The Complete Peanuts: 1963-1964
by Charles M. Schulz
Published by Fantagraphics Books
352 pages, 2007
Charlie Brown, il est moi
Reviewed by David Abrams
I should begin by telling you I harbor a fond affection for the latest volume of Peanuts comic strips released by Fantagraphics Books. The publishers have undertaken a quest to publish all of Charles M. Schulz's daily and Sunday strips (a nearly 13-year project in the making), starting with the 1950-1954 strips. This new volume, The Complete Peanuts: 1963-1964 has a room reserved in my heart for no other reason than I was born in 1963.
Reading this book is like examining a time capsule, a cultural snapshot of those first two years of my life (neither of which I recollect, by the way), and the strips fill me with a nostalgic ache for How We Lived Then.
As with many Americans of "a certain age," Charles Schulz's Peanuts strips chiseled away at the bedrock of our character, whether we knew it or not. I can still recall Sunday afternoons -- unimaginably long stretches of time free of the electronic jangle of yet-to-be-invented video games or cell phones -- when I would lay propped on my elbows in our shag-carpeted living room with the bright sheet of comics spread before me. In those moments I became one with Charlie Brown. His world was my world. His dog was my dog. His snatched-away football was mine. His embarrassments turned into my own social failings. On those afternoons, my head indeed felt like an oversized balloon in proportion to the rest of my body.
Of course, at the time I probably just thought Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder and Snoopy were funny. A mere "Good grief" could set me to giggling without going any deeper than the superficial problem of a kite stuck in a tree. It wasn't until years later -- reading this particular volume of strips, in fact -- that I fully realized how deeply penetrating the Peanuts strips really were. As a five-year-old, I didn't stop to think that Charlie is suffering from an acute personality disorder which would, in real life, set him apart from his peers and perhaps eventually lead to his living the life of a serial killer. No, as a kid, I just thought the Peanuts gang was a laugh-riot.
Here, in The Complete Peanuts, 1963-1964, you get the best of both worlds: many of the strips are laugh-out-loud funny, while nearly all of them are profound character studies of how Americans face their triumphs (briefly-lived) and failures (long-lasting). Public humiliation is always around the corner in Charlie Brown's world, but Schulz is such a genius that he shows us how to laugh through the pain.
The book, beautifully-designed in an eight-by-six horizontal format, takes us sequentially through some milestones of Peanuts history: we're introduced to a character named 555 95472 and his two sisters 3 and 4 (their last name, 95472, is actually their zip code -- a new postal concept which was unveiled in 1963); Charlie Brown continues to idolize the never-seen baseball player Joe Shlabotnik; Lucy uses Linus as her science fair project; Charlie comes down with "little leaguer's elbow," and Linus must step up to the pitcher's mound (proving to be a much better hurler than poor Charlie); and Charlie is diagnosed with "eraserophagia," which means his stomach is filled with little bits of eraser as a result of his nervous nibbling on pencils while deep in thought.
And make no mistake, Charlie -- like all the Peanuts gang -- is always deep in thought. Here's just one example -- an entire monologue from the Jan. 20, 1963 Sunday strip:
"Oh, how I hate these lunch hours! I always have to eat alone because nobody likes me…Peanut butter again…I wish that little red-haired girl would come over, and sit with me…Wouldn't it be great if she'd walk over here and say, "May I eat lunch with you, Charlie Brown?" I'd give anything to talk with her…She'd never like me, though…I'm so blah and so stupid…She'd never like me…I wonder what would happen if I went over and tried to talk to her! Everybody would probably laugh…She'd probably be insulted, too, if someone as blah as I am tried to talk to her…I hate lunch hour…All it does is make me lonely…During class it doesn't matter…I can't even eat…Nothing tastes good…Why can't I eat lunch with that little red-haired girl? Then I'd be happy…Rats! Nobody is ever going to like me…Lunch hour is the loneliest hour of the day!"
Though I generally preferred little brunette-haired girls, these very words could have been (and probably were) uttered by me and countless other angst-y young men in school lunch rooms all across America. The Peanuts strips truly were a mirror of our lives as well as a topical reflection on current events. In addition to the sly commentary about the new zip codes, you'll also find references here to environmentalist Rachel Carson and golfer Sam Snead.
There are funny moments we can all identify with -- like the time Linus becomes distractingly conscious of his tongue ("It's an awful feeling," he tells Lucy. "Every now and then I become aware that I have a tongue inside my mouth, and then it starts to feel all lumped up."). Or, the strips where Linus says, "I think the best way to solve problems is to avoid them," and Charlie responds by saying, "What if everyone was like you? What if we all ran away from our problems? Huh? What then? What if everyone in the whole world suddenly decided to run away from his problems?" Linus pauses a beat and says, "Well, at least we'd all be running in the same direction." | July 2007
David Abrams is a January Magazine contributing editor. He has written for Esquire, Glimmer Train Stories, The Greensboro Review, The Readerville Journal and other literary magazines.