No Respect

On Friday, July 12, the Utica Observer-Dispatch ran a political cartoon by Joey Weatherford, a middling imitation of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters. Charlie Brown says to a frowning Snoopy, who is seated atop his doghouse next to a small Revolutionary War-era American Flag: “Colin Kaepernick called and he wants you to take down the flag because it offends him.” In the next panel, Snoopy and Woodstock carry paint and brushes, and are shown in the final panel smiling atop the doghouse, freshly painted with a much larger version of the same flag. The punchline comes at the very bottom: “With all due respect to the memory of Charles Schulz.”

I’m not going to wade into the ongoing Kaepernick controversy here, other than to say I think he exhibits rare courage and character; those who object to Kaepernick’s carefully modulated, principled protests betray a shallow patriotism that would have been derided by many of this country’s founders. Similarly, Weatherford’s cartoon is a cheap shot that relies on two levels of misinterpretation – first, of Kaepernick’s concerns regarding Nike’s Betsy Ross Flag shoe; second, of Schulz’s own patriotism, which was a recurring subject in the Peanuts strip.

My outrage here is directed at Joey Weatherford, a hack who regularly appropriates the characters of other cartoonists in his work, although he typically doesn’t indicate his “respect” for the original artists. Weatherford probably wouldn’t have run this cartoon if Schulz were still alive. (I could be wrong – it has a lot in common with similarly wrongheaded “pissing Calvin” bumper stickers, sold behind Bill Watterson’s back. Both appeal to low intellect, and seek unearned profit on the coattails of superior work.) To be clear: I can appreciate editorial cartoons from all political angles – when I was a pre-teen, I’d scour the library and check out every collection I could find (Pat Oliphant and Garry Trudeau were my favorites.) Weatherford willfully misunderstands Schulz, and uses his characters to score cheap points and easy sales.

Charles M. Schulz served in the Army during World War II. He was proud of his service, but he was also more socially progressive than Weatherford remembers. In 1968, Schulz introduced a black character named Franklin after a correspondence with Los Angeles schoolteacher Harriet Glickman, who wanted diversity on the comics pages. In 1973, when Hank Aaron was approaching Babe Ruth’s home run record, Schulz wrote a long series of strips using Snoopy as a stand-in for Aaron, reacting to bigoted criticism directed at Aaron for daring to usurp a white man’s record. Schulz was also a longtime fan and friend of tennis pro Billie Jean King, who battled sexism and faced homophobia during the 1970s.

I’ve got every Peanuts strip ever published, proudly displayed on a bookcase I had made especially for the collection. Peanuts characters have shaped the better part of my worldview. From that perspective, I’m confident that Charles M. Schulz wouldn’t appreciate Weatherford’s “respect” in this case. More likely, he’d have Snoopy taking a knee himself.