"Happiness is a warm puppy."
-- Charles M. Schulz
Back in elementary school, I used to have a bookmark with a "Peanuts" comic strip printed on the front. The artwork was simple, showcasing Linus and Charlie Brown resting their elbows against a stone wall. "I used to try to take every day as it came," Charlie Brown was explaining. "But now, I have a new philosophy ... I'm only going to dread one day at a time." I had a happy childhood, but I definitely had moments where I could relate to a sentiment like that. I think we all can.
I'd wager most people relate to the trials, tribulations, and occasional triumphs of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Sally, Peppermint Patty and Marcie -- and, of course, Snoopy the beagle dog and his little yellow sidekick, Woodstock. They're all the creation of Charles M. Schulz, who wrote and drew the syndicated comic strip "Peanuts" for a full fifty years.
Born on November 26, 1922, in Minneapolis, Schulz was the son of Carl Schulz (a barber) and his wife, Dena Halverson Schulz. His mother noticed his aptitude for art early on, and eventually encouraged him to take a correspondence course from the Federal School in Minneapolis.
After being drafted and sent to Europe during World War II, Schulz returned to the States and struck out on his art career. Beginning as a free-lancer for a Catholic magazine (while teaching correspondence classes at the Art Instruction Institute), some of his drawings made their way into the pages of Saturday Evening Post. His life would truly change course, however, with the creation of a cartoon for the St. Paul Pioneer Press -- "Li'l Folks." It was the template for the strip that would eventually become "Peanuts."
The renamed "Peanuts" made its grand debut in 1950, appearing in just seven newspapers with the characters of Charlie Brown, Shermy, Patty, and Snoopy. In a year's time, the strip had upped its circulation to 35 papers, and by 1956 it was in over a hundred.
At its height, "Peanuts" ran in over 2,300 newspapers throughout the world. And the strip was so popular it soon began proving itself outside the realm of newspapers. The 1965 animated special "A Charlie Brown Christmas" won a Peabody and an Emmy award. The off-Broadway musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," appearing in 1967, ran for four years. Two years later, NASA astronauts chose to name their command module "Charlie Brown," and their lunar lander "Snoopy." Collections of Schulz's work was being translated into nearly twenty languages, and the faces of "Peanuts" characters began appearing on clothes, toys, games, and calendars.
The last "Peanuts" strip was published on February 13, 2000 -- the day after Schulz himself passed away at the age of 77. Four months later, President Bill Clinton posthumously awarded Schultz the Congressional Gold Medal, our country's highest civilian honor.
It's easy to rattle off the facts. What's harder is explaining the appeal. The main character of "Peanuts" is Charlie Brown, a kid who is the epitome of ordinariness, with one very specific stand-out quality: his rather inept hopelessness. Whether it's Lucy yanking away a football the instant before he can kick it, the teasing of his schoolmates at his unending mistakes and blunders, a kite-eating tree and a needle-dropping Christmas tree, or even the haughty attitude of his own dog -- Charlie Brown just can't seem to catch a break. There's often a sadness to some of the punchlines of "Peanuts," which could, perhaps, make one wonder where the appeal lies.
But what makes Schulz's storytelling so oddly magnetic, I think, is the weird balance his "Peanuts" stories strike between the bleak disappointments of life and the strangely hopeful, cheerful attitude his characters show in the face of it. Charlie Brown himself seems possessed of a peculiar blend of defeated anxiety and almost reluctant optimism. After all, his most famous catchphrase is an exasperated, "Good grief!" -- and, as the Encyclopedia of World Biography points out in their entry on Schulz:
"Grief was the human condition, but it was good when it taught us something about ourselves and was lightened by laughter."
Charlie Brown's appeal lies precisely in the fact that, though Lucy will never let him kick that football, he'll never quit trying. It's that attitude that transforms Schulz's stories from sad commentaries on life's worries and disappointments into something quite different -- hopeful stories about transcending the disappointments with hope, humor, and happiness.
And most "Peanuts" fans, I think, can get behind a philosophy like that. I'm one of them.
The song "Happiness," from the musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown"
"Sometimes I lie awake at night and I ask, 'Why me?' Then a voice answers, 'Nothing personal, your name just happened to come up.'"
"There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people. Religion, Politics, and The Great Pumpkin."
"No problem is so big or so complicated that it can't be run away from."
"Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest."
"I know the answer! The answer lies within the heart of all mankind! ... The answer is twelve? I think I'm in the wrong building."
"You learn more when you lose."
"Well then, I must be the smartest person in the world."
"Life is like an ice cream cone. You have to lick it one day at a time."
"Never worry about tomorrow, Charlie Brown. Tomorrow will soon be today, and before you know it, today will be yesterday! I always worry about the day after tomorrow."
"Be yourself. No one can say you're doing it wrong."
"Well, I can understand how you feel. You worked hard, studying for the spelling bee, and I suppose you feel you let everyone down, and you made a fool of yourself and everything. But did you notice something, Charlie Brown?"
"The world didn't come to an end."
-- Post by Ms. B