In other news, Marmaduke endures.

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Peanuts

(From Peanuts, of course.)

For the second time recently we've got a Peanuts cartoon up on the old site for you to have a look at. And given the topic of this quick essay, this one's somewhat apropos. Loneliness in a crowd is one thing, but it's something else entirely when you're all alone.

On Sunday, the Winston-Salem Journal announced that it was dropping Peanuts from its comic page. It's kind of amazing that this is as significant as it is. After all, Peanuts by definition has been in reruns for years. And yet, it is in fact news when a major paper drops it.

In the words of Tim Clodfelter, the reporter who drew the short straw and had to write an article justifying dropping Peanuts (and whose surname is now my new favorite word):

Now, don't go sending the Red Baron after us. Just hear us out. We love Peanuts. It was a terrific comic strip, arguably the best in comics history. But the truth is, it ended more than six years ago when Charles Schulz died. Schulz was adamant that no one else would do the strip after him, an admirable sentiment in an industry where some long-running strips become little more than cartoon mills run by ghost artists and writers.

The Journal has been running repeats of the strip since 2000 because no one wanted to be the person who put Snoopy to sleep.

But the fact of the matter is, the strip is taking up a spot on our comics page that could be handed over to a newcomer. One reader wrote to us back in February 2000, when Peanuts ended, saying that he felt that Schulz would have wanted us to give the space to a younger cartoonist, to give the next generation a chance. That sentiment stuck in our heads, but change is hard, and changing something as fundamental as Peanuts on the comics page is even harder.

Clodfelter (seriously. Say it out loud. Clooooodfelter.) is right, of course. Charles Schulz didn't stipulate that no one follow him on the comic strip so that his own strips would continue being rerun forever and a day. He meant for Peanuts to end. And ultimately for other strips to come along behind. He deliberately eschewed the tactic that has Blondie, Dick Tracy, and that loveable acid trip Annie in the comics section to this day. It had a monumental run, but that run was over.

That run is over.

And yet, dropping the strip is problematic for the editors. Who indeed wanted to "put Snoopy to sleep," even if we were really just looking at Snoopy's home movies from an increasingly long time ago. And it's worrying to his successor, Mark Tatulli, who writes and draws a comic strip called Lio. Lio is itself a dramatically different strip than we've come to expect on the newspaper page. In a world of talking heads and situations, Lio is a comic that is all art, no dialogue, using a sense of wit and whimsy to convey visual humor. In a way, Lio is as unexpected as... well, Peanuts itself was back in 1953. (Yes, once upon a time Peanuts was considered edgy and innovative). I look forward to adding Lio to my own daily habit the minute they get on the web like every comic that actually wants an audience.

(You laugh. Opus was the big dramatic holdout. You can see how that holdout's doing right here if you like.)

Tatulli is understandably thrilled about the reception his new comic is receiving, but chagrined about who he's replacing in a major market:

Tatulli was a bit shell shocked to hear that his strip would be taking Peanuts' place.

"Oh, jeez, oh my God, you made me the bad guy," he said. He recalled a previous incident in the late 1990s when he was in a bar talking with someone about his other comic strip, Heart of the City. Another patron overheard their conversation and angrily declared "You replaced Calvin and Hobbes!"

Technically, that was true; Bill Watterson, the Calvin cartoonist, retired from the business, leaving a hole that newspapers had to fill.

"Like I had anything to do with it, but people immediately blame me," Tatulli said. "It's a real Catch-22: People don't want to change, but then there are other people complaining that the comics aren't relevant anymore. I'm trying to walk that line, make comics relevant but at the same time not make the people angry who have loved Blondie and Peanuts."

Look. I love Peanuts. I'm thrilled to see the growing library of Fantagraphics Peanuts books on my shelf. I'm thrilled to read through the strips. I will always, always love Peanuts.

But it doesn't need the increasingly small newspaper space any more. And I don't think it's bringing people to the paper -- or at least, not in the numbers necessary to reverse the decline of the newspaper subscription. It's time to let Peanuts move on... and for newspapers to move ahead.

21 Comments

I think what really makes this acceptable is that Peanuts can still be read. The strips are all collected, all available in books. It takes less than 20 seconds to have them at hand and ready to order through the wonders of the internet.

