I was texting and emailing a few people yesterday about the life and career of Charles M. Schulz, whose 100th birthday was yesterday. “Peanuts” is one of those things that for many Americans, certainly of my generation, has just always been there. The person with whom I have always paired Charles Schulz is Kurt Vonnegut, who was also born one hundred years ago this month, on November 11. Like Vonnegut, Schulz was a Midwesterner of German descent who served in World War II and after the conflict got on with his career. War was never far away from either’s work. Think of Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel. One friend with whom I was corresponding yesterday had sent me a “Peanuts” cartoon a few weeks back on Veterans Day in which Schulz had worked in a reference to Willie and Joe. The war was always there.
I was on the reference desk at work last week when a student came up looking up for something. I have helped this young fellow a few times over the semester and every time he comes in we chat for a few minutes. We had somehow gotten on the topic of graphic novels and comic strips. I asked him if he had ever heard of Mad magazine, which he had not. I wrote it down on a piece of scrap paper and told him he might want to look into it. Hopefully he will. Two years ago I wrote about the retirement of Al Jaffee, who at 101 is still with us. In that piece I linked to a Washington Post article in which the author noted Schulz’s appreciation for Jaffee. Each cartoonist’s sensibility was different, but they each understood what the other was doing. Mad spoofed on “Peanuts” all the time, which is the ultimate compliment. Schulz managed to work Alfred E. Neuman into his strip on July 5, 1973. As I said in that Jaffee post in July 2000, in recent years I have come to see pop culture more warily. Consumed too much it has a numbing effect on individuals and society. Done well it can touch millions of people in real and meaningful ways, which in turn creates a shared experience.