With Halloween coming, it’s the perfect time to talk about the Art of Snoopy in general, and Snoopy as the World War 1 Flying Ace specifically, because the Flying Ace made his first animated appearance, in all his heroic glory, in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown right before Halloween on October 27th, 1966. Of all animated characters ever, Snoopy is my very favorite. In part, it’s because my dad read us the comic strip when my sisters and I were little. We had all Schulz’s books of published Peanuts strips in both French and English. We weren’t alone. Peanuts had fans all over the world. By the 70s, the Peanuts strips had been translated into 21 languages and sold in over 75 countries. You can read a hilarious take on how the French fell for Peanuts in this archived article from 1975 in the New York Times.
We watched the special together as a family before I could even talk, and I’ve watched it every year ever since. Of course I remember the rest of the cartoon, like Charlie getting a rock, Lucy wearing that gaudy lime green mask, and Linus showing he was and always would be an eternal optimist. What struck me though, and made it most memorable, was the sequence with Snoopy climbing up on his Sopwith Camel and fearlessly fighting the Red Baron.
There’s very little distance in time between when the Flying Ace was introduced in newspapers on October 10th, 1965, and his inclusion in Great Pumpkin barely a year later.
Schulz created this incarnation of Snoopy just months after the US started sending troops to Vietnam. At first it wasn’t the plan to parallel Snoopy’s trials with the goings-on in Vietnam, but in time he began using the Flying Ace and his challenges as a means to express his opinions about the horrors of war. He himself had been drafted into World War II, so he had a lot of compassion and empathy for the soldiers over in Vietnam. In fact, he had to leave his mother, who was suffering with cervical cancer at the time, to report for duty, and she died only a few days before he left for basic training. From very early on, soldiers would use images of Snoopy the Flying Ace on their equipment, and created banners and patches of the character in various guises. They proudly carried or wore them as they attempted to survive what must have been hell on earth.
Snoopy was introduced to the Peanuts comic strip on October 4th, 1950, with his first interaction with Charlie Brown happening on October 10th of the same year.
Schulz came up with the name because his mother said if they got another dog, they should call him Snoopy. Little did she know part of her legacy would be naming one of the most famous fictional dogs in history! Snoopy’s first appearance landed shortly after the US entered the Korean War on June 27th, 1950. Peanuts had been nationally syndicated in 1950 and started getting really popular in the late 50s. By the mid-1960s, it became the most widely read comic strip in history.
There are references about the Korean war early on in the strip’s continuum, as exampled by this strip from May 3rd, 1954.
There are lots of inspirational stories about Snoopy from the Vietnam war. One of the best is one in which his name was used for a frequently airborne canine mascot that a sergeant in the 554 Recon Squadron kept in Vietnam. This sergeant related that Snoopy had repeated scuffles with a very territorial mascot pup of the 388th squadron, coincidentally named the Red Baron. Snoopy flew all missions with the 554th squadron, but his frequent flyer status changed when his owner Robby Robinson, who survived his time in the war, went home. He went on to live a full civilian life riding in cars, boats, and motorcycles in Michigan, California, and Texas, and died an old pup in 1980.
Other references to Snoopy as the Flying Ace include a psychedelic band that used the name Sopwith Camel. They were one of the first San Francisco psychedelic bands to record for a national label.
In 1966, the boys in a band called The Royal Guardsmen were inspired by the character from the comic strip for their song ‘Snoopy vs the Red Baron’, which sold 3 million records. It debuted at #122 on the ‘Bubbling Under the Hot 100’ on December 10th, 1966, and peaked at #2 on The Hot 100 the week of December 31st, 1966. It’s interesting that Great Pumpkin, which debuted Snoopy Flying Ace, was released in October, and the Royal Guardsmen released their song in December of the same year.
Schulz was not amused. He and United Features Syndicate sued the Royal Guardsmen for using Snoopy’s name without permission. UFS won, and all the publishing revenue from that song went to them. Schulz did let the group write more Snoopy songs, though, like this Christmas song ‘Snoopy’s Christmas’, which appeared on the album ‘Snoopy and His Friends’ in 1967.
As far as the art of Snoopy as the Flying Ace goes, it’s nearly impossible to find. Part of why I was inspired to write this blog is because we got one from a Rival Dog Food Company commercial dating back to somewhere between 1969 and 1973.
Rival has a fascinating and storied history. In 1932, they were the first company to promote canned dog food, when most folks were still happy to just feed their pups table scraps. Rival held their products to a high standard (which included NOT using horse meat in their formulas), creating food nearly up to human standards. It helped transition dogs into the house to be treated as family members. Rival dog food was so well-made that when the US entered World War 2, Rival stopped creating dog food and pivoted to create rations for the troops. Their plant was already operating under government inspection, meeting the stringent requirements for canning human food. Rival ultimately shipped over 200 million cans to US servicemen. They continued successfully through several company shakeups, and in 1973 were sold to Nabisco, ringing the death knell for the famed brand. It was in the late 60s and early 70s that they enlisted Snoopy to promote their brand, with the last materials being created in late 1973. You can read all about Rival HERE.
Here is the one limited edition available celebrating Snoopy as the World War Flying Ace:
That brings us to my favorite Peanuts cartoon featuring Snoopy. It’s the absolutely classic animated feature Snoopy Come Home, released in 1972. I watched that cartoon many times, but what had even more impact on me was the board game I used to play with my sister, Joëlle. We used to sing “No Dogs Allowed” repeatedly while playing it.
Though our game was thrown away in the 80s, I guess, I finally bought a replacement when doing research on this blog. It should be here any day!
Snoopy Come Home has lots of special features unique to it as a Peanuts release. First, it is one of the only Peanuts animated cartoons not using Charlie Brown’s name. It’s also the only Peanuts film released during his lifetime with music composed by someone other than Vince Guaraldi. The music is all created by famed Oscar-winning duo, Disney Legends Robert and Richard Sherman. The producers figured that since this was a full length feature, not a TV special, it should have a feel that was different from the specials. You know that ‘No Dogs Allowed’ song? It was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, who is also famous for singing ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ in the 1966 tv movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Here is a video featuring the many voices and songs of Thurh Ravenscroft. He was wonderful and prolific!
Snoopy Come Home also features the on-screen debut of Woodstock, Snoopy’s BFFF (Best Fine Feathered Friend) which you can see the original trailer leverages, using music by the Sherman Brothers.
My friends who work with Bill Melendez Studios (Bill created all the traditionally animated cartoons based on Schulz’s comic strip) scoured their archives for something special for me to offer, as we enjoy the Halloween holiday and enter into the Christmas holiday season. I specifically asked for older Snoopy art, and they did not disappoint.
Speaking of the art of Snoopy, here is a production cel featuring nearly every major character from the Peanuts specials, also including some really hard-to-find secondary characters. In fact, this scene is quite historic. It is the first appearance EVER of Franklin in animation. It includes the original cel setup and the layout background from the scene.
We also have one-of-a-kind rare cels of Snoopy and Woodstock from these scenes:
And we talked them into going into their archives, and letting us sell their very last piece in this very sold out limited edition, “Home Coming” from Snoopy Come Home.
Which you can see in the last scene from the cartoon:
Meanwhile, here is all the art of Snoopy available on our website. CLICK TO SEE ALL THE SNOOPY ART.