The recent American release of The Peanuts Movie, the new adaptation of Charles Schulz’s beloved comic strip that turned 65 this year, brought about the usual tsunami of tie-in merchandise. When it comes to Peanuts, that’s saying something.
In Snoopy’s Gallery & Gift Shop in Santa Rosa, California – Schulz’s adopted city until he passed away 15 years ago – there are enough Peanuts items to trigger something like an anaphylactic attack. There’s Peanuts stationery, Peanuts books, Peanuts bookends, Peanuts CDs, Peanuts DVDs, children’s Peanuts apparel, adults’ Peanuts apparel, Peanuts lunchboxes, Peanuts home decor, Peanuts art … and, of course, trinkets, plush toys and figurines of every possible size, texture and price point bearing the likenesses of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Woodstock, and the others.
On the flipside of that is the widespread recognition that Schulz’s strip is a serious and significant work of art, worthy of the cover of a 1965 issue of Time magazine, a celebratory exhibition at the Louvre in 1990 and dissection by literary critics. In an introductory essay in the first Italian volume of Peanuts strips, Umberto Eco wrote admiringly of Charlie Brown’s “Shakespearean” shifts of mood, the influence of doctors Freud and Kinsey, and the strip’s parallels to Samuel Beckett, Thomas Mann and Greek tragedy.
It’s easy to imagine the self-effacing Charles Schulz being equally gratified and bewildered by all this fuss in his lifetime. “He knew that what he did was good work,” says Schulz’s widow Jeannie, speaking in the Santa Rosa offices where more Peanuts comics are lovingly churned out still by the hands of other artists. “And yet he never allowed himself to think of himself as an artist. He would say, ‘It’s only a comic strip’. His Charlie Brownness would always come out.”
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