I should begin by telling you I harbor a fond affection for the latest volume of Peanuts comic strips released by Fantagraphics Books. The publishers...moreI should begin by telling you I harbor a fond affection for the latest volume of Peanuts comic strips released by Fantagraphics Books. The publishers have undertaken a quest to publish all of Charles M. Schulz's daily and Sunday strips (a nearly 13-year project in the making), starting with the 1950-1954 strips. This new volume, The Complete Peanuts, 1963-1964 has a room reserved in my heart for no other reason than I was born in 1963.
Reading this book is like examining a time capsule, a cultural snapshot of those first two years of my life (neither of which I recollect, by the way), and the strips fill me with a nostalgic ache for How We Lived Then.
As with many Americans of "a certain age," Charles Schulz's Peanuts strips chiseled away at the bedrock of our character, whether we knew it or not. I can still recall Sunday afternoons—unimaginably long stretches of time free of the electronic jangle of yet-to-be-invented video games or cell phones—when I would lay propped on my elbows in our shag-carpeted living room with the bright sheet of comics spread before me. In those moments I became one with Charlie Brown. His world was my world. His dog was my dog. His snatched-away football was mine. His embarrassments turned into my own social failings. On those afternoons, my head indeed felt like an oversized balloon in proportion to the rest of my body.
Of course, at the time I probably just thought Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder and Snoopy were funny. A mere "Good grief" could set me to giggling without going any deeper than the superficial problem of a kite stuck in a tree. It wasn't until years later—reading this particular volume of strips, in fact—that I fully realized how deeply penetrating the Peanuts strips really were. As a five-year-old, I didn't stop to think that Charlie is suffering from an acute personality disorder which would, in real life, set him apart from his peers and perhaps eventually lead to his living the life of a serial killer. No, as a kid, I just thought the Peanuts gang was a laugh-riot.
The book, beautifully-designed in an eight-by-six horizontal format, takes us sequentially through some milestones of Peanuts history: we're introduced to a character named 555 95472 and his two sisters 3 and 4 (their last name, 95472, is actually their zip code—a new postal concept which was unveiled in 1963); Charlie Brown continues to idolize the never-seen baseball player Joe Shlabotnik; Lucy uses Linus as her science fair project; Charlie comes down with "little leaguer's elbow," and Linus must step up to the pitcher's mound (proving to be a much better hurler than poor Charlie); and Charlie is diagnosed with "eraserophagia," which means his stomach is filled with little bits of eraser as a result of his nervous nibbling on pencils while deep in thought.
The Peanuts strips truly were a mirror of our lives as well as a topical reflection on current events. In addition to the sly commentary about the new zip codes, you'll also find references here to environmentalist Rachel Carson and golfer Sam Snead.
There are funny moments we can all identify with—like the time Linus becomes distractingly conscious of his tongue ("It's an awful feeling," he tells Lucy. "Every now and then I become aware that I have a tongue inside my mouth, and then it starts to feel all lumped up."). Or, the strips where Linus says, "I think the best way to solve problems is to avoid them," and Charlie responds by saying, "What if everyone was like you? What if we all ran away from our problems? Huh? What then? What if everyone in the whole world suddenly decided to run away from his problems?" Linus pauses a beat and says, "Well, at least we'd all be running in the same direction." (less)