Good Grief, Charlie Brown! This December, you and your pals will be arriving on the big screen, starring in your very own Peanuts movie. How’s that for a kid who could never do anything right, and who never did get to kick that ball. This time around you’re facing the challenges of daily life in a new CGI world, but you and the gang have lost none of your quirky, line-drawn charm. Best of all Blue Sky Studios and Twentieth Century Fox have kept that Peanuts defining, piano thumping, jazzed-up theme tune; and here’s the high definition, digital proof.
Let’s talk heads that are shaped like a football; or an orange. Before Karl Pilkington, way before Karl Pilkington in fact, there was Charlie Brown – the kid with the perfectly round head. Poor, put upon Charlie Brown; known affectionately as blockhead to his ‘friends’, and that round headed kid to his dog. Chuck usually addressed day to day life with the words good grief, I can’t stand it, or just a stoical SIGH. If you’ve ever felt lonely, depressed, insecure, suffered unrequited love, or just felt plain not good enough, then Charlie Brown’s your man (well, 8 year old boy – this is a kid-centric universe.)
Charles M Schulz was the man behind the Peanuts gang, and an awful lot of Charles M Schulz went into his hand-drawn, juvenile cast. Like them he suffered periodic melancholia, depression, ‘crabbiness’ and loneliness. He was a confirmed worrier, in spite of the massive fame and wealth his comic strip brought. That, now iconic, comic strip was first published in 1947, under the name ‘Li’l Folks’. In 1950 the ‘Li’l Folks’ got a new name – Peanuts (a name Schulz hated and never personally used) – and the rest is comic strip history.
Schulz was devoted to his pen and ink creations and would allow no other artist to draw the panels, even after undergoing quadruple heart bypass surgery. He later developed a tremor in his right hand, which made drawing difficult, but persisted in his determination that no one else draw the strip. This devotion to his work was so extreme that he took only one holiday his entire working life; and a 5 week break to celebrate his 75th birthday in 1997.
Like many artists, who somehow tap into a nation’s psyche, Schulz developed a curious distance from his characters, as though they existed apart from himself in an alternate universe. This distance led him to question just who was in control, even waking late one night with the thought: ‘Good Grief, who are all these little people? Must I live with them for the rest of my life? Fortunately, for us, they stuck around
A recurring joke in the strip was that Lucy would hold a football for Charlie Brown to kick, pulling it away just as he was about to kick it, leaving Charlie Brown to fall flat on his back in the process. In November 1999 Schulz was diagnosed with colon cancer and an emotional, televised interview from that time highlights how ‘real’ his characters had become. Schulz discusses his retirement and upcoming final strip, saying: ‘And I’ll probably start crying ( he does, his voice breaking)….and all of a sudden I thought, you know, that poor, poor kid, he never even got to kick the football’ – as though cruel fate (and not Schulz) had, all along, controlled the life of the long suffering Charlie Brown.
The final Peanuts strip was published in 2000, the day after Schulz died.
There was no other comic strip like Peanuts, and there’ll probably never be another comic strip to match the ‘hold’ it had on popular culture during the 60s and 70s. Peanuts transcended its genre, the characters escaping the confines of their comic strip panels to appear on TV, greeting cards and all kinds of merchandise. Schulz’s work, at times, verges on social commentary; bringing depth of feeling, honesty and intelligence to the art of the comic strip.
To celebrate the new Peanuts movie, I’ve raided my dog-eared, paperback collection of Peanuts books – from the ‘classic’ years c 1960-78 – to bring you the Schulzian view on life, the universe and everything.
A few of the gang: Back row, left to right: Snoopy, Charlie Brown,
Front row: Franklin, Lucy van Pelt, Linus van Pelt, Peppermint Patty, Sally
The grade system:
Sally Brown: A ‘C’? I got a ‘C’ on my coat hanger sculpture? How could anyone get a ‘C’ in coat hanger sculpture? May I ask a question? Was I judged on the piece of sculpture itself? If so, is it not true that time alone can judge a work of art? Or was I judged on my talent? If so, is it right that I be judged on a part of life over which I have no control? If I was judged on my effort, then I was judged unfairly, for I tried as hard as I could! Was I judged on what I had learned about this project? If so, then were not you, my teacher, also being judged on your ability to transmit your knowledge to me? Are you willing to share my ‘C’? Perhaps I was being judged on the quality of the coat hanger itself, out of which my creation was made…now, is this also not unfair? Am I to be judged by the quality of coat hangers that are used by the dry cleaning establishment that returns our garments? Is that not the responsibility of my parents? Should they not share my ‘C’? (the teacher gave in!)
