March 6, 2009

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The Complete Peanuts Volume 2 1953-1954

Written by Charles Schultz
Illustrated by Charles Schultz
Fantagraphics

Lucy graces the cover of this set of early Peanuts material and that's very appropriate, because it is here that we first see the strip developing into the Brown-Van Pelt Show it would become over time. Yes, the other characters would appear, especially Schroeder, but it's obvious that Shultz by this point in time favors the two families and that, combined with Snoopy, they will form the backbone of the strip.

This is especially true of the evolving Charlie Brown-Lucy relationship. As the strips proceed, we see her verbally driving Charlie Brown crazy, as she says things that are patently rediculous but any attempt to stop her meets with failure. (This will move to Sally at some point, with Lucy just being meaner as time goes on. It's been suggested that Lucy subs for Shultz's first wife, but I'm not so sure.)

This is still a book in transition--there's a lot of simple gags, like Linus growling over a ball, but even those start to take on the "Shultz angst", such as when Lucy hits Charlie Brown with a snowball. "Don't be mad..you're the first person I've hit today!" she says in reply to his puzzled expression. Once we get rolling, we find the philosophy comes fast--Charlie Brown goes to show Linus how to play with blocks, only to find Linus has already created an elaborate structure. "SOME little kids admire bigger kids..." If that's not enough, try this one on a set of fence posts: "Linus loves Violet, Shermy (already reduced to fill in parts) loves Patty, Lucy Loves Schroeder, Charlie Brown Loves Charlie Brown." We're still in the realm of the visual gag typical of a daily comic, but the biting edge is getting there.

But the biggest news is that this is Snoopy's coming out party. He's everything from an umpire in one of my favorite visual gags, to musing about being an object of attention, to mugging to the camera--in short, he's officially another one of the children, with the huge advantage of not having to go to school! He also starts the great Snoopy facial expressions. Lucy asks if he can be tight-lipped, and Snoopy mimes a zipper. The vultures and flying aces and tennis matches aren't far behind.

As Shultz adjusts his cast, he tries a few new ones on for size. Pig Pen gets his debut, including a rather funny set piece where everyone starts to act like him. He gets to stay while perhaps Shultz's worst idea--Charlotte Braun, a loud-speaking pun off of our hero fades out, though she's probably in some strips going forward.

There's still a lot here that's fresh and new, and again, I've only scratched the surface to find a few examples to put in the review. I will say that I found this one to be a lot stronger than the first volume--there are less dated references and the sight gags are better. If you ever were a fan of anything Peanuts, you owe it to yourself to read these books.

Lucy may say that everything is mine (prompting Linus to give her his shirt), but the pleasure in reading this will be all yours.