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Somerset House in London has put on an exhibition on the work of Charles Schulz, the American cartoonist famous for Peanuts – the story of Charlie Brown, his friends and his dog called Snoopy, a beagle with a taste for ice-skating and root beer. The show commences unpromisingly: “This exhibition explores the ways in which Peanuts has touched us all on so many different levels… on issues such as war, racism, feminism and gender-fluidity.” Oy vey. Why does everything nowadays have to be a political seminar?
Except that the curators had a point. Schulz used his cartoon to explore adult themes through the eyes of children: Charlie endures love, loss, anxiety and humiliation. Snoopy, bizarrely, gets hangovers from the root beer. And as America’s postwar story became more complicated, Schulz moved with the times. In 1968, a schoolteacher wrote to the cartoonist urging him to include a black character in the all-white strip. After a lot of humming and hawing (Schulz was worried about patronising black readers) he finally debuted a boy called Franklin in a beach scene with Charlie. Charlie asks Franklin if his whole family is there and he replies: “No, my dad is over in Vietnam.” The strip is remarkable: a white boy and a black boy, utterly at ease with each other at a time when cities burned in race riots. The next speech bubble, equally powerful, is Peanuts at its best. “My dad’s a barber,” says Charlie. “He was in a war too, but I don’t know which one.” And that’s wars for you. So many of the darn things, the names get lost.
Eye-opener - Somerset - House - Letter - Ronald
But the real eye-opener at Somerset House was a letter from Ronald Reagan dated July 30, 1970, when he was governor of California. “I write particularly … of one of your strips a...
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