Tag Archives: Charlie Brown

Concerning Cucurbit Comics, or 57 Years of Hilariously Sincere Waiting for The Great Pumpkin.

 

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When Charles Schulz first devised his running holiday gags involving an eager child’s confused blending of  Halloween and Christmas in October 1959, he never dreamed that the myth of the Great Pumpkin would become one of the most beloved and amusing elements of the Fall holidays. Like so many landmark Peanuts routines, what began as a simple joke about a seemingly quaint misunderstanding would eventually grow to sizable proportions throughout the decades, producing a number of memorable antics as well as some particularly pointed commentary on the values and risks of personal perseverance and popular scorn.

Five of the first seven “Great Pumpkin” strips reveal Linus Van Pelt spreading the joyful gospel that will eventually leave him humiliated as “a victim of false doctrine.”

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From then on, Schulz deftly milked the joke every season, focusing mainly on Linus’ unsinkable faith in his own personal legend of a charitable pumpkin-claus who brings toys and treats to good little kiddos awaiting his arrival in the truest, most earnest, and sincere pumpkin patch nestled somewhere in the Great American breadbasket. Playing harbinger to his Halloween hero, Linus’ tone could shift from zealous and prophetic to desperate and dejected, but still he spoke his truth and believed always in his misfit vision of the holiday. Now his legend is ours as well.

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Of course the 1966 TV special, one of many award-winning adaptations that launched Schulz’s Peanuts gang to worldwide fame, would provide the most resonant and popular of all Great Pumpkin routines. Culled largely from the comic strips, and lovingly tweaked for television by Schulz himself and long-time producer, Bill Melendez, the CBS special, like its Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter counterparts, became a seminal element of American holiday media, and its yearly broadcast remains a beloved tradition shared by generations of viewers and fans. It’s safe to say that, ironically, much of the media-driven world now sits eagerly each year with Linus in his pumpkin patch.

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Like Schulz’s tree-eating kite, Charlie Brown and Lucy’s perennial football foibles, and the poor Peanuts kids’ eternal inability to win baseball games – Linus’ yearly disappointment after the Great Pumpkin’s failure to appear makes grand, operatic comedy of frustration and regret. Linus’ agony over another year wasted, his sister’s disgust at her little brother’s unshakable delusion, Snoopy’s perpetual knack for appearing at just the right time to give the poor languishing martyr some hope, and especially smitten Sally’s endless threats of litigation and restitution for a night’s worth of lost candy all frame the Great Pumpkin as a fairly piquant allegory of the complexities of faith, fun, and friendship in America.

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The Timelessness of Satirical Art: Charlie Brown’s Football

While leafing through Herblock On All Fronts, a book of editorial cartoons by Herbert Block, I was struck by one cartoon in particular that was published on February 18, 1976, but resonates today. In it, Block uses Peanuts comic strip characters as an analogy of a political challenge during that time. He depicts Lucy as the “CIA and FBI” and Charlie Brown as “U. S.” Lucy is holding the football for a roughed up Charlie Brown to kick—again, and says, “Don’t worry. This time you can really trust me.” It was pertinent to politics then, and Jeff Darcy shows that it is pertinent to politics in September 2013 as well.

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Don’t Worry.  This Time You Can Really Trust Me, pen on paper cartoon from Herbert Block, printed on 18 February 1976; rpt. in Herblock on All Fronts (New York 1980) 49.

In 1976, Block was commenting on the illegal wiretaps by FBI agents and its collaborations with the Mafia on certain missions.  Both the CIA and FBI planted false news stories in the media.  Block also decried the efforts of the CIA to spy on American citizens such as Senator Robert Kennedy, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. “as having the same high priority as its intelligence gathering on the Soviet Union and Communist China, according to CIA files” (Block 45).  Referencing Richard Helms, former head of the CIA, Freedom of Information requests have impaired the agency’s ability to do its job, but it is clear that the CIA broke laws and compromised the U. S. Constitution in the name of national security.

In the last fifty years or so since the content to which this cartoon refers transpired, the CIA has managed to get America into even more trouble on the international front.  There have been several coups and murders in Latin America that have been perpetrated wholly or in part by the CIA.  More recently, the CIA led us to believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at its disposal.  After years of war and tens of thousands of deaths, America has had to concede that they did not exist.  Now, in 2013, we find that the NSA (another intelligence department) has been illegally spying on Americans.  When it was betrayed by one of its operatives, the agency tells us, “Don’t worry.  This time you can really trust me.”  Like Charlie Brown, Americans are expected to believe the intelligence services as they keep changing their stories, yes, like Lucy who pulls the ball away at the last second—and then rationalizes her actions. Continue reading →