Tuesday, February 07, 2012
Thus, the latest volume of Fantagraphics's wonderful reprinting of Charles Schulz's Peanuts strip -- The Complete Peanuts, 1981 to 1982, ask for it by name at your favorite purveyor of bound printed matter -- gets a post all to itself here, even though I have hardly anything to say about it. I've reviewed most of the other volumes, over the years -- 1957-1958, 1959-1960, 1961-1962, 1963-1964, 1965-1966, 1967-1968, 1969-1970, 1971-1972, 1973-1974, 1975-1976, 1977-1978, and 1979-1980 -- and the reprint project is now solidly into Schulz's later, less interesting years.
Peanuts was funny and entertaining at this point, of course -- amusing and laugh-out-loud and wry by turns -- but it hadn't been surprising for nearly a decade, and most of its characters had first hardened into caricatures, and then into a collection of standard mannerisms. The Peanuts of 1981 was an utterly professional entertainment machine, and still the pure product of Charles Schulz's own pen and mind. But its pleasures in the '80s were like those of watching a late-season baseball game between two teams out of contention: it doesn't mean anything, and won't have any real effect on anything, but it's a quite agreeable way to spend a few hours.
If Schulz had been born later, or had a different temperament -- well, let's say it straight: if the world had been substantially different than it actually was -- then, maybe, he could have hung up the Peanuts hat, walked away from the massive pot of money Snoopy generated every year, and moved on to some new creation. No, honestly, that never would have happened; not in any plausible version of the past century. And even if it had, would whatever new thing the 58-year-old Schulz made been as interesting and fresh as what the 28-year-old Schulz had done? So that's just windy talk, and not worth pursuing.
What Schulz did was Peanuts, and he did it for a hair shy of fifty years. Not all of them are works of genius -- not all of anything by anyone is. And there are only occasional flashes of that genius here -- Sally's beanbag camp, a few moments with Peppermint Pattie -- but this is still an important part of the larger work that is Peanuts, and I'm happy to have it on my shelf.