More Peanuts at Comic-Con

You may have been hearing a lot about the Comic-Con in San Diego lately. I’ve been attending for a couple decades now, and have watched it evolve from a pretty-big-for-a-comic-convention event to a rather insane pop culture extravaganza, where movie and TV studios are bringing their previews, their stars, their creators, and various freebies to endear themselves to the gathered audience. You can buy an autograph off of Val Kilmer, see the Mythbusters talk about their upcoming season, get taken to a preview of Scott Pilgrim with the cast in the audience, purchase exclusive toys from big-time toy manufacturers… and yet yes, somewhere amidst all of this, the core of comics remains strong.

Each year they generate a souvenir book, which is given free to all attendees. It’s a couple hundred pages, with information on the cons’ special guests, biographies of the recently deceased in the field, things of that sort. But most of the book is focused on the major anniversaries of the year – for example, this year’s has sections on the 100th anniversary of Krazy Kat, the 75th anniversary of DC Comics, Beetle Bailey’s 60th anniversary… and yes, of course, the 60th anniversary of Peanuts. Calls go out for content for thee sections, and most of the pages are filled with tribute drawings, which is true of the 28 pages devoted to Peanuts in the volume. For the most part, those drawings (run one or two to a page) are people bringing their own style to the Peanuts characters, mostly to unimpressive effect, and occasionally just plain weird (is Charlie Brown supposed to look like a stoner on page 134?) Sometimes these drawn tributes get some big-name comics artists on them, but I see none here that I recognize.

Interspersed with the pictures are prose pieces of a page or two each – one on the very human themes found in “Peanuts”, one by Paige Braddock (creative director at Schulz’s studio as well as crafter of the fine Jane’s World comics) on her memories of Sparky, the text of a Schulz speech from the 1970s, and a couple people reflecting on Peanuts in their own lives. One spends half its length reflecting on an Antiques Roadshow evaluation of someone’s Peanuts art collection before giving a brief history of the work.

On nice find in the book is a page of photos of Schulz from his one appearance at Comic-Con, which was way back in 1974. Back then, the show was probably 1% as big as it is now. Had you been there, you could’ve spent some time up close and personal with Sparky.

(One of the Comic-Con program books had a single image that was a collaboration between Sparky, Russell Myers, and Jack Kirby, which is just so frustrating to me. It’s a nice piece – Kirby’s Demon and Myers’s Broom Hilda having a magic battle over the head of a terrified Linus – but it would be so nice for there to be a piece of art that was just Sparky, who is clearly the iconic strip artist, and Kirby, who as the artistic creator of Fantastic Four, X-Men, Silver Surfer, the Hulk, and so many more, is the iconic comics artist. Myers is a talented cartoonist, for sure, but inherently lowers the icon-ness of the thing.)

If you’ve never been to Comic-Con and you get a chance, give it a try. Yes, it’s all those things you think it is… and a bunch of things you don’t think it is. After so many years, I’m perhaps a little burnt on it, have seen what it has to offer… but what it has to offer is a lot.

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