Politics and Peanuts.
It seems that over the years, the two have often collided in some very entertaining, and memorable storylines in the funny pages.
In the Summer of 2016, I did a Peanuts Prospectus on Snoopy, and a number of very political birds. The storyline took place during the first few weeks of September in 1964, but almost a month later, politics would again return to Charles M Schulz’s comic strip.
Only this time, it would affect one of the Peanuts gang’s main child characters: Linus Van Pelt.
On October 5th, 1964, Lucy Van Pelt suggested that her younger brother Linus, run for School President, and she’d serve as his campaign manager.
Linus at first has trepidations about attempting to take on such a major role, but Lucy says the magic word that often makes most normal persons, rush into the Political minefield (see left). Plus, Linus’ face takes on an expression we don’t normally see.
Over the next few days, Linus officially signs up as a candidate, and is brought up before the student body to say a few words. Right off the bat, Linus promises to do away with “cap-and-gown kindergarten graduations,” and “sixth grade dance parties.”He also vows that in his administration, “children will be children, and adults will be adults.”
On a final note, he claims he may also do away with “stupid elections” like the one he’s currently taking part in. That’s definitely a lot to put down, though it is interesting to read his ideas. Growing up in the 1980’s, I never had kindergarten graduation, or a dance party in sixth grade. Of course, one assumes that Linus doesn’t fully understand just how much power he can wield as school president, if he claims he may do away with future elections (does this mean he plans to become a grade-school despot?).
Of course, one normally can’t have a President without a Vice-President, and Linus soon makes his choice: Charlie Brown! Naturally, Lucy feels this is a terrible idea at first, but warms up to it after a few moments of thought (see right).
Eventually, the school newspaper begins to interview the candidates. The job falls on a girl named Violet, who first asks Linus what he’ll do if elected. Linus bursts forth with a loud, passionate speech, but Violet just condenses it down to Linus being “very honored, and will do his best if elected.”
She also goes to Charlie Brown for a short interview, and after a few moments, decides to use the same blurb on him, as she did with Linus. Needless to say, Charlie has a funny comment about her reporting skills (see left).
The next few days, find Linus in the school auditorium, outlining what his election will mean. Most notable, is the strip from October 14th (pictured at right).
Along with his religious-laced ravings, Linus soon after mentions how he will also increase wages for school employees…which makes one wonder again, if he knows exactly what his role as School President will mean.
He also claims that if a little dog comes onto the playground, it will not be chased away, but welcomed with open arms, which leads to a standing ovation from Snoopy in the audience.
Along with the previous declarations, Linus also mentions that his first act will be to appear before the schoolboard, before Lucy quietly reminds him that this isn’t possible…since they meet at 8 o’clock, and he goes to bed at 7:30.
Over the next few weekday strips, Schroeder takes Linus’ picture for the school newspaper, and Lucy is hard at work checking on the polls, along with ‘encouraging voter turn-out’ (see left). Most notable is her “private poll,” which steadily climbs to 92%, with the remainder giving 7% of the votes to Linus’ (unidentified) opponent, and 1% undecided. The undecided vote stings a bit for Linus, as he wonders why some would be undecided to vote for a nice guy like him.
Finally, the candidates give their final words before the election, and Linus is up. Lucy is confident in her private poll numbers, and Charlie Brown is all-smiles, eager to gain an important position in their school.
And that’s when Linus drops a bomb (see right). Of course, he gets little more than a few sentences into talking about the Great Pumpkin, before he’s drowned out by the laughter of his classmates. “I’ve blown the election!” he says, as he trudges off the stage.
Naturally, Lucy is upset at her brother for what he said, and given her attitude, it seems a sure bet that her private polls have gone up in smoke, and that Linus’ rival won by a landslide.
Eventually, Linus has a small talk with Charlie Brown, who questions why Linus would even mention the Great Pumpkin. Linus firmly answers his friend, that he felt it was his duty to inform the other kids in school, re-affirming his belief to Charlie about the Great Pumpkin rising out of the pumpkin patch, and bringing joy to the children of the world. Naturally, Linus re-stating his believes does little to quell Charlie’s feelings about losing the chance to be Vice-President of the school.
During the final week of October in 1964, Linus even attempted to get some sympathy from Snoopy, claiming that he simply spoke what he felt was the truth. Of course, reading Snoopy’s thought balloons, even he feels Linus made a stupid decision (“if you’re going to hope to get elected,” he thinks to himself, “don’t mention the ‘Great Pumpkin!'”).
As Halloween approaches, the loss of the election even frustrates Linus’ belief system. He attempts to write a letter to the Great Pumpkin, which quickly turns into a small venting of frustration over him clinging to the hopes and belief that the Great Pumpkin will appear this time.
Linus carries around a sign, and tries to make sure the nearby pumpkin patch is sincere enough to catch the Great Pumpkin’s eye. Charlie Brown comes by, and even attempts to see if Sally may show a little compassion and sit with him, but after the last time she did it, she’s not about to be taken a second time.
