After twelve years most comic strips plummet in quality or fizzle out altogether. But by 1962 Charles Schulz was still only revving his engines. Peanuts had hit its stride. Not only that, the main characters, with the possible exception of Snoopy, had developed into the personalities that would endure to the strip's finale. Charlie Brown had lost the few scraps of confidence he possessed from the 1950s. Now everything he touched turned putrid - a kind of reverse King Midas syndrome. Lucy and Linus, defying accusations of perpetual youth, grew up. They were babies in the 1950s, remember? Then adults were completely obliterated. Schultz would never again experiment with inserting grown ups into his comic. They were instead reduced to muted trombone blats in the tv specials and invisible off-screen abstractions within the strip. Schulz must have realized that portraying adults made the half-child half-adult characters seem more childlike than intended. Thrusting pairs of towering full grown legs into the frame made it harder for adult readers to identify with those precocious dumbell shaped children. This juxtaposition gave them too much context in the real world and compromised their abstraction. So, for the sake of the adult readers, out went the adults. Peanuts was never a kiddie strip. And, following more than a decade of publication, it reached a level of sophistication rarely attained on the funny pages.
This sixth volume closes with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy firmly established as the strip's core cast. Schroeder and Sally, though they appear often, remain more supporting characters. Some previous mainstays such as Shermy, Violet, and Patty have started to fade into the periphery. In their stead some new ones arrive. Linus introduces Charlie Brown to Frieda with her naturally curly hair and her gelatinous cat, Farron. She, much like Pigpen, remains a one joke character. Schulz does create chemistry between her and Snoopy, though. Frieda often exhorts him to get off his duff and chase rabbits. Snoopy finally agrees, but doesn't admit to her that "I don't even know what a rabbit smells like." She also comes between Lucy and Schroeder, albeit temporarily. Snoopy gives Lucy pouncing lessons, and she puts them to use to mangle the intruding newcomer. Although she appears often in this volume, Frieda never became a true regular.
Snoopy remains the ever phantasmagoric dog. He continues to imitate animals such as vultures, gorillas, rabbits, a calf ("Mooo!"), a gargoyle, and even a teddy bear. When Linus starts wearing glasses, he pilfers them and role plays: "Gentlemen, I'd like to present to you the new chairman of the board!" To aggravate Schroeder he plays "Polkas, schottishes, and waltzes" on a concertina. Snoopy always represented the height of anthropomorphism. Proto-Woodstocks invade his house day and night. Some sleep there, some have meetings there, and some just have cold feet. Also, in a wave of pathos, Snoopy befriends numerous snowmen only to watch them melt into puddles. He clutches at them and sobs as they disintegrate, but Charlie Brown notices that "he wasn't too sensitive to eat the carrot." One could argue that Snoopy was responsible for the majority of Peanuts' success. He added more than a touch of slapstick surrealism to the comic. Not only that, he also remains one of the most recognizable characters in American popular culture.
Linus' traumatic blanket loss reoccurs throughout this volume. Many get in on the action. Lucy buries it, makes flannelgraph shapes with it, and cuts it into glass wipes. Snoopy often snags it right out of his hands. Linus also loses a bet with Miss Othmar, who we never see, and she garnishes his tapestry of security. Never underestimate a blanket as a weapon, though. On January 3rd, 1961 Linus violently whacks a nickel out of the sky with the corner of his blanket. Also, in one of the more bizarre strips, July 18th, 1961, he scares off taunters by using the blanket to disguise himself as Count Dracula. They run in terror. Security blanket, indeed.
Schulz often referred to the May 28th, 1961 Sunday page in interviews. Apparently his daughter asked "am I buttering too loud for you?" one morning at breakfast. This became the answer exemplar for the inevitable question "so where do you get your ideas?"
Schulz also appreciated history, as evidenced by his later D-Day anniversary Sunday panel. In 1961 he celebrated the centennial of the Civil War by putting Union hats on Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy. At first he doesn't explain them, but soon other characters start to ask "when does the centennial end?" Such subtle touches added immeasurably to the strip's depth.
Peanuts showed no signs of stagnation at the end of 1962. Many traditions, such as the Great Pumpkin and the annual pulling away of the football, were already established. Those who read Peanuts in the 1970s or 1980s would instantly feel at home in the 1960s strips. That's because, with the exception of some later additions, Schulz had his groundwork fully laid down by this time and continued to ride a rising wave. Peanuts would later dominate popular culture, though some would deride it as overly commercial. In hindsight, the strip speaks for itself regardless of the Dolley Madison and MetLife spots. Peanuts invigorated the comics page, but also set an impossibly high standard to follow. No subsequent strip, possibly excepting Calvin and Hobbes, has come close to the breadth and depth that Charles Schulz put into his semi-adult semi-child balls of neuroses.