Good grief! The Complete Peanuts
is the most ambitious and most important project in the comics and cartooning genre: over a period of 12 years, Fantagraphics Books will release every daily and Sunday strip of Charles M. Schulz's "Peanuts," the best-known and best-loved series in the world.
Most everyone with an interest in its history has seen the very first strip ("Good ol' Charlie Brown... How I hate him!"), but this first volume follows it up with 287 pages (three daily strips or one Sunday per page) of vintage material in chronological order. "Peanuts" was unique at the time for portraying kids who seemed like real kids, but they also had a wisdom beyond their years, embodied especially by the lovable loser, Charlie Brown, who even in these early years has lost 4000 checker games in a row. We see him don his familiar jagged-stripe shirt for the first time (December 1950) and, at the age of 4, at his peak as a babe magnet. Shermy is the other significant boy, and the girls in their lives are Patty (not to be confused with Peppermint Patty) and Violet. Schroeder is an infant who has learned to sit up in order to play Beethoven on his toy piano. Snoopy is an anthropomorphic dog who plays baseball (April 1952) and has his own thoughts (October 1952). In March 1952 we meet a bug-eyed Lucy, who by November has been designated "Miss Fuss-Budget of 1952" and is pulling the football away from Charlie Brown (Violet had done it a year earlier). Her baby brother Linus arrives in July 1952. The book itself is beautifully packaged, the strips printed large and clear on high-quality paper and accompanied by an in-depth essay by David Michaelis, a 1987 interview with Schulz, an introduction by Garrison Keillor, and even an index of characters and subjects.
The second volume covers 1953-54, and the visual style and character development is closer to the kids we know and love, as they try to exist in a grown-up world. Charlie Brown is no longer the object of Patty and Violet's affection--derision, more like--and his pattern of losing continues. His misery at checkers hits 5000 (June 1953), 6000 (August), 7000 (November), 8000 (still November), and 10,000 (December) consecutive games, he gets shut out on Valentine's Day (February '53), he wears his first bad Halloween costume (October '54), and he gets a form rejection slip from Santa (December '54). On the baseball diamond, though, he actually has the lead in a game (April '53, but we don't see the final score) and briefly plays catcher. By now Lucy has become the main girl in the strip, and in addition to beating Charlie Brown at checkers, she begins her romantic pursuit of Schroeder (January '53), joins the baseball team (August '54), and wins her third consecutive Miss Fussbudget of the Year title (November '54). Her younger brother, Linus, starts what will become a longstanding feud with Snoopy in the first Sunday strip of '53, shows he's a prodigy in jump rope, blocks, houses of cards, and balloon blowing, and cuddles his security blanket (May '54). Schroeder continues his obsession with Beethoven and reveals the secret to playing great literature on a plastic piano with painted-on black keys (practice and "getting the breaks"). We meet two new characters, the perpetually dirty Pig-Pen (July '54) and the loudmouthed Charlotte Braun, whose funny name wasn't enough to keep her around for long. Charles M. Schulz, whose own insecurity manifested itself in Charlie Brown (who not coincidentally draws his own cartoons), came up with his first multiple-strip storyline (starting with a four-Sunday series of Lucy joining a golf tournament coached by Charlie Brown, May '54) in this period, and provides us with a glimpse of the 1950s--deco furniture ("What in the world is a 'rocking chair'? asks CB), 3-D movies, H-bomb testing, and even what in hindsight looks like a prediction of the troubles in Vietnam (May '54). The second volume maintains the high quality of the first volume; even if it doesn't have the same extent of extra materials, it has an introduction by Walter Cronkite, a note on one strip that had to be partially reconstructed, and that handy index of characters and topics. --David Horiuchi
About the Author
Charles M. Schulz was born November 25, 1922 in Minneapolis. His destiny was foreshadowed when an uncle gave him, at the age of two days, the nickname Sparky (after the racehorse Spark Plug in the newspaper strip Barney Google).
In his senior year in high school, his mother noticed an ad in a local newspaper for a correspondence school, Federal Schools (later called Art Instruction Schools). Schulz passed the talent test, completed the course and began trying, unsuccessfully, to sell gag cartoons to magazines. (His first published drawing was of his dog, Spike, and appeared in a 1937 Ripley's Believe It Or Not! installment.) Between 1948 and 1950, he succeeded in selling 17 cartoons to the Saturday Evening Post—as well as, to the local St. Paul Pioneer Press, a weekly comic feature called Li'l Folks. It was run in the women's section and paid $10 a week. After writing and drawing the feature for two years, Schulz asked for a better location in the paper or for daily exposure, as well as a raise. When he was turned down on all three counts, he quit.
He started submitting strips to the newspaper syndicates. In the spring of 1950, he received a letter from the United Feature Syndicate, announcing their interest in his submission, Li'l Folks. Schulz boarded a train in June for New York City; more interested in doing a strip than a panel, he also brought along the first installments of what would become Peanuts—and that was what sold. (The title, which Schulz loathed to his dying day, was imposed by the syndicate). The first Peanuts daily appeared October 2, 1950; the first Sunday, January 6, 1952.
Diagnosed with cancer, Schulz retired from Peanuts at the end of 1999. He died on February 13, 2000, the day before Valentine's Day—and the day before his last strip was published—having completed 17,897 daily and Sunday strips, each and every one fully written, drawn, and lettered entirely by his own hand—an unmatched achievement in comics.Garrison Keillor
has hosted the comedy/variety radio show A Prairie Home Companion
since 1974. His many books include Lake Wobegon Days, Leaving Home, Happy to Be Here, The Book of Guys, Homegrown Democrat, Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, Love Me, Wobegon Boy, Pontoon, Liberty
, and Pilgrims
. Audio CDs and cassettes of compilations of A Prairie Home Companion
and Keillor's readings of his books have sold in the millions. He wrote the script for and starred in the 2006 motion picture A Prairie Home Companion
, the final film directed by Robert Altman.