Charles M. Schulz’s daily newspaper strip Peanuts, read by three hundred and fifty-five million people at the peak of its popularity, was the most successful newspaper strip of all time. Despite this tremendous success, the majority of the 18,000 comics that Schulz created had never been reprinted. In 2004, Fantagraphics began the mammoth task of systematically publishing the entire run in a carefully researched, sensitively designed hardcover format. A decade later the hardcover reprint series is a few volumes away from completion and now The Complete Peanuts is being reissued in softcover.

These softcover editions are the same size and shape as the original hardcovers, but they have been totally redesigned by Jacob Covey. The new look is bright and graphic, the opposite of the dark and heavily ornate approach taken to the series previously. The front cover shows more of the work of Schulz himself and perfectly introduces the familiar look of Peanuts. The enlarged panels featured front and back are very appealing in their modular, colourful style. Inside, the title pages and contents have been similarly brightened up. The whole package feels a lot less earnest, and more fun.

The comics themselves are laid out three to a page so that you can read a week’s worth of strips over one spread. Each Sunday strip has a page to itself. The look of these initial cartoons is very different from what would evolve into Schulz’s distinctive style. The lines are thicker, smoother, the lettering smaller and tighter, the backgrounds more illustrative, the children rounder and younger than the middle-schoolers they would eventually become. The characterisations are very different too. The influence of James Thurber can be felt both in the drawing and in the humour of this early work. Charlie Brown is a rambunctious, wisecracking, energetic protagonist who gets the better of most exchanges, Snoopy is a cute but ordinary puppy, Violet, Patty and Shermy are funny and occasionally thought-provoking foils to Charlie Brown. Lucy is very much a secondary character and Linus is a toddler.

Volume one of The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954 Paperback Edition is introduced by writer Garrison Keillor, himself a native of St. Paul, Minnesota where Schulz grew up. There is a short essay by David Michaelis, ‘The life and times of Charles M Schulz’ which explains the evolution of the strip and the personal history of the creator behind it. A particularly brilliant final touch is an index where you can trace each character’s first appearances, their phrases and foibles, and many of the situations and gags that would go on to be long-running features of the series. This softcover volume is a brilliant introduction to Schulz’s legendary comics series, and is also available in a slipcased edition along with volume two, The Complete Peanuts Paperback Edition 1953-1954.