Charlie Everyman Brown

By | Friday, December 04, 2020 1 comment
Peanuts was established as a staple of the comics long before I was born. Indeed, the Christmas and Halloween specials were already expected viewing on their respective holidays by that point as well. Snoopy, for me, has always been in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The comic, for me and my generation, was not the revelation in comics that it was when it came out. Nor was it unique any longer. Ziggy bore many physical characteristics to Chuck, The Born Loser seemed to run into adult versions of the same problems that the Peanuts gang did, and Johnny Hart's various strips bore many of the (then) quasi-religious overtones shared by Schulz's work.

That said, though, Charlie Brown still stood out. He was the perpetual outcast that I could readily and regularly identify with. My Halloween costumes sucked. I never got Valentines. I was laughed out of the auditorium for not fitting in. I never had the courage to ask out the pretty redhead. I just could not seem to win. Ever.

Naturally, it was that sense of alienation that all children feel that Schulz was able to tap into. I'm more than certain I wasn't alone in my thinking. (I actually had a conversation several years ago with one of the most popular girls in my grade/high school. She was pretty, athletic, smart, talented, friendly... everyone liked her. But it turns out that despite being popular, she too felt estranged from her classmates!) What Schulz mastered was allowing us to see the pain of isolation and rejection, filtered through the printed page to make it more humorous. (Tragedy + time = comedy.) His drawing style was so simple that it was incredibly easy for readers to project themselves into the characters. What is Charlie Brown, after all, but a smiley face with a nose and ears?

Charlie Brown by Micahel Paulus
But you've read/seen those types of comments in numerous places by now. Since Schulz's death, there has been plenty of artwork honoring/capitalizing on his work. I'm sure you've seen drawings of various superheroes drawn in Schulz's style. Or Michael Paulus' skeletal studies of Charlie, Linus, Pigpen, Patty and Lucy. Or the Peanuts crew drawn as manga characters. Jason Yungbluth's Weapon Brown, which recasts Chuck as a post-apocalyptic mutant cyborg. Not mention the endless Photoshop riffs that give the old strips new (and often off-color) dialogue.

But, you know what I find particularly striking in absorbing all this material? That I still absolutely connect with the originals. Those comics that feature Charlie Brown not being particularly funny, but making pointed statements about who we are, how we think, and how we react to the crap Life throws at us? I'll be damned if those don't get to me.

For that matter, Schulz himself got to me. When I was watching that Schulz documentary from about a decade ago, I found myself wiping tears off my cheeks towards the end. Not because it was a particularly sad story in and of itself -- although Schultz's death was indeed quite sad -- but because I could see far too much of myself in Peanuts all of a sudden. I could almost see that iconic zig-zag strip running across my shirt: the tread tracks from Life effortlessly running me over. I saw myself paying a nickel for psychiatric advice from the closest thing I have to a female friend. I saw myself running towards that metaphoric football and landing smack on my back, causing little physical pain but more than enough mental anguish to prevent me from even bothering to get up.

After work today, I'm going to have some leftovers for dinner and read comics for a bit. Probably play with the dog. Much like Chuck would. And sometime over the weekend I'll likely watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and shed a few tears when I hear, "I've killed it."

At least, though, I'm not the only one.
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Matt K said...

Perhaps the best thing about Flashbeagle, which I love but is easy to dismiss as silly and vapid, is how powerfully it distills Snoopy as counterpoint to the above.

Snoopy, especially in that particular outing, has not only coolness and joy, but a freedom from the need for external affirmation. Charlie Brown disapproves of his activities, e.g., and Snoopy is not bothered or pained in any way because that doesn't harm or interfere with him.