‘The Peanuts Papers’ — how the comic strip inspires writers and artists

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Courtesy West Tisbury Library

The diverse group of 33 contributors to “The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life” all share a love and reverence for “Peanuts” and Charles Schulz, who drew the comic strip from Oct. 2, 1950, to Feb. 13, 2000. Among them is Peter Kramer, a seasonal resident of the Island since 1975, who contributed a chapter about the psychology implicit in her “Doctor Is In — 5 cents” advice and its relationship to mid-century psychotherapy. Kramer will talk about the book and his chapter at the West Tisbury library on Saturday, Nov. 16, at 3:30 pm.
“I will say something about what I got from reading my fellow authors’ contributions — mostly about how influential ‘Peanuts’ was and is for creative people of many generations and working in many genres,” Kramer said. “Then I’ll turn to my own piece, which looks at the Lucy booth, and think about why the strips that use that premise are funny. The starting point is the obvious thought that therapists of the era (mid-20th century) were empathetic listeners, where Lucy is impatient and unsympathetic. But therapy at the time (I learned some on Martha’s Vineyard with Milton Mazer, whom I studied with in 1975) could also be pragmatic and confrontational. Anyway, I will try to make sense of those strips, the ones in which Lucy tells Charlie Brown to get over himself.”
While the essays range from profound to funny, to piercingly insightful, and sometimes all three at once, the writers all reveal the impact “Peanuts” had on them when they first started reading the weekly comic strip. Host of the public radio show “This American Life” Ira Glass writes, “Whoever laughed at ‘Peanuts’? I just liked the mood of them. I was a sulky little kid, easily upset, didn’t play sports, didn’t like playing outside at all … I thought of myself as a loser and a loner, and ‘Peanuts’ helped me take comfort in that.”
The book’s editor, Andrew Blauner, says, “To contemplate ‘Peanuts’ is to move between two complementary spheres, one vast and existential, the other as small as the strip’s diminutive characters.” Schulz drew us, literally, into the neurosis and philosophical ponderings of his gang, liberating them from the funny pages, as teacher, illustrator, editor, and cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, points out.
Some of the authors make literary references. Author and three-time winner of the National Magazine Award Adam Gopnik calls forth Checkov and the spiritual hopelessness of Beckett, as well as equating Charlie Brown to “Catcher in the Rye” protagonist Holden Caulfield. Bruce Handy points out that Linus himself in one of the strips is reading Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” and studying the letters of John the Apostle.
Many of the writers analyze Charlie Brown’s indomitable hope despite continual humiliating experiences that speak otherwise. “His haplessness was an inspiration to us all; no matter how bad things got in our daily lives, they would get much worse for Charlie Brown,” satirist and critic Joe Queenan remarks. “But never worse in a horrible way. Just … worse.” Charlie Brown believes each time that Lucy will not pull the football out from under. He comes to her repeatedly for advice when she sits in her psychiatrist’s stand, regardless of her guaranteed abuse. After he bares his soul about his depression, Lucy’s advice is to just get over it! Five cents please.
A number of authors in “The Peanuts Papers” examine Lucy and her “tough love” (without the love part) approach to doctor’s advice. In addition to Charlie Brown and Lucy, many speak of Linus (Schulz’s favorite character to draw) and his philosophical bent. Cartoonist, writer, and documentary filmmaker Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell references a strip in which Linus shares his worries about his worries, “I guess it’s wrong to always be worrying about tomorrow. Maybe we should think only about today.“ (Of course, true to character, Charlie Brown responds, “No, that’s giving up … I’m still hoping that yesterday will get better.”)
Then there’s Snoopy, whose wild imagination empowers him to be a WWI flying ace (despite being shot down by the Red Baron), gives him faith in his literary prowess, and provides his utter joy of abandoning himself to dancing. Sarah Boxer, nonfiction and graphic fiction writer, says Snoopy “didn’t need any of the other characters in order to be what he was. He needed only his imagination.”
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Snoopy was the “canine” of the hour. He became so beloved that he permeated American culture. Snoopy became NASA’s mascot, had a lunar module named after him for the Apollo 10 mission, and in 1968 and 1972 was a write-in candidate for president of the United States.
Blauner shares about his role in fashioning the essays into a book, “To be fair and clear, of course, I did not write it, only edited it, and even that is a bit of a misnomer, for, when you have this roster of contributors, and the quality of their writing is so high, there is not much editing they need. I sometimes feel like a coach of an all-star team, and I just wanted to stay out of the way, not mess anything up, and let the writers and their work speak for themselves.” He adds, “This book is an anthology, and the word anthology comes from the Latin word meaning — loosely translated — ‘bouquet.’ This is that. A tribute to, a token of gratitude to Schulz and the characters and world he created, the joy and pleasure and more; what he created has given to so many for so long.”

Peter Kramer will speak on Saturday, Nov. 16, at 3:30 pm at the West Tisbury library.
The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life,” edited by Andrew Blauner. Available for $24.95 at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven and online.