Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Comics Review: Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts

The results of The Hooded Utilitarian's International Best Comics Poll will begin publication on Monday, August 1. As a warm-up, I'm publishing my appreciation of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts from the Parkinson's Disease benefit anthology Favorites, published by Team Cul-de-Sac.

Click here for purchasing information about Favorites. It features some lovely pieces by a fine collection of writers, and the money goes to a worthy cause.

I note that I'm not the first to reprint my contribution. Noah Berlatsky and Tom Spurgeon have both reprinted theirs, and I know the online posting of another is imminent. In any case:



I like to think comics have grown older with me.

I look back on the adventure material I loved in elementary and middle school, and I remember how it gave way to more complex work in the same vein.

I also remember, as I grew older, discovering comics that saw themselves in competition with the best of their brethren in fiction and movies. These were the alternative comics, which quickly evolved into what we now call graphic novels.

The best have caught up to their most accomplished peers in other media. Their visual and narrative sophistication is astonishing.

But, no matter how far comics have come, the one that most captivates me is the one I fell in love with around the time I learned to read.

My reading of it has grown with me. Where I once saw simple drawing, I now see a brilliantly distilled and eloquent minimalism. The characters, so amusing and easy to identify with, now strike me as among the most vividly realized in contemporary culture. You’d have to go back to Dickens to find ones who have so etched themselves on their times.

There’s the main character, who is the embodiment of our everyday insecurities. There’s his adversary, who’s our definitive bitch. And then there’s the most popular character, who responds to the comfort of his life by imagining himself in more glamorous roles. His daydreams invariably end in defeat, but he never stops indulging them.

And then there are the tropes that have become part of our language, such as “security blanket” and “Lucy and the football.”

I’m thinking, of course, of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts.

It may be that no matter how far comics have come, they’ll look back on a predecessor that’s given readers more.

My first is still the best.