Eventually, Halloween comes around, and the Great Pumpkin doesn’t show, leading to Linus writing a very angry letter in the November 2nd, 1964 strip (see right)…but not entirely.
Needless to say, things didn’t go so well when Linus finally expounded one of his primary beliefs on the student body. Surprisingly, the comic strip storyline about the school election, like several other storylines from the 1960’s, found it’s way into the television medium.
In October of 1972, the short You’re (Not) Elected, Charlie Brown was released as a TV special. Unlike the very Linus-centric storyline, this special would add some extra bits and pieces, to fill out the show’s running time.
Most notable is a very frustrated Sally Brown, who is fed up with how she is unable to open her locker at school…notably because she can’t reach it.
When it comes to the election portion of the story, the position is for Student Body President, and it is originally Linus who suggests Charlie Brown run for the position. However, Lucy is unsure if it would be worth it, and takes a small poll. With the data she gathers, she then claims that it’s very unlikely Charlie would win.
After this news, Sally recommends Linus as a candidate, and Lucy takes another poll. After adding some ‘intimidation tactics’ to her polling methods, she concludes that Linus might have a shot.
Unlike the comic strip, Linus is actually given a rival for the Class Presidency slot, in the form of a boy named Russell Anderson.
Of course, most notable about the special is how Charlie Brown’s name is mentioned in the title, and yet, he doesn’t figure that prominently into the story (heck, he isn’t even considered for, or given the Vice-President slot like in the comics!). However, he does play a part in the elections, working the podium during the stage appearances of Linus and Russell, as well as being part of the group counting the election ballots.
The short also mixes a small subplot about Snoopy, Woodstock, and Charlie Brown joining Lucy as part of Linus’ campaign. They also go to a radio station and set up time for a call-in segment, for the schoolkids to call in and talk to Linus (pretty hoity-toity, if you ask me!). Of course, the radio program idea doesn’t go off too well, and the majority of the callers fail to even know what the election entails (at one point, one caller asks what Linus is going to do about ‘the rivers’).
Unlike the comic strip, Linus’ mentioning of the Great Pumpkin doesn’t fully blow his chances at the election, but knocks down some ground between him and Russell, tying both candidates in the polls. Lucy cautions Linus that if he keeps from doing another ‘stupid thing,’ he might have a chance.
Even so, Linus is more personally concerned over the laughter and jeers he heard.
“It’s depressing to think, that there are students that don’t believe in The Great Pumpkin,” he says to himself.
Soon, it’s time to vote, resulting in a tie between both candidates, with Russell Anderson casting the deciding vote. However, in a surprise move, Russell ends up voting for Linus, impressed by his convictions!
With Linus now Student Body President, Sally rushes him to the Principal’s office, eager to have him start making good on all his promises.
However, after a meeting with the Principal, Linus admits to Sally that he actually doesn’t hold enough power as Class President, to actually do most of what he claimed.
“He sold out!” bellows Sally, at the top of her lungs. “We elected him, and he sold out! They’re all the same! Promises, promises! You elect them, and they weasel out of their promises!”
Yes Sally, you realized the horrible truth about politics, first-hand.
Since it’s founding in 1970 by former President Richard Nixon, The Environmental Protection Agency, has claimed to try and protect human health, as well as the environment.
However, in the early months of 1977, it ended up playing a small role in Charlie Brown’s constant struggles, with the local Kite-Eating Tree. The incident soon snowballed into a strange little cross-town adventure for our favorite blockhead.
It all started on February 21st, 1977, when Charlie Brown addressed the Kite-Eating Tree, now that Winter seemed to be over. Tensions boiled over a few days later, when the tree catches one of Charlie’s kites in it’s branches.
“You stupid tree,” he yells. “If you bite my kite, I’ll bite you!”
It isn’t an idle threat either, as Charlie quickly takes a bite out of the tree (see right)!
It should be noted that up until this point, Schulz had not decided if this storyline would be expanded upon. Charlie’s business with the Kite-Eating Tree, would trade off on some days, with some story strips regarding Snoopy and Woodstock.
It wouldn’t be until March 1st, 1977, that Schulz would zero in on Charlie’s predicament, and further develop his story. On that day, Charlie Brown received a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in regards to him biting the Kite-Eating Tree!
At first, Charlie Brown is unsure about what he should do. While he wonders about hiring an attorney for fear he’ll be sued by the EPA, Lucy seems to revel in him possibly being incarcerated (“Fifty cents says they’ll throw you in the slammer,” she tells him).
Finally, Charlie comes to a decision, and decides to run away.
Packing some things, he leaves Snoopy in the care of his sister Sally, who doesn’t seem that concerned that her big brother is leaving (“Can I have your room?” she asks, as he leaves the house).
After walking for some time, Charlie finds himself in a different neighborhood, where he is promptly beaned by a ball, and collapses!
