Glancing through the index of The Complete Peanuts 1967-1968 (Volume 9, by Charles M. Schulz, Fantagraphics Books, 2008), I came upon the Shermy entry and realized once again, as I have with previous volumes, the character’s diminishing appearances. Come volume 10 his appearances will dwindle to a halt, and with volume 11 there will no longer be a Shermy entry. Alas, there was a time in Peanuts when he was one of the lead characters in the strip.
Named after Schulz’s childhood friend Sherman Plepler, Shermy was introduced, along with Charlie Brown and Patty in the first Peanuts strip, which debuted on October 2, 1950. He spoke the strip’s first lines. He immediately emerged as Charlie Brown’s best friend, straight man, and chief competitor in neighborhood popularity (not to mention pitcher to Charlie Brown’s catcher in the beginning stages of the ball club). Evolving into a ridiculously handsome child (but not distinctive enough to carry a comic strip), Shermy was romantically linked, in a child-like way, to Violet and Patty. He could even be construed from some of the earlier strips as Snoopy’s original owner.
As Schulz developed Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Schroeder in imaginative ways–and strong new characters were introduced, notably Lucy, Linus, Pig-Pen, and Sally–Shermy fell into a supporting role. As the years went by, he became more of a familiar prop than anything else–relegated to group shots and as a long-standing presence on Charlie Brown’s baseball team. When Snoopy’s fantasies (e.g. World War I Flying Ace) took center stage in the mid-1960s and Peppermint Patty came on board in 1966, Shermy faded even more. Finally, after one last appearance on June 15, 1969, Shermy disappeared from Peanuts.
Shermy has achieved a kind of pop culture immortality outside the strip, thanks to the funky outstretched-arms dance he performs in the annually repeated A Charlie Brown Christmas, along with his exasperation at once again being chosen to play a shepherd in the school Christmas play. In fact, it’s probably this appearance in the cartoon that has mistakenly led many Peanuts fans to believe that Shermy has always been a part of the strip.
While Schulz never mentioned in Peanuts what became of Shermy, it’s safe (and comforting) to assume that he and his family simply moved out of the neighborhood–but not until after March 13, 1977, as Shermy is mentioned (by name only) as a designated hitter in that date’s Sunday strip.
To survive and grow in Peanuts, characters required hang-ups and idiosyncrasies that connected with the reading audience and allowed Schulz room for individual development. In Shermy’s case, his hang-up was being normal–and that cost him longevity in the Peanuts scheme of things. Shermy’s saving grace has been, and always will be, an abnormal dance.