Last week, I received in the mail my copy of The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1958, the second boxed volume of Charles M. Schultz’s comic masterwork. I’ve been cautiously rationing the black-and-white gems, so as not to tear through them too quickly. Eventually, I’ll obtain the final edition (in a little less than eight years), and I’ll have read every last word of nearly 50 years of daily comic strips.
Much has been said of the influence and greatness of Peanuts. Indeed, open up any one of the collected volumes to read an introductory essay by a noted personality, from Walter Cronkite to Matt Groening. My appreciation for Peanuts is relatively newfound in its zest and whatever influence it has on my life or my work can only be nascent. Still, I’ll follow through with my brief appraisal.
Never one to waste a panel or even a line, Schultz debuted his feature in 1951 with a maturity that was already stunningly well developed. I eagerly look forward to following the development of the strip from the year my father was born to my junior year of high school. The characters, most starting at the age of four (never to exceed eight), possessed a miniature, cute version of devastating adult concerns, behaving with the kind of emotional nakedness and intellectual pondering that has rarely been seen, on or off the funny pages–at least not so charmingly.
Girls would casually describe poor, yearning Charlie Brown as a complete undesirable. Schroder’s laughably pretentious genius would go tragically unappreciated even by the girl who loved him. Lucy was constantly looking to find the words with which to define herself. And in 1955, Linus took to loudly questioning life’s little mistakes and demands with “Five hundred years from now, who’ll know the difference?”
And behold below the most beautiful four panels I think I have gazed upon, originally published January 14th, 1954.
If you only know Schultz’s work through MetLife commercials, Joe Cool can holders, half-remembered comics featuring Snoopy’s weird cowboy uncle, and the truly genius cartoon specials from the late, great Bill Melendez, I believe you owe it to yourself to investigate what truly may be one of America’s greatest products of the (exactly) late twentieth century.