krpalmer: Charlie Brown and Patty in the rain; Charlie Brown wears a fedora and trench coat (charlie brown)
[personal profile] krpalmer
I managed to find the tenth volume of "The Complete Peanuts," with the World War I Flying Ace on the cover, not that long ago. (He may have shown up there just in time; the number of comic strips with him in it cuts back in this volume, and by its end his appearances seem more a matter of Snoopy showing up in costume to interact with others rather than piloting his Sopwith Camel against the Red Baron. It was mentioned in the Charles M. Schulz biography "Good Grief!" that the idea began to seem less appealing to Schulz as the Vietnam War wore on...)

Perhaps this latest volume was one I'd been anticipating in a special way. It covers the last period of time I'd seen early on in the first collections my family owned, and for that matter too the comic strips from 1969 and 1970 had been shown on the official online page just a few years ago (1970 before 1969, after which the reprints jumped back a whole decade... now, though, the online page has just been revamped so that you can delve into the strip's full history, but in the process the comics that show up as you first visit the site are now from the 1990s and 1980s). For all of that apparent familiarity, though, the book still seemed to keep surprising me as I read through it a month at a time.

Part of that surprise was spotting strips that hadn't been quite familiar for being in that earlier book, but part of it too was seeing how the strips had been reordered a little when reprinted before. Snoopy's typewriter returns as he launches into his magnum opus "It Was A Dark And Stormy Night," which was later featured complete as a three-page work in a self-contained original book. I had noticed before, though, that the daily strips seemed to mention a thing or two happening in the novel that didn't show up in the book's version, which had seemed to be based on the excerpts from its opening shown on the Sunday pages... in "The Complete Peanuts," Snoopy first writes the novel and submits it in the daily strips, only to have it rejected. (He goes into "rejection-slip shock," the cure for which is to tell the sufferer that what they've written is just as good as a lot of other things you see being published nowadays.) The Sunday pages, with their further expansion of the opening sentence, follows later. In the process, I got a sense of Snoopy's typewriter evolving towards a way to soon include terrible puns and groaner jokes in the comic strip as the work of its own characters, but my ambiguity that some might try and condemn this as a "new development" was caught by remembering something else; more than ten years before, Charlie Brown had drawn some comic strips of his own (with unseen art) for much the same purpose...

Charlie Brown for his own part still seems as miserable as ever, beset on all sides including his own; in two cases even Linus gets so fed up with his fecklessness that he starts yelling at him. My first reaction that this seemed "the final betrayal" may have been a little extreme, but they were still disturbing moments. As well, "the little red-haired girl" moves with her family while Charlie Brown just watches, unable to say anything; since the mentions of "the little red-haired girl" had always been about regrets and distance, Charlie Brown has plenty of chances to keep feeling miserable about her even after she's gone.

According to the "Peanuts FAQ," this volume marks Shermy's final appearances in the strip; it's somehow a little tempting to say that his crew cut was by this point going well out of date. (I did once notice a comment by Schulz, made some years after those final appearances, that he'd never drawn Shermy's hair right to his own satisfaction...) Frieda, though, seems to make a "late rally," trying to get Snoopy to chase rabbits on the threat of "reporting him to the Head Beagle." This struck me as one of the points where an air of the fantastic begins to pervade the whole strip, and a while later Snoopy himself is "promoted to Head Beagle," his inauguration carried on all three networks but his administration based on top of his doghouse and consisting of himself with one bird secretary. The workload eventually drives him from office.

For the first few months of the volume, I suppose, the small bird already beginning to hang around with Snoopy, appearance being progressively revised and refined, was absent enough that it caught my attention. Then, he showed up again and kept showing up (at one point with a girlfriend bird, who at this point looks a little different from him), so that when he finally got named "Woodstock" in the punchline panel a year or so later I had a definite sense of his character having evolving over the span of a decade instead of being imposed through some sudden whim and fiat. (To be sure, I did then contemplate how Snoopy himself had evolved over a decade and a half or more.)

Perhaps I found this thought important because I'd been having some melancholy thoughts of my own starting into this volume, that with the 1960s coming to an end some hypothetical majority of commentators would be ready to declare the "Golden Age" of Peanuts was coming to an end as well, with the "introduction" of Woodstock proclaimed as one sign of the comic strip ceasing to be about the heavy intellectual suffering of Charlie Brown... and maybe I've feared that at some point I'd find myself joining in with the majority. Another thought had come to me too, though, while reading through "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" a while back that Peanuts as a comic strip could be thought to have simply changed and kept changing over the whole length of its run, that the somehow very irksome thought that Charles M. Schulz had watered things down to protect the merchandising profits and kept them that way just wasn't true for all that I still worry about how I might defend my opinion... I suppose I started wondering if I could just tell myself a "Silver Age" was beginning, what with Sally growing still more lazy and self-centred the way she came to seem to me, Peppermint Patty growing more complex and vulnerable, and Marcie still to be introduced. (Of course, then I started worrying about when some hypothetical majority of commentators could start muttering that the Silver Age was coming to an end...)

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