Fantagraphics Books rolls on with their hardcover library collection The Complete Peanuts, with the latest installment spotlighting 1979 and 1980. Charlie Brown and I go way back, and the longer I live, the more I realize Charlie Brown was not a put-upon child, but a middle-aged man. Furthermore, Charlie Brown is me.
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The evidence: bald? Yes, we have no follicles. How about an irrational attraction to redheads? Check. Do I talk to dogs, and do they talk back to me? Yes and no; dogs do not talk, you silly person.
More than anything, my self-esteem could be characterized as shockingly poor, which is surely the epidemic of modern life. Even those of us who are doing well feel completely inadequate, and if we don’t, we’re frighteningly stupid and ought to feel inadequate.
Somehow Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz knew this, and even toward the end of his time with the strip and with us on this planet—though he had achieved fame and fortune, the respect of his peers and worldwide adoration—he knew insecurity. Schulz knew what it was to not be the star, to not be the chosen one, the foot that never quite connected with the ball. Where most of us found a way to bluff and bluster our way through the discomfort, he put it right there on the daily page.
We laughed. Perhaps more significantly, we thought about it later after we laughed. I’ve always admired those who drove me to the destination with one approach and got me to stay with a completely different one. Had Schulz’s comic strip been about adults with neuroses, fears, paranoia and a creeping hopelessness, it would have been far too depressing. In Charlie Brown, one sees a character with life still left ahead of him, so the myriad indignities he suffers are tempered by the thought that things could only get better. Had it been an adult character, the question would have been, “Why hasn’t this guy drank himself to death by now?”
Some say the unseen character of the comic strip was death and mortality, but that’s going too far. The thing really was about life, not the sugar-dipped, whipped-cream laden, day-glo life we believe to be the ideal, but the real thing where Murphy’s Law, not the Reaper, rides shotgun. Peanuts wasn’t usually about happy endings—have you experienced an endless stream of happy endings in your lifetime? Of course not. But endings come as they must.
The comic strip, that singular art form that mixes text and graphics, boiling down a big idea into three or four panels, serializes the trials and travails of a cast of characters, is a much different beast now. It has to be. Its longtime home, the newspaper, is quickly becoming extinct, like a four-fingered dinosaur crushed under the weight of an oppressive thought balloon. The news is as of late the property of the Internet, which is, coincidentally, where you’re reading this now. For those left not grabbing their current events via broadband, cable TV offers reportage in all shapes, sizes, beliefs and biases.
I wonder if Peanuts would have survived as an Internet comic strip. I have my doubts. When was the last time a comic character jumped out from the “strip” format to rise to pop culture prominence? Was it Berke Breathed’s Opus and Bill from Bloom County, or Gary Larson’s bent wit on The Far Side, or even Bill Watterson’s flights of fancy with Calvin and Hobbes? All three of those strips are gone and have been for some time, and of time, where has it all gone? Strips are still out there, but if nothing is immediately jumping to your mind when I pose the question, you know precisely what I’m saying.
I do miss the continuing adventures of the Peanuts gang, but I’m grateful Schulz never drafted a successor to continue after him. How sad that would have been and how inadequate. I am disappointed that the desire to follow in Schulz’s footsteps with an altogether different character and series hasn’t gripped a young artist out there, but that’s probably more the wishful desires of a middle-aged man with fistful of nostalgia. They know that, for the daily comic strip, the game’s probably up. The new model is the digital graphic novel, don’tcha know.
Even so, the Complete Peanuts collection is highly recommended to anyone who is in love with not just this format, but to anyone who can appreciate the highest level of achievement. And if you happen to be a redheaded woman with a thing for bald guys with “baggage,” drop me a line sometime.
Dw. Dunphy is a writer/musician/artist hailing from Red Bank, N.J. He is an editor for the pop culture website Popdose as well as regular contributor. As contributor, he has shepherded such site mini-series as 50Prog50 and 50CCM50. He has recorded several albums including Enigmatic, Modernism and the recent instrumental album People Wearing Masks.