Peanuts and the Wolf

General

A couple months ago, I posted about some research I’d done into the use of putting the title of a comic strip right in the strip on dailies. Believe it or not, that bit of digging in has already led to me publishing a book…. a reprint of a 1945 collection of a comics panel, to which I added an additional 70 cartoons and some commentary, and thus: The Wolf: Expanded Edition, for a mere $15. (You should order it, it’s interesting stuff!)

But as I researched the history of what I was reprinting, I find it gives some insight regarding the launch of Peanuts. So I’m going to go a bit into the weeds here, and I hope you’ll come with me.

“The Wolf” was created by Leonard Sansone, who was a comic book artist starting around 1940. Then America got pulled into World War Deuce, and Sansone landed in the US Army. In 1942, he started drawing cartoons about a soldier drawn with a wolf face, which reflected his oft-predatory obsession with women. The character was often talked about in the caption, but he never spoke himself.

The Camp Newspaper Service syndicated his strip to the papers and newsletters that popped up wherever Americans were serving, sometimes under the name “The Wolf”, sometimes as “GI Wolf”. Because there were so many encampments during the War, this actually peaked at around 3000 different publications… or more different publications than Peanuts reached at its peak.

Wars end (and that’s about the best thing that can be said about them.) Leonard Sansone’s service ended. The original (non-expanded) The Wolf book came out in October 1945. United Feature Syndicate – the same syndicate that would end up distributing Peanuts – started syndicating “The Wolf” as a six-day-a-week gag panel, with the main difference from the military version being that the Wolf was now in civilian garb.

This is not actually the most basic example of the content at the time, but I just love that lion too much to not share it.

The Wolf was given a (human-faced, but waggly ears) i=kid brother who was seen in a few panels. But there was a switch about two-and-a-half months in: The Wolf lost his wolf face, and began being drawn as a human.

A mother character was also added. About a year later, the strip went through another change – the character was given the name “Wally”, and that also became the title of the panel. The kid brother would be referred to as “Willie”. Along the way, we would see panels without Wally at all, using Willie and his mother.

But the change I’m most interested with in regards to Peanuts came on March 28, 1948. In the space allotted to the daily “Wally” panel, readers instead found this:

Okay. so let’s look what happened: what had been a caption gag panel series instead became a strip with balloons… and it’s designed so that you can fit it into a non-standard space for a strip, or to run it as a strip, or even to stack the panels vertically. And a title (a new title, at that) was added in the upper left of the first panel.

In other words: much like what happened to “Li’l Folks”  when United Feature Syndicate picked it up and turned it into “Peanuts”. And this was done to “Wally”/”Willie” just two and a half years earlier, so likely the same people at UFS were involved in this change. Whether these changes were initiated by the syndicate or by Sansone I cannot say, but it seems clear that however the market responded to this was involved in the decisions regarding the Schulz work.

In the case of “Wally” and “Willie”, however, there was something different going on, because this was the next day’s entry.

For a while, the feature bounced back and forth between “Willie”-labeled strips and “Wally”-labeled panels. That didn’t last too long, however, and soon it was all “Willie”, all the time.

But the full story may involve more than just “The Wolf/Wally/Willie” influencing the creation of “Peanuts”. There may have been influencing in other directions as well. After all, this is the way that “Willie” looked on October 2, 1950, when “Peanuts” launched:

…and this is how it looked in June 1956, in its latter days.

Now, no one would mistake that for “Peanuts”, but if you start describing the change — the broader look, less rendering, minimalist backgrounds, large heads, etc., it looks like how you’d describe “Peanuts”.  Plus… Willie himself is not in the strip. The series had evolved a full cast of neighborhood kids (here, Maggie and Barbell), which it hadn’t had in 1950.

Psst: The Wolf: Expanded Edition, for a mere $15! It covers up to the point where he loses the wolf face.

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