REVIEWS

The Complete Peanuts: 1979-1980

This past August, I went back home to Israel to visit my parents. Since they were in the process of moving from their apartment to a newer, smaller place, they asked me to sift through some of my old books that they now wouldn’t have room to store. Looking over these, I wasn’t really too upset about letting go of some of the stuff that, let’s face it, I’d basically only pretended to like even when I was fifteen or sixteen (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, a volume of poetry by – koff – “James Douglas Morrison,” etc.). What I was more concerned about, though, was the cache of about two-dozen Fawcett Crest Peanuts paperbacks, all so well thumbed-through they were practically falling apart.

These books mostly dated from my early childhood years, which is to say, the late seventies to mid-eighties – not generally considered Peanuts’ best era. David Michaelis, in his definitive Charles M. Schulz biography, partly imputes what he deems the blander, less biting tone of this period in the cartoonist’s work to his more agreeable second marriage to Jeannie Schulz, in 1973. On a broader scale, these were also the years in which Peanuts, and specifically, the more-cuddly-by-the-second figure of Snoopy, cemented its role as an ever growing, mega-million branding industry. Along with the November 1980 landslide election of the twinkly, chuckly “Great Communicator” (and Peanuts fan) Ronald Reagan and the indelible mark that disaster left on the zeitgeist, it seems clear why this moment in Schulz’ oeuvre isn’t necessarily remembered as either game changing or envelope pushing.

Leafing through The Complete Peanuts: 1979-1980, such a reading in some ways rings true. The strips here occasionally veer into grasping-at-plot-straws territory (Peppermint Patty dating Pig-Pen?! Snoopy trying to pick up Eudora, Marcie AND Sally as the World War I flying ace?!); it’s true that Lucy isn’t as feistily crabby as she’d been in the ’60s strips; and the editorial decision to have Today’s Al Roker (Today’s Al Roker!) write this volume’s celebrity introduction in itself reinforces the link between Peanuts and middle-of-the-road culture, as do Roker’s own words. By finishing his intro with that standardized assessment, “you’re a good man, Charlie Brown,” Roker implicitly emphasizes a Peanuts production extrinsic to the strip itself – a surefire sign of a non-purist, laggard sensibility.

And yet! These are all mere quibbles. This is still a genius volume, and looking at it now, I understand not only why I read and reread those Fawcett Crest paperbacks when I was eight, but also why I was still obsessed with them at thirty-four. Some of the pieces here – especially the longer storylines – are absolute classics. Who can forget the gang’s sojourn to a semi-cultish Christian sleepover camp? (terrified after she’s told by a speaker that “we’re in the last days,” Patty calms down only when she sees the fundraising plans for the building of new camp facilities – “Maybe the world will end tomorrow, but I wasn’t born yesterday!”); Charlie Brown’s hospitalization and its awesome existential implications is another favorite (“I have the awful feeling that I may be an emergency”), capped off perfectly by Lucy’s promise not to pull the football away if he gets well, and that promise’s extremely crabby denouement (“Next time you go to the hospital, stay there!”); not to mention the jailing of Harriet, the new girl member of Snoopy’s bird-scout troop, and the search and rescue saga that is spun from it (“It may be a long trip… bring an extra comic book!”).

Plus, there’s just the sheer kookiness of some of Schulz’s pop-cultural references and inventions, which continues to astound here: Snoopy’s trainspotter’s obsession with Beau Geste (“In the 1926 version… Ronald Colman played Beau… Who played Digby and who played John?”); Peppermint Patty’s cornrow makeover (“It’s the ‘Bo look,’ Marcie”); or Lucy’s latest tactic on the baseball field (“The ol’ Schmuckle ball”). Schulz is at the height of his powers as a cartoonist here, as well. Looking at the way he draws, say, his characters’ eggplant-like forearms as they broodingly rest their rounded heads on their hands kills me to this day. Such graphic flair! Such economy of line!

