Sunday, October 16, 2016

Snoopy and "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" by Charles M. Schulz

Back when we all did our shopping in person, malls -- remember malls? that was where we did a lot of that shopping -- had bookstores, and those bookstores had checkout counters. And on those counters would be a collection of silly small books, designed for impulse purchase and quick reading. Perhaps it was designed to catch your eye for yourself, or for Aunt Gladys whose birthday is coming up, or for that nice Johnson boy who delivers the paper, but there would be a small clutch of cardboard displays, each with eight-to-ten copies of something amusing, often tied into some vague media idea or fad. (The Olympics or Yuppies or cats or whatever -- it's what we did before the Internet made memes a competition sport.)

And so a lot of things that had "regular" books also threw off little books, for that particular ecological niche. Because if your audience is already shopping for books, why not try to grab them again just before they leave?

That's how the world got Snoopy and "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night." It's essentially the graphic-novelization of the sequences of strips from the late '60s in which Snoopy (then in the process of taking over Peanuts from that round-headed kid) wrote a bad novel and tried in vain to get it published, presented as what may be drawings from those panels or may be then-new art from Sparky. (The book does not make this entirely clear. Knowing Schulz's work ethic, though, my suspicion is that he re-drew it for the book, or at least a lot of it.)

The words, though, are very familiar, as they must be. ("It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed.") Snoopy is writing a bad novel here, obviously, full of melodrama and cliches -- and more amusingly, writing it in the space of two pages, because comic strips don't have that much space to begin with.

But there is enough space for metafiction in Dark and Stormy; we see Snoopy write the book, we see him send it off and be accepted by a publisher, and we eventually see him receive his own copies of that book. And then we read that book, with a cover by Lucy (actually painted by Mark Knowland in a fictional-fussbudget style) and all of the words we've seen Snoopy type -- again, it's not that many of them -- organized together into two sections to form something that vaguely looks like a narrative if you squint really hard.

And the old publishing hand of me is particularly happy to see that the book-in-the-book is printed on different paper and in a different font than the frame story: that's the way to do it.

This is a very silly object, that only exists because Peanuts was world-famous at this point and the licensing folks were happy to leap on any hint of product that could be sold. Still, it's a wonderful silly object, and I'm glad to finally have a copy for my very own after all these years.

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