more or less finally threw up their hands and let me kill Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang.
I told Aspen Times General Manager Samantha Johnston that I would use a word she coined on an unrelated topic, “cantankerism,” to describe myself in this column. I’ll wear that label proudly when it comes to the idea of filling the paper with old material.
If you are disappointed by this decision, consider that Schulz once characterized “Peanuts” as a study in disappointment. “All the loves in the strip are unrequited; all the baseball games are lost; all the test scores are D-minuses; the Great Pumpkin never comes; and the football is always pulled away,” he said.
Not to spoil anything for you, but the Great Pumpkin isn’t real. And that’s not going to change, no matter how many times those strips appear.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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