Who Got Pop Culture in My Peanuts?

If your only exposure to Charles Schultz’s comic masterpiece, Peanuts, is via the “Classic” Peanuts feature in most newspapers that endlessly repeats the strip’s greatest hits, as it were, then you can be excused for thinking that Peanuts floated, unsullied, above the pop culture storms during its multi-decade run.

Thanks to Fantagraphics’ Complete Peanuts project, which is reprinting the entire series in chronological order, we’re able to see that Schultz did, on occasion, make reference to current events that, to modern eyes, seem quite outdated, like these panels from March 8, 1972 (in The Complete Peanuts: 1971 to 1972):

Johnny Who?

Talk about a time-bound joke! Though the context makes it clear that Johnny Horizon is somehow associated with the environmental movement, he’s hardly a household name some thirty-seven years later.

Here's Johnny!

As it turns out, Johnny Horizon is a Bureau of Land Management marketing mascot, a rugged, masculine counterpart to Smokey the Bear who’s not afraid to pick up litter.

Like the Archie joke from the mid-1970’s about Whip Inflation Now, some comic strip jokes just don’t translate into a contemporary idiom. It’s a shame, though, that these time-restricted strips seldom get reprinted, as they provide an intriguing glimpse into American history.

Reading through Fantagraphics’ lovingly constructed Peanuts reprints lets one get beyond the dear but somewhat overexposed strips involving the Red Baron and the kite-eating tree and the baseball team that never wins, revealing a more nuanced view of these preternaturally wise children.

(Johnny Horizon image from Bureau of Land Management; Peanuts image from The Complete Peanuts: 1971-1972)

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