This fourth volume shows Peanuts keeping the stride it slowly established over the first six years of its existence. Here the characters pretty much look as they will look for decades to come. The cast also becomes more solidified with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Pig Pen, and of course Snoopy. Shermy, Violet, and Patty show up far less frequently than earlier. Schulz would add more characters later (most notably Woodstock, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie), but here he established his core cast.
Snoopy completely comes into his own here, and his image on the cover couldn't be more appropriate. He appears with startingly more frequency throughout 1957 and 1958. By the end of this volume his top spot gets nearly set in stone. And it's not hard to see why. Here the long transformation from the "real" pet dog of the early 1950s to an almost surreal fantasm of a dog nears fruition (he still hasn't put on his WWI goggles or quaffed root beer yet, though). The imitations that began in the last volume continue inexorably here. He becomes a polar bear, a pouncing wild animal, a sea monster, he imitates Lucy, he gets called "ol' Dime a Dozen" and "Fuzzy Face", he imitates a penguin, and, best of all, a vulture. He also begins to really appreciate classical music (he even accompanies Schroeder on violin), sleeps with his head in his dog dish, and violently whips Linus around by his blanket. The extent of his transformation shows on the January 7th, 1958 strip where Charlie Brown says "The teacher told us to make a drawing of a real dog." Snoopy has truly come into his own. And later on, he became the most recognizable character of the Twentieth Century apart from Mickey Mouse.
Charlie Brown continues his quest for something meaningful and positive. But, as usual, some snags occur. He singlehandedly loses the baseball championship, is absent for his team's first win, gets tangled up in a truss of kite strings, and says "rats!" an awful lot. The strip on September 4th, 1957 shows Charlie Brown acquiesing in the very depths of his misery. Linus asks him "Doesn't looking at all these stars make you feel sort of insignificant, Charlie Brown?" He answers, "No, I'm so insignificant already it doesn't bother me." Like most of Peanuts, Schulz brilliantly mixes the sad with the funny.
Some of Schulz's legacy also shows in this volume. At least two cartoons appear here that must have provided some inspiration for Bill Watterson, creator of the incredible "Calvin And Hobbes". A Sunday strip from Jaunary 26, 1958 shows Linus vengefully sculpting a hideous snow monster to devour Lucy's "snow bunnies".
And, on January 18th, 1958 Linus and Charlie Brown wax historical while wiping out on a snowsled. These remind us that Schulz had great influence on more or less all late twentieth century comic strip art. No one yet has emerged from the enormous shadow that "Peanuts" cast on the medium.
One of the volume's absolute highlights is the Feburary 23rd, 1959 Sunday strip. Charlie Brown walks through the neighborhood while the other children scorn, mock, and laugh at him. when he finally arrives home he switches on a radio to hear "...and what, in this world, is more delightful than the gay wonderful laughter of little children?" He gives the radio a good boot. This masterpiece of a strip encapsulates the entire story of Charlie Brown. And this volume helps encapsulate the legacy left by one of the greatest comic strips ever created. Not only that, "Peanuts" not only influenced its own medium, but in the 1960s it influenced television, music, Broadway, and humor in general (especially of the self-deprecating sort). As each volume of this great series by Fantagraphics appears, that influence becomes easier and easier to appreciate.