A Peanuts Prospectus: Politics is for the Birds (and Beagles)
During its almost 50-year run in the newspaper, Charles Schulz’ Peanuts comic strips would delve into thoughts on politics, quite a few times.
One that was most well-known in the series (and eventually became the basis for a Peanuts TV Special in the 1970’s), was Linus Van Pelt running for School President at his school. Lucy agreed to be Linus’ campaign manager (and tolerated his choice of Charlie Brown for Vice-President!), and it looked like they were going to win…until Linus decided to tell the student body about the Great Pumpkin, which ended up costing him the election!
Unknown to quite a few people, Schulz soon found a lesser-used group in the comics, to get across some of his thoughts on politics: birds.
One of the strip’s most famous birds named Woodstock, wouldn’t find his way into becoming a series regular until the early 1970’s. But prior to Woodstock, several bird characters began to be seen around the neighborhood.
A number of stories had Snoopy interacting with a few of them, but in September of 1964, they soon came into light regarding Politics.
It all began when Snoopy noticed one bird walking by, carrying a sign.
This same bird would be seen over the next few days, showing his support for “!,” but on September 3rd…an altercation occurred.
It soon seemed that the world of bird politics, was not as simple as one would assume, as the field began to grow a little more crowded.
Not being a bird, Snoopy was fine sitting on the sidelines, witness to the Politics of the feathered few. Of course, he couldn’t help but get in a little jab or two.
Before long, a number of other groups began to join the circus.
There was even an additional skirmish between some more “!” and “?” supporters, but the day after, Snoopy soon saw that the Political struggle was a little crazier than what he had originally thought.
Eventually after 2 weeks, the Bird’s political storyline came to an end, with an unlikely victor.
It’s impossible to know just what may have triggered Schulz to consider this storyline, but most likely, it was in response to the impending Presidential election of 1964, between Lyndon B Johnson, and Barry Goldwater.
In truth, I never saw any of these strips in the collected volumes I read from the library as a kid. I had no idea they existed, until Fantagraphic Books’ publishing of The Complete Peanuts volumes some time ago.
Of the many strips that had not been reprinted in previous years, I was most impressed by these two weeks.
But it wasn’t over just yet. The Political birds would get a small return 4 years later, during July of 1968.
Schulz’s design of the birds had also changed over the 4 years. Instead of being a little bigger and bird-like, the ones shown in the 1968 segments showed the evolution to the smaller, big-beaked look that would soon encompass Woodstock and his friends.
Much like 1964, a number of birds were seen carrying signs for different ‘candidates.
This time, the political bird antics only lasted a week. However, at the end of the story, Schulz took the story in a different direction.
The bird supporter with the paw-print, added a fun little gag to the standard symbols Schulz had been using, but it also segued into a new story, starting on July 8th.
Yes, Snoopy decided to run for office…with a very odd campaign strategy.
This additional political segment, lasted for a few days more than the latest bird candidacy storyline. We got a peek into Snoopy’s campaign headquarters, as well as a few other bits regarding what he’d need to do to stay relevant in the political race.
Finally after a few weeks, on July 16th, 1968, Snoopy’s campaign ended…or as we see here:
Though his campaign dwindled out on the printed page, Snoopy’s momentum would permeate the public’s subconscious for many years.
From the 60’s on into today, there have often bit bits of promotional imagery calling for the famed Beagle to throw his hat into the ring as a Presidential candidate. Though this is nothing new, as several other comic and famous characters have had little jibes to take on the big job. Characters like Pogo, and Winnie the Pooh, have also been named over the years.
Eventually, Snoopy would get a more venerated position in the dog world of the comics, when in February of 1970, he was promoted to the most important of positions: Head Beagle!
After being sworn into office, Snoopy soon found the position to be one of numerous decisions and complaints from constituents. Finally after 3 weeks, he abandoned his post, and was replaced.
One figures that in the end, it was easier for Snoopy to just be an average Joe, relaxing on his doghouse, and assuming his numerous flights of fancy.
When I do pieces regarding the Peanuts comics, I do like to give a shout-out to the Charles M Schulz Museum, up in Santa Rosa, CA. Keepers and retainers of a number of items pertaining to the comics and its creator, I strongly recommend giving them a look if you’re in Northern California. You can find out more about them by checking out their Facebook page.