Charlie Brown and Snoopy are two of the most iconic cartoon images of all time. Together with Lucy, Linus, Pigpen and the rest of their Peanuts compatriots, they have reached the attention in some form of everyone alive today, at least in the Western Hemisphere.
On display at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood are more than 70 original comic strips and drawings, spanning the 50 years during which the genius behind them, Charles Schulz, created his fictional world. It’s the largest show of his work since he died in 2000.
The exhibit’s theme is Pop Culture in Peanuts, and it includes an amazing variety of pop-culture items placed around the space, collected from homes and eBay, that are culled from five decades.
To start we see some early black-and-white works. In fact, all of Schulz’s newspaper strips were without color — it’s on television that we first saw Charlie’s yellow shirt and Linus’ blue blanket. The 1950s drawings jump out with their spare, almost casual lines. But the specific, unique personalities of the Peanuts characters, the real reason the comic was so successful the world over, are already formed on their young faces. They get little additions as the years move on — maybe some extra hair, for example — but the intent to keep it lovingly simple remains.
Throughout the decades, Schulz would reference the latest trends. Snoopy famously took up surfing, wearing “my jams” in one sequence. Also popping up: 3-D glasses; streaking; punk music; the Pink Panther movies; Harry Potter. Set up in cases and on pedestals in the gallery are examples of many of these — memorabilia painstakingly gathered by exhibition curator Jane Hart. There’s the Sex Pistols album cover; a skateboard and a surfboard; a photo of a streaker; a stuffed pink panther.
But maybe the best accompaniment is Snoopy’s red dog house. Get on your knees and peer inside — there’s his root beer bottle and a TV dinner, among other “household” possessions. According to Hart, finding that original TV dinner box — which screams 1970s Americana — was next to impossible, as those have become expensive collector’s items. The trip down memory lane with physical items is both fun and integral to what Schulz was trying to say with his strip.
Eventually, Peanuts expanded from printed page to television, which also follows the trajectory of how pop culture was influencing the country in the post-World War world. In 1965, the first TV special appeared, and it has itself become a pop-culture classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas. The subsequent shows revolving around Thanksgiving and Halloween would also become annual mandatory viewing for kids everywhere. Excerpts from them are showing on screens in the exhibit.
Whether animated in color or drawn in black and white, the essence of what made Peanuts so beloved is clear; these are affectionately created children, with vulnerabilities and mean streaks and tons of humor.