When it comes to keeping a vital and beloved set of characters alive and relevant to a whole new generation, the family of Charles M. Schulz, who sadly passed away in 2000, have done a superlative job.
They have managed to keep Charlie Brown and Snoopy and the rest of the endearingly idiosyncratic gang front and centre of people’s minds while pushing Peanuts on to explore new territory without sacrificing an iota of what makes them so lovably delightful.
In an article in British newspaper, The Telegraph back in 2015 when the all-new 3D computer-generated film, The Peanuts Movie was released, Schulz’s screenwriter grandson had this to say about honouring his grandfather’s legacy in the context of this film but it echoes the overall approach of the family.
“The main aim was to make sure we didn’t screw this movie up,” Bryan says. “It would have been so easy to do. Every choice we made had to pass our ‘Peanuts filter’: was it right for the story? Did it fit within the universe Grandpa created? If not, it wasn’t used, no matter how funny or perfect it may have seemed. Making sure this movie was true to the Peanuts strips was paramount to us.”
The loyalty to what Peanuts is and intrinsically means informs this approach at every turn and is evident in the 2019 graphic novel Snoopy: A Beagle of Mars, part of a series of releases from BOOM! Studios’ KaBOOM! imprint, which takes us on a very Snoopy-esque adventure to the wild and uncharted red sands of Mars.
Those familiar with Charlie Brown’s anything but ordinary dog will know that he is capable of great imaginative feats, fighting as a World War 1 fighting ace atop his Sopwith Camel, hanging out as Joe Cool at college accommodation, the Easter Beagle and as a host of World Famous personas.
So it’s not the least bit surprising that Snoopy would find himself on Mars – he was after all first featured as a World Famous Astronaut on 8 March, 1969 – and discovering that there’s water, and yes, very definite signs of life.
As BOOM! Studios notes, this dedication to space exploration is nothing new for Peanuts as a whole, and Snoopy in particular.
“NASA has shared a proud association with Charles M. Schulz and his American icon Snoopy since Apollo missions began in the 1960s. In May 1969, Apollo 10 astronauts traveled to the Moon with the aid of a lunar module named Snoopy and a command module named Charlie Brown. That was also the year of the first Silver Snoopy Award — given by NASA astronauts to employees and contractors for outstanding achievements related to human flight safety or mission success. Fifty years after their first collaboration, Peanuts Worldwide and NASA entered into a multiyear Space Act Agreement in 2018, engineered to inspire a passion for space exploration and STEM education among students.”
So far, so wonderfully Snoopy then.
He’s in space and as we know from 50 years of comic strips, he is going to have some fun there, the kind of fun that most boys’ pets don’t actually manage.
What makes Snoopy: A Beagle of Mars such a great pleasure to read is the way in which writer Jason Cooper, the head writer at Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, and BOOM! cartoonist/animator Robert W. Pope (along with colourist and artist Hannah White (also part of the Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates family) have manage to not simply honour what we know and love about Peanuts but to extend it in ways that feel very much in keeping with the legacy but also rich and refreshingly different.
If you’re a long time reader and fan of the comic strip like this reviewer, you will find much to love about Snoopy: A Beagle of Mars – all the characters you know and love are there from Lucy (and her 5c psychiatrist stand) to Linus and his blanket, Sally, Peppermint Patty, Franklin and the rest, many of the catchphrases (“the round-headed kid”) and verbal tropes are presented and accounted for (hurrah for Charlie Brown and Snoopy doing the dance of joy) and the characters themselves are visually true to life.
It feels just like a Peanuts comic strip, with whimsy, innocence, silliness and extravagant imagination all presented and accounted for, and you can easily feel like you have stepped back in time so familiar is the storytelling and artwork.
But KaBOOM! is there to keep younger readers in love with Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the gang and so Snoopy: A Beagle of Mars also updates things nicely, bringing in a new character, longer-form storytelling (though you could argue the TV specials and movies already had that well in hand) and a slightly more frenetic feel to it though not at the expense of the softly meandering narrative that has always made going anywhere with Peanuts feel like a wholeheartedly reassuring journey to somewhere quietly special.
It is the perfect marriage of the old and the new, proof positive that you can honour what something as uniquely wonderful as Peanuts has always been without consigning it to the fossilised loneliness of a museum piece.
Snoopy: A Beagle of Mars shows that Peanuts is well and truly alive and kicking, and that Snoopy is capable of going on grand adventures, with Woodstock along for the ride (Mission Out of Control is a mini-comic joy), that we can still feel warm and fuzzy reading a story featuring Charlie Brown and that the comic strip remains as gloriously vibrant relevant now as it did when it debuted back on 2 October, 1950.