The past is there. It's chronicled. And now, here is a chance for the future.

Now, what the future entails for newspaper comics is a different tale entirely. But at least being open to taking note and moving on gives some hope for what may be to come.

The current syndicated strips are the same ones that are in the latest book to go on sale (1959-1960). I don't know how many people are buying the books, but for those of us who are, it's easier to stop reading the daily feed.

Man, if there was ever a comic that had something to gain from a presence on the web, it's Opus. Breathed uses all sorts of gradients, blends, and blurs to soften his backgrounds, and it just looks horrible in newsprint.

I dunno... Tatulli's first strip doesn't really wow me. I don't think I'd be on board for another.

Part of me is ultimately reminded of the episode of The Simpsons where Poochie appears. To wit, "So, you want a realistic, down-to-earth show...that's completely off-the-wall...and swarming with magic robots?"

Just the same, we want fresh and totally new entertainment... that's the same thng we've been reading/watching for years.

Ob Peanuts: I think I need to start buying those collections. When I was a decade or two younger, I used to make a nuisance of myself in the used bookstores, searching for the old, yellowed pocket paperback collections. I had a massive library of those things after a while... I probably had most of the 70's, 60's and a good chunk of the 50's covered.

Then, of course, after I left home a flood in my parents' crawlspace converted them back to raw pulp. *sigh*

Ob Snark: So, judging from the last couple days, are you now untharned, Eric?

Clodfelter (seriously. Say it out loud. Clooooodfelter.)

Allright, that's just not fair. Who told you that I was playing with that poor dude's name like that? Aw, man, there really *is* no privacy on the Internet. Get outta my head, you cheerful blog writer, you.


Seriously, though, I think it's about time they retire Peanuts. It seems like what its creator would have wanted.

>Okay, I've always enjoyed Heart of the City, but Lio floored me with the Game of Life strip on the Universal feature-detail page (http://www.amuniversal.com/ups/features/lio/index.htm). I've sat and stewed like that many times in my life during board games.

Registered just to post.

I'm stunned. I read somewhere, don't recall where, that every comic strip got dropped from some newspaper at some point, and there was negative, almost fanatic reader reaction.

Except for Peanuts. There's no data on how Peanuts fans would have reacted to their favorite strip being dropped, because "no one ever dared."

Seriously. Peanuts is about as American as fireworks, baseball and hamburgers.

I remember when the Sydney Morning Herald dropped Bristow and Ginger Meggs to make room for sudoku. Now, Ginger Meggs is an Australian icon, and so there was an outcry, but as I recall there was only a single wry comment about the banal stroyline Bristow was running at the time.

Noone cares about Bristow any more, apparantly. Good thing too, it's pretty shit.

Actually, I've been waiting for Mr. Burns to comment about "Opus" since it returned to newspapers. The sunday-only "no continuity" format and the quasi-surreal themes are very Outland-ish, but the focus is only on Breathed's strongest viewpoint character. I've been wrestling with myself ever since Opus appeared whether or not it is "as good" as his previous strips... sometimes I think he's lost his nerve to go after the really big sacred cows, and sometimes I think he hasn't.

What really, really disturbs me, though, is the shear size of the Opus strips. Yes, the elaborate backgrounds with the gradients, blends and blurs are fabulous, and a very modern nod back to the days when comics were full-page works of art. But the whole thing is massive, at least two or three strips tall. Which means that Breathed demanded extra space on the Sunday page (very much like Watterson's demand in 1992) and due to his stature he got it. But in doing so, he's bumped at least one or two other cartoonist completely out of the Sunday comics.

I'm not entirely sure why I feel it's ok for Watterson to pull something like that but maybe not Breathed. I guess I'd rather see that extra space on Sunday go to someone with the nerve to do a daily strip instead of a weekly "Ode to Photoshop".

I like Opus well enough, but it's kind of in this weird middle ground for me. Outland started off being a little Bloom County-ish, and then morphing slowly back into its roots, which felt depressing. Opus at least seems to have a standard that it sticks to; there's old, but there's new. When the strip isn't blatantly copying an old joke, I think it works pretty well. He is a bit stuck in a rut as far as themes though. Talking about aging is fine, but never shutting up about it is just self-pity. Letting go of the past is hard, but seriously, how many old things were really better than the new? Newspapers were a bastion of speech and information, but let's not forget the 'chop down a forest, smoosh it flat' that goes into every printing. Yes, some things were better in the old days, but a lot of stuff sucked, comparatively.

