Book Review: The Complete Peanuts, 1983-1984
I remember when Fantagraphic Books first released The Complete Peanuts, 1950-1952. I was 24 years old, and remember thinking, “once they finish these releases, I’ll be 36 years old.” And here it is: I’m 32 years old, and with the release of The Complete Peanuts, 1983-1984, that means there’s only 4 more years to go.
The last couple volumes of The Complete Peanuts have been a little hard to wrap my brain around for two reasons:
1) Some of the strips in them I have seen over the years in non-ordered compilations.
2) Charlie Brown and the gang’s exploits have finally caught up to my time on this planet.
To me, the strips from the 1960’s and the 1970’s are those that alot of people usually consider the high-points of the Peanuts gang’s existence. One thing that becomes evident is Charles Schulz’s issues with drawing his comic strip. The line-work begins to waver a bit, and he even starts working in exaggerating expressions. Though Snoopy had some funny faces in the 70’s, his eyes in some situations get a bit cartoony in the 1980’s…so to speak.
However, what is notable are the backgrounds and natural scenarios that Schulz creates in several scenarios: from a tree covered in detailed leaves, to Snoopy leading some birds on a photo-taking hike to Los Lobos. The way the scenes are rendered, one has to wonder if Schulz took a hike there himself, and made little sketches of certain areas.
In the years 1983-1984, there seem to be myriad strips dealing with various characters telling jokes. Some are laughable, and others are just head-scratching (then again, some stuff that I think is funny leaves alot of people scratching their heads). One that was more an aside than a direct joke, is where Snoopy comes home from a New Year’s Party on January 1st, 1984. Charlie Brown assumes Snoopy over-indulged at the party, but Snoopy insists (through thought balloons) that he’s sick considering all the George Orwell jokes that are going to take place now that it’s 1984. I will admit, this one made me laugh out loud!
The years 1983-1984 also serve as a breeding ground of comic strips/ideas that would then go on to populate the animated realm of the Peanuts gang as well. One weekday strip of Snoopy dancing in aerobic gear ends with him thinking the name, “Flashbeagle.” This would spin off in the next few years into the musical-themed short of the same name. Out in the desert of Needles, CA, Snoopy’s brother Spike takes notice of a girl who drives by his abode in a red truck several times. This would later serve as the basis for a live-action/animated adventure in 1988 called It’s The Girl in The Red Truck, Charlie Brown (which starred Schulz’s daughter Jill, and was co-scripted by his son Monte).
Speaking of Spike, the focus shifts slightly in his favor, as we catch up on his correspondence with Snoopy, as well as a rescue mission Snoopy undertakes with a small ‘bird brigade’ to rescue him from a dangerous situation.
It does feel that through the course of the 80’s, some of the characters do mellow out a bit, notably Lucy. Her presence in the years in this compilation aren’t as notable as years gone past, though what she does and what happens to her on December 16th, 1984, was still quite surprising (I’m not telling what it is…it has to be seen to be believed).
When it comes to the female characters, it feels that Schulz has more fun working with Peppermint Patty and Marcie. Patty has some strips that lead into story arcs that last a couple weeks. She puts up with everything from getting caught in a 3-ring binder, to Marcie using her for classroom presentations when she falls asleep. Almost as a way to answer the viewer’s questions regarding Patty’s constant dozing off in class, Schulz sends her to a sleep disorder center to find out if she may really have narcolepsy.
Though I have told a little about some of the volume, don’t assume what I’ve said above has given away all the surprises. It would be a shame if I did that, and spoil the full discovery of how the Peanuts gang spent 2 years in the time of Reaganomics.
Each of Fantagraphics‘ volumes comes with a special introduction, and for this one, Leonard Maltin regales us with his past memories. Maltin tells that at one point, he wanted to be a cartoonist, and had even sent Schulz some correspondence…to which Schulz responded with encouragement, and a signed original comic panel! Though he ended up going into writing instead of cartooning, Maltin still has fond memories of the Peanuts gang.