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Peanuts
Mark Tatulli has guts. He draws the comic strip Lio, which is among the first I turn to on the daily comics page. One reason I like him is that he pushes the envelope: plays with the space he is granted in unusual ways, ventures to the dark side for a lot of his humor, is not afraid to be utterly absurd, and goes wordless a lot of the time. He’s even dared to give the title character (a young boy) a father but no mother. Mark breaks the rules and tries to expand the limits of one of the most staid and predictable of all cartoon genres. That takes guts.

It now appears that his moxie has grown even larger. Recently, he’s had the cojones to take on perhaps the most hallowed icon of daily cartoons: Peanuts. He doesn’t diss Charles Schultz or the strip itself. He simply points out, in a darkly humorous way, that the strip is still running even though a new episode hasn’t been published since February 13, 2000. In case you don’t know, that’s because Schultz died that same week.

I give Charles Schultz and whoever makes the decisions for his estate full credit for not selling the right to continue producing the strip to someone else. Some strips are so intertwined with the personality and worldview of their creators that the two have to go out together. And I certainly don’t blame Schultz’s kin for making money off the rerunning of old strips. But it does seem like a waste.

Peanuts used to be one of the strips I went to first when the paper arrived. Not anymore, though; I bypass it now in favor of the new (and perhaps lesser) work of living cartoonists. If I want to read Peanuts, I can go buy a collection. When Garry Trudeau takes a holiday from drawing Doonesbury and runs old strips instead, I don’t read those either.

If Bill Watterson allowed a similar republication of Calvin and Hobbes episodes, I might be tempted to read them again. It was, to my taste, the best daily strip ever drawn. Even in that case, though, I can imagine feeling a little odd doing it. I’ve already read all those cartoons; why not give somebody else a chance? They probably wouldn’t measure up, but I’d still prefer to have the chance to decide for myself. What if the next Calvin or Peanuts is trying to work its way into print and just can’t make it because an old, dead comic strip is in the way?

I’m not talking about me, by the way. I’ve given up on trying to break into that market, but I know there are talented cartoonists out there with something new and unique to offer. We should be given the chance to see their work in print — while we’re all waiting to see the newspaper business evaporate entirely.

I don’t know if Mark Tatulli feels the way I do. He’s probably just making jokes about the other cartoons that appear on the page with his. He parodies strips other than Peanuts, so maybe that’s all it is. Even so, he gets extra points for making fun of a dead comic strip and all its dead characters just because they’re dead.

I guess we’d be depriving him of ripe material by burying Peanuts once and for all. That would be a shame. But I could wish for just a bit more guts from Mark. Perhaps then he would go the extra mile and turn the Peanuts characters into zombies. If he did, I could forgive the presence of that dear, departed strip in my daily newspaper. A brain-eating Charlie Brown might be just the thing to start my day.

Please Note: Tim Eagan will read your comments but he is currently not publishing them.

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