It’s been a long time since Charles Schulz picked up his pen and scribbled out the first Snoopy in October 1950. Over those years the strip grew from being one more throwaway gag taking up space in the funny pages to a revered and treasured cultural icon. After more than 18,250 strips, 39 animated TV specials and god-knows how many plush toys, greeting cards, coffee mugs and t-shirts (not to mention the “motion comic” series that debuted on iTunes in 2008) it’s easy to forget that one man was behind it all, and that saw his little curmedgeony characters every step of the way, before passing away on February 12, 2010.
How do we commemorate the work of such a toon titan? Call me sentimental, but I think the most appropriate thing to do is lambast the hackneyed, flimsy crap that’s served up piping-lukewarm on funny pages today.
With a few notable exceptions, the swill that’s schlepped to readers these days is probably exactly what Schulz was afraid of seeing his comic turn into when he decided to end Peanuts’ run shortly before his death — after all, it’s not uncommon for popular strips to be continued under new authorship when the progenitor is gone. Chic Young, creator of Blondie, bit the big one in the early seventies but his strip continues to lurches on like an anachronistic zombie. When Alex Graham of Fred Basset semi-fame died in 1991, he left behind years worth of stale material to be reprinted ad-nauseam. Bob Thaves of Frank and Ernest died in 2006, yet his strip continues, as is the case with Johnny Hart’s (who passed away in 2007) B.C. and The Wizard of Id. More and more, the comic section is looking like a cryogenic freezing chamber.
Thank God for Cathy. On October 3, when Cathy Guisewite decided she would no longer be producing her strip, she took the high road and killed the strip once and for all. With one last “AACK!” and a final dumb iPhone joke, the comic was over. As Stephan Pastis, cartoonist behind Pearls Before Swine said in his strip seven days later: “I’d like to do a really nice tribute to Cathy Guisewite. At a time when most ‘retiring’ cartoonist choose to run repeats, denying young cartoonists of a spot on the comics page, she did the greatest thing by truly retiring.”