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The Complete Peanuts: 1977-1978
posted September 14, 2010


Creator: Charles Schulz
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, hardcover, 344 pages, September 2010, $28.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781606993750 (ISBN13), 1606993755 (ISBN10)

imageAnyone coming to this volume looking for the rumored decline, the great fall in quality that was supposed to have happened in the second half of the 1970s, might shut the book after its last page slightly confused. Energized by the Peppermint Patty/Marci duo's emergence into the prime of their own vitality as characters and as a classic comic-strip team (I'd never thought of it before, but there are obviously elements of Easy and Tubbs there), Schulz's dailies were as strong and funny as ever. There's a different orientation to the daily strip as it existed in the late 1970s: Schulz is confident to the point of bursting in his characters as repertory company members, and there's thus very little of the sometimes-touching hesitancy you find in earlier strips. He makes up for that absence of fragility by striding his way into some amusingly weird plotlines: an extended appearance of Snoopy as helicopter, one of those great kids/adults plotlines where Marci and Peppermint Patty act as caddies for a group of combative women, a Charlie Brown adventure that briefly puts him in one of his rare, sustained non-loser roles as the coach of a bunch of younger kids, and all the Molly Volley anyone could be expected to handle. (The best Molly Volley moment is off-panel: after Snoopy costs them a match by being honest she actually calls him to partner up again. There's something very funny and potentially quite sad about that.)

If there's a weakness to the work (well, besides the cat-next-door strips patterned claw strips), and it's a weakness relative only to Schulz's own output and maybe the comics of five or six other strip cartoonists in history, I thought the Sundays here began to evince a curious rhythm that wasn't always flattering to the joke being told. I'm not enough of a Peanuts expert to know with which formats Schulz was working and when, but I would be very interested to know if he were operating in the triple-option fashion that I can recall as a teenager a few years later. My strong recollection is that Peanuts Sundays could be printed in three ways. There are two different block set-ups, one smaller than the other, two tiers instead of three. This was created by removing the panel with the title in it and then one or maybe two subsequent panels. Peanuts could also run as a series of panels stacked vertically. (My memory is that this is how it ran in the Tribune.)

Anyway, no matter what exactly was going on, and whether this were a temporary or permanent arrangement, one of Schulz's creative solutions seemed to be to write jokes where there is an extended set-up -- as opposed to, say, multiple jokes, one of which that can be lopped off entirely -- followed by a standard, abruptly-told punchline. This works in some instances much better than others. Seeing these strips in color might assist the eye in processing that information. Color remains a big deal when it comes to controlling the eye and thus has a huge effect on the pacing of a joke. I imagine mostly what we have here is Schulz trying discover the best way to structure the longer jokes, and in doing so experienced occasional mixed results. It's not frequently a bit of the more ordinary slips into a masterpiece, so these are noticeable moments. Luckily, the vast majority of the book is much weirder and wonderful than their reputation.