Tony can’t get enough Peanuts (pronunciation is important in the Fyler household).
Listen, I’m going to level with you – there’s every chance the reviews of the reprints of the Peanuts collected strips are going to have a fairly ‘samey’ feel to them. They’re pretty much going to go along the lines of ‘OMG Peanuts!’ – ‘Actually, cooler than you might remember…’ – ‘Ooh, new characters!’ – ‘Funny as heck!’ – ‘Get it now.’
The reason they’re likely to go that way is only partly down to my lack of imagination. It’s also down to the fact that everybody thinks they already know what Peanuts is all about, so to some extent, a review is pretty unnecessary. We can tell you what’s new, but in collections that are still over sixty years old, ‘new’ becomes a radically relative term. We can tell you why they surprise us – and issue #2 still does, making us genuinely laugh out loud from this not-inconsiderable distance in time – but the bottom line is really, if you’re a Peanuts fan of any age or stripe, you’re going to want to buy these. If you’re not, we’d still advise you give at least one of the 50s issues a go, because you might not be a fan for reasons that are tackled in these issues. If you’re still not intrigued enough to buy another issue after reading one of these early collections, no harm, no foul, you can go about your day, ignoring the quietly chortling people huddled in a Peanut-covered corner.
This issue, which takes in the best of the strips from 1952-1954, evolves the initial set-up with – hold your breath – the arrival of Lucy and Linus! Lucy’s still little more than a toddler here, but then all the Peanuts characters are palpably younger in these earlier issues than they become in later issues, though there’s a distinct difference in generation – Charlie Brown has a paper round and he and Shermy play baseball, while Lucy is in nursery school. Schroeder speaks a little here, which we know he always did, but it still takes us by surprise quite how much he’s given to do, as the eternal memory of Schroeder seems to be of him hunched over his piano (apparently, he gets quite irate if you call it a ‘toy piano’), engaged on a sonata or a symphony, while the other musicians in the Peanuts gang are barely mastering Three Blind Mice and Charlie Brown himself strums a cigar-box banjo in this issue. Banjo, you note, not guitar, these Peanuts strips pre-dating the explosion of white-boy rock and roll that was just around the corner.
Lucy makes her mark right from the word go – the small girl with the BIG VOICE! and an intention to have things the way she wants them and win, win, win. With Lucy’s arrival, a theme begins seriously to develop in Charlie Brown’s life. He still occasionally has some gumption – burying Lucy in her own sandpit at one point in this issue – but the combination of Patty the marbles-demon and Lucy, winner of ten thousand straight checkers game, all of them against Charlie Brown, seems to inform the path his life is on. When it comes to girls, Charlie Brown will lose. When it comes to ball games too, it seems he is destined to be a loser – one great strip here has members of the gang congratulating him on his confusing slow ball pitch, but asking him to mix it up with a fast ball. Of course, the pitch that’s been confusing everyone is his fast ball.
Each of the girls in Charlie Brown’s life force our playground philosopher to new levels of acceptance or reaction. Violet, the girl with the ponytail who was there from the beginning, but faded out in later years, is forever yelling at him that she never wants to see him again, ever, and this time she means it. “I can tell when I’m not wanted,” he deadpans to us. Lucy seems to get under Charlie Brown’s skin mostly by being alive in these early strips – she asks him to make her a bread and butter sandwich and he flips out, she’s just so annoying! Lucy’s mother, who apparently adores her, also claims she’s a shoe-in for the 1952 “Miss Fuss-Budget” award, and also “a natural born fuss-budget,” a claim Lucy treats with utter disdain. “Natural-born nothing,” she snorts, “I worked hard to get where I am.” And Patty (the girl who isn’t Peppermint Patty), remains the relatively level-headed marble deadeye. “It’s not that I’m opposed to the concept, [of losing]” says Charlie Brown when challenged to another game against her. “I just don’t want to lose all my marbles,” Schulz indulging in a cunning bit of wordplay simply because he can get away with it and enhance the comic-book within the world he’s created. All the usual philosophizing and mirroring of the grown-up world is here – it was present right from the earliest strips, and doesn’t let us down between 1952-1954. One delicious strip has Lucy, exhausted by the nursery school routine, say how grateful she’ll be when it breaks up for the holidays. “All we do is play in the sandpit and swing on the swings,” she explains. “I can’t wait for the holidays. Then I can play in my sandpit and swing on my swings.” Ah, the eternal pursuit of leisure.
And for those who ever dare to think Schulz’ work maintains a kind of white bread world, back in 1953, he was experimenting with breaking the fourth panel. When Schroeder discovers he has perfect pitch (was there any doubt?), he runs to Charlie Brown to give him the good news. “You mean a perfect pitch,” says Charlie Brown, going on to give his friend a sporting lecture, after which Schroeder stomps away, muttering to himself: “Sometimes I think I should put in for a transfer to a new comic strip!”
Meanwhile, Schulz was also experimenting with what was to become another staple not only of the Peanuts strips, but of comic strips generally – the unpredictable sight gag. Here, Snoopy is developing prehensile and preternaturally strong ears, which he uses to balance things on, act as a doorway barrier, to make people believe the wind is blowing (Snoopy channeling Marcel Marceau, or prophesying the existence of human statues) or even to point the way Charlie Brown has gone to the pursuing Patty. Lucy’s stentorian voice that can, in and of itself make people (and occasionally, Beagles) flip head over heels and land in undignified heaps, is used a few times in this collection, and Linus – little Linus, who like Schroeder before him enters our world as a baby (though he has yet to acquire his famous blankie), is a great comic stooge for visual gags here, perhaps never better than the first time he manages to stand unaided, and is rewarded by Lucy with a cookie – which slowly, sweetly, overbalances him and crashes him to the floor.
If we were surprised with Peanuts #1 at how frequently the strips were paid off with gags, and how often those gags still worked some 63 years later, Peanuts #2 is a distinct evolution of the strip’s early promise – the artwork, by virtue of the growing world of Peanuts, is sharpened up here, the characters more defined, so you can tell Violet from Lucy, for instance, Charlie Brown significantly more recognizable in his zigzag shirt for the majority of the strips. There’s a slightly more confident air about the delivery of the Peanuts gang’s world too - the gossip of the girls is more frequently barbed, the philosophical gems are not necessarily more polished or complex but are delivered with a growing sense of economy and purpose.
This would be the part where I tell you to go away and get it.
Go away and get Peanuts #2, More Peanuts, now.
Or I’ll set Lucy on you.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk