YouTuber Garren Lazar has hit upon a brilliant idea—take clips from Charles M. Schulz’s universally beloved Peanuts cartoons and cut them together with universally beloved (more or less) popular anthems like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Freebird,” and “Stayin’ Alive.”
The huge emotions of these songs suit the oversized feelings of the comic’s characters, who were, all of them, variations of Schulz himself. As Jeff Kinney writes in his introduction to Chip Kidd’s book, Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts, the strip and its many animated spin-offs constitute “perhaps the most richly layered autobiography of all time.”
It’s fitting then that one of Lazar’s earlier Peanuts mashups involved another such richly autobiographical work, Pink Floyd’s rock opera The Wall, an album full of personal and collective pain, deep fear, alienation, insecurity, and observations about just how oppressive childhood can be. Just like… well, just like Peanuts.
Schulz’s work has always transcended the expectations of his form, becoming what might even be called comic strip opera. His fifty years of drawing and writing Peanuts make it “the longest story ever told by one human being,” says cultural historian Robert Thompson.
The creator himself had great ambitions for his collections of “little incidents,” as he called the strips. He hated the name Peanuts, which was forced upon him by United Feature Syndicate in the 50s. Schulz preferred his original title Li’l Folks, which he said imbued the strip “with dignity and significance. ‘Peanuts’ made it sound too insignificant.”
This was essential human drama, writ small, and it amounted to a whole lot more than “peanuts.” Claire Catterall, curator of a Schulz exhibit in London, insists she’s “not being ironic” in calling the strip “Great Art.” Schulz “introduced children—and adults alike—to some of the biggest philosophical ideas.” His “influence on culture and society is nothing short of seismic.”
Peanuts’ richness emerges in grand themes that took shape over decades. Bruce Handy writes of the Peanuts’ characters’ “nihilism,” calling Schulz’s world a “theater of cruelty.” (Their unhappiness only seems to lift during musical numbers.) Jonathan Merritt describes the strip’s religious mission, Maria Popova writes of its brave Civil Rights stand and its cultural evolution, and Cameron Laux compiles a list of Peanuts philosophies, from Existentialism to the importance of friendship and self-reflection.
Nor does Schulz escape comparisons to writers of great literature—including several whose names may have popped up as references in the strip, likely in the word bubbles of the precociously erudite Schroeder or Linus. Kinney compares Peanuts to Shakespeare, Laux compares it to Sartre and Beckett, and Stuart Jeffries at The Guardian writes, “Certainly, Ibsen and Strindberg made a lot of sense to me as an adult because I was raised on Peanuts.”
If Schulz’s comic strip and cartoons can evoke these august literary names, then why not the names Roger Waters and David Gilmour? If anyone has ever felt like just another brick in the wall, it’s Charlie Brown. Marvel at Lazar’s editing skills in “Charlie Brown vs. The Wall.” The Peanuts gang, and Schulz, may have preferred jazz, but one can see in their existential angst and frequent bouts of despair the same kind of disillusionment Roger Waters hammers home in his masterpiece. Only, the former “Li’l Folks” and their creator had a much better sense of humor about it all.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
Great idea. The red baron is back.
When you think about it the Peanuts Gang were a group of troubled and depressing kids. Shouldn’t they be sing Goth music, punk rock, or at least the Smiths?!