Comic-Con 2013: Super Snoopy and the Enduring Appeal of Peanuts

Amid Lycra-clad immortals, Charlie Brown and the gang prove that the simple things in life continue to fascinate

By Colin Bertram
|  Saturday, Jul 20, 2013  |  Updated 12:01 AM EDT
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Comic-Con: The Enduring Appeal of Peanuts

Peanuts

Charlie Brown (top) and the Peanuts gang

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Superman, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

Some of these things are not like the others.

Navigating the crowds of Comic-Con en route to the "Snoopy: A Retrospective" panel Friday afternoon, I pass Wolverines, assorted Doctor Whos, zombies, scantily-clad warrior princesses rubbing shoulders with Disney princesses, and even a President Obama look-a-like replete with secret service detail.

The juxtaposition of the Peanuts Gang among the super-beings celebrated so grandly in San Diego this weekend is at first jarring. Created by Charles M. Schulz in 1950, Peanuts focuses on a group of children who hail from Minnesota and struggle with everyday issues of anxiety, friendship and pitching a perfect game.

Hardly the stuff of superhero legend.

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But when you look at the enduring love and success the franchise continues to enjoy, perhaps Charlie Brown and the gang are the ones most deserving of the "super" descriptor.

"I personally don't know of any character property where the characters so fully inhabit their issues. They are so honest about anxiety or insecurity," Paige Braddock, executive vice president and creative director of the Peanuts brand, says. "It's very nice to see the vulnerability of the characters. They are not perfect, know-it-all smart-alecks."

What they are is just like us. And audiences can't seem to get enough of their funny, touching and what sometimes appears old-fashioned antics.

Over 45 million people read a Peanuts comic strip everyday. In 2012, "A Charlie Brown Christmas Special" was the highest ranked special among adults 18-49. That same year Peanuts had more than 475 million social media impressions. One in five Hallmark cards sold is a Peanuts card. Snoopy has almost two million Facebook fans, 140,000 Twitter followers and 75,000 Instagram followers. Even Woodstock has 38,000 Twitter followers without the benefit of being able to converse in speech.

When Schulz passed away in 2000, many fans fretted it would mark the end for Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy. With the aid of Schulz's family and a group of dedicated artists and business people, the franchise has not only survived but continues to go from strength to strength.

At the core of this success? An emotional attachment for audiences that dates back to their childhood and a method of storytelling that has translated seamlessly from newsprint to the technological platforms that inhabit the modern world.

According to Peanuts managing director Leigh Anne Brodsky, it's the simple wit and wisdom of the property that draws you in, and the lucid way it is displayed. "It's bite sized media," she proclaims proudly. "The four panels really tell a story in a quick, concise and pithy way with great art, great dialogue and it works really well on social media."

For Tweeny Kau, 36, of Santa Monica CA., attending the Snoopy panel at Comic-Con was something she was most looking forward to during the four-day event. "I just liked [Snoopy] because he was a dog and he was cute and he was funny," says Kau, whose first recollection of the beagle was at around four years of age. "Now I get the humor more."

The continuity of the franchise also appeals to Kau.

While other stalwarts of the funny pages such as Archie have added modern-day characters and placed their protagonists in 21st century situations, Peanuts maintains an unchanging cast of characters struggling with everyday, timeless issues.

So popular is the franchise right now that Braddock and her team oversee between 2,000 and 4,000 product submissions a month. Some requiring more scrutiny than others to ensure the Peanuts legacy remains true to Schulz's vision.

"We do a lot of trend t-shirt licenses for example, but we also have a new game in development," Braddock explains. "So game development is one submission but is a very intense project that will go on for months. We try to pay really close attention to the projects that have heavier content: games or books or APPs."

How about Thanksgiving Day Balloons and movies?

Beginning in 1968, Snoopy has made more appearances in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade than any other character. To celebrate the 45th anniversary of his debut and the 40th anniversary of the accompanying holiday special "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," a brand new balloon design will make its debut on November 28.

Braddock's team worked on the concept sketches for the design, which incorporates a flying Snoopy along with his best feathered friend Woodstock.

Add to that the recently announced return to the big screen of the gang in 2015, a year that will mark the 65th anniversary of Peanuts debut and the 50th anniversary of "A Charlie Brown Christmas Special." 

Shulz's son Craig is currently writing the screenplay and Steve Martino ("Ice Age: Continental Drift") is directing, though it's still too early to reveal whether or not the iconic Vince Guaraldi piano-jazz score will be incorporated.

"It's a big emotional tie in," Braddock acknowledges of the score. "People have a real emotional connection to that music. And the voices, we've always used children to provide the voices - there are certain things that people really associate with Peanuts."

So recognisable are certain of the franchise's hallmarks, that the music and Charlie Brown's signature sad-sack walk were even featured in the cult comedy series "Arrested Development."

There's also new monthly comic books, anthology publications and even a Vine campaign created by celebrated viral artist Khoa Phan (see below).

"I don't want to say we modernized it, but we're definitely using modern technology to enhance the content that we had and getting it on different platforms where kids could get to it," Braddock explains of the approach to keeping Peanuts fresh.

And as many comic book franchises lean toward the dark and violent, keeping brands such as Peanuts kid- and adult-friendly remains a priority.

"We don't want to lose kids, we don't want to miss a generation of kids with Peanuts because if you read the stories when you are ten, like most of us did, the stories resonate in a different way," Braddock says. "Snoopy is a dog who doesn't know he is a dog. So for kids, he may appear powerless but he can be powerful through his imagination."

 

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