The 'Charlie Brown Rain Cloud Effect' in International Law: An Empirical Case Study

Author:Robert A. Caplen
Position:Law Clerk to the Honorable Margaret M. Sweeney, United States Court of Federal Claims. J.D., cum laude, University of Florida Levin College of Law, 2005
“It rains on the just and the unjust, Charlie Brown.”—Linus Van Pelt1
American comic strips have “always been used as a medium for
commentary and satire”2 ever since nineteenth century artist and graphic
innovator3 Thomas Nast, considered “the nation’s first famous cartoonist,
political or otherwise,”4 “created the donkey and elephant as symbols for
the two political parties and . . . gave us our modern image of Santa
Claus.”5 While their subject matter encompasses the entire gamut,6
political cartoons “are a kind of reality cocktail—part fact, part fiction, part
Copyright © 2007, 2008, Robert A. Caplen.
Law Clerk to the Honorable Margaret M. Sweeney, United States Court of Federal
Claims. J.D., cum laude, University of Florida Levin College of Law, 2005; M.A., History,
Boston University, 2001; B.A., summa cum laude, History and Music, Boston University,
2001. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author.
1 Quoted in Frank Ahrens, The Gospel According to ‘Calvin and Hobbes’, WASH. POST,
Mar. 15, 1997, at D09 (quoting Peanuts comic strip paraphrasing St. Matthew: “That ye
may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the
evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:45 (King
James) (emphasis added)).
2 Karen S. Peterson, At 100, Comics Earn a Funny Page in History, USA TODAY, Feb.
16, 1995, at 3D.
3 Peter Goddard, Krazy Kat to Peanuts Late, Great Comic Strips, TORONTO STAR, Nov.
25, 2006, at H09, available at 2006 WLNR 20415948.
4 Larry Printz, Nast Exhibit Personifies the Power of the Pen, MORNING CALL (Pa.), Jan.
24, 1999, at F1. Nast is considered “the father of American editorial cartoons.” Greg
Braxton, Cover Story; He’s Gotta Fight the Powers That Be; Aaron McGruder’s In-Your-
Face Cartoon Strip, “the Boondocks,” Takes No Prisoners—Black or White. How Did This
Nice Young Man From the Suburbs Get So Mad?, L.A. TIMES MAG., Apr. 25, 2004, at 10.
5 Matt Schudel, Toon Town; Beetle Bailey Creator Mort Walker Has Enlisted His
Comic-Strip Friends to Show That Cartoon Art is More Than Just a Joke, SUN-SENTINEL
(Fla.), Mar. 10, 1996, at 12.
6 “[T]he best cartoons draw people into whatever debate is going on and therefore play
a major role in a democratic republic where folks need to be reminded of the issues at
stake.” Stephen Goode, Right to Laugh, INSIGHT ON THE NEWS, Aug. 13, 2001, at 10,
available at 2001 WLNR 4629519.
serious and part frivolous.”7 As commentators have recognized, “[c]omics
have given us more than political opinion.”8
Although the “qualities that make a great cartoonist haven’t changed
since Thomas Nast,”9 the medium transformed following World War Two
as previously “far more sober” comic strips yielded to a “punchline craze”
genre best exemplified by Beetle Bailey and Peanuts.10 Created by Charles
M. Schulz, Peanuts, along with other comic strips appearing in the 1950s,
“ushered in the ‘intellectual’ age of comics, works that were more than just
humorous—they encouraged readers to think.”11 What distinguished
Schulz’s Peanuts from other comic strips of its time, however, was a
revolutionary approach12 coalescing “the innocence of childhood with the
cynicism of adulthood to create realistic, idiosyncratic and empathetic
icons.”13 Alongside Nast, Schulz, who “blazed a trail that allowed
cartoonists to write honestly of angst and vulnerability and anxiety and
guilt,”14 is recognized as one of the most influential illustrators in
American history.15
7 Howard Kurtz, Garry Trudeau’s Cartoon Beat; Digging Up News in ‘Doonesbury’,
WASH. POST, May 30, 1992, at B1.
8 Dick Schneider, Editorial, Even ‘Funny Pages’ Not Immune to Changing Times,
JACKSON SUN (Tenn.), Apr. 2, 2006.
9 Goode, supra note 6.
10 Ellen Gamerman, Where to Draw the Line; With Competition Fierce and Clinton
Scandal Jokes Easy, Cartoonists Say There’s Pressure to Choose Cheap Gaps Over
Insightful Commentary, BALT. SUN, Feb. 4, 1999, at 1E, available at 1999 WLNR 1137063.
