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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Complete Peanuts series

Written and drawn by Charles M. Schulz
Publisher: Canongate Books

What’s It About?
Peanuts was a four-panel American newspaper comic strip that ran from 1950 to 2000. It starred a large cast of children as they enjoyed both the innocence and cruelties of childhood. Central to the cast were luckless, wishy-washy Charlie Brown, fussy Lucy, naïve Linus, Beethoven obsessed Schroeder and Charlie Brown’s frankly bizarre dog Snoopy alongside an eclectic supporting cast of other boys and girls. In the world of Peanuts, adults were conspicuous by their absence.

One of the longest running and most widely read “funny strips” in the world, the complete canon is currently being collected in a mammoth twenty-five book hardcover series by Fantagraphics, each volume containing two years worth of the daily strips.

What’s Good About It?
Peanuts was a simple, four panel “joke-a-day” comic strip. There’s no great overarching storyline, just a short joke and a punch line with the occasional situation running a week or two of strips. The format lends itself to casual reading, something light and funny to dip into when you want to relax. Its certainly not heavy reading but that’s no bad thing.

Over fifty years Schulz touched on just about every form of comedy he could from the simple humour of the naive and sometimes insightful way children view the world to cruel slapstick comedy to the surreal fantasy life of Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy as he pretends to be (amongst other things) an alligator, an eagle, college student Joe Cool and a World War One fighter pilot in constant battle with the Red Baron. Instead of the stereotypical lemonade stand Lucy has a stall of her own that offers “Psychiatric Help- 5 cents”, which is the arena for a lot of innocent childhood philosophy. Its large cast is well-realised with each character gaining their own little quirks over the years.

In essence, Peanuts is a sweet and innocent series which exists for one reason alone: fun. Oh, there are strips poking fun at the world of adults, there are strips written to make a serious point but its never at the expense of the humour.

The Complete Peanuts hardcover series will eventually run to twenty-five volumes but the beauty of the format means that you don’t have to start anywhere particular, just pick up whatever volume you can find to hand or get a good deal on and away you go.

Most importantly, Peanuts is genuinely funny and that can never be underestimated as a selling point.

What’s the Art Like?
Most of the strips (the ones originally published Monday to Saturday) are your basic black and white four-panel newspaper strip. Schulz had a simple, fluid style that kept the perspective close to the ground just like this diminutive characters. Apart from the occasional off-stage voice the world of Peanuts is quite devoid of adults and so the small children always fill the panels.

As you can see, the backgrounds of these strips are simple, even impressionistic because detailed art isn’t the focus of the work, the children and the humour are.

The Sunday strips are longer than the weekday ones though the only objective difference is that the jokes are a little more extended (as in the first example below) and they represent a chance for Schulz to use more of his characters at once (as in the second).

The basic art is, for all that, distinctive and Schulz’s characters are all different enough to be easily told apart even in the strip’s later years when the cast had expanded to something like twenty characters. Its actually quite surprising how much emotion and character Schulz was able to convey in so few lines and how complete the characters he built were in a format that is often dismissed because of its brevity and simplicity.

(All art examples from volume 3: 1955 to 1956)

What’s Bad About It?
For the new reader I’d recommend not starting from the beginning of the series. Whilst the strips in the 1950s volumes are by no stretch of the imagination bad ,it did take a good few years for Schulz’s art style to settle down and for his cast to come together properly. A few characters in the early years didn’t really work and were soon dropped in favour of newer creations and it wasn’t until about 1960 that the strip really hit its stride.

Other Information
Usually at this point we provide you with a typical retail price, an ISBN number and an Amazon link and send you on your way. However the books in this series fall in and out of print quite randomly so they’re often taken off Amazon’s listings and replaced when back in print so instead here’s a link to Fantagraphics’ own list of the series so far [link].

Please note that when the website says the books cannot be ordered outside North America it means from Fantagraphics directly, Amazon UK offers those volumes in print completely hassle free though the price does yoyo between £20 and £7 pounds for no readily predictable reason. As previously noted, shopping around for a good deal on this series is no bad thing so check out Amazon’s current pricing as you go.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I love Peanuts but would agree that it's probably best to come into the middle of the run rather at the start, which always seem a little weak in comparison to the later strips.