The late, great cartoonist was born 100 years ago on Nov. 26, 1922…
By JIM BEARD
Charles Schulz and his beloved creation have been with me literally my entire life.
I was born into a Peanuts home, surrounded by books, comics, toys, and Avon products of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang. My father was a big fan since the strip’s beginning in 1950, and bought all the reprint books, starting with the first one for one dollar in 1952. I still have that very same copy today, plus several that followed. I love Peanuts. To me, it seems like it’s always been there, and always will be.
I’m not going to try to encapsulate the width, breadth, and weight of Schulz’s characters and concepts in one short birthday tribute article, but instead I want to focus on one aspect of it all to celebrate here: The stories.
The original idea for this piece was to spotlight single Peanuts strips throughout the 50 years of its creation, but when I started writing them down, I realized that most of my favorites came from Schulz’s running storylines. And so I retooled and here we are.
By a story, I mean a run of dailies that form something more than just a series of strips milking one gag. Rather, I’m highlighting actual stories of the Peanuts gang, ones with beginnings, middles, and ends. Hopefully, you’ll see what I mean as we go along.
This was an absolute labor of love for me to assemble. I spent a while going through my multivolume Fantagraphics The Complete Peanuts to jog my memory, but the cool thing is that many of my favorite stories came to me unbidden — I’ve read them so many times they’re burned into my brain, as fresh as the day I first encountered them.
A few notes before we get started:
You’re going to see there are no sports-themed stories here. I’m not a sports fan, and while baseball and tennis, among others, loomed large in Peanuts history, they just aren’t my favorite runs. These are my own personal favorite stories; mileage will vary on what constitutes a favorite among Schulz’s fans.
Also, when I’d finished my list, I realized all my favorites fall into a stretch of years from roughly 1960 to 1973. It dawned on me that’s because those are the years I saw in all the reprint collections of my youth. It’s a sweet spot for me, and honestly, one of Peanuts’ most fertile periods, in my opinion.
Okay, enough of all this — let’s get into the stories. Enjoy!
And Happy 100th Birthday Sparky!
Lost Library Book (March 1959). Charlie Brown misplaces a library book and paranoia sets in. It’s a fairly short story, just 11 days, but the feeling of his fear and loathing was palpable to me as a library-loving kid like myself. That, and his resounding relief when he finally finds the book.
Miss Othmar and the Egg Shells (Jan.-Feb. 1960). Linus’ love and admiration for his teacher complicates a class project of building model igloos. I love Linus. He’s my favorite Peanuts character. I never really had a crush like he did for a teacher, but I totally sympathized with him about his bad memory.
Doghouse Icicle (Feb. 1960). An immense hanging icicle threatens certain doom for Snoopy. Though Schulz lived in sunny California, I always appreciated the fact that he set the strip in an area of changing seasons — just like where I lived. (He grew up in Minnesota, I grew up in Ohio.) I also very much appreciated the instrument of Snoopy’s salvation in this one. That dog had good taste.
Charlie Brown’s Faults (Jan.-Feb. 1964) – Lucy subjects Charlie Brown to a slideshow of his faults and shortcomings. Did Schulz mean for us to hate Lucy as much as I did? This is a storyline that boggled my mind, because I always wanted to scream at Charlie Brown to tell her where she could stick that slide projector…
Doghouse Cleaning (June 1964). The kids decide to give Snoopy’s domain a good cleaning. This one… boy. This is when the absurdist nature of the strip really kicks in, and I just loved it. The idea of the doghouse being bigger on the inside than on the outside utterly fascinated me, and I so wanted an actual diagram or floorplan of it. Then, I realized my imagination — and Schulz’s descriptions — were far better than anything that could be put to paper.
Book Report (Dec. 1964-Jan. 1965). Charlie Brown procrastinates over a book assignment during Christmas vacation. This is another one that really hit home for me. This is totally me, up one side and down the other. And I’m still like this today. Never do something now that you can put off to tomorrow… or the next day, and the next day, and the next day…
The Living Blanket (March 1965). Linus’ blanket comes to life to wage war with Lucy. The absurdity continues with one of Schulz’s most fantastical storylines ever. This run of 11 dailies is an incredible horror play that both amused and terrified me. Just look at that blanket forming a hand and tell me that’s not creepy.
Sally’s Lazy Eye (Nov.-Dec. 1965). Sally discovers she has amblyopia ex anopsia. I felt very close to this storyline because I was diagnosed as being nearsighted when I was in the third grade. Plus, Sally had little to no filter and could always be counted on to say something hilarious, as well as honest.
Doghouse on Fire (Sept.-Oct. 1966). Snoopy’s doghouse burns down. What? Another doghouse story? Yeah, I was always drawn to these little tales of Snoopy’s house, and this one is particularly heartbreaking, especially after we learned what he had in it back in ’64. It’s incredible to me how at this point Schulz could have an entire day’s strip without a punchline and his readers would simply want to know what happened next.
