Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #105: The Complete Peanuts, 1989 to 1990 by Charles M. Schulz

I written about Schulz here before. For Day 82, covering the previous book, I wrote about writing about Schulz. (And now, it seems, I'm writing about that, which is already one turn of the screw too far.)

Look, here's what I've said in the past: 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, and 1987-1988. I'll try not to repeat any of that in writing about The Complete Peanuts 1989-1990, other than saying that Schulz reinvented the modern gag-a-day strip, taking a medium that already had fifty-plus years of history and showing how it could be more immediately personal and psychological without losing its essential character. And then he proceeded to keep reinventing that form for the next twenty-five years. But those years of reinvention only lasted through the mid to late 1970s -- that was Peanuts's final transformation, to the world-bestriding licensing juggernaut, the strip full of whimsy and an ever-increasing number of Snoopy's brothers.

The strips in this book are from the end of the fourth decade of Peanuts, just a couple of years after Schulz geared down to three panels a day from four. There's the sense of a great old fighter marshaling his energies here -- some boxer who knows he's smarter and wiser and has better skills than the kid he's up against, as long as he doesn't over-reach or exert himself too much. So these strips are more domestic than the Peanuts of the '70s and '60s, full of simpler gags and only occasionally showing flashes of Schulz's deep insight into human behavior. The characters have simplified into types, mostly: Lucy, in particular, has lost vast depth since her anger and power of the late '60s. Charlie Brown is a jokey sad sack, with his losses comic rather than deeply felt -- it had been a long time, in 1989, since Schulz had lost in any serious way. Even Peppermint Patty, the more recent focus of sadness in Peanuts, is as much the budding feminist and dominating sports figure as she is the D-minus student.

The Peanuts of the late '80s and '90s was a good gag strip, from a consummate professional, that never failed to be funny and entertaining every day. As I've said several times before, that only sounds like faint praise if you know how much better Peanuts was before that. But it's no shame to be only as good and lovable as Peanuts was in these years.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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