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April 22, 2004

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

by Ron Hogan

You may recall that I was all excited a few months ago about the impending release of the first volume of The Complete Peanuts, which has all the strips from the premiere in late 1950 to the end of 1952. Well, it's out, and everybody else is getting excited, too. Almost--WaPo reviewer Douglas Wolk isn't entirely satisfied with the earliest strips because "the jokes... are often too facile, and Schulz leans too hard on his punch lines." But by the end of 1952, "Schulz is already hinting at the much darker idea that made his strip great: that it's even funnier to see children's play anticipating adult suffering on a child's scale."

A while back, in USA Today, Gary Strauss highlighted what struck me when I was eagerly poring over the advance reader's copy a few months ago: the marked differences between the earliest strips and the "classic" version of Peanuts that usually springs to mind. Not only is Schulz's drawing style subtly different (though the characters are all still recognizable), the balance of power hasn't quite settled in yet. Charlie Brown isn't as much of a loser yet, so he's socially on even footing with the other kids, and even gets a couple zingers in now and then. (Surely one of Wolk's complaints is with the sheer number of strips ending with Charlie Brown being chased by Violet after having made a particularly sassy crack.) Snoopy's still just a dog for the most part, and hasn't even started walking around on his hind legs yet. And readers across the country may ask themselves, "Shermy? Who's Shermy?"

Sure, this material doesn't have the epic sweep of Snoopy's WWI adventures, or Charlie Brown's baseball rash, but it's pretty swell in its own way. This, and probably the next few volumes, wil be great surprises for a lot of readers; I think my own intitial plunge into the backstory (through those Fawcett paperbacks) only ever got back to the late '50s or early '60s.



Maybe I was one of the lucky ones, in that for some reason, my brother and I grew up reading Peanuts in digest form, and our books dated back to the very beginning, from the time Violet (or is it Patty?) sees Good ole Charlie Brown walking down the street and yells, "How I hate him!" And no question the strip was still at the early, undeveloped stage, still too "cute" and not so satirical yet. But that's the fun. And Lucy ranting about the evils of nursery school was very amusing to me as a youngster, for sure.

Posted by: Sarah at April 22, 2004 04:11 PM

If anyone is asking who Shermy is, just tell them to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas again and look for the boy who dances by turning his head and shrugging his shoulders.

I, too, grew up reading the Peanuts digests, and, occasionally, I'll rummage through some boxes in my grandmother's attic and find some of the those books. There are certainly worse things to introduce your children to reading.

Posted by: Craig Clarke at April 23, 2004 11:29 AM
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