ED. NOTE: The 44th annual San Diego Comic-Con International — the granddaddy of the American comics and pop-culture conventions — is expected to draw more than 125,000 fans to the Convention Center through Sunday. Today, Comic Riffs focuses on talented creators in attendance.
AT ITS VERY HEART, the brilliance of Snoopy may be that the beloved beagle doesn’t actually know who he is — but that his master and creator knew exactly who Snoopy was.
“I think part of the genius of [Charles] Schulz was to create a dog who doesn’t know he’s a dog,” Paige Braddock, the Bay Area-based creative director of Peanuts Creative Associates, tells Comic Riffs. “What I mean is, Schulz had this strong cast of characters [kids] fully grounded in reality. What better [to] balance that than to throw in a character not grounded in reality?
“I always like to say that Schulz created characters that fully inhabit their issues,”continues Braddock, who works on “Peanuts” stories with the Kaboom! studio. “Snoopy balances that because he doesn't have any issues — except maybe the cat next door — and if he did have issues, he'd solve them with chocolate chip cookies and root beer. Snoopy is the kid in all of us disguised as a warm puppy.”
Snoopy is optimistic. Snoopy is endlessly imaginative. And almost as if resisting the captivity of the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, he refuses to be restrained within four bounded panels, says Braddock, who will appear today on a Snoopy retrospective panel.
Comic Riffs caught up with Braddock — who is also the creator of the webcomic “Jane’s World” — to talk about the genius of “Peanuts,” the wisdom of Schulz — and writing for gay characters in the wake of recent same-sex marriage rulings:
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MICHAEL CAVNA: Some 60 years on, Snoopy perseveres in pop culture as if timeless. Can you speak to why even in "dog years," Snoopy seems to spring eternal?
PAIGE BRADDOCK: Well, first, dogs are awesome. Beagles are especially awesome — [though] don't say that in front of my wiener dog, Olive! But seriously, I think any character that has the strength of imagination that Snoopy does is never going to age … and will continue to be popular across generations. Snoopy is bigger than life. He refused to be help captive by four panels. His imagination breaks through all the boundaries. I mean, it's the same reason we all love Calvin and Hobbes… Hobbes got the idea from Snoopy, right?
I also think another part of Snoopy's appeal is his eternal optimism. The trait historically consistent in all great persons is optimism. The successful ones, anyway.
MC: Related to that: As a kid weaned on the genius of Sparky Schulz and Chuck Jones, the two animal characters in all of cartoondom who always seemed to have the most panache to me — and now I might add Hobbes the tiger to that very select company — are Bugs Bunny and Snoopy. They both have so much wit and flair and flights of fantasy -- and even when facing a challenge, they seem a master of the situation. Do you see Snoopy as a character with a certain panache, and what about him do you find especially appealing?
PB: I think part of the genius of Schulz was to create a dog who doesn't know he's a dog. What I mean is, Schulz had this strong cast of characters [kids] fully grounded in reality. What better [to] balance that than to throw in a character not grounded in reality?
I always like to say that Schulz created characters that fully inhabit their issues. Snoopy balances that because he doesn't have any issues — except maybe the cat next door — and if he did have issues, he'd solve them with chocolate chip cookies and root beer. Snoopy is the kid in all of us disguised as a warm puppy.
MC: Most all of us comic-strip cartoonists born after the birth of “Peanuts” seem influenced at least a little by Schulz, and many of us hoped to be "the next Schulz." On paper, he could make it look so incredibly easy, when such distilled poignancy and humor and humanity was anything but. Can you speak to how you were influenced by Sparky [Schulz] and “Peanuts” — as well as how you found your own voice?
PB: One of the things we talk about at the studio is the evolution of “Peanuts.” We all sort of come at “Peanuts” as if it was what we know as the modern-day "Peanuts" from the first day. One of the best things about the Complete Peanuts series from Fantagraphics is rediscovering Schulz as a young cartoonist in the ’50s. Between the ’50s and the ’70s, you see the evolution of Schulz as an artist. I would say it definitely takes him a few years to realize that in stripping away what he reveals is the strength of his characters' voices. If you look at the early stuff he drew much more and the “stories” were much more gag[-driven] and/or driven by physical comedy than “Peanuts” of the 1960s… the “Peanuts” most of us discovered and fell in love with.
When I first started working at the studio with Sparky, [my webcomic] “Jane's World” was just beginning. I asked Sparky how he came up with such great characters. He never really told me. And maybe he didn't know himself. I think a lot of what Sparky did was intuitive. What I did learn from him was to turn the filter in your head off when you write… write things that are funny to you…write things that have meaning to you… be authentic... that vulnerability and honesty will resonate with readers.
