Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book Review: THE COMPLETE PEANUTS 1975-76 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics, 2010)

Be afraid... be very afraid... the legion of Snoopy relatives is now officially on the march! Well, actually, that was the least of Schulz' problems during the mid-1970s. While the cartoonist's craftsmanship remains at a high level, the phenomenon that I earlier described as "the PEANUTS of the absurd" now commands the lion's share of attention. Charlie Brown's baseball mound "floating out to sea" during a rainstorm and "thinking/talking" at a rate that quickly catches up to that of the school building, Peppermint Patty and Marcie flying Snoopy's doghouse to Michigan in the Powder Puff Rally (I though that Patty learned that Snoopy was a dog not that long ago?), and, worst of all, a clueless Peppermint Patty attending the "Ace Obedience School" under the mistaken assumption that it's a private school... next to all of this, the debut of Snoopy's droopy-mustachioed brother Spike in August 1975 seems like a fairly mundane occurrence. Spike, after all, hadn't begun conversing with cacti yet. Snoopy's sister Belle would follow in mid-1976, and the black-and-white-furred die was cast after that, but Spike's two appearances in this volume -- which include a Thanksgiving visit to Charlie Brown's and some royal hospitality dished out by a surprisingly munificent Lucy -- are very enjoyable.

The most ambitious standard narrative (and that's still a stretch) here involves Snoopy breaking his leg ("or paw, or shank, or whatever it's called" -- thanks, Lucy) in February 1976 after tripping over his supper dish. Schulz milks this simple idea for over a month, even working it into the beginning of yet another futile baseball season for Charlie Brown (Peppermint Patty insists on trading Marcie for Snoopy without knowing Snoopy's current condition). Earlier, Patty and Charlie have to share a desk at Patty's school after the traditional PEANUTS gang's "depressed" school building collapses (now there's a fantasy element kick-starting a relatively reasonable plot with a vengeance). This tag-team goes about as well as one might expect. Schulz tries (I think) to introduce a new character, the googly-eyed Truffles, who becomes the object of an unlikely romantic rivalry between Snoopy and Linus and then just as quickly vanishes from sight. (That might actually have been a good thing; I applaud Schulz' attempt to give Truffles an unusual character design, but Truffles comes off looking like Wednesday Addams, or the kind of girl who may harbor a suppressed tendency to spit pea soup and revolve her head like a spinning top.) The "Ace Obedience School" sequence, I'm sorry to say, rivals "Break a Leg, Snoopy" as the longest narrative in the volume. Yes, it's funny in a silly sort of way, but you start feeling sorry for poor, deluded Peppermint Patty long before it's over. A year before being "schooled", in October '75, Patty also falls for Linus' Great Pumpkin propaganda hook, line, and sinker, bewitched by the prospect of ordering up a new baseball glove. Can this credulous kid really be the self-assured tomboy who freely dispensed advice about "l'amour" in several PEANUTS TV specials?

Robert Smigel provides the foreword for this volume -- and, given that he freely jokes about his relative obscurity compared to the introductionistas who have come before, I don't feel so bad that I'd never heard of him before now. His intro is actually one of the better ones in the series, touching as it does upon highlights of the specific era covered by this collection.

5 comments:

Mark Arnold said...

I am surprised that you have never heard of Robert Smigel. You never watch "Saturday Night Live" or "Conan O'Brien" in the last decade. He does "TV Funhouse" for the former and Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog for the latter.

As an aside, in San Diego a couple of years ago, Smigel was in line in front of me to get an autograph from Jeannie Schulz at the Schulz Museum booth.

Chris Barat said...

Mark,

No, I haven't watched SNL in years, and Conan O'B -- never. So Smigel was completely new to me.

Chris

Mark Arnold said...

That's cool. I'd highly recommend you check out some of Smigel's "TV Funhouse" cartoons on YouTube. Some of them are dead-on parodies of cartoons you loved to hate as a kid. There's also a nasty-but-funny one featuring Mickey Mouse leading a couple of kids behind the scenes at Disney. Type "TV Funhouse" for your search...

Mark Arnold said...

Here's a good one (for example) "The Black Sabbath Show":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLlPF2vR9gg

Mark Arnold said...

or "Fetal Scooby Doo"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89zbYxGDUjU&feature=related