Dell Four-Color #1015 (Peanuts #3): The Snicker-Snack Story

Dell Four-Color #1015 (Peanuts #3)
Aug.–Oct. 1959
Story and Art from the Charles Schulz studio

"The Snicker-Snack Story" (title supplied by reviewer; original untitled)

The late 50's – early 60's saw an upsurge in cereal box premiums. Kids would send in their box-tops with a few coins and get valuable prizes. This phenomenon made its way into popular culture; most notably, a Rocky & Bullwinkle sequence that revealed box-tops were the secret engine of the U.S. economy.

Charles Schulz had his own take, as witness:

Charlie Brown, to Shermy: Somebody at the Snicker-Snack factory slipped up. There was supposed to be a marble in the box of Snicker-Snacks... Look what happened... FOUR HUNDRED MARBLES AND ONE SNICKER-SNACK!

(Peanuts, 9/6/56)

Nice visual, but it falls apart with just a little thought. Didn't anyone notice that a boxful of marbles is way heavier than one of cereal? Also, how did that lone Snicker-Snack survive without getting ground into a fine powder? Not to mention that Charlie Brown looks pretty indignant for someone who just got 400 free marbles. What, for one day you couldn't eat switch to Special K?

Which brings us to the story at hand. Charlie Brown is at breakfast, reading his cereal box with rapt attention.

"I just don't see how they can make such an offer! But if they don't want people to take advantage of them, they shouldn't leave themselves so wide open..." (We're not told what the specific offer is. We don't even know what Snicker-Snacks are made of, although it's a better-than-even shot they're heavy on the sugar.)

Charlie Brown walks down to the mailbox with his envelope. "I always feel kind of sorry for the cereal companies, they're so naive! They're always giving things away free! I'll bet they don't realize that they're giving away most of their profits... It's really a shame!"

John Harris, on his blog Roasted Peanuts (, writes: "There are three broad categories of Peanuts strips from this time [1951]: kids acting like kids, kids acting like adults, and kids displaying precocious knowledge of adulthood."

These aren't hard and fast categories, and the current story demonstrates that. Charlie Brown does display knowledge of the adult world, but can it be called "precocious" when he gets the most important part wrong? The central idea, the one that drives the action, is the thought that cereal premiums are actually valuable – the kind of judgement a kid would make (Harris' category #1). Having made that judgement, Charlie Brown proceeds to act as an adult would (#2).

Charlie Brown meets Patty. "Well, Charlie Brown, you look deep in thought..."

"I am... I'm worried about the people who run the Snicker-Snack company... Not only that, I'm worried about all those people work in the Snicker-Snack plant. They have families to support... Little hungry kids who need milk and food and a place to sleep and... and... Well, they'll all starve if the Snicker-Snack company collapses!'

"What in the world makes you think the Snicker-Snack company is going to collapse?"

"They give away too many valuable premiums! I'm sure they can't afford to do it! They're just too kindhearted to stop! They love children too much! I'm going home to write them a letter to try to show them that what they're doing is wrong."

Suiting action to the word, Charlie Brown takes pencil to paper and writes:

     Dear Sirs,

     How is everyone at the Snicker-Snack plant? I am fine.

     There is something I want to tell you. Are you sure you know what you are doing?
     Don't give away all your profits. Save some for yourselves.

     Long Live Snicker-Snacks!!!!

     Your customer,

     Charlie Brown

I imagine whichever Snicker-Snack employee that opens that letter will register something between bemusement and bewilderment. Notice that there are no specifics; Charlie Brown is so caught up in his vision of a Snicker-Snacks company risking bankruptcy to deliver valuable premiums that he assumes this is top-of-mind with management, too. Also he doesn't specify what steps he and others are prepared to take.

Charlie Brown mails his second letter of the day. "This," he opines, "may have far-reaching effects." Got that right...

Meanwhile Patty, touched by Charlie Brown's fervor, proselytizes the other Peanuts, pleading with them to stop bothering the poor, beleaguered Snicker-Snack company. She visits, in order, Violet, Shermy, Linus, and Pig-Pen, finishing up crouched on Schroeder's piano.

