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August 16, 2015

Go, Read: Snoopy Killed Peanuts; Watterson Vs. Schulz

imageI don't agree with a lot of what Kevin Wong wrote in this well-argued piece on Snoopy forcing Peanuts from its time as a great strip into a time when it was less of a great strip, but I had a lot of fun reading it. What I like about it best is that it's pretty much the view I used to have before reading the strip in its entirety with the publication of the Fantagraphics hardcovers. Reading the strip over the last several years has made me think that we've underestimated Schulz's "golden afternoon," as so many of the 1970s into the 1980s strips are still very funny and uniquely engaging. I also like a lot of the the strips over the last five years of Peanuts' life.

I also don't see a shift driven by the Snoopy character as much as different elements of what Schulz wanted to do started to come to the forefront more frequently, as happens with almost ever cartoonist that works on something over a period of years. I agree that much of Peanuts' greatness is in the unyielding psychological portraits that form around key characters. However, I'm okay with the fact that the appeal of the strip for a lot of people is the contrast between Charlie Brown and Snoopy, with many preferring Snoopy. I think the "Spike killed Peanuts" argument a bit more successful when I hear it, as Spike's existence makes Snoopy's less unique. Mostly, though, I think the strip's general accomplishment is so high that it's hard for me to pick over when and where it might have shifted a bit away from those things I prefer.

Luke Epplin's LARB piece on the same subject gets at this basic argument in a different way: contrasting the experience Schulz had with Bill Watterson's, and making the 1989 address Watterson gave to the Cartoon Arts Festival on licensing a kind of key point around which those two great careers pivot in relation to one another. I also like this piece, particularly its thoroughness in noting ambiguities and nuance, like in acknowledging Schulz's 1970s agreement with his syndicate the granted him licensing control. I think overall that piece represents a stronger argument against my basic view on the matter, and makes me wonder if one problem might be that we simply don't engage with primary sources as we should. I'm also not quite as confident as Epplin seems to be that Calvin & Hobbes has solely escaped transformative use, it's just come in less acknowledged ways, like a thousand re-drawings and re-imagining of the characters on-line.

Two fun articles, though, totally worth a coffee-break read.

posted 11:55 pm PST | Permalink

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