Good Grief Charlie Brown!

Originally published on Torontoist on May 13, 2011.

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Cover of The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954 (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2004), which includes the first strips seen in Toronto newspapers. Cover design by Seth.

“DYNAMITE NEW SPAN 6-LANES NEVER USED,” screamed the headline atop the November 15, 1954 edition of the Telegram. While extensive water damage from Hurricane Hazel to an unopened Highway 401 bridge over the Humber River required TNT to tear down the buckled structure, the story at the bottom of the front page introduced readers to a new feature in the paper that proved equally dynamite: a comic strip that exploded into the hearts of readers in Toronto and around the world.

Among the new features—introduced under the headline “To Make Your Reading Easier The Telegram Presents A New Look”—were two comic strips making their local debut. Though the paper promised Marmaduke would “keep you in chuckles,” it has long been debated whether Brad Anderson’s chronicles of a giant dog was ever comical. The second strip tickled more funny bones: “On the first page of the second section appears a new comic series Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. Mr. Schulz has created a weird and wacky world inhabited by small children and an improbable dog that makes a very different type of comic strip.”

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The Telegram, November 15, 1954.

A fuller profile of Peanuts and its creator appeared inside the paper. The strip’s name “refers, not to baseball’s favourite accompaniment, but to children—the funny (peculiar and humorous) children who populate this strip, already popular in other countries.” The article neglects to mention that Schulz hated the title Peanuts, which was devised by his syndicate after the name of an earlier strip he drew, Li’l Folks, was subjected to a copyright claim by the creator of a defunct 1930s strip. As Schulz once noted, “Whenever I am asked about the origin of the name ‘Peanuts,’ I always manage to slip in a little dig that it is the worst name ever thought of for a comic strip…It was undignified, inappropriate and confusing.”

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The Telegram, November 15, 1954. 

Readers were told that they would meet a “band of children whose reactions to everyday occurrences are half-childish, half-adult, part-philosophical and wholly amusing.” The cast was still evolving when Telegram readers first met the gang: Linus had ceased to be a toddler, Pig-Pen had debuted earlier that summer, the short-lived Charlotte Braun yelled a lot, and characters like Peppermint Patty, Sally, and Woodstock were years away from appearing.

The first regular strip, which ran underneath stories about the Queen Mother’s visit to Ottawa and Prince Charles’ sixth birthday, saw Lucy counting the number of suns in the sky. When Charlie Brown explains that it’s the same sun that occasionally hides behind clouds, she tears into him (“and I suppose that same sun stays lit ALL day long?”) before declaring he “must be getting more stupid every day.” Good ol’ Charlie Brown moans about his stomach in response.

Readers didn’t retch though: Peanuts remained a key element of the Telegram until the paper’s demise in 1971. Rights were picked up by the Star, where reruns continued after Schulz’s death in 2000.

Additional material from You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown! by Charles M. Schulz (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985).