Review by Woodrow Phoenix
The Art of Charles M Schulz is a mid-sized, landscape orientation book, almost exactly the same dimensions as the Complete Peanuts series. In July 2000, book designer Chip Kidd and photographer Geoff Spear spent two weeks at the Peanuts archive belonging to the Schulz family in Santa Rosa, California, photographing Charles M. Schulz’s original drawings and various items of memorabilia associated with the strip and its characters. They combined the results of this deep trawl with Chris Ware’s extensive collection of vintage Peanuts strips clipped from newspapers.
When it was published in 2001, The Art of Charles M Schulz was a unique insight into an archive containing photographs of original art, scrapbook pages, sketches, notes and unused work, books, toys and reproductions of old printed pages taken from newspapers and magazines. It functions as a kind of facsimile edition of what you might see if you were lucky enough to be standing in Schulz’s studio, looking through his filing cabinets.
Chip Kidd had done this kind of thing before with great results in his Batman Collected and Batman Animated books (both very highly recommended for readers of this website) but where they showcased everything but comics, this book is absolutely focused on drawing. It celebrates the mysterious alchemy of the printing process that turns a idiosyncratic, personal piece of hand-made art into industrial ‘content’, endlessly reproducible, and all those weird things that happen to a picture when you translate it through a machine.
Among the five hundred comic strips shown here are such treasures as a never-before reproduced Sunday page from 1954 (see sample page art); a sketchbook from Schulz’s army days in the early 1940s; his very first printed strip, Just Keep Laughing; a scrapbook of Li’l Folks cartoons; first sketches for Charlie Brown and other Peanuts characters; the working drawings and layouts for I Need All The Friends I Can Get; and even the very last pencils and partially lettered strips found next to Schulz’s desk in 2000.
In 2015, Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear took a second crack at this material, returning to the Schulz archives and producing a 304 x 228 mm hardcover collection, called Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts. This second much larger book, the same impressive dimensions as the Peanuts Every Sunday series presents lots of art and artifacts at actual size. Surprisingly there isn’t much overlap with the contents of this volume, which makes this something that dedicated Schulz fans should definitely pick up as it contains much not seen elsewhere. Finding this book in searches is made difficult by the fact that the two volumes have confusingly near-identical titles, but copies of The Art of Charles M Schulz are out there. You need one.