Snoopy’s Seven Siblings and Other Secrets From the Sunday Funnies
As early as the late 19th century, comic strips in newspapers have provided some much-needed humor for generations of children, adults and adult children. From the thrilling adventures of Dick Tracy to picturesque nature walks filled with philosophical banter between a six year old and his stuffed tiger, the Sunday Funnies offer loyal readers brief moments of pleasure and escapism from what’s written in the more dire sections of our regular newspapers.
As the Sunday Funnies and newspapers in general become obsolete, it’s important to acknowledge the game changers from this fleeting industry, especially as memes and .GIFs take over our collective attention spans. By taking a look at the progression of such legendary comic strips as Peanuts, Blondie and Beetle Bailey, we can observe how our collective preferences for kindness, representation and humility have evolved.
Charles M. Schulz Never Wanted to Call His Strip Peanuts
Charlie Brown, Snoopy and all the other kids from Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip were originally pitched as part of a series called Li’l Folks in 1950. When Schulz met with United Features Syndicate to take his strip nationwide, the company had trouble with the name.
Li’l Folks was too similar to a few other syndicated series at the time, so the company, not Schulz, changed the name to Peanuts. Schulz was not a fan of the new name, claiming that it made the strip sound "insignificant." It subsequently ran for 50 years with almost 18,000 legendary strips.
It just goes to show that any genius can have a slip up in judgment every once in a while.
Garfield Wasn’t the Star of His Strip for the First Two Years
Comedy can be a difficult formula to master. Sometimes it takes a few years to figure out what gets the most laughs. Take Garfield’s creator Jim Davis, for instance. When he first got into the Sunday Funnies in 1976, he chronicled the life of an ambitious cartoonist named Jon Arbuckle who had a sass-mouthed cat named Garfield.
His strip, originally called Jon, was okay, but Jon’s mundane observations were no comparison to the fan appreciation for Garfield’s signature frisky sarcasm. It wasn’t until he changed the focus (and name) of his strip before Davis went bigtime with nationwide syndication and upwards of $1 billion a year in revenue from Garfield merchandise.
Calvin and Hobbes Never Expanded Its Empire on Purpose
From 1985 to 1995, Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes beautifully explored philosophy, politics and family relationships through the eyes of a six-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger. The strip expertly dodged addressing current events and pop culture and created a timeless collection that still attracts new diehard fans year after year.
It’s precisely why Watterson dodged messages from a slew of Hollywood producers, businessmen and celebs who wanted to help him expand the brand. Filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas both reached out to work with Watterson, but he never wanted to tarnish the reputation and message of his strip.
The Family Circus Used to Be Way More Risque
When we think of The Family Circus, we think of a wholesome husband and wife and their four harmless children. Sometimes their comics are so heartwarming and borderline religious that it wouldn’t be hard to believe if Ned Flanders from The Simpsons was making these comics.
But when Bil Keane launched his family comic strip in 1960, it was far from wholesome. As Keane was exploring what avenue was right for his animated family, earlier strips depicted the father as an alcoholic failure who frequently made passes at other women. It wasn’t until he made the eldest son Billy a sentimental softie that Keane started getting appreciative fanmail.
The rest is wholesome history.
Franklin’s First Appearance Came 18 Years After Peanuts’ Debut
Franklin Armstrong, Peanuts’ first and only African American character, made his debut after returning Charlie Brown’s lost beach ball. It seems like a friendly introduction of a new character nowadays, but his 1968 inclusion in the Charlie Brown world happened during the contentious Civil Rights era.
Schulz wasn’t intending to rock the boat and cause controversy, but he did want to take steps towards progress, even against warnings from his editors. Schulz received complaint letters about the introduction of Franklin in Charlie Brown’s classroom and friend circle, but he continued to feature the boy in comic strips and TV specials.
Uncle Duke Was Originally a Straightforward Caricature of Hunter S. Thompson
When Garry Trudeau launched Doonesbury in 1970, it stood out for its biting social and political commentary. It was its own unique blend of realistic cultural observations mixed with traditional comic-strip storytelling. The characters Trudeau developed were based on relatives, real-life politicians and even gonzo journalists.
Uncle Duke started out as a wildcard writer for Rolling Stone magazine. Sound familiar? It was so obvious in the beginning he was modeled after Hunter S. Thompson that his first appearance in the strip had him drunk on tequila and high on cocaine while attempting to kill invisible bats with a ruler.
Like I said… Gonzo.
