Sequential artwork, the earliest versions of comics or comic strips, were first spotted in Egyptian hieroglyphs and Greek friezes. Other early drawings attempted to communicate biblical stories and truth – presumably to either an illiterate audience or those without access to any written documents.

Today’s understanding of comics dates back more recently to the middle of the 19th century, though the “Golden Age” of the medium is said to have launched in the 1930s with the publication of such serial hits as Superman, The Green Lantern and The Flash.

Beyond mere child’s fare and humor, comics have long been used to communicate what a particular era cherishes and values. For example, during both World War I and II, many of the series championed American values and our country’s exceptionalism. The strips’ authors could have their characters express something others might be afraid or even unsure how to say. It was a good way to reach young people – or those young at heart.

This strategy is still being employed, albeit in different forms or venues. Last week’s New York Times featured a story highlighting “8 Comics to Read this Pride Month.” The colorful works carried such titles as “Real Stories About Growing Up Trans,” “A Quick and Easy Guide to Coming Out,” and “X-Men: The Wedding Special.” Readers of the Old Grey Lady might be surprised to learn that the “Green Lantern,” a superhero who debuted in 1940, has apparently been a homosexual all these years. Who knew?

One of the many charms of comic strips is the simplicity with which storylines are communicated. Despite the fantastical drawings, we can usually relate characters to everyday life.

The Times’ review of the latest “pride” propaganda contrasts starkly with some of the classic wholesome comics of all time, and a favorite in our house: Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the whole Peanuts’ gang.

Conceived and drawn by Charles Schulz and debuting in 1947 as “Li’l Folks,” the adventures and exploits of the round-headed young Charlie grabbed hold of hearts for over 50 years before Schulz retired in 2000. Ironically, although he announced he was putting down his marker months earlier, the award-winning cartoonist died on the very Sunday his last strip ran in the newspaper.

It was Charles Schulz’s wish that nobody draw his strip post-death, yet “Peanuts” has continued to run ever since, so timeless and engaging are its themes and storylines.

But it’s more than good storytelling and relevant topics. It’s the comic strip’s wholesomeness, something that so many are drawn to – and a theme sorely missing from so much of what passes as entertainment.

The word “wholesome” derives from the old English word “Hal” which means “healthy.” Decades ago, Focus on the Family launched an entire department committed to helping moms and dads figure out what movies, television and music were healthy to watch. Plugged In remains one of our most popular and important outreaches, because the discernment process has only grown more difficult with the years.

For the last decade, my sons and I have enjoyed following various storylines in Peanuts each day. One of boys describes and reads the dialogue out loud at breakfast. They’re always fun, sometimes whimsical, often hilarious – and always wholesome.

They’re also educational, but relay more than mere information. Schulz was once asked about his favorite one. Here is how he described it:

The kids are looking at the clouds and Linus says ‘See that one cloud over there? It sort of looks like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous portrait painter. And that other group over there – that looks as though it could be a map of British Honduras. And then do you see that large group of clouds up there? I see the stoning of Stephen. Over to the side I can see the figure of the apostle Paul standing’.

Then Lucy says, ‘That’s very good, Linus. It shows you have quite a good imagination. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?’ And Charlie says, ‘Well I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsey, but I’ve changed my mind.’

 Charles Schulz professed a strong Christian faith and wasn’t shy about using his platform to share it. Many of us love a “Charlie Brown Christmas” because in it, Linus unapologetically presented the real meaning of the holiday.

Schulz was also something of an armchair psychologist and used specific characters to communicate deeper meanings and even our sins and foibles. He once reflected:

Snoopy represents the dream of a lot of people who would like to be a club champion or to be a world-famous flying ace. But there’s another quality about Snoopy that I think makes the whole thing work. This is a quality of innocence combined with a little bit of egotism. You put those qualities together, and I think you have trouble, especially with Snoopy.

Our hunger for wholesomeness keeps Peanuts going, as well as such rising streaming outlets as Pureflix’s Great American Family and a host of other strong, uplifting faith-and family-friendly offerings.

“In the Book of Life, the answers aren’t in the back,” said Charlie Brown. He’s right, of course. They’re in the Bible, and they’re found in the pursuit of good things. Advised the apostle Paul, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).


Image from Getty.