Starred Review. In this fourth volume of Fantagraphics' wildly successful chronological reprinting of Peanuts, the comic strip begins to slide into its most popular form. In these pages, Snoopy is becoming most Snoopy-like, with a wondrously funny vulture sequence; Charlie Brown is hapless and often hopeless while his war with Lucy moves into high gear, and of course Pig-Pen, Patty, and Schroeder are all kicking around. Schulz evolved his characters from week to week, letting their idiosyncratic musings, pratfalls and jokes accumulate. It's possible to flip back a few dozen pages and understand Charlie Brown's emotional evolution. The humanity of both the characters and their creator is the subject of Jonathan Franzen's insightful introduction—certainly the best yet published in the series. Deftly putting to rest the rather trendy theory that Schulz's inner torment gave vent to the psychological dramas in Peanuts, Franzen convincingly makes the case that Schulz was able to accomplish what he did because of a surfeit of love and family. After one has read these pages, full of well-rounded, humane characters, Franzen's theory seems just about right: to create characters so essential and so loveable, Schulz could only have emerged from just such a milieu. (Oct.)
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The best-known, most-beloved "kid strip" is, of course, Peanuts, which graced newspaper comics sections for 50 years until artist Charles Schulz's death in 2000. This volume in Fantagraphics' series reprinting the strip's entire run covers 1957 and 1958, by which time its essentials were well established. The characters are what they would continue to be for four more decades: Lucy, bossy and selfish; Linus, quiet and grave; Snoopy, humbly whimsical; and, most important, Charlie Brown, utterly Charlie Brownish. Take that back a bit about Snoopy, who, as novelist Jonathan Franzen points out in the introduction, here begins his transition from recognizably canine ball fetcher and people licker to a near anthropomorph that impersonates other species and plays the violin atop Schroeder's piano ("Little by little," Charlie Brown observes, "that dog seems to be losing his mind"). Schulz's drawing style here is solider than it would be in later years, when the strip grew visually sparer yet even more expressive. Even these early strips, though, put to shame anything in the funny pages today.
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