Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 26 by Charles M. Schulz

This time, it definitely is the end. The previous volume finished up reprinting the fifty-year [1] run of Charles M. Schulz's comic strip Peanuts in twenty-five volumes, two years in each book. (See my posts on nearly all of those books: 1957-1958, 1959-1960, 1961-1962, 1963-19641965-1966, 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, the flashback to 1950-1952, 1995-1996, 1997-1998, and finally 1999-2000.)

Vol. 26 does something slightly different: it collects related works. It has comic book pages and advertising art and gift-sized books (some of which could be called "graphic novels," with only a tiny bit of squinting) and similar things -- all featuring the Peanuts characters, all written and drawn by Schulz. Obviously, this was culled from a far larger mass of related Peanuts stuff -- dozens of hours of TV specials, to begin with, plus major ad campaigns for many products over most of those fifty years, among other things -- but Schulz managed and supervised and oversaw (or just licensed and approved) the vast majority of those.

This book has just the art and words that can be attributed cleanly to Schulz personally. Not all of it -- there's plenty of other spot illustrations, and a number of other small cash-grab gift books, that Fantagraphics could have included if they wanted to be comprehensive, but they didn't. Instead, this is a book about the size of the others, that will sit next to them on a shelf and complement them.

Annoyingly, this very miscellaneous book avoids a table of contents -- possibly because the previous books didn't need one? -- so you discover things one by one as you read it. It starts off with seventeen gag cartoons that Schulz sold to the Saturday Evening Post in the late '40s, featuring kid characters much like the ones in L'il Folks and so somewhere in the parentage of Peanuts. Next up is seven comic-book format stories from the late '50s that Jim Sasseville (from Schulz's studio at the time) has identified as all-Schulz (among a much, much larger body of comic-book stories that I think were mostly by Sasseville). These are interesting, because they show Schulz with a larger palette (both physically and story-wise) than a four-panel comic strip -- he still mostly keeps to a rigid grid, but there's more energy in his layouts and he has room for better back-and-forth dialogue in multi-page stories.

Then there's a section of advertising art, which begins with five pages of camera-themed strips that appeared in 1955's The Brownie Book of Picture-Taking from Kodak but quickly turns into obvious ads for the Ford Falcon and Interstate Bakeries. The latter two groups are intermittently amusing, but mostly show that Peanuts characters were actively shilling for stuff a few decade before most of us realized it.

The book moves back into story-telling with three Christmas stories, which all originally appeared in women's magazines from 1958 through 1968 (at precisely five-year intervals -- what stopped the inevitable 1973 story?). The first one is two Sunday-comics-size pages; the others are a straight series of individual captioned pictures in order. After that comes four of the little gift books -- two about Snoopy and the Red Baron, two about Snoopy and his literary career -- which adapt and expand on gags and sequences from the main strip. (I recently tracked down and read the one about Snoopy's magnum opus, which I still have a lot of fondness for.)

Two more little gift books follow, these more obviously cash-grabs: Things I Learned After It Was Too Late and it's follow-up, from the early '80s. These were cute-sayings books, with pseudo-profound thoughts each placed carefully on a small page with an appropriate drawing. Schulz's pseudo-profound thoughts are as good as anyone's, I suppose.

Last from Sparky are a series of drawings and gags about golf and tennis, the two sports most obviously important to him -- we already knew that from the strip itself. The golf stuff is very much for players of the game, and possibly even more so for players of the game in the '60s and '70s, but at least some of the gags will hit for non-golfers several decades later. The tennis material is slightly newer, and slightly less insider-y, and so it has dated a little less.

The book is rounded out by a long afterword by Schulz's widow, Jean Schulz. It provides a personal perspective, but takes up a lot of space and mostly serves to show that Jean loved and respected her husband. That's entirely a positive thing, but I'm not 100% convinced it required twenty-four pages of type in a book of comics and drawings.

Vol. 26 is a book for those of us who bought the first twenty-five; no one is going to start here. And, for us, it's a great collection of miscellaneous stuff. Some of us will like some of it better than others, but every Peanuts fan will find some things in here to really enjoy.

[1] OK, a few months shy of actually fifty years -- it started in October 1950 and ended in February 2000. But that's close enough for most purposes.

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