In his introduction to this, the seventeenth installment of Fantagraphics’ loving reprint of every Peanuts strip produced during its nearly 50-year run as one of the most commercially successful and critically lauded comic strips of all time, film critic Leonard Maltin notes that by 1983 – some 33 years after its 1950 premiere – Peanuts “still seems fresh.” Certainly, throughout the years Peanuts continued to develop in subtle, incremental ways, so that comparing the first several volumes of reprints with the most recent, a reader is immediately struck by some very obvious differences, mostly having to do with the introduction of new characters and the slight alterations of already prominent ones – some, like Snoopy, more apparent than others – yet the comics’ consistency of tone and its simplified visual palette remains its strength. In an era of major and rapid transformations – the Cold War, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, television, rock and roll, the civil rights era, and women’s liberation all occurred during the strip’s first three decades – Peanuts provided readers with a degree of stability, presenting a world that remained stubbornly resistant to change, a world that was comfortingly predictable without seeming stale. Peanuts provided familiarity, Maltin observes, without breeding contempt. Quite the opposite: the characters of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, et. al., are among the medium’s most revered.
I was born in 1976, and began devotedly reading the comics page of my local newspaper (the Omaha World-Herald) around the time the reprints collected in this volume were first published. Oddly enough, I was the same age as my parents when they began to read Peanuts; our mutual love of the strip was one of our few shared interests. Another reason I was attracted to the strip was the fact that my childhood was populated by Peanuts-related merchandise: Snoopy stickers adorned my notebooks and dresser; I received Peanuts-themed Valentines at school; there was the Charlie Brown and Snoopy television show, along with seasonal reruns of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas; one of my prized possessions at the time was a battered copy of the paperback Snoopy and the Red Baron (the one with the monochrome pages); there was also the Snoopy Sno-Cone machine (which never worked), and the requisite Snoopy plush dolls with its dozens of costume accoutrements … and on and on. As a result, it’s quite difficult for me to be anything like an objective critic when it comes to Schulz’s comic; the strip is as much a part of my childhood as Santa and the Tooth Fairy, report cards and my grade school playground. I suspect the same holds for many born between the late 1930s and the early 1990s (the strip ran, pointedly, from 1950 to 2000).
This volume follows the format of the prior sixteen, an introduction by a noted celebrity – Maltin in this case, whose introduction, like many in this series, is a wistful paean to Schulz’s singular achievement, including the obligatory fond childhood memories of Peanuts, another testament to the strip’s uncanny ability to ingrain itself deeply into the psyche of its readers. Maltin provides an interesting anecdote involving Maltin as a young man writing Schulz, and including samples of a cartoon he had drawn. In response, Schulz mailed Maltin a typed letter of encouragement, along with a signed original of a daily Peanuts strip, which was promptly framed, an example of Schulz’s generosity and his profound love of the comics medium.
The design of the book – which has received some undue criticism – is by the comic artist Seth, whose profound admiration for Peanuts helped to bring about this reprint project. Seth’s design is complements Schulz’s work without overwhelming it; the design adequately frames the strip within a tasteful, somewhat retro design. The overleafs include scenes from Schulz’s strip, but absent any characters, underlining the deeply iconic nature of Schulz’s creation.
As for the strips themselves: This volume is comprised of daily four-panel gag strips and the page-length Sunday strips, all in black and white (Fantagraphics’ color reproduction of the Sundays is also ongoing). Schulz’s line work here is looser, more expressive, with just a hint of the shakier pen style that would become the defining visual development of late-period Peanuts. There are many notable strips included here: as with much of Peanuts, the humor is warm, gentle, and deeply dry. There is of course the existential angst which dogs Charlie Brown. Peppermint Patty and Marcie are increasingly utilized; Snoopy, of course, was also quite prominent during this era. There are the usual strips based around baseball, golfing, kite flying and camping – a testament, perhaps, to how little childhood hand changed in the first thirty years of Peanuts; aside from television and video games, kids were primarily occupied by much the same activities as their parents (probably the same cannot be said of subsequent generations).
The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984 is an excellent installment of an excellent series. Fantagraphics has done an admirable job in bringing together the entire strip in a series of handsome hardcover editions. The reductions in the cost of reproductions due to desktop publishing and overseas printing have resulted in a golden age of reprints. We are blessed to have these timeless strips available to peruse. Whether like me you are revisiting these trips some thirty years after their initial publication, or are discovering them for the first time, Peanuts is a standalone achievement that deserves every accolade it has received. Fantagraphics’ reprints have more than risen to the challenge of giving Peanuts the comprehensive editions it has long deserved. Stellar.
View an excerpt of this book here
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