Tuesday, March 8, 2005

MH - Good Grief

Dawn Eden has an insightful and humorous article today on when the comic strip Peanuts jumped the shark. It's one of those great pieces that sums up what you've been thinking all along without realizing it. Read Dawn's piece, and the link to the post that started it all, from Jamie Weinman.

As I said, I hadn't really given the issue that much thought, but I agree with it completely. For many years Peanuts was my favorite comic. I bought each new paperback collection as it came out (I think my collection reached about 40 in all before I sold them), I had the "Charlie Brown All Stars" baseball cap and uniform, I faithfully watched each Peanuts special, and as I'm writing this post I can look at my Snoopy astronaut doll on top of my bookcase (you remember that during one of the Apollo flights, the command module and lunar module were named "Charlie Brown" and "Snoopy"). Even to this day, there's seldom a week when I don't find myself quoting some line from a classic Peanuts strip.

And then somewhere along the line, Peanuts stopped being a daily read. I still read my collections, watched the cartoons when they came on (even though I was in my 30s at this point), but the new strips didn't seem to be as compelling. I think the points in these articles had a lot to do with it, although I tend to agree with Dawn that Snoopy's philosophical blackouts were really funny. I would add that Peanuts began to push the line when the characters seemed to be everywhere, endorsing every conceivable type of product. As Captain Kirk once said, too much of anything, even love, isn't necessarily a good thing.

I met Charles Schulz once when he was at the Mall of America; a nice, gentle man. I know that he fought depression, and some of the things that I've read by and about him in the later years of his career reflect that weariness (for example, his complaints that his books weren't as visible in the stores as they used to be, or his inability to understand why Bill Watterson wouldn't license his characters, Calvin and Hobbes).

When Schulz died a few years ago, there was a vast wave of affection that swept away many of the doubts hanging over those final years. For instance, people forgot that Calvin and Hobbes had, in the minds of many, replaced Peanuts at the top of the comic pyramid, a situtation that endured until the end of Calvin's run. Weinman doesn't appear to be a big Calvin fan, but I always thought it was LOL funny and insightful; and if it was occasionally preachy, it still did so in an entertaining manner. (I've found the insult "fur for brains" to be a most effective rejoinder.)

This isn't to demean Peanuts in any sense; it still ranks as one of my favorites. Greatness is greatness, after all, even if it does occasionally overstay its welcome; and it's hard to argue that Peanuts blazed the trail for Calvin and the others. But here's one of those cases where you read something that helps to explain why you felt the way you did, and to me, that's what good writing (and blogging) is all about.

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