Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts was my first reading passion. The memories have become sketchy over time, but I remain almost certain that I began reading Peanuts as soon as I learned to read. I believe my grandmother Hope bought me my first Peanuts paperback–Good Grief, Charlie Brown published by Fawcett Crest–sometime in the mid-1960s.
Fawcett reprinted selected cartoons from the larger Holt, Rinehart, and Winston (HR&W) editions that reprinted selected cartoons from the daily newspaper strip. That’s how I was raised on Peanuts, not on a daily basis through the local newspaper but through the paperbacks sold at local markets, drug stores, and bookstores.
My first reading passion continued unabated until about 1969. Sometime after reading HR&W’s You’ve Had It, Charlie Brown, I abandoned Peanuts altogether for The Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators detective series. I then abandoned the boy detectives for DC comic books in early 1972.
While on a family vacation to Alaska in 1973, I came across “Ha Ha, Herman,” Charlie Brown (HR&W, 1972) at an airport newsstand. Once again, Peanuts became a reading passion. Soon after I bought Thompson Is in Trouble, Charlie Brown (HR&W, 1973), and I would continue to buy new Peanuts books consistently for at least another ten years.
There was a key publishing factor regarding Peanuts collections that I did not know at that time–and wouldn’t find out about for years. The Holt, Rinehart and Winston editions did not publish all the daily strips from any given year in any particular volume. Each volume contained 240 strips, which means around 125 strips per year never made the cut–although a few would appear in an earlier or later volume.
Furthermore, the 240 strips that the company did publish from a given year were not always printed in chronological order, although they were good about running the extended storylines sequentially–such as the skit strips involving the birth of Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, and the loss of Snoopy’s doghouse and his Van Gogh painting to fire. Not until Fantagraphics Books began publishing The Complete Peanuts series a few years ago have I been able to read every single Peanuts strip in chronological order from its inception in 1950.
I’m focusing on The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972 for this column because I have a particular soft spot for the strips in this book. A good portion of them appeared in the aforementioned “Ha Ha, Herman,” Charlie Brown and in Thompson Is in Trouble, Charlie Brown. They are a joy to re-read, but what makes Complete Peanuts 1971-1972 special for me is that it finally establishes order to this portion of the strip’s history.
The book also includes one hysterical extended storyline that finally solves a Peanuts mystery that has haunted me for years: Why was Schulz’s initial introduction of Rerun Van Pelt, by name only, so abrupt?
The answer is: It wasn’t. I just never saw it, because the storyline wasn’t included in Thompson Is in Trouble, Charlie Brown. For over thirty-five years, this is how I have always seen and recall the introduction of Rerun:
Lucy and Linus are sitting in the living room watching television. Linus says to Lucy, “Listen . . . our new baby brother is crying.” He then adds, “For a long while you had just one baby brother . . . suddenly, you have two!”
Lucy, looking dejected, but with eyes still riveted on the television screen, replies, “At this time of year all you ever get is reruns!”
Lucy’s dejection carries over to the next strip, which takes place outside the house, “At first, I wanted to be an only child.” She then turns angrily toward Linus and says, “You spoiled that! Then I thought maybe it would be kind of nice to have a sister . . . so what happens? I get another brother . . . a rerun!”
“That’s it!” exclaims Linus, sending Lucy off into a Peanuts-patented backflip. “We’ll call him ‘Rerun’!”
Lucy, flat on the ground, mumbles, “‘Rerun’ Van Pelt . . . good grief!”
These are strips three and four in Thompson Is in Trouble, Charlie Brown. I remember being startled by the suddenness of Lucy and Linus having a baby brother. There wasn’t any build-up to it as there had been with Sally years earlier. There was no mention of the baby’s birth in previous volumes. He had just suddenly happened!
Rerun is then mentioned in only a handful of strips throughout the rest of the book. He is never seen.
What’s missing is the extended storyline that begins with Lucy throwing Linus out of the house for good (which, for all I know, is reprinted for the first time in The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972). Linus attempts to return, but Lucy will have none of it, so he decides to stay with Joe Cool (Snoopy).
Charlie Brown questions the legality of the situation, which Lucy overrides in her overbearing, fussbudgety way. There’s a great strip where Charlie Brown discusses the matter with Sally, whose extremely vocal statement in the last panel is priceless.
Linus and Snoopy hang out for a while. To his credit, Charlie Brown becomes very involved in the matter and asks Lucy how her mother feels about this situation. Lucy comments that her parents haven’t been home; her mom had to go to the hospital.
Then Lucy gets the phone call. Her mother has had a baby boy. Crushed, Lucy realizes there’s no point in banning Linus from the household; she simply accepts that she now has two brothers to endure. A few strips later, Linus and Lucy are in the living room at the television set where Lucy says to Linus that this is the season for reruns.
So, finally, after all these years, I have been treated to the “lost” introduction of Rerun.
Rerun would actually be seen for the first time in the next Peanuts volume, You’re the Guest of Honor, Charlie Brown (HR&W, 1974). In his first appearance, Lucy escorts the baby Linus-lookalike out to their front yard so he can experience the outside world–or, if there is a Rerun appearance prior to this that I don’t know about, it will finally be revealed in the next volume of The Complete Peanuts.
The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972 contains some classic and immensely entertaining extended storylines–notably Snoopy’s falling in love with the writer of the Bunny-Wunny series, Helen Sweetstory, Snoopy’s quest to write Ms. Sweetstory’s biography, and Ms. Sweetstory’s books being banned from the school library. (When Charlie Brown and his pediatrician become involved, the story leaps to another level; it’s great).
There is also the introduction of Marcie (summer camp 1971), and a genuinely poignant turn by Peppermint Patty (summer camp 1972). I know Peppermint Patty can be grating at times, but I guarantee when you read her pained reaction to seeing the Little Red-Haired Girl for the first time you will develop a warmer appreciation of her. In the space of two consecutive strips, Schulz gave her a sympathetic complexity that he would have never been able to achieve with the likes of Frieda or Violet.
The Sunday strips in this volume in which Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown sit under a tree and discuss various aspects of adult life–seemingly from a child’s perspective are heart-warming and heartbreaking.
The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972 reprints the tail end of what many consider the peak years of the comic strip–and I agree with that assessment. Shortly after the “Mr. Sack” storyline (which will appear in The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974), you can feel Schulz easing off the genius pedal and shifting into effortless auto-drive on the strip. There would still be years of scattered highlights to come, and Schulz’s final years on Peanuts would regain much of its former brilliance, but from 1964 to 1974 the strip was better than perfection; it was glorious.