Editor: Gary Groth
Foreword: Matt Groening
Fantagraphics Books’ The Complete Peanuts 1955 to 1956 reprints the sixth and seventh years of the beloved newspaper comic strip, Peanuts. These two years mark an important moment in the history of the strip and for creator Charles M. Schulz. It is a pivotal time when Schulz still presents Peanuts as a comedy strip featuring rambunctious, highly-intelligent, and uncannily resourceful children, but in these years, he slowly begins the transformation of the strip into something the newspaper comics page had not seen – an examination of personal insecurities and of the daily indignities of a life lived among other people.
But what would an early volume of this series by like without some landmarks? Linus speaks for the first time in the Jan. 13, 1955 episode, but it is months later that he actually holds a conversation with anyone – with Lucy in the two-part 9/15-16/1955. Linus’ security blanket becomes a firm consistent partner in warding off the affronts and slights of the world against him, offering him comfort from general insecurity. Both Linus and Snoopy’s lovable eccentricities – Linus’ amazing intelligence and Snoopy’s impressions of the other cast members (usually Lucy) and other animals (alligator, elephant, snake, etc.) – emerge and kick into high gear. Charlie Brown loses his first kite in a tree (4/13/1956), and Lucy pulls the football out from under Charlie Brown for the first time (12/16/1956).
Perhaps, the most important moment comes during Charlie Brown’s first baseball humiliation; he strikes out at bat, thus denying his team the championship (8/14 to 8/18/1956). As evidenced by the daily episodes before this storyline, Charlie Brown was already dwelling on the fact that nobody loved him. What this baseball disaster does is introduce the notion that not only will Charlie Brown be unloved, he will also suffer one indignity after another. More so than even his trials with kite flying, baseball now signals that Charlie Brown is destined to be a (lovable/unloved) loser.
It is interesting to note that not long after Linus begins to speak, he also begins to lament his troubles of the world. In the years to come, Schulz would play Linus as insecure as Charlie Brown, with one exception. Linus doesn’t seem to take the slings and arrows to heart to the extent that Charlie Brown does. As Linus says so often in strips reprinted in this volume, “Five hundred years from now, who’ll know the difference?”
If you need a reason to buy The Complete Peanuts 1955 to 1956, how ‘bout this – over half the strips in this volume have never been reprinted since their original newspaper appearances over 50 years ago.
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