Thursday, June 10, 2004

You’re in a good book, Charlie Brown

May 12, 2004
By Wil Moss
The Nashville City Paper

You may think you know Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and the rest of the gang from Charles Schulz’s classic "Peanuts" comic strip, but The Compete Peanuts 1950-1952, in bookstores now, may surprise you.
It is the first volume in a series of hardback books that will reprint every "Peanuts" strip chronologically from 1950 to 2000. There will be 25 volumes in all, with two to be released a year for the next 12-and-a-half years, each book collecting two years worth of strips from the comic’s 50-year history.
Cartoonist Schulz ("Sparky" to his friends) was largely responsible for bringing respect and dignity to the comic strip, and this collection serves as a testament to that fact.
The production values are excellent, with a beautifully designed cover by Canadian cartoonist Seth, an introduction by author and radio personality Garrison Keillor, and high-quality reproduction of the material, some of which has never seen print before. But as nice as the package looks, the real treat lies inside.
"I think people are going to be surprised by it," Jean Schulz, Charles’ widow, said of the book’s content, "but I think they’re going to be rather charmed. When they decided to rerun the strips after Sparky died [in 2000], I thought they might go back to the strips from the ‘50s, but United Features Syndicate [the strip’s publisher] said nobody would recognize it."
Although the early strips are unmistakably "Peanuts," they do feature some characterizations and designs that readers may not be familiar with, like Schroeder, Lucy and Linus all starting off as infants; Snoopy even debuted as a puppy.
Going beyond the countless Snoopy dolls, cartoons and other licensed products, however, this collection gets back to what matters most -- the actual "Peanuts" comic strips. Schulz’s influence is still felt on the funny pages today, through the reprints of "Peanuts" still running and to other strips whose cartoonists idolize Schulz.
Alternative comics creator Ivan Brunetti, who uses Schulz’s work as a source in his cartooning courses at Columbia College Chicago, feels "Peanuts" has influenced countless cartoonists, both on the comics page and off.
"He’s inspired a generation of cartoonists," Brunetti said. "Most cartoonists I know cite him as a primary influence."
"The Complete Peanuts" offers readers the chance to see such a revered cartoonist (Schulz remains the only modern American comic strip artist to be given a retrospective at the Louvre) developing his style and his characters day by day over the course of 50 years.
"It’s fascinating to see the inception of ["Peanuts"], to see the strip develop and the characters develop to what you know they’re going to be," Brunetti said. "It’s come alive in a way no other strip has, so seeing it in this infancy where it doesn’t know how to walk yet, I think people will find it surprising.
"He’s the first cartoonist who put real emotion into the comic strip," Schulz said. "And I believe that emotion continues to speak to people, and I believe that is what accounts for ["Peanuts"] enduring through time."
"The Complete Peanuts" will help to ensure that, and to ensure that Charlie Brown will be trying to kick that football for a long time coming.