Snoopy is Trapped Behind Enemy Lines
By Dan Brown
I’m not much of a Charlie Brown fan, but I freaking LOVE Snoopy.
So it’s not surprising an old Peanuts strip featuring the beagle with a vivid imagination caught my eye when it washed up in my Facebook feed last week.
The strip, which originally appeared on October 2, 1966, features nothing but panels of Snoopy walking. And walking. Finally, there’s a punchline in the ultimate frame, and by that point the reader knows all of human experience is contained in that one Sunday strip.
Let me explain.
Having been born a couple years after that strip first appeared, Snoopy and his pals have been a constant in my life, and I consider Charles Schulz to be an artist of the highest order.
As an adult, I belong to any number of Facebook groups that re-circulate Peanuts strips because I like to be surrounded by Schulz’s work.
For whatever reason, lately I’ve really been grooving on Snoopy’s adventures as a Sopwith Camel pilot during the First World War, particularly the time he spends out of the cockpit.
It doesn’t matter to me he might be imagining the whole thing. Part of the charm is how Schulz never really made it explicit whether Snoopy’s air battles in the Great War were “real” or not.
So how could something as simple as a newspaper cartoon strip rock my world?
I’ll describe it to you.
The strip is 15 panels long, most of them narrow. A forlorn figure with flying goggles perched on his forehead trudges along. He goes through a forest. He crosses a stone bridge.
His paws tread over an unplowed field. Snoopy crosses a stream (in this panel, you can see the debt Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes owes to Peanuts). The little white-and-black dog scrabbles up and down hills.
He walks by the light of the moon. He pauses under a tree as he bakes under the scorching sun. He passes through tall grass, then goes around a fence. He is alone – not even Woodstock, his best bird friend, has accompanied Snoopy on this long journey.
Exhausted, he crashes to the ground. Propping himself up against a rock, Snoopy thinks to himself, “They’re right . . . It IS a long way to Tipperary.”
But here’s the thing: Snoopy is not in Ireland.
The unspoken part of this particular cartoon is he’s behind enemy lines, trying to get back to his unit in allied territory. He’s been shot down. That’s why he’s travelling even at night. He is utterly alone, surrounded by enemies who want to do him harm.
The question isn’t if he will get to Tipperary, but if he will reach safety. Snoopy’s weariness at the end comes from fear as much as the prolonged hike.
What can I say? When I realized his predicament, I nearly cried.
The mark of an artistic genius is that he can move his or her audience. After reading this strip, I was genuinely concerned for Snoopy. The forced march is a metaphor for life.
In fact, it’s not overstating the case to say I felt a kinship with the cartoon canine because the promise of mortality – that one day, we will all experience death – hangs over every panel.
You might say, well it’s all in Snoopy’s head, but it doesn’t matter: The truth is the fear and exhaustion are real. They jump off the page.
So you can have your so-called great art. You can have your pyramids, your Sistine Chapel, your jazz music, your abstract paintings, your orchestras.
I’ll take 15 panels from Charles Schulz over all of it.
Dan Brown has covered pop culture for more than 31 years as a journalist and also moderates L.A. Mood’s monthly graphic-novel group.