Review by Frank Plowright
Scotland Bound Charlie Brown began life as a proposed TV special, which accounts for the story being credited to Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez, who had a long involvement with the Peanuts animations. For whatever reason, it was never completed, but some story roughs are provided at the back of the book.
While having considerable involvement from Schulz, it’s best to see the Peanuts animations as separate from the newspaper strip that inspired them. While there’s the occasional nod to the pathos of Schulz’s solo efforts, they rarely reach the heartbreaking qualities of his best strips. Separating the two enables the animations and spin-offs to be assessed on their own merits rather than being anchored to the burden of expectations. However, whether via the original script or writer Jason Cooper’s additions, the opening twenty or so pages are designed to reflect the strip. They’re a disjointed selection of gags, and as such fall flat, but thankfully it’s only a brief section. The set-up is that Charlie Brown has a Scottish pen pal, Morag, and she seems to be encouraging him to come and visit during a festival, the pay-off being that although the gang head to Scotland, Cooper delivers a classic piece of Charlie Brown bad luck.
Cartoonists will tell you that although he looks a simple character, actually drawing Charlie Brown correctly is far trickier than most realise, which makes Robert Pope’s achievement notable. To begin with Pope keeps to the simple look of the newspaper strip, but once the gang reach Scotland his backgrounds become more expansive, and there are some lively festival scenes, although Edinburgh residents may take issue with landmarks being placed in generic backgrounds. His interview in the back of the book, though, reminds us of the artistic difficulties faced, such as keeping the really short kids consistent alongside massive monuments. Pope’s also good with the more exotic elements of Scottish culture, as seen by the highland cows in the sample art.
A fair number of predictable jokes about Scotland are supplied, but Cooper’s researched and they’re alongside less obvious material, such as a smart joke contrasting American and Scottish flavours, with marshmallows replacing whisky. There are hints of Schulz, such as Charlie Brown being told to appreciate his surroundings, and a sequence with Snoopy and sheep was presumably intended as the animation’s musical number. It’s effectively presented by Pope.
One minor point is the lettering of ‘Linus’ often seeming to read ‘Unus’, but overall Scotland Bound Charlie Brown is a cheery all-ages experience hitting the right notes.