With the passing of the great Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, there was a massive outpouring of public and media response. There's no way the man was under-eulogized, so you'd think everything that could be said was said...but my beef is what was said that shouldn't have been! In almost every newspaper article it was lamented that Charlie Brown never got to kick the football. Well I'm here to tell you people that several months before the strip ended Charlie Brown did kick the football! Or at least he might have. For those who don't follow the funny pages with the religiosity they should, allow me to extrapolate, after a bit of brief backstory
Charles Schulz was cursed with the great fortunes of having the merchandising of his characters become humongously successful and the animated adaptations of his work be of extremely high quality. Those may seem like pure positives, but the curse lies in the fact that Schulz was first and foremost a master cartoonist, and his true artistry is often eclipsed in peoples minds by the indelible imagery of his merchandising and animation. This would be akin to equating the Beatles body of work with their charm bracelets and 60s TV cartoon. Far too many people's gut response to the word "Peanuts" is to hear Vince Girauldi's music, think of the musical incoherence of the cartoon adults or to picture their childhood Snoopy electric toothbrush. This results in one of the worst injustices to Schulz' work: fans who freeze their memories with the 1965 Peanuts Christmas cartoon. To these "fans" Schulz' comics cease to be living, progressing things, and development of characters and introduction of new characters go unnoticed. Therefore few people know about he happenings over the last few years....decades really, that led to this Fall's football kicking incident.
As has been well documented, unlike many newspaper cartoonists who use assistants, or who have the comics completely constructed by a team of unaccredited ghost artists and writers (Jim Davis of "Garfield" for one), Schulz did everything himself, from the lettering to penciling to inking to corrections. His meteoric rise to popularity in the 50s allowed him eventually more control than most cartoonists, and he didn't even have to submit scripts to the syndicate in advance, and not a comma could be edited without his approval. Another clause in his contract was that by no means would the comic ever be done by anyone else, so when he died, so too would the strip. In many ways Schulz has been preparing the strip for his departure for several years. Mortality has been a subtext of Peanuts for a while, as Schulz' line has become shakier and shakier in an eloquent way that makes the outlines more vibrant. There was even a series where Snoopy was in the hospital and his brothers came and discussed death for a week. The real indicators of Schulz preparing to give the strip some closure, though, occurred in his handling of two characters, the famed Charlie Brown and the unjustly obscure Rerun.
Many people don't even know that Rerun exists, despite the fact that he was introduced in 1972. Some chump actually lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" when despite using a "Phone A Friend" and a 50/50 lifeline, he refused to believe there was a character named Rerun in Peanuts. As Lucy and Linus' baby brother, Rerun spent a long time as a minor character. Schulz himself admitted to regretting his introduction until just a few years ago when he entered him in school. Suddenly Rerun became in many ways the crucial figure in the strip. Many people assume because of Schulz' embracing of things often associated with wholesomeness (kids, WWII vets, Bible scripture) that his work is happy, All-American goody goody stuff. Quite the contrary, the World According To Schulz as presented in Peanuts is a cruel, tough place. In his books Peanuts Jubilee (1975) and Peanuts: A Golden Celebration (1999) Schulz makes it clear that what motivates him are burning memories of every childhood, adolescent and adult slight, indignity and injustice he ever suffered. From yearbook cartoon rejections to a spurned marriage proposal, Schulz draws upon these to allow his characters to suffer similarly. Despite his monumental success, you get the impression that until the end Schulz still saw himself as a victim in many ways.
Many characters over the years have stood in for Schulz in this regard, but all of them have in some way "deserved" it or have lashed back in a negative way. Charlie Brown really is bad at baseball and kite flying. And Lucy and Sally react to things they don't like with obnoxiousness. In the baby Rerun, however, Schulz finally found a voice in a character who refuses to accept the indignities of the world and stands up to them with noble conviction and his own indignant, but not rude, steadfastness. He won't accept not having a dog and believes Snoopy should play with him. He doesn't feel he has to limit his expression in art class (he fancies himself an underground cartoonist) despite what the teacher's say. He doesn't accept the basic facts of the world, and like Schulz, even when it's not so bad, he has no problem seeing a big picture where he's a victim. And his innocence is constantly punished with trips to the office.
While this character was suffering these problems, the long suffering Charlie Brown was getting a reprieve. Over the last few years Charlie Brown has hit a homerun in the 9th to win a game, he's had luck with not one but two girls (one resulting a romantic moonlight kiss, one in ballroom dancing) and pretty much he's done well in everything except the dreaded football kick.
So that brings us to what would be the last year of the annual pull-the-football-away Sunday comic. And here converges the two characters Schulz had invested so much into in the 90s, what many considered a new renaissance of the strip. Read the accompanying comic and make up your own mind. Schulz had many insecurities, he constantly denied that comics was "Art," and it's not surprising he could never truly throw something in the face of the millions of people who wanted the comic to never change. Thus, this I feel, is as explicit as he could be in letting good ol' Charlie Brown get the glory. "You'll never know..." rerun says.. Oh, I know. He kicked the @#$*& out of the mother*&^%$#!