The sensibility of Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts, the new book from designer Chip Kidd and photographer Geoff Spear, will seem very familiar to folks who bought Kidd’s earlier Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz. It displays Peanuts work not as it was meant to be reproduced, but either as it truly was – plenty of reproductions of original art here, including of unfinished materials – or as it was actually reproduced, as the book shows you pictures of printed comic book pages, the proof sheets sent to newspapers, product items, and so forth.
A lot of the material covered here you’ve likely not seen unless you’ve covered all the Schulz stuff obsessively, and some of it not even then. They show the art for four installments of the Mrs. Hagemeyer strip that Schulz once did samples for, some samples that Schulz did up for that strip that would become Peanuts, before they had set the panel count at 4, There are reproductions of notecards based on Schulz’s “Young Pillars” strip, which I had heard of but even as the most recent reprinter of “Young Pillars”, I’d never actually seen them. (On the other hand, I got to say “hey, I put that in print before he did – those unfinished strips were on a story I published in Hogan’s Alley, the Glickman correspondence first saw print in another Hogan’s Alley article, and those ‘It’s Only a Game’ cartoons were first in book form in a book I published… shot from the same source, even!”)
The format of the book is a bit odd; it has cardboard covers, but unlike with a standard hardcover book, the edges of the pages go all the way to the cover. That means that the cover isn’t doing the normal amount of protecting the interior; ding the corner of the book and, as I’ve already found out, all the pages get dinged as well. And for those of us who might use this for research and discussion, the lack of page numbers is unhelpful.
Still, it’s a good book. I like having the Kidd books around as a different way of looking at Peanuts. It’s not the first Peanuts book that anyone should own; for that, you want a proper strip collection. But it’s a good part of the bookshelf for those who are serious about the work, and I look forward to spending more time poring over it (I had to give it a quick flip through and then get back to meeting some deadlines!)