So yes. If he could broaden his subject matter beyond 'Opus is gettin' old!!' I'd be happier with the state of the comic, and happier with the amount of paper it occupies.

"So yes. If he could broaden his subject matter beyond 'Opus is gettin' old!!' I'd be happier with the state of the comic, and happier with the amount of paper it occupies."

Given the average age of newspaper readers, aging is probably a hot topic.

Hey Eric!

I wanted to point your attention to something. It's a new means for bloggers and online artists to be recompensated for the work they do. Certain notable blog sites have already made mention of it, including http://www.fleen.com/ and http://kottke.org/.

The URL is: http://www.indiekarma.com/customer/Welcome.xhtml

My webmaster and I recently set it up on our webcomic as well.

Considering the popularity of Websnark, you are in a good position to help propogate it. Take a look at it and tell me what you think. Thanks.

My local paper, The Akron (Ohio) Beacon-Journal, replaced Peanuts with a different strip shortly after Schultz retired. I don't recall any sort of controversy about this; it just seemed like the logical decision. I mean, a strip ends, a new one takes its place, right? It's amazing that Peanuts was/is powerful enough to warrant even its reruns having such influence over readers.

Onsite poll:

What do you think of our decision to replace Peanuts in our comics section?

Terrible! What is the comics section without Peanuts? 67 - 45%
It was time - Charles Schulz has been dead for 6 years. 45 - 30%
I'm not sure, I'll wait to see how I like the new comic strips. 20 - 13%
Doesn't matter to me, I don't read the comics. 15 - 10%.

I wonder if that's an accurate sample of the readership, especially considering some of those votes on the second line are likely from people coming in from Comixpedia...

Marmaduke prevaiils, citizen.

In slight defense of keeping it going... the Complete printed collections are only to 1966 so far. For a good chunk of the population, there may well be more peanuts strips that they've never seen than have been in the Newspaper in their lifetimes.

That said... yeah, hopefully as the complete collections catch up to the end, more papers will be willing to give some other kid a chance. The round-headed kid should be allowed to go off to sit beneath a tree in peace.

"I've been wrestling with myself ever since Opus appeared whether or not it is "as good" as his previous strips... sometimes I think he's lost his nerve to go after the really big sacred cows, and sometimes I think he hasn't."

I've found Opus to be a serious disappointment. Bill, Steve, and Opus (and the thankfully absent Milquitoast) worked best as absurdist foils for intellegent, well rounded characters such as Milo, Cutter John, or god forbid Bobbi Harlow. Beyond that, Bloom County had a real sense of being a part of the era it was in. It was a bastion for liberals to live in a conservative era (those early 80s), and recognize that they had a place in it. Opus seems more to be a complaint about the current era, without any of the good humoredness about it.

I grew up in Winston-Salem, so I'm not too surprised by the Journal's decision. The same misplaced fortitude that allowed them to drop 'Doonesbury' in the 90s-- how dare you criticize Danforth Quayle, Gary!-- has probably served them better here.

Peanuts still has a place of honor in my own daily trawl. Since they've been running the strips from the 50s, I have been astonished at how good Schulz was-- so funny and so human. When I say this, I am completely divided against myself, but it really is time for the newspapers to make room for someone else. Tatulli's work on Heart of the City is good, and I think Lio will do fine.

What I don't get is the fact that the Journal is simultaneously dropping Spot the Frog. That effectively undercuts any reasoning that the comics page needs new blood.

hi there long time lurker never cared to register before but this story has given independence and will to my hands who feel the urge to type the following comment.

"They put Snoopy to sleep!"

I have to say that the homage to schulz after he died was memorable particularly I remember a strip where Charly Brown was holding snoopy in tears as a piece of paper was falling with the message Charles Schulz is dead.

After seeing this story I have to wonder what the artist community would do to remember the ocassion if Snoopy was dropped from all places.

the mental image of a sad and confused snoopy with a muzzle being put to sleep with an injection while a helpless Charly brown wathes from behind a glass is too much.

at least we still have Snoopy on the net.

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