March 6, 2009

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The Complete Peanuts Volume 1 1950-1952

Written by Charles Schultz
Illustrated by Charles Schultz
Fantagraphics

Decided to re-read this one as I restart the series. I grew up on the Peanuts gang, reading them for as long as I can remember and watching the TV specials. Though I'm sure it would break poor Sparky's heart to hear it, he is indirectly responsible for the first time I ever swore. I'd forgotten to tape one of the specials, you see, and when I saw it on the Sears TV sets (back when Sears was relevant), I proclaimed "shit" in a rather loud voice. I think I was maybe 10 or so, perhaps a bit older or younger.

Dad stifled a grin as Mom fumed over my lapse in public, where others might think her a bad parent. Heh.

At any rate, it's fascinating to see how Schultz progresses rapidly from making Peanuts a simple comic strip to something with complex characters. By 1951, Charlie Brown's already starting to angst and self-doubt while others make fun at his expense. Meanwhile, Schroeder, in a 4th wall moment that must have been unheard of at the time, asks to be moved to a strip that appreciates his humour. There's still a long way to go before Linus quotes philosophy, but the seeds are definitely getting sown.

We also see the growth of Snoopy, from Shermy's dog to kind of a neighborhood pet that starts acting more and more human--he has a TV, starts doing impressions, and even gets to talk to himself. Then there's Schroeder, a prodigy in diapers for a good portion of the strip and Lucy talking in the third person while she starts to get meaner. Oh, and did you know that Lucy wasn't the first to yank the football from Charlie Brown?

Schultz is in the early stages of something good, finding what worked, giving characters personality--Charlie Brown and Lucy seem to be the two that get changed the most, and setting himself apart from the rest of the pack. I was most struck by how much Watterson took from these early Peanuts strips. Calvin's triangle mouth, fights with girls, and dislike for baths all come from the early Charlie Brown, as does the trouble in school and desire to make things more elaborate than they are in a five year old's world.

Speaking of Cbarlie Brown, I did have one trouble reading some of these strips, and that's because when Charlie Brown has the triangle mouth going on, he looks like a dead ringer for Pacman. It's kinda like the Homer Simpson on the Japanese soap thing.

Not all of the jokes hold up, of course. Schultz makes some rather jarring sexist comments that luckily get forgotten as time goes on, and as with any daily strip of 365 days, they can't call be winners. What shines through though is Sparky's uncanny ability to merge childhood feelings with adult discussion--and you don't see that again in a comic until Watterson. That's what makes this worth reading 50 years later, and will still make it head and shoulders above the rest 50 years from now.

I've only highlighted a few things that I noticed on this reading. Ask me again in a few years, and I bet I come up with other things, and I bet you will, too, as you read along. Oh, and here's your chance to see Violet, Shermy, and Patty shine before more developed characters are on their way, and the Van Pelts are already taking over. So for all you Shermy fans out there, this is the one to read!