Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Good Grief! Charles M. Schulz and the Philosophy of Peanuts

Above photos, from top:

This is an example of how Peanuts dealt with issues such as the quest for happiness.

The first Peanuts strip from 1950. Notice the absence of Charlie Brown's stripe on his shirt.

Peanuts kids dancing in the TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, music by Vince Guaraldi. The boy in the orange shirt is a minor character named 5. The twin girls on either side of him are his sisters, 3 and 4.

The Peanuts gang, main characters.

Cartoonist Charles M. "Sparky" Schulz.

I recently listened to a book on CD called "Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography". It was a highly detailed account of the life of Charles M. Schulz. It is amazing to see the similarities between Schulz and the star of his comic strip, Charlie Brown. Schulz was a private, humble man from Minnesota who struggled with issues of insecurity just like Charlie Brown. He drew every strip himself, with no assistants, for half a century, from 1950 to 2000. Many cartoonists have assistance meeting their deadlines but Schulz insisted on doing it all himself. Once he was asked why he did not helpers, and he said, would Arnold Palmer have someone else hit the ball for him?

As a kid I had many Peanuts books and always enjoyed the strip. I think that it has remained popular, even for many years after the death of its creator in 2000, for many reasons. I see Peanuts as a cerebral strip, a thinking person's comic. It deals with issues that other comics do not, such as theology, philosophy, art and music appreciation, and psychology. Schulz realized that kids are much smarter than people think. Charlie Brown dealt with feelings of isolation, depression, insecurity, wanting to be liked. The comic is funny, but it also makes us think too. The characters enjoy being kids, but they also wonder about the meaning of life and the quest for happiness.

The characters were complex. Linus was the intellectual philosopher, who often would quote Bible verses, with his security blanket and his yearning to meet The Great Pumpkin. Schroeder idolized Beethoven and was oblivious to Lucy's admiration of him. Charlie Brown battled feelings of insecurity and tried to find joy in baseball and sought out advice from Lucy's psychiatry booth. Snoopy pretended he was a World War I flying ace. Schulz said this about Snoopy:

"Snoopy’s whole personality is a little bittersweet. But he’s a very strong character. He can win or lose, be a disaster, a hero, or anything, and yet it all works out. I like the fact that when he’s in real trouble, he can retreat into a fantasy and thereby escape."

Charles Schulz ("Sparky" to his friends and family), had regrets about not being there for his kids. His characters from the strip were more like his kids than his real life family. I admire anyone who is able to do the same job for a long period of time. The thing that is ironic is that Schulz had stopped drawing the strip due to battling cancer, and he died the day that the last strip was published in newspapers.

Here are some Peanuts trivia facts:

There was a character named 5. His full name was 555 95472. He has twin sisters named 3 and 4. I recall a Seinfeld episode where George said that 7 would be a good name. Maybe this was an homage to the Peanuts strip?

Some of the other minor characters included; Molly Volley, Tapioca Pudding, Truffles, Thibault, Lila, Eudora, and Peggy Jean.

Snoopy has seven siblings, from his early days at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm. Their names are Spike, Olaf, Molly, Rover, Belle, Marbles, Andy. They were all featured in the Peanuts TV special, Snoopy's Reunion.

From 1950-1957, Snoopy walked like a regular dog, on all 4 legs.

Linus and Lucy are brother and sister. They have a little brother named Rerun. Charlie Brown and Sally are brother and sister.

Charlie Brown's dad is a barber, same as Charles Schulz's dad.

Schulz had his own ice arena, near his California home.

Charlotte Braun was a short-lived character, appearing in the strip from 1954-1955. She was bossy and loud, like Lucy.

Both Peppermint Patty and Marcie have a crush on Charlie Brown. He seems oblivious.

* Some information from Schulz and Peanuts, A Biography, by David Michaelis, and peanuts.wikia.com.

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