Carter’s Comic Corner, IV: How Peanuts Became Icons

By Carter Glace

Via Wikipedia

It’s hard to believe that it took 75 years for Charlie Brown and The Peanuts Gang to get a feature length film (technically, they have had 4 in theaters already, but none of those made it to the 90 minute mark). Peanuts has transcended the original comic, the television specials, the cards, the merchandise and become an entity, for lack of a better word. It just exists, and everyone knows about it or is touched by it, but does anyone stop to ask why?

I want to stress that I’m don’t mean in a cynical “this actually sucks” kind of way, but when something becomes an institution, it can be easy to forget its initial appeal and forget there was once a world where Charlie Brown and Snoopy didn’t exist. So, what helped them become icons?

The word I would have in huge neon lights would be “timelessness.” One of the instant death nails for any work aiming at children is something that tries to be “hip” or “modern.” Whether it’s using the most up to date slang, trendy art styles or clothing, there are works that almost immediately become embarrassing or incomprehensible after their release. Peanuts has chose to avoid this at all cost. There’s never references to new technology, the language remains broad and the characters remain simple enough that they could fit into any generation. There are plenty of works that can successfully capture the theme and pace of an era perfectly, but the biggest chance of iconic status is creating something that is approachable for decades.

Something often forgotten that I feel is worth mentioning is that, despite the sentimentality of the series, it has a pretty sharp cynical side. Lest we forget, the very first comic features a kid talking about how much he hates Charlie Brown. Sure, there are countless people who make snide jokes about how badly the characters mock Charlie Brown, but there’s more at play in the actual works. Yes, the kids can be mean spirited, but never enough to make any of them unlikeable. The characters are allowed to be wrong, allowed to be mean, and allowed to redeem themselves. It’s human.

Above all, the skill it takes to go between such radical ideas and tones have helped shape it into something legendary. What other series can juggle cynicism, hyper sentimentality and morality, boat races, World War One air combat, and more? It is maddening to look over the decades of Charles Shultz work and see how diverse and broad his creation is.

Handling subject matter as grim as meeting a cancer ridden kid to the slapstick comedy of Snoopy fighting a lawn chair. Almost no other series has been able to do so much with such simple characters. And it’s that perfect blend of simplicity and complexity that turned a four panel comic book into one of histories most enduring animated works. And, if future writers can still keep this heart intact, it will last for another 75 years.

Carter Glace is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com

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