Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Complete Peanuts, 1950-1952 by Charles M. Schulz

I have the suspicion that I have a copy of this book already, so I've bought and re-read it for "nothing." I see that my old post is from 2016, well after the 2011 flood. But my graphic novels are upstairs, in my two sons' bedrooms - because if there's another flood, I want the most expensive stuff to be the best protected, and maybe because I thought they might want to read some of them, too, ok, yeah - so I don't actually look at those shelves much in these lockdown days.

"Much" as in "ever." My younger son was briefly off at college - made it one and a half semesters on campus before he was bundled home, and is now nearly done with a totally remote sophomore year - so I haven't been in his room in all that time. Used to be, he was off in Hoboken (or, before that, at high school and/or work) and his older brother was similarly working a lot of the time, so I could re-shelve and find time to check in and remind myself of what I actually have. Now, as we all know, everyone is home, in their one room, all of the time.

So I have the sense that I bought and re-read The Complete Peanuts, 1950-1952 for pandemic reasons. That's a million miles away from the worst thing that's happened for that reason, so that's fine with me.

Oh, the comics themselves? This time, I was struck at how mid-century they were, how little like what we think of as Peanuts, and how these first two-and-a-quarter years are really the first phase of a long, slow "assembling the crew" montage. It's not done at the end of 1952, but Charlie Brown is in place (from Day One) and is starting to shift from "sarcastic trickster" to the saturnine kid we know better. And then, over this stretch, we see first Schroeder and then Lucy appear - like in real life, they are first babies, but quickly grow into older kids with specific personalities. Like the round-headed kid, Lucy is still here a different person: wide-eyed, innocent, mischievous in a babyish way, and more than a little bit '50s-style "girly." But Schroeder snapped into place immediately once he got a personality. And we see Linus appear, again as a baby, in 1952 - he doesn't have any lines yet, but we know that's coming.

So the gang isn't all together yet. Most of the gags here are with what I think of as the placeholder characters - Violet, Patty, Shermy - who were "regular kids" of their time, doing "regular things." They faded into the background later as Schulz developed a deeper and deeper bench. But they were the place Peanuts started, and their gags are pretty good kid-comedy of its era. Even before this strip became what we think of as Peanuts, it was a strong, funny strip: that's the lesson of the first two years. This is what Schulz was born to do, maybe - or, at least, one of the things that he could dig into and do really well for a long, long time.

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