Trudeau’s Doonesbury Was the First Comic Strip to Win a Pulitzer
Five years after Doonesbury’s debut, Trudeau was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. President Gerald Ford even confessed his appreciation for Doonesbury at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association dinner.
Ford preached, "There are only three major vehicles to keep us informed as to what is going on in Washington: the electronic media, the print media and Doonesbury, not necessarily in that order." Trudeau runs classic Doonesbury comics during the week, but continues to be ahead of the curve and tackles difficult political issues in his Sunday posts.
The Family Circus’ Circle Had a Point
Before The Family Circus was nationally circulated, Keane was experimenting with another idea called Spot News. His plan was to provide humorous commentary on current events, but it was hard to stay timely due to the six-week lead time of cartooning.
However, when he found success with The Family Circus, he kept the circular layout from Spot News. At the time, some papers would use the uniquely circular comic above the masthead, which upped Keane’s chances for further viewership.
Garfield and Jon Actually Love Each Other
There’s a theory making waves online that Garfield secretly loves his owner. If you pay attention to his biggest enemies — Mondays and Jon’s other pets — you’ll notice a pattern. Mondays meant Jon had to go back to work, and Odie and Nermal would suck up time Garfield could have with Jon.
The bond Garfield and Jon share is also examined on Garfield Minus Garfield. The site takes a look at Jon’s life without Garfield around to knock some sense into him. Each strip reads like a man going through an existential crisis, so it’s possible that Garfield and Jon are truly meant for each other.
Ziggy’s Bizarre Appearance Was a Ploy to Make Us Love Him
Tom Wilson’s Ziggy first captured the hearts of Americans in his debut strip in 1971. Even though he lacked hair, pants, a neck and other basic essentials, Ziggy became a lovable and heavily merchandised brand frequently spotted at all of your aunty’s favorite greeting card stores.
The little blobby human with a heart of gold was intentionally drawn to elicit both sympathy and admiration from his fans. Wilson made sure to give Ziggy bulbous features, a round body and limited characteristics to make him seem less human and more like a lovable, harmless lump.
Wilson Was Training His Ziggy Successor for Decades
Before Wilson died in 2011, he had long been training someone to take over his beloved comic strip. Wilson’s son, Tom Wilson Jr., had been drawing the comic strip with his father since 1987.
The tutorials to have his son master both Ziggy’s animation and humor were simple. First, Wilson would draw Ziggy in a life-threatening situation. For example, Wilson would draw Ziggy trapped inside a lion’s mouth. Then, he would pass the pen and paper over to Tom Wilson Jr. to draw a humorous way for Ziggy to escape. The system worked, and Tom Wilson Jr. has kept Ziggy’s spirit alive ever since.
Both Calvin and Hobbes Were Named After Historical Figures
It’s no surprise a comic strip that frequently held psychological and philosophical discussions had characters named after big thinkers. Calvin was named after John Calvin, the controversial French theologian whose basic idea of humanity’s base state was "total depravity." That explains a lot about little Calvin’s aversion to all people throughout the series.
The ever-thoughtful tiger Hobbes was named after Thomas Hobbes, one of the founding members of modern political philosophy. He is best known for writing Leviathan, which argued that government would prevent humanity from becoming an archaic mess — much like Hobbes the tiger, who tried to keep Calvin out of trouble.
Unless there was a snowball fight. Then it was every man and tiger for himself.
The Kingdom of Id Got Its Name From Sigmund Freud
Calvin and Hobbes wasn’t the only strip to include psychological themes. The Wizard of Id first debuted in the Sunday Funnies on November 16, 1964, and of course, the medieval citizens were largely driven by their basic urges, needs and desires.
The residents of Id, a.k.a. Idiots, experienced daily challenges and foibles, whether they were penniless peasants or royal monarchs like their diminutive king. However, unlike Calvin and Hobbes, The Wizard of Id pointed out the ridiculous routines and trends of modern-day Americans using primitive, medieval humor.
Almost Every Comic Strip Celebrated The Wizard of Id’s 50th Anniversary
By its 50th anniversary strip in 2014, The Wizard of Id earned respect from other cartoonists for keeping a diverse cast of characters that expertly critiqued modern societal topics in their own medieval ways.
In honor of Id’s 50 years, other strips like Beetle Bailey, Dennis the Menace, Garfield, Mother Goose and Grimm, Pickles and many more ran commemorative strips that incorporated Id’s characters into their own comics.
Woodstock Was a Cannibal?!
It’s true. Woodstock, the yellow-feathered friend of Snoopy, made his first appearance on April 4, 1967. He only speaks in "chicken scratch" in the comics, but Snoopy was always able to understand his loyal follower. But in the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, we all knew what he was saying when Snoopy was carving a turkey — "Let’s eat!"
