How Snoopy Killed Peanuts

Friday, September 25th, 2015

Snoopy killed Peanuts, Kevin Wong argues:

The now famous debut strip is an important reminder of what Peanuts used to be. Note that it stars Shermy and Patty, both of whom stopped being featured in the strip in the 70s:

Peanuts Debut

It establishes, from its very debut, that this strip is not about the adorable inanities of being a child. It’s about the cruelties and hardships of being a child; children can be bullying, backstabbing, petty people. And sometimes, children can be irrational, and hate someone for no reason — simply ‘because.’

The happiness we feel for these characters, when they occasionally get the final word or win, is poignant because they’re dragged through the muck so many times. One of the most famous Peanuts strips is this one:

Peanuts Happiness is a Warm Puppy

But that’s all most people know of Peanuts, and that’s a gross oversimplification of the strip. Because in his prime, Schulz always balanced the sentiment with the flipside of it, sometimes over the course of multiple strips, and sometimes in the context of a single Sunday strip, with multiple panels.

Peanuts Happiness is Feeling the Wind and the Rain in Your Hair

Snoopy began the strip as a normal dog, and the majority of his gags were of him doing traditional dog stuff. But a couple of years in, Schulz figured out how to characterize Snoopy; he was a dog who resented being a dog. So, Snoopy spent most of his time trying on other identities — usually those of other animals, and occasionally those of humans.

But the end result was always failure — for whatever reason, he would always revert to being a dog, because the new identity didn’t fit him properly. It was a great commentary on self-acceptance, but also on embracing creativity and the need to dream of something better.

Failure was the key to Snoopy’s charm; as it was to Charlie Brown, who never kicked the football; as it was to Linus, who couldn’t give up his security blanket; as it was to Lucy, who never got Schroeder to look her way. On the rare instances Snoopy tried to be human, Frieda or Lucy tried to cut him down.

And on the occasions that he cultivated human emotions, he got hurt.

But near the end of the 60s and well into the 70s, the cracks started to show. Snoopy began walking on his hind legs and using his hands, and that was the beginning of the end for the strip. Perhaps he was technically still a dog, but in a very substantial way, Snoopy had overcome the principal struggle of his existence. His opposable thumbs and upward positioning meant that for all intents and purposes, he was now a human in a dog costume. One of his new roleplays was to be different Joes — Joe Cool, Joe Skateboard, etc.

Peanuts Joe Cool

None of this had any greater, narrative payoff, or ended with Snoopy realizing he was a dog. It was always a pure visual gag, and it lacked the subtlety, pain, and vision that had previously been the strip’s trademark. In short, there was no balance. It was just a series of Snoopy in new costumes, almost as if Schulz was anticipating merchandise demands. Cuteness had replaced depth in a strip that had always celebrated the maturity and adult-like nature of precocious children. And since the strip had become globally, universally loved, there was little impetus to revisit the darker social commentary of years past.


  1. Grurray says:

    He forgets about Snoopy and the Red Baron.

  2. Phil B says:

    Yep, Snoopy killed the Red Baron. They even wrote a song about it… >};o)

  3. Grasspunk says:

    Yeah, and Nirvana were better before Nevermind.

    I asked my 10yo who has read everything from 1960 to 1990-mumble what his favorite year was and he said “1975″. Maybe he’s not into the “darker social commentary” as much as Kevin.

  4. Isegoria says:

    “I only like old Peanuts — before they sold out.” — Hipster Comics Fan

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