Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How Snoopy Killed Peanuts by Kevin Wong


(Charles Schulz in 1966.)


Umm ... no.

Kevin Wong's "How Snoopy Killed Peanuts" is hard to swallow, and it's an over-simplification. He posits that the strip began its downfall when Snoopy became the strip's most popular character. Go and read it. Here's my take:

I mean, there's a big difference in Charles Schulz of 1950 and Charles Schulz of the 1990s. He's going to write differently, of course, as the years go by. I'm not sure that Mr. Wong understands that the strip was the creation of one guy in front of a drawing board for about a half a century. 


(Snoopy and Woodstock in a preview poster for the new Peanuts Movie opening in theaters this November.)


By the way, Mort Walker is on the record for thinking Schulz crazy for making Snoopy the World War One Flying Ace. That's OK, that's his opinion. 

But Mr. Wong's idea that the strip was an unsparing look at the cruelties of childhood, and that that was the BEST thing about it -- and that Snoopy diluted that and diminished the strip -- is baloney. 

Snoopy, for most people, MADE the strip. He was the id of the feature and its breakout character. And the strips were more nuanced, with more going on than "brutalizing Charlie Brown." Anyone who has read the strip (and I think that's pretty much ALL of us) knows this. Kevin Wong is cherry-picking what made the strip great. That's his opinion, of course, and he's wrong.

2 comments:

jamie said...

Bravo Mike: you put into words exactly what I was feeling, what with the proliferation of reposts of that particular article. The sheer logistical challenge alone of maintaining such a long feature with a set cast of characters in conjunction with the personal evolution/maturation of the creator (nobody can write or draw the exact same story in the exact same way for fifty years) was one of the enjoyable meta-aesthetics - ie your noted "more nuanced" - behind Peanuts that made it a benchmark achievement in the history of cartooning. That, and you don't kick the dog.

Donald Benson said...

I concur. Unlike many longrunning strips, Schulz allowed his characters to evolve (as opposed to grow up) and indulged a growing taste for eccentric humor (increasingly improbable variations on Peppermint Patty's classroom failures) and sight gags (tiny Zambonis on frozen birdbaths; Snoopy interacting with musical notes).

A couple of notes:
-- It took me a long time to warm to Snoopy's cousin Spike. Now he's a favorite. It's no small trick to be comic and tragic in the same breath, as when Spike makes party plans with cacti.

-- I barely connect the theme parks and merchandising with the strip. It's like an alternate universe where nobody has ever seen Schulz's work. Even the TV specials and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," for all their charm, have a vibe that's different than the strip.

-- Schulz created a world with its own reality, and things that happened were consistent with that reality. Funny for Mort Walker to question the flying ace, when "Beetle Bailey" includes a dog who wears a full uniform and walks on two legs. Peppermint Patty chartering Snoopy's hypothetical airplane for the Powderpuff Derby was pushing it, but even that left the Peanuts world intact.

-- Working through the Complete volumes, one of the most interesting evolutions is Peppermint Patty. We began to see her bravado was empty away from sports; her fixation on Charlie Brown certainly places her as an even bigger romantic loser (and placed Charlie Brown in the weird position of coping with unwanted attentions from a girl. He was no better at unrequiting than at being unrequited). When not explicitly toying with the romance angle, Schulz had her just hanging out with Charlie Brown, usually sitting beneath the same sapling (and significantly staring in the opposite direction he was). She'd pose personally important questions; his attempts at wisdom never worked out. Perhaps the most poignant little storyline was PP as a self-invited houseguest. She had this idealized vision of a night in a real, complete family; home cooking and board games. What she got was TV dinners and television.

-- Also intriguing: How The Great Pumpkin morphed from Linus's eccentric alternative Santa Claus to a riff on organized religion, with Linus knocking on doors to distribute literature. And Linus being both put off and intrigued by the slightly mercenary Tapioca Pudding, whose father intended her to be a licensing bonanza. And the declining career arc of Charlie Brown's idol, Joe Schlabotnik (sp?) ...

Sorry. If there's a chance to write about these things, I just run with it.