Charles M. Schulz wrote and illustrated nearly 18,000 of his beloved Peanuts (a name he was never fond of) comic strip for nearly 50 years — a remarkable run by a remarkable creator. Full of social commentary and wonderful observational humor, Peanuts followed the lives and exploits of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Woodstock, Lucy, Sally, and countless other classic characters, both in daily strips and Sunday editions. Now in paperback, Fantagraphics’ The Complete Peanuts: 1989-1990 collects, in chronological order, every strip from those years and it is a treasure trove of great material.
The volume begins with an introduction by Lemony Snicket and includes a brief biography of Schulz by Gary Groth. While the months and years are not labeled at the bottom of the pages as in the previous volume, that is a minor quibble and really would only affect readers looking for a specific strip only.
We begin with Linus standing on a hill, proclaiming he is the king of the hill, only to find Lucy telling him he is not the suzerain. When he asks what a suzerain is, she tells him it means king. He then proclaims himself to be the suzerain, only to have Lucy push him off and say that she is the suzerain while Linus mutters he was the king. In another, Snoopy writes a love letter saying things such as I’d climb the highest mountain and that he would dog paddle the deepest ocean. What other kind of swimming would he do?
Sally has a boy interested in her and she talks with Charlie Brown about ways to avoid seeing him. They work on reasonable excuses together, only to have her say, much to Charlie Brown’s surprise, “What makes you think I’d ever want to go anyplace with you?” Linus reads that there is going to be an ugly dog contest and Charlie Brown suggests to Snoopy that he write to his brother Spike to see if he wants to enter. Snoopy says that he never thought of Spike being ugly, but then adds, “pathetic, maybe.” Spike of course declines in the next strip, but the fact the strips have one dog asking another to be in an ugly dog contest is part of the absurd charm of Peanuts. Snoopy ultimately decides to write his brother Olaf, who enters — and wins — the ugly dog contest, saying he lived with a family that had a license plate that said, “Our other dog is a golden retriever.”
When Linus asks Snoopy, who is acting as the World’s Famous Lawyer, how he comforts himself after losing a tough case, he appears in the next panel with a pacifier. Only in Peanuts can a beagle be a surgeon, a lawyer, a writer, and a fighter pilot! Sometimes the Peanuts strips have a way of hitting home with their message, such as when Charlie Brown tells Linus and Snoopy that Grampa was worried that he was being forgetful and that he was especially worried that he was remembering things that never happened. Anyone who has dealt with elderly relatives becoming forgetful as they age can surely relate.
Charlie Brown’s inept baseball team loses a game by so much that he tells Linus, “We must be too far behind to catch up.” The team’s continuous bad luck was a hallmark of the strip throughout its run. In a now dated strip where Linus, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Sally, and Charlie Brown all talk about their favorite parts of the newspaper and what they like to read most, a smiling Snoopy reads an article entitled, “Dog Bites Intruder.” In another baseball-related strip, Charlie Brown and Linus reference Field of Dreams with Linus stating that if they had enough faith, maybe Shoeless Joe would visit them, too. Charlie Brown sighs when he finds out it is only Snoopy, as Shoeless Joe Beagle.
Absurdist humor is always at the forefront in Peanuts and we see Charlie Brown taking on the kite-eating tree again and a tired Snoopy blowing the notes off of Schroeder’s music sheet so he can sleep. Perhaps the biggest story in these comics though is the fact that Charlie Brown finally manages to get a girlfriend, and it is not the Little Red-haired Girl. Her name is Peggy Jean and, even though she always calls Charlie Brown “Brownie Charles” (which he grows to like), she likes him enough that she gives him a kiss. This in spite of Charlie Brown almost blowing it when he hesitates to kick a football she wants to hold for him, fearing she will pull it away like Lucy always does. Finally, something positive happens for everyone’s favorite downtrodden hero.
Peanuts always occupied a special place on the funnies page and the strips in The Complete Peanuts: 1989-1990 are no different. Schulz’s brand off offbeat, absurd, heartfelt observational humor is a joy to read, both then and now, and he remains sorely missed. Highly recommended.