Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Complete Peanuts, 1953-1954 by Charles M. Schulz

This will probably be short and desultory; I've thrown a lot of words around in these parts about Peanuts in the past (see my posts on the first volume from 2016 and two weeks ago if you want to dive in), and the strips here are more transition: a lot like what I said about the first volume recently, only a little more so, and with a few more elements of later Peanuts starting to emerge.

So The Complete Peanuts, 1953 to 1954 includes a strip where Lucy holds a football and Charlie Brown fails to kick it, and several in which the round-headed kid attempts to fly a kite...but the gags here are not the gags Schulz would use later on. Pig-Pen appears, and is used for sequences of dirty-kid jokes. Linus is getting more prominent, but is still a little kid: he stands up, but doesn't walk, and hasn't spoken yet. Snoopy is still clearly a dog, though an energetic, fun-loving one with more intelligence than most and some unexpected abilities - mostly around detecting candy and other sweets.

Charlie Brown has transitioned away from being the trickster he was intermittently in the first few years, and is mostly a sad sack, the butt of other kids' insults. There's no sense yet, though, that's he's internalized that, or that he's inherently a sad sack. He's just filling that role in the jokes.

Lucy similarly is midway in her transition from fussbudget to tyrant: she starts this period clearly smaller and younger than the other kids, but is aging up to them by the end. That's the core pattern of early Peanuts, which somewhat recurred later with characters like Rerun: kids appear as babies, grow up to "little kids" quickly, and eventually transition to being the same age as the existing cast.

For fans of the strip, or (even more so) students of it, this is a fascinating period. It's a solid, very entertaining gag-a-day strip, very much of its time in its view of an endless adult-free '50s kid-playland suburbia, that intermittently shows flashes of what Peanuts would become starting a few years later: the deep sadness and characterization, the longer story sequences, the recurring motifs and ideas.

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