11 Payal Kapadia, A Brief History of the Comic Strip, JAPAN TIMES, Mar. 22, 2002,
available at
12 Schulz “‘was probably the first syndicated comic strip artist who put a little bit of
pathos in a strip.’” Dave Walker, Good Grief! Peanuts’ Creator Schultz to Retire, Ending
Comic, ARIZ. REPUBLIC, Dec. 15, 1999 at A1; see also Peter McDonald, Flypast, Cookies
and Root Beer in Final Tribute to Schulz, EVENING STANDARD (London), Feb. 22, 2000, at
5, available at 2000 WLNR 2719774 (“Charles Schulz was credited with revolutionising
the comic pages.”).
13 Rob Rogers, Legendary Cartoonist Knows Human Frailty, PITTSBURGH POST-
GAZETTE, Feb. 13, 2000, at A10.
14 Amy Wilson, You’re a Good Man, Charles Schulz, DET. FREE PRESS, Oct. 8 1995, at
15 See International Cartoon Museum Opens First Phase in Boca Raton, TAMPA TRIB.,
May 12, 1996, at 5. One commentator noted:
“Peanuts” touched nerves and reached intimate spaces in a way no
comic strip ever had: It . . . was featured in exhibits at the
Smithsonian . . . and spun catch phrases (“security blanket,” “good
A. The First Element: Illustrating Charlie Brown and Peanuts
Originally titled Li’l Folks when it debuted in 1947, Schulz’s Peanuts
acquired its new name upon syndication16 three years later.17 Billed as
“cute childhood fluff,” Peanuts “is actually . . . portentous material best
appreciated by adults.”18 The comic depicts a group of “children who,
without the interference of narrow-eyed, jaded adults, figured out the world
on their own.”19 While Schulz “never publicly admitted to making social
statements” in his Peanuts comics20 and “roll[ed] his eyes . . . [w]hen
people saw all sorts of meanings in his work,”21 Peanuts has nonetheless
been the subject of increased analysis22 and philosophical interpretation,23
particularly with regard to its apparent religious overtones.24
grief,” “a Charlie Brown Christmas tree”). Snoopy emerged as an
enduring 20th century icon, etched on children’s tombstones and
stenciled on the helmets of U.S. soldiers who fought in Vietnam.
Renee Tawa, Obituary, Beloved ‘Peanuts’ Creator is Mourned Worldwide; Obituary:
Influential Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz Dies of Cancer the Night Before Farewell Strip
Appears. For the Record, L.A. TIMES, Feb. 14, 2000, at A18; see also Mark Kennedy,
Memories of Charlie Brown Render Ways to Improve Tomorrow, CHATTANOOGA TIMES
FREE PRESS (Tenn.), Feb. 2, 2003, at E5 (stating that “Charles Schulz was one of the most
influential writers of our time”).
16 An editor disliked the original title and renamed the comic strip Peanuts, much to
Schulz’s disliking: “‘It’s totally ridiculous, has no meaning, is simply confusing and has no
dignity.’” Lev Grossman, New Zip for the Old Strip, TIME, Apr. 2, 2007, at 50 (quoting
Schulz during a 1987 interview).
17 Walker, supra note 12.
18 Hal Niedzviecki, Really Good Grief, GLOBE & MAIL (Canada), May 29, 2005, at D8,
available at 2005 WLNR 11913239.
19 Ahrens, supra note 1.
20 Michael Schuman, Good Grief! A Low-Key Tribute to a Gentle Giant, TORONTO
STAR, Dec. 10, 2005, at K10, available at 2005 WLNR 19858649; cf. Karessa E. Weir &
Brian Wheeler, No Grief with ‘Charlie Brown’, CAPITAL (Md.), Mar. 12, 1999, at 22
(“Charles Schulz’s work is still among the most meaningful parts of any newspaper.”).
21 Schuman, supra note 20.
22 The comic strip “inspired college courses, a theology book, a concerto.” 60 Minutes:
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; Charles Schulz on his Life’s Work with the Comic
Peanuts (CBS television broadcast Oct. 31, 1999).
23 See, e.g., Cynthia Gorney, The ‘Peanuts’ Progenitor; Charles M. Schulz, Right in
Character After 35 Years with his Comic Creations, WASH. POST, Oct. 2, 1985, at D1
(noting a museum exhibit and catalogue replete with “lengthy essays analyzing ‘Peanuts’

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