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The Complete Peanuts: 1953 to 1954
posted November 2, 2004


Creator: Charles Schulz, Seth (Design), Walter Cronkite (Introduction)
Publishing Info: Fantagraphics, $28.95, 360 Pages, 2004
Ordering Numbers: 1560976144 (ISBN)

It can be very difficult to read volumes of The Complete Peanuts with a clear head. Fantagraphics Books' well-conceived series reprinting the pop classic from beginning to end offers readers both a re-discovery of the strip and the experience of reading them as an adult. Hundreds of hours of my childhood were spent immersed in the various Peanuts reprint books of yesteryear. Devouring them in order brings about the occasional shock of recognition, an odd moment when the way a strip was received by me as a child bleeds through the ink of the comic strip itself. This may be the first comic strip reprint series I've ever consumed where it feels like every book is being read in my parents' garage, surrounded by boxes of my old toys.

Much of what was written about the first volume in the mainstream press talked of its role as Fantagraphics' financial savior, which isn't analysis likely to be repeated for volume two. Pretty logically, every release from this point on should go down slightly in terms of sales from the debut. Considering there is a a die-hard Peanuts fanbase out there that will buy everything, and that these books are really well packaged and should make an impressive impression on the bookstore shelf as numbers increase, one would imagine the series will remain quite profitable for the mini-major/major-mini comics publisher. From a book business geek standpoint, it should be interesting to see what other projects come FBI's way on the basis of having done this project -- I wouldn't be surprised to see one or two more comic strip series of a more specialized appeal.

But all industry speculation aside, the books are pretty great. What comes out of this new volume is how much Schulz hadn't figured out yet. He's still in the solid gag mode that dominated the first volume, and some of the changes in the strip like Snoopy's increased physical abilities seem to come out of a kind of joke burnout. I was heartened to see a couple of presentational things that I hadn't noted with as much frequency in the first book, particularly the strips where Schulz has two characters speak slightly at odds with one another, in a way that emphasizes the rhythms of competing speech. I remember being struck by this as a child because it nailed down how so many chats I had really unfolded, and reading them here brought the eight-year-old me back in agreement with the adult.

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