Sunday, December 02, 2007

Snow in the Comics, Part 3: Only 15 More Days Until Beethoven's Birthday!

Snow in Charles Schulz's Peanuts
Part 3 of 3

by BK Munn

I'm sure that Robert Short tackled this in his Gospel According to Peanuts --before the recent Michaelis bio, the most extensive critical treatment of Schulz's work in print-- but I have to wonder if the use of Beethoven's birthday in the strip, coming so close to Christmas, is another aspect of the religiosity of Peanuts, some sort of parable about empty ceremony or advertising. It's funny, I've never really thought about it before. For some, Beethoven is on a Christ-level of greatness (plus, he actually existed), and therefore an apt metaphor for Baby Jesus and his season. I always thought this sign business was hilarious but I also always suspected I was missing something: a function of what Jonathan Franzen called "the koanlike inscrutability" of Schulz's humour.

Anyway, with all this snow, I'm put in mind of how Peanuts seems to contain the most extensive treatment of snow and winter of any comic, with the possible exception of some theoretical Scandinavian or Inuit strip I have yet to encounter. Of course, you could pick almost any subject and Peanuts will have treated it exhaustively, from football to philosophy, from World War I to worms --it was a smart strip that ran for 50 years. (And with the handy index in Fantagraphics' new Complete Peanuts, you can actually look these things up.) Winter holds a central place in the iconography of the strip, not just as a marker for the passage of time and the basis for seasonal gags, but as a metaphor for psychological states and the various major themes of the strip.

snoopy dance winter

I'm sure Schulz liked winter --he certainly liked to play hockey. Sometimes, though, it does seem like he's stretching it a bit, playing on what he thinks other people feel about the season, and poking at those feelings as bit.

snoopy is cold peanuts

Like everything in the strip, snow has its bad side, something capable of instilling terminal ennui and a soul-blackening, body melting, shivering dread.

Speaking of which, I wonder if Canada is ever mentioned in the strip? That would be a grim series of strips. Back to the index...

Next time: the forecast calls for more snow
Part 2
Part 1

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