Thursday, January 19, 2017
(And "near the end," for a strip that ran fifty years, still means there were four years to go. And four years, as we're all about to learn, can be a really long time.)
At this point, I should probably link to posts I've done over the past decade for the previous books in the series: 1957-1958, 1959-1960, 1961-1962, 1963-1964, 1965-1966, 1967-1968, 1969-1970, 1971-1972, 1973-1974, 1975-1976, 1977-1978, 1979-1980, 1981-1982, 1983-1984, 1985-1986, 1987-1988, 1989-1990, 1991-1992, 1993-1994 and most recently 1950-1952.
And then we can dive into The Complete Peanuts, 1995 to 1996, as always by Charles M. Schulz.
Schulz's art was getting shaky at this point, a lovably loose line that probably annoyed him but looks just fine on the page. And his big switch from four- to three-panel dailies was a few years in the past, and had freed him by this point to draw dailies with however many panels he needed. Within the space of a single week, he'd have a single long panel, then three, then four. There are a few two-panel strips -- set-up and punch-line, mostly -- and some three-panel strips with two small boxes and one big one. There's even some five-panel examples, with a rat-a-tat rhythm. Schulz was clearly enjoying himself and still adapting his material to suit the jokes and ideas and stories he had on his board at that moment, and that joy and experimentation comes through in his clear and expressive art.
Story-wise, the long continuities of the '70s were far in the past, and "storylines" tended to be just using the same set-up -- Peppermint Pattie and Marcy unhappy at camp, for example -- for a few gags over the course of a week. It's not as deep as the strip's early '70s peak, obviously, but it's all funny and true to the characters and shows Schulz was still moving forward with his strip, even this far in. The standard set-pieces don't show up much in these years -- not much pulling-away-the-football, hardly any kite-eating tree, just a glancing mention of the Great Pumpkin for a couple of days around Halloween -- as Schulz kept changing focus to keep himself interested. There's a fair book of looking backward, usually framed as "my grandfather said," since the Peanuts kids are eternally eight-ish, living outside of time and place in their suburban Everyneighborhood.
This volume continues the Rerun Years, as we might call them -- he's gotten off the back of his unseen mother's bike, and still looks just like Linus in overalls, but he's now obsessed with having a dog. (And so ends up "borrowing" Snoopy a lot, which Sally and Snoopy are not thrilled about for different reasons.)
Again, this is Peanuts having dropped off from its peak. Nothing can sustain the highest heights forever. But Peanuts was always good, and individual strips would still shine out strongly. By the mid-90s, Peanuts was no longer a strip about loneliness and alienation, as it was in the '60s and early '70s -- in fact, at this point it was no longer a strip "about" anything. But it was still strong, professional, funny cartooning -- dependable and lovable.