Lila (June-Aug. 1968). The mysterious Lila upsets Snoopy’s life with Charlie Brown. The Lila Saga actually arrived in two parts, the first when she writes Snoopy in June, and the later second part when she writes him in August, and it all hits the fan. The storyline became the basis for the Snoopy Come Home animated feature film, one of the very first movies I ever saw in a theater. It’s another heartbreaker, so fair warning if you’ve never read the strips or seen the film.
First Beagle on the Moon (March 1969). Snoopy flies his doghouse to the moon. I was and am the hugest fan and follower of NASA’s Apollo program, so this story hit all my buttons square on. It becomes even cooler when you learn that the real Apollo 10’s call signs were “Charlie Brown” and “Snoopy.”
The Head Beagle (Feb.-March 1970). Snoopy becomes the Head Beagle. There’s a preamble to this fantastical storyline in Oct. ’69 when Frieda reported Snoopy to the Head Beagle for not chasing his share of rabbits. Then, a few months later, he gets a letter informing him he’s been promoted to the office of Head Beagle. The absurdity of it all appealed to me on every level, and it’s still one of my most favorite storylines to this day. I wish there’d been a sequel to it.
Mr. Sack (June-July 1973). Wearing a paper sack over his head, Charlie Brown becomes a hero at summer camp. What can be said about the sprawling Mr. Sack Saga that hasn’t been said before? One of the longer storylines of the strip, Schulz gave us what we wanted: Charlie Brown living his best life — albeit masked to hide his wishy-washiness. This one has everything, chums: humor, pathos, drama, and all the little things that make childhood a mixture of sweetness and tragedy.
— 13 Great PEANUTS PANELS: A CHARLES SCHULZ Birthday Celebration. Click here.
— MELANCHOLY MASTERPIECE: The Making of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. Click here.
JIM BEARD has pounded out adventure fiction since he sold a story to DC Comics in 2002. He’s gone on to write official Star Wars and Ghostbusters comics stories and contributed articles and essays to several volumes of comic book history. His prose work includes his own creations, but also licensed properties such as Planet of the Apes, X-Files, Spider-Man, Kolchak the Night Stalker and Captain Action. In addition, Jim provided regular content for Marvel.com, the official Marvel Comics website, for 17 years.
Check out his latest releases: Rising Sun Reruns, about classic Japanese shows on American TV; a Green Hornet novella How Sweet the Sting; his first epic fantasy novel The Nine Nations Book One: The Sliding World; and the most recent Batman ’66 books of essays he’s edited: Zlonk! Zok! Zowie! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season One, Biff! Bam! Ee-Yow! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season Two and Oooff! Boff! Splatt! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66 – Season Three.
November 26, 2022
I can agree and relate 100% with this narrative. It mirrors my own experience growing up with the Peanuts. My local library also had all the books that I would checkout over and over. A very enjoyable read!
November 26, 2022
Thanks so much, Buck. Greatly appreciated.
November 26, 2022
Wow, what a collection of stories. Now I have to chase them down. I miss the simplicity of the days before the digital world. Thank you!
November 26, 2022
Many thanks, David. Glad you enjoyed. I can’t recommend the Fantagraphics COMPLETE PEANUTS more highly.
November 26, 2022
Happy 100th anniversary to the creator of the “Peanuts” franchise!
November 27, 2022
Truth and innocence compressed by minimalism to maximum effect; one of the greatest and most enduring products of American pop culture. Great choices—I share the same time zone (and for me it was the musical, too). Hey—that first panel of the blanket story is a perspective shot—very rare for Schulz.
November 27, 2022
Thank for the good words. Yeah, that first panel of Lucy is great in making Linus look so small and defenseless against her righteous Big Sister rage.
November 29, 2022
There was a PEANUTS comic line a couple years ago that was GREAT……sadly i believe it was canceled, because, you know, everything has to be super ‘hero’
At least there are peanuts hallmark cards left
December 1, 2022
Oh, I remember these! I caught a lot of them in those wonderful paperbacks and some in the daily strip! I learned to read off the comics page as a preschooler and wound up a writer! And Good Grief! Back in the 70s I saw that first Peanuts collection in used stores and didn’t snap it up! What a blockhead I was! Oh, and thanks, Jim! And happy birthday Sparky!
December 1, 2022
Thank you, Jeff, for reading along! We’ll be putting all your faults on slides soon, so hang on!
January 6, 2023
I love all of these story lines and I would add a special extra encore story line; Snoopy’s home run record chase with Hank Aaron. That was epic!
January 16, 2023
Love all of these, thank you! One of my favourites has to be “Thompson is in Trouble” (Oct 4-14, 1972). I’m pretty sure it was even the title of one of the paperback reprints – Thompson is in Trouble, Charlie Brown! In addition to the wonderful alliteration, the absurdity of it all is so joyous – the Head Beagle writing in code, the secret disguise, the “high stakes” (“That stupid Thompson, the last time this happened, he almost got us all killed!”) – just wonderful! And, of course, the rabbits…