I never was a huge Peanuts fan. Be it growing up at a time when Spider-Man was king and comic strips were losing their luster or because the holiday cartoons were before my time — I just didn’t find legendary cartoonist Charles M. Schultz’ world interesting enough to explore.
Web comics hadn’t yet appeared on the scene, but the format itself seemed dusty and less entertaining to me. Decades later Peanuts continues to be collected, cherished and revered and we’re not even talking the movies. What made this property so damn popular? I give the latest Peanuts title a chance this week and realized I’ve been missing out on something truly transcendent.
Peanuts: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz HC (BOOM! Studios)
By my count this book collects 26 multi-page stories and 14 pinups/one pagers with over 40 artists involved. That’s a lot of content and a lot of voices expressing their love for Peanuts; it’s proof that the entity is still more than relevant, and not just to them — anyone who dislikes the strip or casts it off as unimportant or a hiccup in the world of cartooning need only read this book to realize how important the comic strip has been to so many people.
Paul Pope’s story looks jaw dropping good.
Why does this comic book matter?
Per the book’s listing: “In 2015, Peanuts celebrates its 65th anniversary, so we thought there was no better way to recognize Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the gang than to invite some of the world’s best-known names in comics, children’s books, comic strips, cartoons, and webcomics to come together and show their love for Schulz.”
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Matt Groening (The Simpsons) opens this book with a comic strip he wrote back in 2000 about his meeting with his hero Charles Schultz; it’s a touching description of a true tale using his Life in Hell characters and you’ll quickly find his story is much like many others in this book. Not everyone in this book met Schultz, but they all have a similar celebrity crush for the man because of his work. You get a sense from this story and all the rest that Peanuts deeply affected everyone involved either by their ability to recapture some of the magic of the original strip in their story or by paying homage to the characters in their own style. About halfway through reading this I started to realize for myself that Peanuts is truly an important work.
10 Reasons Why Peanuts (and this book) Rule:
1. The futility of Charlie Brown kicking a football, making friends and generally being unhappy is explored quite a bit as it resonates deeply with so many people.
Of all the characters one might relate to in Peanuts it is the often lonely and depressed Charlie Brown. These are emotions that deeply effect us because they feel so strong. Stories in this book explore his loneliness in a variety of ways from comical takes to a serious exploration of a boy’s depression in general.
2.The crazy grown up thoughts these characters sometimes exhibit are deeply meaningful.
They are philosophical, makes us realize we are small and insignificant yet important. “Do good and evil exist? Or are they merely constructs conceived by a stunted humanity to put order to chaos?” Chew on that and realize life is a complex thing we must study forever – which includes reading comic strips like Peanuts.
3. We have Peanuts to thank for our understanding of the epic aerial battle between fighter aircrafts.
Snoopy’s Red Baron character gets three stories devoted to him and each delve into the character differently; one shows us the German side of things as we focus on a soldier who is convinced a dog is flying around attempting to shoot him down; his PTSD is a bit tongue in cheek since the white and black dog we all know and love is the culprit.
Another showcases Snoopy attempting to acquire provisions after a long day of fighting and captures the cute nature of this storyline Schultz kept coming back to. A third explains how the American public knows of the flying ace and red baron type stories because of Peanuts as the movies Schultz grew up with were no longer in fashion. The fact that the public today has this comic strip to thank for understanding the genre’s conventions because of a dog flying on his doghouse is remarkable.
4. So many people were touched by Peanuts.
The contributors include Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Jen Wang (In Real Life), Patrick McDonnell (Mutts), Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo, who also makes an appearance in this book), Terry Moore (Rachel Rising), Mike Allred (Silver Surfer, Madman), Paul Pope (Battling Boy) and Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth) all contribute to this book in their own styles. That’s not even everybody! It’s rare to see artists being published in their own style to pay tribute like this. Cherish this moment!
Somebody is WINNING!
5. The lack of parents is at once philosophical and intriguing.
In Peanuts, Schultz often captured the nature of children and how they are more focused on their surroundings and imagination than the boring parents wandering around. Or maybe it’s more complicated than that and is a reference to how Charlie is the only character seeking responsibility and understanding while every other child seems to understand everything. A specific story explores this in this book and explains all sorts of theories in very effective ways.
6. Charlie Brown allows us to recapture our youth and the fleeting moments when we were young ourselves.
A few stories focus on how they used Charlie Brown to recapture the innocence of youth but also reflect on how it is short lived.
7. Peanuts is progressive.
This book’s stories and the original strip itself have characters wtih gender roles flipped. Girls are tough and playing outdoors and boys aren’t all that tough and might want to stay inside and play music. One story in this collection explores whether a character or two were gay. Without a doubt Peanuts showed the world kids can be a lot more complex than people think with equally complex emotions at work.
8. Though extremely negative it was hilarious.
Loneliness, unrequited love and isolation are felt by everyone at some point, which make them both relatable and a place to mine for comedy. As the old adage goes “Time + Tragedy = Comedy”. As the foreword notes in this book, “losing is funnier than winning.”
9. Comedic timing is key and Peanuts understood this largely because it had to.
With so few panels to detail a story Schultz was forced to nail the timing in order to keep the reader’s attention and make us laugh. Many of the stories in this book clearly understood it as they take a shorter form.
10. We can all relate to Charlie Brown.
Sure we all loved Snoopy and could imagine what it’s like to be him, but we all can relate to the boy who’s always down on his luck, yet somehow always finds the courage to try again — in most cases, one football at a time.
The Red Baron!
Is It Good?
This is a fantastic book that captures the magic Charles Schultz was able to instill in his 50 years of work on Peanuts. The fact that all 40 artists who contributed to this book expressed their love letters differently they all send the same message loud and clear: Peanuts is one of the most important works in American history.