Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 307 (12/7) -- The Complete Peanuts, 1977 to 1978 by Charles M. Schulz

When I last left Peanuts -- with my Book-A-Day #298 post on the 1975-76 volume, less than two weeks ago -- I noted that Peanuts wasn't in its first flowering in those years, but that it still had clear strengths, particularly in its longer continuities and character work. As the '70s wound down, the next couple of years were very much like '75 and '76, but even more so.

The Complete Peanuts 1977-1978 showcases an era when Schulz's drawing was still at its peak, and his story-making skills were perhaps greater than ever before -- there are many long continuities, and Schulz had developed a pleasing knack of segueing from one storyline to another, in the vein of the great adventure strips of his youth. (Though, still the consummate professional, he never let any continuity run longer than about five weeks, and then broke for a week or two of single gag strips before the next storyline took hold.) But his new characters were mostly thin and unappealing, with tennis players like "Crybaby" Boobie and Molly Volley and a sequence with Snoopy as a great disco dancer. (On the other hand, these years also introduced Eudora, often confused and a rival for Linus's affections -- she could have grown into a Peppermint Patty for the '70s, with a little more work, but she ended up another discarded short-termer, like Linus's previous love Truffles, whom she somewhat resembled.)

The central spark of Peanuts -- the sense that the world was tough but probably worth it, as seen in the disparate reactions of characters like the downtrodden Charlie Brown, the tough but vulnerable Peppermint Patty, the philosophical Linus, the pugnacious Lucy, and the monomaniacal Schroeder -- had receded like a long withdrawing tide by 1977, with Lucy less grumpy, Linus less put-upon, and even Charlie Brown's travails more comical than sad. Armchair psychologizing is always dangerous , but I'd venture to say that, by this point, Schulz's self-image character wasn't Charlie Brown (the sad sack to whom nothing good can ever happen) but Snoopy (jogger, tennis player, world traveler, living in his own dreams and making them real).

Success didn't ruin Peanuts, but it did sweeten it, and a little sweetness goes a long way. A larger dose of sweetness, from the dominant comic strip on the planet, could be nearly inescapable. There are flashes of the old Peanuts, still, as when Charlie Brown bites the kite-eating tree, goes on the run from the EPA, and ends up coaching the "Goose Eggs" team of tiny kids -- but even that is clearly a poorer cousin to storylines like "Mr. Sack" from a few years before. Peanuts was still funny and engaging, a little shard of joy on the comics page, during these years -- it just wasn't what it once had been. (But who is, twenty-seven years in?)

This book does contain a sequence with a line of dialogue that keeps coming back to me at the oddest moments -- I haven't been able to forget it yet, and I guess I might never:
If I leave you with one thought, let it be this one: Growl, Snarl, Snap, Growf, Bark, Woof.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Bill said...

I'd argue that the real Schulz in the strip wasn't Charlie Brown or Snoopy, but Schroeder. Who else can you imagine turning out a comic strip every day for fifty years?

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