The Complete Peanuts 1950-1954 Box Set
Charles M. Schulz
Fantagraphics Books, 2015
720 pp., $59.99
Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
Oh Good Grief!
Another archetypal artist myth might better characterize the story of Schulz and his creation, which is that happiness is the enemy of art. It was a good thing for Schulz the man that life got better by the mid-'70s, but it was a bad thing for Peanuts. Despite the earnest protests of comics scholars and admiring fellow cartoonists, by the late '70s Peanuts had begun to fade. The life went out of Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy; all that was left was stale repetition of the same old routine. Schulz resorts to unconvincing physical humor not emerging naturally from the characters' littleness, as in the early strips, but rather forced silliness, as well as bad jokes told by the characters themselves that no one else laughs at—a poor cop-out on the cartoonist's part. The emotional edginess vanishes from the strip, perhaps along with Schulz's old wounds. Or maybe it's just that thirty years is the limit of life in a time-arrested comic strip.
But probably all this analysis is more serious than Schulz ever intended for his art. His comic creation may have been worth more than peanuts, but it was, after all, just a daily strip in your local newspaper, a momentary smile or rueful nod of the head, the comfort of familiar faces. Those who learned the fine art of sarcasm from Lucy's caustic remarks and still say "good grief!" in the face of the ridiculous will delight in the range of trivia this comprehensive collection offers. Here you can learn that long before he was a dreadful minor league player, Joe Schlabotnik was an imaginary piano player made up by Schroeder on the spur of the moment; you can watch the cost of psychiatric help rise to 7¢, then to 34¢, all the way up to an appalling 50¢ before tumbling back down to "five cents, please"; you can meet long-lost characters like José Peterson (whose mom makes tortillas and Swedish meatballs for dinner), the stentorian Charlotte Braun, and Snoopy's aggressive tennis partner Molly Volley; you can even learn the name of the cat next door: World War II. Happiness is The Complete Peanuts.
Sarah Hinlicky Wilson is assistant research professor at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, and the editor of Lutheran Forum.
Copyright © 2013 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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