Review by Woodrow Phoenix
The paperback volumes of the acclaimed Complete Peanuts series look strikingly different to the hardcovers. The series redesign by Jacob Covey gives the new reprintings a much fresher feel and the vibrant colour covers with big images show more of Charles M. Schulz’s own drawing and look very appealing. Volume three of this definitive softcover collection brings every single daily and Sunday Peanuts strip produced between 1955 and 1956 back into print again. Over half of the strips in this volume had not been seen in sixty years, until they were reprinted in the hardcover series in 2005.
Pigpen features heavily in this collection. He and his dust cloud were a recent addition to the strip, at the end of 1954, and the mystical nature of his ability to accumulate dirt while just walking down an ordinary street or even standing features in plenty of episodes here. “I think he’s probably cooled by several layers of clay,” says Charlie Brown. The core cast of Charlie Brown, Shermy, Patty, Violet, Schroeder, Lucy, Linus, Pigpen and Snoopy are now set to continue for the rest of the decade with a few guest appearances from characters like loud-talking Charlotte Braun. Charlie Brown progresses steadily downward from the brash jokester of the first couple of years into the perpetual loser we know today as his kite is destroyed by a tree for the first time and there’s a disastrous loss at baseball for him and his team. Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas are all humiliating experiences for him where cards, presents and popularity (or lack of it) are concerned. “What’s the sense in living?” He asks.
Meanwhile, Snoopy continues his rise to prominence. He isn’t quite the familiar bulb-shaped abstraction of a dog as we know him best yet, but he’s evolving. He does imitations of Violet, Patty, various animals including a famous cartoon mouse, develops his famed Snoopy Dance, hangs around by Schroeder’s mini grand piano, and upgrades the mysterious interior of his dog house. Schroeder’s piano attracts Lucy as well, who begins her long unsuccessful crusade for Schroeder’s attention. This volume also sees the end of Charlotte Brown, who annoyed readers so much that Schulz dropped her from the cast after only ten appearances. He even wrote back to one fan to confirm she’d never appear again, adding, “Remember, however, that you and your friends will have the death of an innocent child on your conscience. Are you prepared to accept such responsibility?”
Schultz’s unique way of evoking complicated mixtures of emotion continues to grow through this period, and the philosophical problems of his characters manage to be sad, funny, bleak and surprisingly silly all at the same time. This volume includes an introduction by Matt Groening, who produced a weekly strip called Life in Hell before he created The Simpsons, and there is the usual short biography of Schulz at the end.
This third paperback volume of The Complete Peanuts is also available in a slipcase with the fourth volume as a box set: The Complete Peanuts 1955-1958 Gift Box Set Paperback Edition.