It took me a while to do that with “Jane's World,” but I think Jane did find her own voice.
MC: Your Snoopy [Comic-Con] panel includes two members of Kaboom! Can you speak to what it's like to work with Lex, Nat and others at Kaboom! on “Peanuts” comics? What do you find satisfying about the partnership? And how about working with Gary and Fantagraphics?
PB: Well, [managing editor] Lex Fajardo works at the studio with me. He's been there about eight years I think. He's great to work with. We have pretty lively story meetings sometimes because Lex and I come at "stories" from very different perspectives. He's definitely more academic and I'm more intuitive. Then throw into the mix Justin Thompson and Vicki Scott, who also work on the series at the studio with us and join in the story meetings. All four of us meet to go over story pitches submitted by Kaboom! I think we have a good balance of voices and perspectives in the room and hopefully that makes for a good end result. Nat [Gertler] is sort of a “Peanuts” expert and a publisher of his own titles. He's recently started submitting stories for the series. The staff at Kaboom! has been great to work with ... and have been very collaborative and open to our suggestions about the series.
Working with Gary Groth on the Complete Peanuts series has also been great. I don't know if most people know this, but there were a lot of missing comic strips from both our archive and the syndicates archive. Gary's team at Fantagraphics had to go search for and repair files that they sourced from the first seven or eight papers that Peanuts appeared in. Who else would have been willing to go to such lengths to publish every “Peanuts” comic strip? Seth (“Palookaville”) was also instrumental in creating the look and feel of the series.
MC: You're on a second Con panel, of course, that addresses “the next level of authentic LGBTQ storytelling.” From your vantage point, how have you seen such comic storytelling evolve? Are there works that you point to as signposts of artistic progress and growth?
PB: Well, I'm not sure I can do a very good job of answering this question, but I know when we were discussing the topic for this year's panel, we were sort of split. Some people wonder if, given all the political changes and social changes, do we still need a "gay" comics panel. But I was reminding the group that there are still a lot of places in this country where gay voices in comics are important because in those places it still isn't okay to be gay — or if you are, it's not safe to be open about it. I was in Georgia visiting family when the recent Supreme Court ruling was announced. It was weird to be in Georgia, a state where there's been hardly any movement on gay rights, when all the celebrating was going on back home in California. One of my relatives even said: “It won't last… they'll change it back.”
But I don't think they will change it back, and I hope it keeps moving forward. I was reading a column by a conservative writer from Kentucky the other day, and he was saying that basically the conservatives have no one to blame but themselves for this ruling. If they had just given equal rights under the law to civil unions, then the "marriage" issue wouldn't have gained as much ground. And I think he's right about that. The Defense of Marriage contingency was so bent on making civil unions a lesser union that the Supreme Court had to rule in our favor. You can set different tax laws for different minority groups, or federal benefits — it just doesn't make common sense. I just hope it doesn't take too long for the rest of the states to get on board and move toward equality with the rest of us.
I haven't been reading anything that speaks to these issues lately. I'm sure they're out there… I'm just not in the loop about them. Frankly, I always learn about new stuff by attending this panel.
MC: Can you speak to the work of your fellow panelists? What do you see that gives you hope, or affirms the power of good storytelling to you?
PB: I don't know all of the panelists and I want to check out their work [soon]. ... I suggested Shena Wolf from Universal Uclick because I think it's important to represent not just the comic-book industry but also the mainstream comic strip industry on our panel.
MC: How have the historic developments from the Obama administration and the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage ... affected your work as a writer? Has this consciously altered Jane's world?
PB: It hasn't really changed “Jane's World.” I've tried to follow Sparky's lead by not making political statements in “Jane's World.” I mean, sure, I did a couple of jokes here and there, but in general, “Jane's World” has remained an ensemble comedy that focuses most on the relationships between the characters.
MC: Speaking of "Jane's World," have you seen any movement in the commercial marketplace? You and I have spoken of reticence from mainstream editors — do you see that changing?
PB: This will be a great question for Shena on our panel!
MC: Other than your own panels, is there anything you especially want to do — or any talent you want to see — at the Con?
PB: I always make a point to hit some of my favorite booths, like Gama Go. I also spend a lot of time in Artist Alley and Small Press. In my opinion, that's where some of the coolest new stories can be discovered.
MC: Is there anything I haven't asked that I should have?
PB: Well, I'm working on a new graphic novel for kids titled “Apocalypse Pond.” That's going really well and it's a lot of fun to work with different characters and write for a different audience. Plus, toads are funny… and fun to draw.