A Peanuts nut couldn’t ask for more, really. Especially a guilt-ridden Peanuts nut, who’d convinced herself that her upcoming 35th birthday meant that she should finally grow up and leave those Fawcett Crest paperbacks behind in Tel Aviv. Seriously, now, what could I have been thinking? Sigh.

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8 Responses to The Complete Peanuts: 1979-1980

  1. AndyMansell says:

    What a lovely review. I can't wait to get this volume. Question (I know next to nothing about Israel). We're the Peanuts paperbacks in question published in English, Hebrew or another language?

  2. naomifry says:

    thanks andy! the paperbacks were in english. as far as i know (i may be wrong) there was never really a concerted attempt to translate peanuts into hebrew, though snoopy as a figure is known and beloved in israel.

  3. erikbear9 says:

    What a fantastic Review! I've been a fan of "Peanuts" as long as I can remember… (showing my age here), I remember they used to sell the Fawcett-Crest ones for 25 cents at a local book fair… somehow, they escaped my mother's purges after I left for college… I still have them, they're about 30..covers torn, or taped on, scribbles inside… I've been acquiring these collections for some time now, as I'm able to afford them.. I've also managed to collect a few in foreign languages, some I got in Paris, a couple I got at a flea market in Rome from the early sixties… I'll have to find out if they did any Hebrew ones, that would be so cool to add to my collection! But still, my old ones still hold their magic, and I'll never part with them!!

  4. erikbear9 says:

    What an INCREDIBLE review! I've shared it on FB, and gotten 5 likes already… I've been a huge Peanut's fan as long as I can remember. I remember the book fair's we had at my old elementary school, and (showing my age here) they were only a quarter… I still have all of them (one of the few things my mother didn't purge after I left for college) They're there, at least 30 of them, covers falling off, scribbles on the pages. Even though I've managed to acquire several of these collections, I still read the old one's once in a while… BTW I collect foreign Peanuts, several in French and a couple of Italian ones that I found at a book fair in Rome. I'd love to have a Hebrew one, if they exist!

  5. UlandK says:

    Am I misreading, or are you calling the election of Reagan a "disaster". I don't love the guy, it just seems like kind of a random jab.

  6. Kim_Thompson says:

    Yes, a lovely review.

    When we started this series I had a vague mental image in my head that PEANUTS peaked in the 1960s, the 1970s were one long slide downhill, and the 1980s were then a long, dull slog to the idiosyncratic 1990s. Well, as I put together every new 1970s volume, I would find myself asking, "Wasn't the decline supposed to have started by now?" Like every PEANUTS fan I can point to some misfires (the neighbors' cat who cuts out the shapes in Snoopy's doghouse is unmistakable "Oh God, what do I draw today?" filler, and the first use of the word "zambobi" should send a chill down everyone's spine), but if these strips were appearing in your daily paper now, it would be the best strip in the paper, and every volume seems to have at least one sequence that ranks among the best — the eerie, heartbreaking "Charlie Brown at the hospital" story this time around being a prime example, as Naomi rightly points out.

    I know the 1980s won't sustain this (I'm not a big fan of the explosion of Snoopy relatives), but as a recovering member of the "any post-Woodstock PEANUTS strip is a comedown" snobocracy (hell, there are those who claim it peaked in the 1950s), I've been surprised and delighted with every volume to date.

  7. steven samuels says:

    Like every PEANUTS fan I can point to some misfires (the neighbors’ cat who cuts out the shapes in Snoopy’s doghouse

    “WWII, the Cat Who Lives Next Door!” Or is his name WWIII?

    Anyway, I didn’t think that character was too bad. My favorite strip with him was the one were Snoopy taunts him on a Monday and then for the following three days. By Friday’s strip, Snoopy’s standing on a small sliver of a doghouse.

    Funny stuff.

    I know the 1980s won’t sustain this (I’m not a big fan of the explosion of Snoopy relatives),

    …or the endless Snoopy cookies jokes…. or the lack of variation in settings… or the overuse of Spike

  8. jasonmichelitch says:

    Good review, but are we really comfortable calling Michaelis' book "definitive" now?

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