I think I’ve discovered the secret of life – you sort of hang around until you get used to it. – Lucy Brown in Peanuts
It must have been the weekend because my father was home. My mother was preparing a chicken curry for lunch and my father, sniffing the air appreciatively, said cheerfully: “Looks like we’re having fowl curry for lunch.”
As he said this, he looked at me and winked. And, just like that, I got it.
And that was what first got me hooked on comic strips. By the time I was in Standard Two, I remember loving L’il Abner by Al Capp because it was chockful of puns. And what puns, so shameless it reduced me to idiocy.
Do you remember Kickapoo Joy Juice?
No, not the citrus drink but the original, the one in Mr Capp’s head: a brew that perpetually bubbled in a cave off Dogpatch; an alcoholic concoction of such stupefying potency that its fumes could melt the rivets off battleships.
And its makers – two “hillbillies” rendered as club-wielding Cro-Magnons – were perpetually tossing in new ingredients to maintain its potency. To give it more “body,” it could be any body (a moose?). For added “bite,” they tossed in a grizzly, all teeth and claws.
Occasionally, kerosene or horseshoes might be added.
Its characters were as varied as they were dazzling. There was Joe Bftsplk, a well-meaning character who trails bad luck in his wake. To make the point, a dark rain-cloud, occasionally forking lightning, perpetually hovers over his head.
During World War Two, however, Joe signed up to do his patriotic duty. But he signed up for Hirohito and the rest is history.
Al Capp’s imagination knew no bounds. Fearless Fosdick, for example, was a “strip within a strip,” where Fosdick, a black-hatted, square-jawed parody of Dick Tracy, existed within the L’il Abner strip.
Fosdick himself was a courageous detective who left a trail of bullet-riddled destruction in his wake while chasing criminals. In the process, he is repeatedly shot in the head himself but never complains – “It’s only a flesh wound.”
He lives in squalor in a dilapidated boarding house but never takes a bribe. And much to her chagrin, he doesn’t marry his longtime girlfriend, the long-suffering, if homely, Prudence Pimpleton.
In short, he’s the idol of “every red-blooded American boy.”
I discovered Peanuts a little later although I never understood its title. Neither did its creator Charles Schultz: he was, apparently, furious with the editor who named it thus. Worse, the editor never even read the strip before he named it,
Who could resist its brand of wit and wisdom? It’s about a little boy who’s a lot like us. He fails at flying kites, playing baseball and kicking footballs. But Charlie Brown and his friends win our hearts every time.
To Lucy, the secret of life was to “hang around until you get used to it.” To Snoopy, it was “to look up.” And to poor Charlie Brown it was “to replace one worry with another.”
That’s the beauty of the comic strip. It’s a good way of growing up without growing old.