Life in general:
Lucy: Charlie Brown says that we’re put here on earth to make others happy.
Linus: Is that why we’re here? I guess I’d better start doing a better job…. I’d hate to be shipped back!
Charlie Brown: In the book of life the answers are not in the back! That’s my new philosophy.
Lucy: I think you’re in trouble.
How nothing changes:
Lucy: You know what’s going to happen to you? Someday you’re going to be asked what you’ve done during your life and all you’ll be able to say is ‘I watched TV’.
Linus: That’s what happened to grandpa…..all he was able to say was, I listened to the radio.
Snoopy: I don’t want to die! I’m too young to die! I’m too nice to die! I’m too ME to die!!
Lucy’s brand of psychiatry:
Lucy is in her ‘5c psychiatric booth’:
Charlie Brown: I’m lonely. I feel that no one really cares about me. How can I cure this loneliness?
Lucy: Get some friends! ……….5 cents please!
Charlie Brown: I had to go to the school nurse yesterday because my stomach hurt.
Lucy: You worry too much Charlie Brown….no wonder your stomach hurts…you’ve got to stop all this silly worrying!
Charlie Brown: How do I stop?
Lucy: That’s YOUR worry!…….5 cents please!
Lucy: Do you ever worry about the world getting blown up Charlie Brown?
Charlie Brown: It all depends – what day is today?
Charlie Brown: Well, on Tuesdays I worry about personality problems……Thursday is my day for worrying about the world getting blown up!
Charlie Brown throws a pebble into the sea:
Linus: Nice going, it took that stone four thousand years to get to shore, and now you’ve thrown it back.
Charlie Brown: Everything I do makes me feel guilty.
Linus reading a note from his mum in his school packed lunch:
Linus: Good grief! another note. ‘Dear son, I hope you enjoy and also appreciate the lunch I made for you today. Did you have a nice morning? Did you volunteer in class as I suggested? Teachers are always impressed by students who volunteer… it is a sure way to better grades. Remember better grades now will mean a better college later on…did you eat your carrots? Proper nutrition is essential to good study. Are you sitting in the sun? I hope so, for a little sun is good as long as you don’t overdo it… perhaps ten minutes a day this time of year is about right’
Charlie Brown: Hi Linus..what are you having for lunch?
Linus: Carrots, peanut butter and GUILT!
Lucy: Life is like a game Charlie Brown, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
Charlie Brown: I’ll be happy if I just make the playoffs.
Linus: Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you were in over your head?
Charlie Brown: That’s happened to me a lot lately….as soon as I get up in the morning I feel I’m in over my head!
Charlie Brown: I can’t talk to that little red haired girl because she’s something and I’m nothing. If I were something and she were nothing, I could talk to her, or if she were something and I were something, then I could talk to her…of if she were nothing and I were nothing, then I also could talk to her…but she’s something and I’m nothing so I can’t talk to her.
Linus: For a nothing Charlie Brown, you’re really something!
Charlie Brown: I think there’s something wrong with me. I keep having these tiny self-doubts. Do you think this is wrong?
Lucy: Of course it’s wrong Charlie Brown. I think you should have great big self-doubts!
Beating the system
Lucy: 5? Your name is 5? What sort of a name is that?
5: My dad is disturbed by all the numbers being put on us these days so he changed our names to numbers.
Lucy: This is his way of protesting, huh?
5: No, this is his way of giving in!
Lucy: They say that we girls are like beautiful music, we are like songs one cannot forget, do you think of me as a melody that lingers on?
Schroeder: And on, and on, and on, and on, and on.
Girl to Snoopy: You spend all your time lying on top of that dog house. That’s all you seem to do, just lie there and lie there. I just don’t see how you do it!
Snoopy: Let’s not overlook the possibility of genius!
Snoopy: If you think about something at three o’clock in the morning and then again at noon the next day, you get different answers.
Snoopy: In all the world there’s nothing like the words, ‘the doctor will see you now’.
Snoopy: It’s either the ‘flu or love, the symptoms are the same.
and from Linus, the great philosopher:
Linus: I love mankind…..it’s people I can’t stand.
Linus: No problem is so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from!
But I’m going to leave the last word to Charlie Brown – is that ok with you Chuck?
I’m guessing that’s a ‘No’ then……….don’t ever change Charlie Brown!