Some Intersections Between Literature and Cartooning

This past Thursday, October 2, was the 70th anniversary of the 1950 debut of Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts.” The comic strip’s initial success was modest, but it grew to become a cultural phenomenon that appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers and spawned many TV specials, books, licensed products, and more.

I was privileged to meet and interview Schulz (1922-2000) many times when I covered cartoonists and columnists for a magazine.

Anyway, with that 70th-anniversary milestone in mind, I thought I would devote this piece to some intersections between cartooning and literature. Schulz himself was an avid reader of novels — among his favorites were Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby — and of course the cartoonist’s famed Snoopy character was a frustrated author often banging away on his typewriter atop his doghouse.

Speaking of novels, one of the most cartooning-imbued is Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, published in 2000 — the year Schulz died. That Pulitzer Prize-winning book stars two men modeled on the creators of Superman (who first appeared in comic books) and also mentions various newspaper-strip legends such as “Terry and the Pirates” and “Steve Canyon” creator Milton Caniff (1907-1988), who I got to meet and interview as well.

John Steinbeck was among the millions of people who admired Caniff’s stunningly drawn and plotted story strips, and even wrote him a fan letter in 1942.

Then there are renowned authors who did some cartooning — either in their youth and then stopping, or continuing into their authorial careers. Among them were Flannery O’Connor (whose art is atop this blog post), Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, James Thurber, and John Updike.

I was there when Updike received an award at a 1990 National Cartoonists Society dinner in New York City. One thing Updike (jokingly?) said was that doing a comic strip was harder than writing books. “A cartoonist needs seven ideas a week; as a novelist, I only need one idea every two years,” he quipped.

And some artists known mostly for their cartooning have written novels. Among them: editorial cartoonists/comic creators Doug Marlette and Jeff Danziger, and The New Yorker cartoonist Peter Steiner.

Then there are graphic novelists/graphic memoirists — with the most famous ones including Art Spiegelman (Maus) and Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), among others. Bechdel first became known for her compelling and comedic “Dykes to Watch Out For” comic strip.

Any literature-cartooning connections you’d like to discuss?

My next blog post will appear on either the usual Sunday (October 11) or next Monday (October 12). Not sure yet. πŸ™‚

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started, award-winning β€œMontclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest piece — about such topics as the welcome launch of a group opposing gas-powered leaf blowers — is here.

73 thoughts on “Some Intersections Between Literature and Cartooning

  1. Pingback: Season 2 Episode 57: Dave Astor on Comics, Cartoons & Confessions – Tea Toast & Trivia

  2. Reading a bit of The Bard today,
    specifically a sonnet,
    I thought I’d write one of my own:
    With pen in hand, I’m on it!


    ELECTION 2020

    The longest year may end before its time,
    the golden wheels arrested in their turn,
    by mail or voting early or in lines,
    that winding snakelike ’round the straitened polls,
    will prove the caduceus to our ills.
    Where is the serpent’s sting when biting heals
    by piercing clean the body politic?
    All poison draining from the swell,
    puffed up and preening in the wind
    that blows no good while he commands the waves,
    and dissipating harmlessly at last
    like rain that spreads and sinks in soaking earth.
    When we are counted, Biden comes in first–
    the pustule of Trump’s presidency burst.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I gave my copy to a baseball-mad pal, but recently I owned a reprint of cartoon strips written (but not drawn) by Ring Lardner– a series titled, like his book, “You Know Me, Al”, in four frames. I am under the impression that the material written was new, and not merely a funny papers redoing of the book.

    George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” was not only a fabulously well-drawn strip, but was equally well-written in Herriman’s unique American Slanglish. Herriman, a New Orleans Creole who ‘passed’ in CA might have earned fame as a mere wordsmith had he not had better things to do with his pen. When the columns were collected and published in book form, Herriman also made illustrations for columnist Don Marquis’ “Archy and Mehitabel”,the former being a typewriting cockroach and the latter an alley cat who first appeared in New York’s “The Evening Sun”.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Further research along the interwebs has revealed that poet ee cummings wrote the intro to the first collection of “Krazy” published in book form, and that HL Mencken and Jack Kerouac were contemporary admirers of the strip. That’s a crowded intersection, right there!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for that George Herriman information in your two comments, jhNY! A crowded intersection indeed!

      Herriman’s work — including “Krazy Kat” — was just plain amazing. He died in 1944, but I knew and did a 1993 interview with a cartoonist named Jud Hurd who had met Herriman when he (Jud) was a young man. I just found this online reprint that shows part of the story, with some of the Herriman section at the end of the abridged reprint…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting man, that Hurd, and nice work by the guy who wrote the article! You are cited as source in the wikipedia article (a skeletal affair, or as the site puts it ‘a stub’) about him.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree, Dave, with Updike that comic strip production is highly demanding. And what a treat for you to meet Schulz! Jonathan Franzen pays homage to Schulz in a section of his non-fiction work, The Discomfort Zone, which I read years ago during a long flight πŸ™‚ It was pretty good, if I recall.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo! Comic strip production is indeed difficult — day after day, needing both drawing and writing skills, etc. But, having done both cartooning and writing books myself, I think being an author is harder. It’s just so much longer a process than a daily comic that at least is finished each day before another one is started.

      It was indeed a treat to meet and talk with Charles M. Schulz over a period of 15 years! I was kind of pinching myself most of the time, given that I grew up reading “Peanuts” and he was so famous. But he was very accessible.

      While I sometimes have mixed feelings about Jonathan Franzen (though I mostly liked his “Freedom” novel and especially “The Corrections”), he’s a REALLY good writer and I imagine his take on Schulz was well worth reading.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Always loved Cathy is an American gag-a-day comic strip, drawn by Cathy Guisewite. Always looked forward to comics when geting local daily newspaper.

    Another was For Better or For Worse is a comic strip by Lynn Johnston that ran originally from 1979 to 2008 . The strip was their daily lives, then their pet died, they all cried until they had another new one.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Bebe here….Charles Schulz, and his Peanuts, the cartoonist you knew well.
    What he would say today I wonder…a President of USA, Trump..with a full fledged COVID-19 virus, back to the WH, took his mask off for photo op, and shedding virus all over the place.
    And the people around him has no other choice but to catch them.

    Reminds me of the past photographs Hitler or Stalin standing like a soldier with their chest forward.
    But Trump is a coward, never went to a war for faking bone spurs.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. While I read few comics as a kid or adult, one big exception was Calvin and Hobbes. I will always and forever be a huge Calvin and Hobbes fan. I had every book growing up, I could read them over and over again and they never got boring. When I moved to Los Angeles I lost track of a lot of them, unfortunately 😦 Would love to try getting some back into my library! I also enjoyed Garfield, Peanuts, and Dennis the Menace here and there, but none got as much dedication as C&H. And I agree that writing a comic strip must be hard, not only for the constant need of ideas, but also because you have to draw. I can barely draw stick people.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. An excellent post and one that reminds me that comic strips have added to the depth and breadth of the narrative of our society. My first run at the classics was through a comic book. My son learned to read through Garfield and Snoopy. How wonderful to have been able to interview this amazing writers.

    Liked by 5 people

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