On October 2, 1950, a new comic strip appeared in American newspapers. The “hero” of the strip was a round-headed kid named Charlie Brown. In the very first cartoon, two young schoolmates watch Charlie Brown walking by, and one comments, “Well! Here comes ol’ Charlie Brown.Yes, Sir! Good ol’ Charlie Brown. How I hate him!” This comic strip was to become one of the most popular in history. Its creator, Charles M. Schultz, drew the strip for 50 years until his death.
But reruns of “Peanuts” still appear regularly in the newspaper. What are some of the characteristics of Charlie Brown and his friends that have made the cartoon popular? Charlie Brown is an unlikely hero. Other kids don’t like being around him because the things he does never seem to work out properly. Kids want to be with someone who is good-looking, popular and successful, so that they can feel a part of his success. Charlie Brown is always worrying, hardly ever up-beat, afraid of failure, and always making mistakes.
His kite gets snagged in a tree, he needs counseling from Lucy, his dog Snoopy is more popular than he is, and the little red-haired girl never notices him. In short, Charlie Brown is a “loser.” Charlie Brown illustrates all the insecurities that kids have. Many of these anxieties carry over into adult life. Sometimes, they reflect problems in the life of the comic strip’s creator, Charles M. Schulz. Schulz suffered from depression much of his life and had a difficult time in school. He was not very popular with his classmates.
Humour and laughter are often a way of dealing with problems. And in the “Peanuts” strip, the world can laugh at all the silly little things that people do. Because of its honest way of dealing with problems, Charlie Brown and his friends are more interesting than the average comic strip characters. The characters represent adult personality types. Charlie Brown is “wishy-washy,” and is afraid to do things for fear of failure.
Lucy is a pushy overbearing female, who thinks she knows it all. Linus, her younger brother, is intellectual but insecure. He still clings to his baby blanket for security. Schroeder is preoccupied with Beethoven’s music to the exclusion of everything else. Sally, Charlie Brown’s younger sister, combines both a romantic attachment to Linus and a desire for material things. Peppermint Patty is a tomboy who loves baseball, but nonetheless has a romantic crush on Charlie Brown. Snoopy, the dog, represents a cool detached inventive individual who also relies on basic creature comforts. These characters add up to a “human comedy.”
In the comic strip, we can see ourselves and the people around us: making mistakes, getting second chances, but tending to do the same things over again. Behind the humour of “Peanuts” there is a serious message. Words can hurt. Relationships are important. Truth is difficult to find. Criticism is too common. Greed can easily overpower us.
These messages are both timeless and timely. “Peanuts” has also been turned into television specials and several movies. Snoopy stuffed toys are popular all over the world. A huge industry has grown from a simple comic strip. Perhaps this means that, while we all secretly want to be “winners,” we really identify more closely with the Charlie Browns of this world!