Monday, October 19, 2015

Good grief, more Peanuts

Ah, the 1980s. The decade when I was around the same age as the characters in Peanuts are supposed to be - although the idea that they're children has long since been abandoned by this point, of course. By 1980 the strip has settled on its central cast, and not many others get a look-in...

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Shermy is gone and forgotten by this time, and it's become very rare to see Patty, Violet, Frieda, Roy or 5, but we get a bit of a resurgence for the ones who are still showing up in the animated cartoons - 1980 sees a storyline with Pig-Pen (he goes out with Peppermint Patty) and one for Schroeder (going to music camp in Snoopy's doghouse aeroplane). The biggest rise to prominence comes from Snoopy's brother Spike, though - the mid-80s is the time we see him most, still living alone in the desert. He basically takes over a share of the strips that was previously given to solo Snoopy stories, which has the interesting effect of reducing Snoopy's appearances down to just about exactly the same level as Charlie Brown's - from here on in, their lines stick close together at the top of the chart.

Eleven new named characters make their debuts in the 1980s, starting with Harriet, another of the Beagle Scouts. Although still indistinguishable from Woodstock and the others, she's female. Harriet and Bill get married in 1983 and apparently leave the scouts at that point; immediately after the wedding there are more strips with four scouts, but a year or so later their names are given as Woodstock, Conrad, Olivier and Wilson, so I'm taking the view that it's Wilson with them from the wedding until Bill and Harriet are namechecked again in 1986. It makes very little difference, I know, but Wilson never gets enough credit among birdwatcher Peanuts fans.

Joe Richkid is Snoopy's golf opponent in one story, "Bad Call" Benny is his tennis opponent in another. Marbles, meanwhile, is another of Snoopy's brothers - he never really catches on like some of the others, but his short visit produces some classic funny moments. After that, we move away from the period when everything revolves around Snoopy and start to meet some new characters who don't just exist as his supporting cast...

Harold Angel basically exists to be a punchline to a Sally storyline, but then we get the first human to become a regular recurring character for many years - Lydia, Linus's irritating and fascinating classmate. One of those who really deserve a cameo in the upcoming movie, but I guess she showed up too late in the day for that. Maynard, who briefly tutors Peppermint Patty, is more forgettable.

The great time-capsule moment of the decade comes in 1986, with Tapioca Pudding. Remember that brief period when Strawberry Shortcake merchandise was absolutely everywhere? It came and went pretty quickly, but it's immortalised in Tapioca Pudding for a few months. It's interesting, really - back in the fifties, things like the craze among kids for Davy Crockett got a reference or two in Peanuts, but contemporary fads of the eighties seem to have passed Schulz by. Not a single joke about the toy-commercial cartoon mania that gripped us youngsters back then, but we did get jokes about Tapioca Pudding...

Our last two new faces of the decade are animals again - Raymond joins the Beagle Scouts, and you can tell him apart from the others because he's shaded in with the same greyscale as used with Franklin's skin (hi-tech shading, not done by hand, is a new innovation in the eighties Peanuts strips; Raymond is probably more of a reaction to that than to any racial issues of the time - his different colour isn't mentioned at all, in any way). And finally we get Snoopy's brother Olaf, the ugly one. Unlike Marbles, he sticks around until the end of the strip, but his partnership with Andy doesn't come along until the nineties. Stay tuned for the last decade in this thrilling series of blogs!

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