You’re a good man, Charlie Brown by
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(43 Stories)

Prompted By Comedy

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As he surveys Snoopy’s decorations, you can almost hear Charlie Brown utter his classic, “Good Grief!” (Image by Michelle Raponi)

My introduction to comedy came through what we called the “funny pages” of the morning or evening newspaper.

Peanuts came in two varieties as a kid: one to munch on at the circus, and the other to devour in the comic strip by Charles Schulz. I liked the latter better.

The best day of the week for those was, of course, Sundays. That’s when a whole color comic section was added to that bulky weekly paper that took a muscular paperboy/girl to deliver by hand to the doorstep. Throwing it was akin to slinging a 15-pound bag of dog food across the yard.

By noontime, after church, pages of that brightly colored Sunday section would be all over the living room as we took turns sharing different strips in the family.

The 1950s Comics

My earliest memories were of cartoons like Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Archie, Nancy, Mutt and Jeff, and the one that outlived most of them, Peanuts, which lasted until the turn of the millennium, the year 2000.

Most people don’t know that Charles Schulz had been writing that comic strip since 1947, although it appeared under the name of “Li’l Folks” until 1950. Those four original characters were Charlie Brown, Patty, Shermy, and Snoopy, who was silent (no thought balloons) until 1952 and who didn’t walk upright until 1956. Lucy, who was the older sister of Linus and Rerun, first appeared in 1952.

C.B.: The reluctant star

Creator Schulz had a lot to say about the Peanuts characters over the years, including this about Charlie Brown: “He’s a caricature. We all know what it’s like to lose, but Charlie Brown keeps losing outrageously. it’s not that he’s a loser; he’s really a decent little sort.”

The thing I always noticed about that, though, is that C.B.’s friends never deserted him and always seemed to see him as a leader, reluctant though he was and ill-fated though his plans often were.

They liked him for who he was as a guy; not for what he did. And besides, who else would Lucy torment by pulling the football away at the last possible second before his kick?

Snoopy

About Snoopy, Schulz said, “Snoopy was the slowest to develop, and it was his walking around on two feet that eventually turned him into a lead character.” Schulz even created a parallel universe in which Snoopy could operate. That setting was World War I, where the hound was an ace Air Corps pilot astride his doghouse taking off to face the enemy.Β  He was usually either shooting it out with the cursed Red Baron, or scuttling across the ground on his belly, trying to escape the enemy after being shot down over France.

Often he was drowning his sorrows in Root Beer in a Paris cafe before taking his doghouse to the night sky once again. His doghouse never ran out of gas.

Linus, Lucy, and Sally

The character of Linus, who was Lucy’s brother, was a close confidant and friend to Charlie Brown. His blanket became his trademark, an element Schulz said came from his own blanket-toting children. The innocence of Linus and his great heart helped make his belief in the Great Pumpkin believable to readers.

About Lucy, he said, “Lucy is the part of me who is capable of saying mean, sarcastic things. It’s nice to have someone who can do that. Yet Lucy also has her softer, vulnerable side.” She gets to rag on her friends — most notably Charlie Brown — through her guise as a sidewalk psychiatrist operating out of a booth that looks a lot like a neighborhood lemonade stand. That was, by the way, a setting we kids were intimately familiar with in the 1950s.

The character of Sally (C.B.’s brother) didn’t appear until 1959. Schulz found she resonated a lot with girl readers. “Sally stands for all the frustration and confusion that little kids experience at school,” he wrote. “She is a favorite of so many people because she is so uninhibited.”

Like so many of my generation who grew up with this cast of characters, which just kept growing to include even a tiny bird named Woodstock, I found reading Peanuts to be a must start to my daily routine.

Witty and wise

And, like many other adults, I’ve discovered the wisdom found in the strip — what Schulz called “The Gospel According to Peanuts” — to be a useful guide to living life. That didn’t mean things would always work out right but, hey, you still have your dog, right?

And besides, as one of the wittiest lines from the Peanuts strip says, in detracting us from gloom, “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today, Charlie Brown. “It’s already tomorrow in Australia.”

Profile photo of Jim Willis Jim Willis
I am a writer, college professor, and author of several nonfiction books, including three on the decade of the 1960s. Several wonderful essays of gifted Retrospect authors appear in my book, "Daily Life in the 1960s."


Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Dave Ventre says:

    A very nice summary of one of the all-time best comics. Although Chuck’s friends (except Peppermint Patty) really did treat him like crap most of the time. I’ve always felt that, through the strip, Schulz was working through, or at least living with, a number of emotional problems. There are definitely worse ways to deal with mental issues than delighting millions, as well as helping many deal with similar dark thoughts and fears.

    • Jim Willis says:

      I agree wholeheartedly, Dave. In a way different from Stephen King, yet still similar in outcome, Schulz had a way of releasing his own frustrations into a half-century-long comic strip that delighted millions, showed them things could be worse, and that they might even get better.

  2. Wonderful Jim!
    Always loved Lucy, the right field person!
    And remembering when Schulz introduced Charlie’s Black friend Franklin, a radical decision for a cartoonist at the time.

  3. Worthy for submission to Writer’s Digest.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thank you for this thorough analysis of the growth of the Peanuts comic strip, Jim. So interesting to see how Schulz grew the characters to represent different aspects of his own persona as well as his family’s, and each resonated with different readers. And of course, Schroder, playing Beethoven on his little piano while Lucy swoons.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    I first met the characters at a very young age via the kittens my aunt had named Peanuts, Linus, Schroder, Lucy….later discovered the comics. Have to admit I still get a paper newspaper and read the funnies. I didn’t remember the line about Australia, but that may just become my new mantra.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Thanks for sharing the history and memories of a great comic strip. By the way, did you ever lift the color comics on Sunday onto Silly Putty?

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