Twelve Percent Complete Peanuts

I just got my hands on a copy of the third volume of The Complete Peanuts, covering the strips from 1955-1956. More than half of this material has never been in any US reprint book, so there are a lot of goodies here even for the intense Peanuts book fan.

Reading through these books, I’m often reminded of how people sometimes talk about how Peanuts is timeless humor (which it is) because it doesn’t contain references that were “current” when the strips were published. That’s false, but I can understand how people have drawn that impression; strips with current topics were less likely to be reprinted in books, so that the strips which people have revisited over the years have avoided that reference. This book contains a fair number of referential strips. Some of the references should still be clearly understood (Elvis Presley is still well-known), but others are more obscure these days. The strip mentions both Miss Frances and Pinky Lee, who were hosts of kiddie TV shows of the time. The reference to Lee came mere months before he collapsed during a live show, ending his hosting career. The book is good about indexing these, but it might be handy for someone to create a reference guide at some point, explaining these gags for the ages. The kids today may not know what was meant about a “man-made moon”. By the time they get to reprinting the strip where Harry Potter is mentioned, there may be people who do not know who Harry was!

The biggest set of timely references here are to the popularity among children of Davy Crockett, driven by his TV show. While some of the strips in which the kids are wearing coonskin caps have made it into previous reprint collections, I don’t recall seeing the strips about who was better, Crockett or Beethoven, which turns out to be a more substantial argument than one might have expected.

There’s a fair amount of “Pig-Pen” here (he’s even given the cover), and Snoopy goes through his phase of doing impressions. Lucy discovers the power of saying “rain, rain, go away” in the days before Linus would repeat that discovery in strips that had been reprinted.

You can even see Schulz doing some art experiments. For about a month, he makes use of pre-designed tone patterns (presumably using the rub-on pattern sheets known as Zipatone) in various creative ways, and then tone would disappear from the strip for decades. (There is one later strip here that appears to use such toning patterns, but what you’re really seeing is a “lost” Sunday strip that was restored imperfectly, with the colored dots that were then used to make up comics color not being properly eliminated.)

I guess that takes us to the topic of restoration problems. There are three Sunday strips which are missing some or all of their opening panels, making the “completeness” imperfect… although the search will continue for that material, I’m sure, and I expect the missing panels will show up in a later volume. There is also the problem that some (not most) of the previously-missing strips aren’t reproduced very well; the limited quality of sources that could be found made for strips that look rough, with visible stair-stepping effect on the lines from the computer restoration efforts. But it is far better to have these strips imperfectly (quite readable, mind you, just slightly grating on the eye) than to not have them at all.

The introduction to this volume is by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. He speaks well and with obvious honest passion about the impact that Peanuts had on him. It’s not a revelation, but it’s a good piece of work.

So do you want a copy of this book? You bet you do! Should you place your order now… believe it or not, that’s a “maybe”. Remember that boxed set of volumes 1 and 2 that came out at a discount last year? The publisher (Fantagraphics) had only planned to do that one boxed set, to get people hooked on the series… but has now decided to print up a box for volumes 3 and 4. As such, I expect a boxed set will be offered later this year. Whether it will again be cheaper than the individual volumes, and whether they will end up printing boxes for the entire run, I cannot answer.

But if you don’t want to wait months for the possibility of a boxed set, head on over to preorder your copy now for almost $10 off the cover price and have it in your hands by the end of the month. (And if you want to up your order over $25 to qualify for free US shipping, isn’t it time you got your copy of It’s Only a Game?)

I’ve upgraded the software that the blog runs on. It’s already looking better, and I may do a little more design work when I get the time. But time is not to be had this month…

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