How Charlie Brown Essentially Lost His Comic Strip to an Unlikely Character

Today, we examine Rerun Van Pelt, the comic strip character who basically took over Peanuts from Charlie Brown in the late 1990s.

Knowledge Waits is a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me.

Charles Schulz was clearly one of the all-time greatest comic creators, with his Peanuts comic strip being one of the best comic strips ever created. One of the fascinating things about Schulz, though, is that he was also one of the most open creators in terms of sharing his various struggles over the years with creating his classic strip. He gave many excellent interviews that offered powerful insights into the way that he approached the creation of Peanuts and it is amazing how often he will frankly sort of talk about the struggles of doing an ongoing comic strip like Peanuts.

In any event, one of the areas where anyone would have problems is coming up with new ideas regularly for DECADES and in the case of Peanuts, in the late 1990s, Schulz's answer turned out to be that the strip was more or less taken over from its normal lead, Charlie Brown, and given to a character introduced in the 1970s who was barely usedat all until the early 1990s and then suddenly became essentially the star of the strip in the late 1990s, to the point where he actually outlasted both of his MUCH more famous siblings, Linus and Lucy, in the strip itself. I am, of course, talking about Rerun Van Pelt.

HOW RERUN WAS INTRODUCED INTO PEANUTS

In 1972, Schulz almost certainly thought, "Hey, we haven't had a kid in the series in a looooong time," and so Linus and Lucy Van Pelt received a kid brother in May 1972 (as part of the much-heralded and just made up by me this second comic strip May Sweeps period)...

A week later, Linus named his baby brother...

It's funny, it's a nice gag, but boy, that's an odd thing to go with a one-off gag and have that be a character's name for the rest of their time in the strip, huh?

It took a year for Rerun to age into a toddler's age, when he made his debut in the strip in 1973...

And then......nothing.

Don't get me wrong, Rerun actually had a notable storyline right off the bat. He joins Charlie Brown's baseball team and the team actually wins a game, but then it gets forfeited when it turns out that Rerun and Snoopy had bet on the game. So it wasn't like Rerun made an appearance and then never showed up again. However, after those initial stories, Rerun BASICALLY vanished from the strip. Essentially, Schulz had realized that he had a new character but the character had no purpose, but he couldn't really get rid of Rerun, either, since he was related to two of Schulz's biggest characters, Linus and Lucy.

So Rerun just sort of popped up here and there, but never given major plots.

HOW RERUN TOOK OVER PEANUTS IN THE LATE 1990s

Things changed for Rerun in the early 1990s. Rerun began to show up a bit more, with just basic toddler plots like learning to count or learning to tie his shoes (I think Rerun might have learned how to tie his shoes about 95 times over the years)...

Then Schulz came up with a clever idea where he would put Rerun on the back of his mother's bicycle and then have Rerun narrate the ride like a nature documentary, while the toddler was scared like crazy...

It's a fun bit and Schulz repeated it a few times.

In his interview with Gary Groth for the Comics Journal #200 in 1997, Schulz then revealed why he aged Rerun up a bit to the age of going to kintergarten (after first noting that he thought that Rerun was initially a mistake as a character):

I think he was a mistake when it first began. I was looking for something that was different. I put him on the back of his Mom's bike, and the only time he ever appeared was riding on the back of that bike. I like those. And then, we had a few grandchildren who had to start preschool and kindergarten, and I see little kids at the arena, too. I began to get some ideas and so he was the perfect one to have start kintergarten. he's different from Lucy and Linus. He's a little more outspoken. And I think he's going to be a little on the strange side... [laughs] the way he is already.

Now that he was around five years old, Rerun was allowed to become more of a character and clearly, Schulz found this new character to be a very compelling one, as he was SO different than his veteran characters that he could do new stories that didn't fit the others, including, as Schulz notes, lots of odd ideas. Another recurring bit was that Rerun was fascinated with Snoopy and wanted a dog of his own and we got to experience a character who actually got EXCITED about Snoopy. Charlie Brown obviously loved his dog, but he didn't get EXCITED about Snoopy like Rerun did. It was a fun bit and as we would see in the late 1990s, Rerun essentially took over the strip (this also allowed Schulz to literally redo some Linus stories with Rerun going through the same experiences as his older brother growing up). Here Rerun is having some fun with Snoopy in 1999...

Here he is with his kintergarten classmate (and sort of crush), the little pigtailed girl, with Rerun's recurring gag of doing weird drawings when they were supposed to be drawing flowers or something like that...

Again, Rerun was just kind of WEIRD, which was awesome, it gave him jokes you would never get from Charlie Brown or Linus...

Schulz explained to Groth, "I find that coming up with ideas never ends and never gets any easier. And you find yourself going in a certain direction just to survive. Now lately, Rerun has almost taken over the strip."

Amazingly enough, once the daily strips finished in early January 2000, Rerun actually OUTLASTED his two much more famous siblings, as their final appearance in Peanuts were December 1999 for Lucy...

and January 1, 2000 for Linus...

While Rerun appeared in two Sunday strips (the Sunday strips continued after the dailies ended), with one final Rerun/Snoopy strip...

and one final drawing weird stuff in class strip..

That was the third to last Peanuts strip EVER and it starred Rerun!

Of course, Schulz never TOTALLY gave the strip over to Rerun, as he noted to Groth, as well, he knew people wanted the classic characters, so he always managed to go back to them, and Charlie Brown starred in the final narrative strip (with Sally) in February 2000 and then Charlie Brown and Snoopy were both in the final strip, which was published a day before Schulz tragically passed away.

If anyone has suggestions about interesting pieces of comic book history, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]

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