That’s right. Woodstock was down to eat another bird. He even barbarically challenged Snoopy to snap the bird’s wishbone, which Woodstock wins, to his delight. Was it intentionally twisted and horrifying? Probably not. But the scenes where he chows down on his distant relative have since been edited out when the program airs annually on ABC.
The Internet Was Really Happy When Cathy Came to an End
When Cathy ended its run in 2010 after 34 years in the Sunday Funnies, there was a rather unpleasant celebration around the internet. It turns out Cathy had more struggles to worry about than men, chocolate, work and her mother.
By 2010, social media was in full effect, and Twitter rejoiced in Cathy’s demise. The hashtag #WaysCathyShouldEnd went viral, providing countless ideas on how her outdated views on feminism could lead to her death.
Author Julie Klausner, for example, suggested, "Hoarding experts arrive too late to find Cathy flattened under a heap of diet ads, cats and dating books."
But Cathy Was, in Fact, Ahead of Her Time
When Cathy Guisewite debuted Cathy in 1976, there wasn’t a gag-a-day comic strip in the newspaper that offered the perspective of a more modern woman. There were plenty of wholesome housewives in Blondie, Hi & Lois and The Family Circus, but Cathy Hillman was different.
Sure, she may come off outdated and cliche nowadays, but when Cathy first debuted, there wasn’t a Bridget Jones or a Carrie Bradshaw to offer perspective on behalf of the multidimensional single women of her time.
Hobbes Wasn’t an Imaginary Friend
For diehard Calvin and Hobbes fans, Hobbes’ place in the world is a point of frequent debate. Was he real and only visible to Calvin? Was he simply a stuffed animal? If you ask its creator Bill Watterson, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
"Hobbes being imaginary," according to Watterson, "is the assumption that adults make because nobody else sees him in the way Calvin does… It would seem to me, though, that when you make up a friend for yourself, you would have somebody to agree with you, not to argue with you. So Hobbes is more real than I suspect any kid would dream up."
Snoopy Had Seven Secret Siblings
To fair-weathered fans of Charlie Brown and the gang, Snoopy appears to be the only animal in the group of large-headed children. However, die-hard fans who followed the strip for years will remember that Snoopy had a slew of siblings. Seven, to be precise.
When Snoopy grew up on the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, it was revealed that he not only had siblings, but they also had their own bluegrass band. Snoopy, Andy, Marbles, Olaf, Spike, Miss, Baxter and Belle were apparently very talented pups.
You Won’t Find the Same Character Twice on The Far Side
Sunday Funnies fans rejoiced when Gary Larson debuted The Far Side in 1979, offering a daily dose of insanity courtesy of cavemen, demonic humans and anthropomorphic animals with plenty of attitude.
Perhaps one of Larson’s wisest moves when establishing The Far Side’s voice was when he ignored his syndicator’s request to develop a cast of characters that always returned to the strip. By ignoring the belief that every strip needed a cast to be successful, Larson was able to surprise viewers each week with his unique take on the world with the added bonus of new animal puns.
The Stegosaurus’ Tail Got Its Name From The Far Side
The Stegosaurus was a Late Jurassic dinosaur that had an intimidating set of spikes along its spine all the way down to its tail. As threatening as it was, its brain was the size of a lime, so Larson obviously had to poke fun at it.
Little did he know that, by referring to its spiked tail as the "thagomizer" in honor of Thag Simmons in one of his gags, the scientific community would embrace this term. No one had ever given a name to the tail spikes found on a Stegosaurus, so paleontologists and scientific journals alike now reference the "thagomizer" in their work.
There Have Been 45 Peanuts TV Specials
A Charlie Brown Christmas is arguably the most well-known of the Peanuts TV specials. It’s also the first of an astounding 44 additional Peanuts prime-time programs. Some have focused on holidays like Thanksgiving and Halloween, but others focused on more serious topics, like 1990’s Why, Charlie Brown, Why?, where one of Charlie Brown’s classmates gets diagnosed with cancer.
The Christmas classic receives high ratings year after year during the holiday season but has also received high praise in other ways. The special has been honored with both an Emmy and a Peabody Award. Is it worth giving it a view if you haven't before?
As Linus would say, "Those are good reasons."
Editors Received Scantily Clad Blondie Dolls in Order to Get Her in the Sunday Funnies
It was difficult for cartoonist Chic Young to get a female-driven comic strip in the newspapers back in the late 1920s. First, he attempted to pitch titles like Beautiful Bab or Dumb Dora, but no one was interested. When he developed Blondie Boopadoop, he had a marketing idea that apparently no old-timey newspaper editor could resist.
