Mich sent me what now has to be one of my favorite text messages ever: “Quick help what happened in first lord of the rings i’m forced to watch second now with carol’s family.”
Am currently going through a lovely retrospective called Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz. It’s edited and designed by one of my favorite graphic designers, Chip Kidd, and some of the archival strips contained in the book come from his personal collection as well as the collection of one of my favorite cartoonists, Chris Ware. It is, of course, beautifully designed, and I was lucky enough to get a brand-new copy for almost 50% off the cover price. I read a few pages every night before I go to sleep, and I’m falling in love with Peanuts all over again. Peanuts, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the gang, I grew up reading them, but never really thought about them deeply. I’d laugh at a lot of the strips, enjoy myself, but I treated it as just another routine. It’s like background noise; it’s always there, we’re just so used to it that we don’t pay attention to it anymore. And we end up taking it for granted. So when Charles Schulz died, it was a shock to everyone. We all thought Peanuts would last forever (it will, don’t worry). Schulz was a consummate draftsman, and worked non-stop once he had syndication. His very last strip was published the day after his death.
The book really is amazing; there are pages from his sketchbook while he was in the war, and it’s a little surreal looking at his drawings of adults and “regular” people when none appeared in any Peanuts strips (or the TV specials). It contains also the only occasion that Charlie Brown flew a kite without it being eaten by the Kite-Eating Tree (unfortunately, it spontaneously combusts), the only occasion that Charlie Brown got to kick a football (because Lucy is nowhere in the vicinity), the only existing drawing of the Little Red-Headed Girl (based, apprarently, on a real-life unrequited love of Schulz’s), the first appearances of every character, and lots more. The only appearance of a character named Charlotte Braun. Early strips where the characters were shaped differently and had slightly different personalities. Charlie Brown, for example, was quite a prankster and ladies’ man. Snoopy’s head wasn’t disproportionate to his body, and he actually looked like a beagle. Lucy wasn’t mean. Snoopy was the first beagle on the moon. I’d completely forgotten that Charlie’s father’s occupation was a barber. I also got to see Schroeder, Lucy, Linus, and Sally as babies. The very first toys and licensed products. The cover of the first paperback book collecting the comic strips. The first few comic books (interiors not drawn by Schulz, I learned to my surprise). Characters who stopped appearing around the late 60s, like Violet, Shermy, and Patty (not Peppermint).
Going through the book you can slowly see his art style and sense of humor evolve. Not a few times have I laughed out loud, late in the evening, over a joke that might not seem so funny in others’ hands, but is dynamite when executed by Schulz’s deft timing and expressive line. His talent for facial expressions and body language is incredible.
One thing that takes me by surprise are the strips that aren’t just humorous, but have heart. One strip, for example, shows a young Lucy losing a balloon and ends with her almost in tears. The reader does as well. Charlie Brown probably has the most of these strips, what with his insecurities, his unprofessed love for the Little Red-Headed Girl, his seeming lack of skill at ANY sport, etc.
Around the time I was ending grade school, my mother gave me an old Peanuts paperback she had as a kid. This is a book that basically was published in the 50s, and still featured Schulz’s old style of drawing. It still had the old characters, and Snoopy still looked like a regular dog, no Woodstock in sight. I was amazed at the time, not just that my mom used to read comics as a kid, but because I never thought that Peanuts had looked anything unlike how I saw it in the newspaper everyday. To this day it’s one of my fondest gifts from her. It was probably the first time I realized that something like Peanuts had a history wholly separate from my existence.
I end with one of the sweetest, most profound statements ever to escape a child’s mouth:
“They say that opposites attract… She’s really something and I’m really nothing… How opposite can you get?” – Charlie Brown, 1963