What have you done with Snoopy?

Eloise Hawser

14 Feb 2019

Whilst researching her new artwork for our exhibition Good Grief, Charlie Brown!, Somerset House Studios resident Eloise Hawser uncovered a hidden history of Peanuts in the British press.

When I was asked to be in the Good Grief, Charlie Brown! show, I thought back to my first encounter with Peanuts: a meandering animated love story called Snoopy Come Home, which I had watched over and over as a child. I remembered how the characters navigate the adult world of hospitals, libraries and bookshops; a world haunted by the refrain, “No Dogs Allowed”. Like the show’s curator Claire Catterall, I was curious to understand the impact of Peanuts on this very ‘adult’ world, through its often profound themes, as well as its long-standing appeal for UK audiences.

At the beginning of my research for the exhibition, I came across a letter that suggested the loyal affection that Schulz inspired in British readers. A letter to the Guardian from 1988 wanted to know why the strip had not appeared as usual, asking for it to be “reinstated at once”. It even asked the editors whether Snoopy had been sent to Battersea Dogs Home.

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Letter to the Guardian, 1988
Letter to the Guardian, 1988

Looking further into local histories connected to Peanuts – particularly those of the Aldwych area around Somerset House – I found an extraordinary instalment of the strip in the last ever Daily Sketch. The Sketch was Britain’s first tabloid newspaper, based for many years just off Shoe Lane. It was the only British paper, along with the Observer, to syndicate Peanuts, before handing over the strip to the Daily Mail when the two papers merged in 1971. In the Sketch’s final edition, Peanuts at first appears no different from any other episode of the strip: four black and white squares featuring Snoopy and friends. In a surprising turn, however, Snoopy’s speech bubbles, usually containing Schulz’s idiosyncratic dialogue, have been filled with: ‘All set for tomorrow… we’re moving to the Daily Mail!’

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The final instalment of Peanuts in the Daily Sketch, announcing it’s merger with the Daily Mail
The final instalment of Peanuts in the Daily Sketch, announcing it’s merger with the Daily Mail

Who authored this extraordinary instalment of the strip with Snoopy announcing the merging of two UK newspapers? Was Schulz, in his California studio, asked to add the “All set” caption to it? If not, was this an unauthorised appropriation of his creation, Snoopy’s speech bubbles filled in by an imitator? And, if so, was it assumed Schulz would not notice? The exhibition, I think, portrays Schulz as a very disciplined, private man, who worked alone in his studio and never took on assistants. I found it curious, then, to map this portrait of Schulz onto the massive, relentless churn of appropriations of his creation and distribution in the press.


Charles M. Schulz at work in his studio in Santa Rosa, California, courtesy Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Centre
Charles M. Schulz at work in his studio in Santa Rosa, California, courtesy Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Centre


I started looking further into the process of building a newspaper. Back in the 70s and 80s, aka the era of ‘hot metal printing’, newspaper articles were literally assembled in metal type by printers (called compositors). A blank space would always be reserved for comics like Peanuts, batches of which would be pre-etched and delivered to Fleet Street every week. Interestingly, the strips delivered were not chronologically dated, as if they fell outside of the temporality of the news cycle. So while in twenty-four hours most of the paper would already be out of date, Charlie Brown and friends seemed to occupy a different space on the page altogether. The ‘all set for tomorrow’ instalment is the only case I found of the outside world, indeed the newspaper industry itself, breaking through the borders of the comic.

No doubt it was Peanuts’ claim to its own neutral, a-temporal space, that meant it could feature in newspapers as different as the Mail and the Observer. Perhaps this distance from daily affairs was precisely what made it so popular. That distance was a distance from the adult world of politics, global events and advertising, and in this way perhaps a relief; a space apart. I found something almost uncanny about one Peanuts strip, which appeared at the bottom of a page full of property adverts. Somehow this juxtaposition made the strip seem particularly estranged from the world around it, and all the more poignant for it.

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The Daily Sketch offices on Shoe Lane
The Daily Sketch offices on Shoe Lane

Yes also the strip’s neutrality led to its being deployed by, or paired with, phenomena as wide-ranging as the women’s movement, the Space Race, and Morrissey lyrics. In a sense, this is a feeling echoed throughout the show, as the intimate, hand-drawn Peanuts strips are interwoven with the 3D universe of Peanuts-printed t-shirts, soft toys, and lunch boxes from across the decades.

Good Grief, Charlie Brown! #3 - Pop Culture

There is a wall label in the Good Grief, Charlie Brown! show that I love. The label notes how Lucy is drawn ‘with maximum screams’ by way of a cross-hatched cloud hovering above her head. It is a candid insight into Schulz’s construction of the cartoon, where a simple dash or cross-hatch becomes an “empathetic shortcut” into the moods of Lucy, Linus, and co.

The potent ‘Schulz line’ is also taken up in several pieces I really love in the show: Ryan Gander disembodies the screaming mouth of Linus, pasting it across the gallery wall. There are also at least two Snoopys in the show: the eyes of KAWS’ Snoopy are redrawn with crosses, while Ken Kagami’s Snoopy has a more angular nose and drinks beer. All of these works retain enough of Schulz’ distinctive hand-drawn line to be instantly familiar, demonstrating just how enduring the visual grammar he established is. 

All of this also made me think about the difficulties many people can have with expressing empathy through language, but how they can, by contrast, respond very sensitively to visual art. I like to think that part of Peanuts’ appeal lies in the fact that Schulz’s drawing offers the viewer such an empathetic visual language. Underlying the Snoopy-themed universe to which Peanuts gave rise is a world of ‘angry clouds’ and ‘screaming mouths’  where Charlie Brown and the gang are forever bumping up against – yet still separate from – the adult world of “No Dogs Allowed”.