He is revived by two kids named Austin and Ruby, who claim they are looking for someone to coach their baseball team…an offer that seems to sit well with Charlie!
However, it soon becomes apparent that this might not be so easy. The team is made up mostly of younger kids. After accepting Austin and Ruby’s offer, Charlie is introduced to two other members of the team: Leland, and Milo.
Charlie does his best to coach the younger players, while also staying in a cardboard box nearby. Also notable, is that even though he introduces himself as “Charlie,” the kids all refer to him as “Charles.”
Of all the kids on the team, Schulz seems to zero in on Milo, as the one whom Charlie acts like a mentor figure towards. There’s also a fun little scene where Milo brings Charlie some cold cereal one morning. A nice gesture, except Milo has the cereal in his cupped hands, along with some milk.
While they are practicing one day, Ruby asks Charlie about the term, “goose egg.” When he explains that it can stand for when a team doesn’t score runs during an inning, Ruby grows excited.
“That’ll be the name of our team…’The Goose Eggs,'” she happily proclaims, as Charlie rolls his eyes.
Eventually, the time comes for The Goose Eggs to play against a visiting team…who just happen to be Charlie’s old team!
Naturally, Lucy finds the whole thing to be ridiculous, while Linus tells Charlie that he can now return home. A recent storm caused the Kite-Eating Tree to fall over, wiping out the evidence the EPA had against him.
Milo overhears, this, and inquires if Charlie is some sort of criminal.
“No, not really, Milo,” he replies.
Of course, the fun ‘cherry-on-the-top’ for the scene, is Milo proclaiming he wants to be like Charlie when he grows up!
“Did anyone hear that?” Charlie calls out to his team, happy that someone there thinks rather highly of him!
With most multi-day storylines, Schulz seemed to know what direction he was going in. However, with this one, it felt like he was toying with where to take the story.
In an article on the Charles M Schulz Museum’s page, his wife Jean talked about some of the strips from this storyline, when they were displayed as part of an exhibit in 2010.
Jean related how Schulz had reached the point where Charlie runs away from home because of the EPA notice, but wasn’t sure just where the journey would go from there.
Of course, it sprouted into the storyline of Charlie finding the younger kids and their ball team in another part of the town, before finally wrapping up.
This would often be the way some of Schulz’s longer stories would go. He would start with an idea, and it would often snowball from there, with no clear end in sight. A prime example is in 1973, where Charlie Brown wakes up, only to see the rising sun resembles a baseball (see left)!
In regards to the EPA-related story, Schulz has often found size differences to provide humor, and he uses that plenty of times throughout this story. The Goose Egg’s player named Leland figures into a few scenes. We see his role as catcher is in jeopardy, when the mask seems to cover his whole body, as well as him being rather disturbed at how high up he is when atop his team’s pitcher’s mound.
There also comes a fun little joke when Charlie asks Milo how many bases he’s stolen. When he inquires about the year before that, and then the year before that one, Milo claims he hasn’t been alive that long.
I will admit that the ending somewhat peters out, though I will give Schulz some credit for a very minor bit of continuity.
Linus mentions in the final story’s strip on April 2nd, how the kite-eating tree fell over in a rain storm. The week before, on March 28th, we got imagery of Charlie in his cardboard box, as rain poured down.
It’s a minor detail to some, but I feel it backs up Linus’ words on the 2nd of April.
Like much of my exposure to some storylines in the comics, I saw this story re-purposed through animation first, in the 1983 TV special, It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown. The special collected a number of the short stories from Schulz’s comics, and brought them to life on-screen.
The animated story rarely deviated from the comic strips, though they added some extra stuff in building up Charlie’s opening problems with the Kite-Eating Tree. The fun part is the animators adding a rather devilish grin on his face, after he has bitten the tree (see right).
There’s also a few nice background setups, where we get a wider view of the neighborhood where The Goose Eggs reside. The artists even include the fancy streetlight, that Schulz drew in the panel where Charlie first enters the neighborhood.
Most notable from a behind-the-scenes point-of-view, was how the story also served as a starting point for one person’s career with the Peanuts gang. For the voice of the character Milo, producer Lee Mendelson cast his son, Jason.
It would be the start of a small voice-career for Jason, who a few years later, would be voicing Rerun Van Pelt on The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, and later go on to voice Peppermint Patty during the This is America, Charlie Brown TV series (btw, it wasn’t that odd to have a boy voicing a girl. During the series, Charlie Brown was voiced by a girl named Erin Chase).
In the early 2000’s, Jason would follow in his father’s footsteps, and do some work on several of TV specials for the Peanuts gang, acting as a story developer on several shows.
I always liked the little bits with Charlie and Milo in the special, and one can hear Jason at his young age, trying his best to say the lines. Plus, just like the Kite-Eating Tree bit, the animators add an extra bit at the end, showing Charlie really happy about Milo wanting to be “just like him.”
I will admit, the overall storyline isn’t one of the comic’s best, but it has stuck with me over the years, enough to put together this little prospectus.
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.