Charlie Brown taught me how to read.
My father, growing up in the 60’s, collected Peanuts books and they filled up almost an entire bookshelf in my grandparents’ house. For a child, those four paneled black-and-white sketches were an untapped goldmine. I knew there were riches there; I just had no idea how to translate them. I was like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, standing over the miniature landscape, trying to figure out how to use the map to find the Well of Souls where the Ark is housed.
Like Indy, I was not the kind of child to give up on something easily. So slowly and with many questions over time, I learned how to read the panels; memorizing one word after another. My curiosity drove me. So while others of my age were learning words like “Cat” and “Dog,” I could read “Blockhead” and “Wishy-Washy.”
Over time I began to take the books home, even going so far as to buy “Scott” stickers, putting them in the front cover of many of the books, claiming them from my dad (Of course we have the same first name, so it probably didn’t bother him too much). As a result, when I think of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, my thoughts always return to those old comic books, with their aging yellow pages and the smell of time; picturing myself sitting on a chair (my feet not able to reach the ground) trying to figure out one of the longer words in front of me.
Why did we all find such comfort in an unfriendly land? A land, where not even your dog bothers to learn your name?
I have come up with one explanation to those kind of questions. I think it is that, with all of the fears of childhood and growing up, we saw a kindred spirit in Charles M. Schulz and his creation. He gets it, and as bad as it may get with bullying and embarrassment, we know we are not alone. Charlie Brown was there with us, and chances are he was getting it worse (Remember, when Charlie Brown wore a brown-paper bag over his head and went to camp? That was the only time he found happiness; until he took off the bag, of course.)
It is easy to psycho-analysis every strip of Charles M. Schulz. People do it every day. Just a few years ago, I read the great biography Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis and the author did that on almost every page of the book; finding hints everywhere to events in Schulz’s own life reflected in the action of those round-headed kids.
While I accept that can be done sometimes in the half-century of strips, I think it is also a little unfair to Schulz. This is the man who created Snoopy, one of the most imaginative creations of the last century. A dog that can discuss philosophy with a bird, turn into a WWI Flying Ace, play baseball, and flirt with girls as Joe Cool. Frankly, the man was just creative, and you don’t need to understand more than that many times in the reading.
The funny thing is for many years I had a hard time even connecting Charles M. Schulz with his creation. Have you seen pictures of him? He looks more like an insurance salesman than a creative genius… By the way, did you know he hated the name Peanuts? True story.
Yet, it is that thin man with the glasses and short haircut that helped develop my sense of humor, inspired my creativity, and taught me how to read. A part of me thinks I should find a way to thank him, but considering how much I have spent over the decades of my life on books, DVDs, shirts, PJs, toys, and Christmas ornaments, maybe I already have.
I am not like the characters in Peanuts. I am not obsessive like Schroeder, insecure like Linus, or depressive like Charlie Brown. I do sometimes have trouble like Snoopy does with reality, but that is something I can control. I don’t pretend to take on the Red Baron anymore, but I still dislike cats, so we still have that in common.
When you re-read the works, really only a handful of the characters in Peanuts are truly three-dimensional characters, most are very two-dimensional, created for a punchline, more than growth. I like to think of them as the Pig Pen school of characters.
Yet, it is the more solid characters that are the more interesting, and you can tell that is true for Schulz as well. From Peppermint Patty to Charlie Brown himself, they are where the interesting plots take place and they can cover weeks to almost a month worth of strips. One of the traits of the more three-dimensional characters I love is their wonderful contradictions; and they have many. For example:
- Schroeder, who is obsessed with a romantic composer, has no time or interest in love (To my best reckoning the only time we even really see him show emotion is when Lucy threw his piano into the kite-eating tree).
- Or how about the more obvious one that the worse baseball player is the one most obsessed with it, and even is a fan of a bad player?
- My favorite contradiction? The most religious character needs a security blanket and sucks his thumb. Stop and think about that one for a minute.
Yet, they aren’t real, nor could they be.
They aren’t kids, they aren’t even adults.
They exist in their own reality, with their grown-up concerns, psychological issues, and more advanced language in the body of a child. And maybe it is that unreality of them is why I have a hard time connecting myself truly to them, because they can’t be real. Yet, they give me and many others a comfort, in all their oddness.
My favorite of the Charlie Brown specials has always been It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I have been known to quote it randomly, leaving many people to wonder what I am talking about.
Do you know what I think is disturbing about the special (But also hilarious)? It is parents and adults handing out candy to the trick-or-treaters, right? So it is the adults of the neighborhood, who at some point all decided together, to give Charlie Brown only rocks.
Wow, that is harsh.
Also, the music in the special is genius…. Moving on.
Comic books almost seem like a dying artform now, with only Doonesbury continuing to artistically grow. It’s fascinating to me that I was lucky enough to live in a golden age of comics. Just imagine, on a Sunday I could open the paper and get a new Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, and The Far Side.
For the last eight or so years, I have been collecting the Complete Peanuts; each year they issue two new hardcover books for the collection. The series has just reached the 1980’s. Each book, containing two years of material, begins with an introduction written by a celebrity (one of the reasons I would love for one of my books to find success is so I can get my own thoughts in one of those books. I have about 6 more or so years to pull that off though, unless they decide to open the playing field more). So each year, I have four more years of collected works to explore and re-discover.
But, like life, these books are only going to come out for so long. Soon, as Rerun more and more takes over the strip, we will catch up to the last years of Schulz. Everything comes to an end, even the struggles of Charlie Brown finishing that book report over a holiday break. I know it will be bittersweet that moment after the last book when I step back and look at my own bookshelf, just like my father’s from so long ago, filled with all of the Peanuts books it can hold.
There will be an ending there.
Yet, last year, when my daughter was born, my first gift to her was a stuffed Snoopy. So maybe some things carry on.
If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my books? I had two novels published in the last few years, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here. Thanks for reading!
my graduating senior had peanuts clippings on sr board at graduation and he chose snoopy thank you notes
Nice! Thanks for reading.
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Reblogged this on The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard and commented:
Last night, I completed a herculean task that I once thought was impossible. See, I can now say that i have read EVERY SINGLE Peanuts comic strip ever. It’s weirdly both something I feel proud about and also very depressed about.
As you will see from this blogpost, Snoopy and his gang were very important to me growing up. To have now lost the capability to read something new… I don’t want to say it is like losing something, but there is a part of me definitely gone that I am still figuring out.
Maybe it will feel like mourning for Charles Schulz again? I don’t know.
Of course, I never knew Mr. Schulz. But now I feel like I have spent a life with him since it was 50 years of art. It could be said I spent a lifetime with all of the Peanuts gang. From beginning to end, it was very worth it.