Young’s syndicate, King Features, launched a mailing campaign to editors that first announced Blondie’s engagement to Dagwood, followed by Dagwood’s family’s letters of disapproval over their wedding. But the real showstopper was a cardboard suitcase that had a secret viewfinder revealing a paper doll Blondie wearing only lingerie, with other provocative outfits for her to wear inside.
Blondie Was Originally Meant to Be the Clumsy Dunce in the Dagwood Family
Once Young’s disgusting ad campaign won the hearts (or loins) of several newspaper editors, Blondie’s "dumb blonde" and overly sexualized persona was deemed unfit for 1930’s funny pages. So Young made her virile husband Dagwood the bumbling fool, and Blondie evolved into the intelligent voice of reason.
Dagwood was routinely chasing after tall sandwiches, avoiding beatings from his boss and finding himself the butt of several of Blondie’s jokes. It was a much more palatable role change for the couple, but Young still peddled lewd images of Blondie and Dagwood outside the Funny Pages.
Hägar the Horrible’s Horrible Drinking Problem
When Dik Browne invaded the Sunday Funnies in 1973, readers assumed they would witness weekly raids and pillages from wild Vikings. Instead, they were treated to a surprisingly relatable series of cheeky domestic disputes between Hägar and his wife, Helga.
However, one joke that ran rampant for the strip’s first 15 years stayed fairly aligned with our interpretations of Viking life — Hägar had a drinking problem. It wasn’t until Browne’s son, Chris, took control of the strip in 1989 that they pulled back on Hägar showing up at his doorstep in a wheelbarrow. "Just about everybody I know has had somebody hurt by alcoholism or substance abuse," Chris shared with the Chicago Tribune.
Browne’s Daughter Also Schooled Him on Women’s Rights
Besides drinking, Vikings are often also associated with pillaging unsuspecting townspeople, which includes kidnapping helpless women. This barbaric display of garbage behavior somehow crept its way into some of Hägar’s earlier exploits.
That is, until Browne got a heaping dose of reality from his daughter. If running away with a helpless woman was the punchline, his daughter was thankfully there to smack some sense into him. "It’s not funny… It’s a crime," she explained. From that point forward, Hägar’s exploits got another much-needed shakeup.
Bill Watterson Returned to the Sunday Funnies Without Anyone Noticing
Watterson avoided the public eye throughout Calvin and Hobbes’ run in the Sunday Funnies, but after his comic’s run, he seemingly disappeared. That is, until 2014, when he surprisingly reappeared as a secret guest artist for three Pearls Before Swine strips.
Without a single press release, Watterson collaborated with Swine’s creator Stephan Pastis for a few gag sketches involving some very violent animals. The pieces only contained Pastis’ name for their publication, and Pastis promised Watterson he wouldn’t mention anything until after all three strips ran.
Beetle Bailey Was Banned by the U.S. Military
Addison Morton Walker debuted his comic strip Beetle Bailey in 1950, which depicted life on a fictional United States Army post. The fumbling Private Carl James "Beetle" Bailey was a dimwitted goof-off who often got himself in trouble for his lazy antics. Little did Walker know that Bailey’s fecklessness would lead to some serious trouble.
The U.S. military’s newspaper, Stars and Stripes, was running the comic strip until it banned the cartoon from its Tokyo print editions. Bailey was often disrespectful towards his commanding officers, and people in charge were afraid that readers would follow suit. The prohibition lasted for a solid decade, which created enough press for Walker’s comic strip to gain many more followers.
Beetle Bailey Openly Battled PTSD
Walker’s comic was rarely meant to be taken seriously, but before his death in 2018, he wanted to honor the troops that have been through so much after following their lives for so many years. In 2013, he tackled the serious issue of veterans returning from battle with brain trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In one strip, Bailey wakes up from nightmares and continues to experience trouble sleeping. There were no punchlines and no gags. Walker hoped it would help raise awareness for the lingering mental health impacts combat can have on returning military personnel.
The Post Office Has a Thing for Peanuts
No, we’re not talking packing peanuts. To commemorate the 65th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the United States Post Office issued a collection of stamps with images from the special in 2015. But it wasn’t the first edition of Snoopy stamps to go on sale.
The Postal Service also issued a Peanuts commemorative stamp in 2001 in honor of the late creator of the iconic strip. Charles Schulz passed away on Sunday, February 12, 2000, one day before the final original comic strip was released.