Hm. Who's missing from that line-up? Sally, but she's still a baby at this time. And Snoopy can't be presumed to be a Snicker-Snack consumer (although the Pawpet Theatre proprietor would appreciate the Jabberwocky reference).

This missing Peanut is Lucy, whom Patty is just finishing up with at the top of the fifth page. "Would it help," she asks Patty, "if we all wrote to our cousins and people like that?"

"Sure, write to everyone you know!"

Lucy sets up her manual typewriter. "I'll use carbon paper, and send out a hundred letters! I'll tell them all to stop bothering the poor people at the Snicker-Snack company. I'll tell them to stop sending in all those box-tops... Then I'll tell each of these people to write to ten of THEIR friends!"

One panel of solid typing and Lucy is adrift on a sea of paper. "Oh, this is going to make the Snicker-Snack people so happy!" (In a way, it's too bad she never found out about blogging...)

Charlie Brown had the original idea, but in Patty and especially Lucy he reached a couple of "influencers," whose connections are more widespread. If this idea can be said to have gone viral, then Charlie Brown is Patient Zero – and Lucy is Typhoid Mary.

Patty reports her progress. "Everything is working out fine, Charlie Brown! All the kids are going to stop writing in to the Snicker-Snack company for premiums..."

"Oh, what a relief that will be to that poor suffering, sacrificing business firm! Now they can concentrate on just making good cereal... they've been under such a burden for our sake."

"I know..."

"I've even thrown away all the box-tops I've been saving... And you know what? I've even been thinking of giving  up Snicker-Snacks for a month to give the company a rest."

"NO! Oh, Charlie Brown, the Snicker-Snack people would love you!"

"I like to think so..."

Two weeks later:

Lucy, Charlie Brown and Patty (the instigators of this little guerrilla movement) are on a picnic. Patty has wrapped the pickles in newspaper "so they'll stay cold."

Charlie Brown starts to read a certain story and feels sick to his stomach.

Patty asks him, "Don't you feel well?" He hands her the paper and she reads:

The industrial world was shocked today by the sudden closing of the Snicker-Snack Cereal Company. The officers of the company were at a loss to explain their sudden drop in sales. The president of the firm was in deep shock... 'This company was founded by my great-grandfather,' he said.

And our three co-conspirators break out in facial cross-hatching to signify shame. (Harris likes to call this type of expression a "chagrimace.")

Charlie Brown gets the last word: "I think I know what I'm going to have for breakfast tomorrow – toast!"

The timelines here go every which way. If the company was founded by the current president's great-grandfather, it probably wasn't a cereal company to begin with. Baked goods, maybe, or insulation.

More to the point for this story, a major cereal company was trashed (however inadvertently) in under two weeks? That's exaggeration – Schulz probably wanted a time period short enough that the kids would be expected to remember what they did. Even in today's internet age, two weeks to bankrupt a company is impressive; back when the post office was the only common carrier, it's just unbelievable. Call it two months, instead.

Notice, too, that "failure-face" Charlie Brown was actually effective this time, if at an unwanted consequence.

Then there's the fact that this happened all under the noses of so-called "responsible" adults. Somehow Lucy mailed those hundreds of letters without her mother reading any of them. Maybe her parents buy stamps by the roll, or her father has a postage meter in the den. If Charlie Brown had spelled out his concerns a little more fully, maybe the officers of the company would've had a fighting chance. Or if Snicker-Snacks were in the habit of surveying their customers, they might have sensed something in the wind and moved to correct it. I guess the lesson is, you're never too young for consumer education.

And, of course, this is Peanuts. The strip is a capitalistic contradiction: decrying commercialization on one hand, plastering Snoopy over any available merch with the other.

Here in the real world we're still mired in a Great Recession. According to Paul Krugman (among others), our main problem is that consumers don't have enough money to spend. And when your economy is 70 percent consumer-driven, that is a problem. The Peanuts kids may be precocious, but the economy is precarious.

Snick transit gloria.