Saturday, April 23, 2011

Comics Review: HAPPINESS IS A WARM BLANKET, CHARLIE BROWN "by" Charles M. Schulz (2011, kaboom!)

I saw this item solicited by "The Comics Line Formerly Known as Boom! Kids" some time ago and ordered it, intrigued by the notion that it was "an original PEANUTS graphic novel." That wasn't strictly true. The project is actually based on a recently released direct-to-video animated special (called a "movie" here, but, at 46 minutes, basically a traditional TV special on steroids) and draws heavily upon a couple of early-1960s PEANUTS continuities in which Lucy tries to force Linus to kick his blanket habit. The return to a tried-and-true strip theme provides an excuse for directors Andy Beall and Frank Molieri to use character models from the days of the earliest Mendelson-Melendez specials, not to mention bring such "old-fave" characters as Violet, Patty, and Pig-Pen back into circulation and give Snoopy a chance to act like a four-footed dog first and foremost. (Strangely, however, they also give Woodstock a brief cameo and let Sally call Linus by the anachronistic moniker of "Sweet Babboo.") In the graphic novel, artists Bill Scott, Vicki Scott, and Ron Zorman use a similar style, and their work is certainly superior to that typically seen in the old Dell PEANUTS comic books drawn by Dale Hale.

The problem -- if the graphic novel is an accurate transcription of the video -- is that writers Craig Schulz (Sparky's son) and Stephan Pastis don't really sustain any momentum in their narrative. They drop more-or-less random gags into the "story" whenever it takes their fancy, making Linus' desperation over having his blanket buried, having Lucy make it into a kite and let it fly away over the sea, etc. seem less pressing than it truly should be. Apparently, the video even includes a version of the very first PEANUTS strip from 1950, which would seem to defeat the purpose of setting the clock back to the era of Camelot. I know that some of the lesser PEANUTS specials noodled around with strings of gags before progressing to their "story lines," but I don't recall individual gags being fired "salvo-fashion" in this manner, and the gag-strings usually had at least some distant connection to the overarching theme. I suspect some self-indulgence was at work here, with the writers telling each other, "Gee, I sure loved that gag when [fill in a favorite gag here]; let's put it in."

The climax, with Linus defending his blanket-loyalty by pointing out how many of his peers also exhibit insecurities, also strikes me as wrong-headed. Craig and Stephan were obviously thinking of Linus' recitation from the Gospel of Luke from A Charlie Brown Christmas when they sketched this bit out. The problem was that Linus was using his "bully pulpit" to explain the true meaning of Christmas there, as opposed to lecturing his pals on the universality of insecurity. Linus even goes so far as to say, "Do you want to see me end up like Charlie Brown?" which, if I were Charlie Brown, would have been reason enough to knock his (block)head off, not least because Linus is arguably the one PEANUTS character who gets along reasonably well with Charlie. The "anti-hypocrisy" cant should have been limited to Linus' canonical, low-key pointing-out of his "blanket-hating grandmother's" coffee fetish. But then, the fact that the story was several narratives glued together, rather than a narrative with a single focus on Linus vs. his grandmother, would have become all the more apparent.

I don't think that I'll get the video to create a "matching set" with the graphic novel. Thanks to THE COMPLETE PEANUTS, the original material that forms the majority of the events herein is readily accessible (not that it wouldn't have been anyway; these stories were in numerous reprint collections prior to TCP). The folks behind Warm Blanket obviously have their hearts in the right place; what I'd suggest is for them to marry heads and hearts more devotedly next time and use a Schulz narrative as a starting point for a legitimately "original" production.

No comments: