John Jacobus

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 807

[For] the true Peanuts fan, accustomed to the more functionally proportioned soft-cover collections, the giant Peanuts Jubilee is a bit much. However, its creator, Charles Schulz, in his modestly phrased text, lets us know that, one, he doesn't much care for the title "Peanuts," wished upon his strip by syndicate biggies; and, two, he dislikes the strip's small format—so, bigness may be important for Schulz.

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Peanuts graphics are in the classic American cartoon tradition, to which the Disney atelier contributed not only its Parthenon frieze but its Arch of Constantine as well. This simple, laconic manner, a world removed from the late-'30s baroque of Alex Raymond and Milton Caniff …, was not drawn into the mainstream of American visual culture through the instrument of High Pop Art. Peanuts, like Disney, is too much the creation of our heartland; its fantasies are domestic, excluding the foreign or exotic and abjuring any ventures in space or time….

Peanuts is something of a pastoral fantasy. Like Disney, it reaches back into early-20th-century small-town America where people walked or took the bus. There was no busing to school. They walked, and this established many of the situations. If Disney's strips are today admired in the backwash of '30s nostalgia … he is now more remembered for that little-understood genre known as the family film, and, above everything else, for Disneyland and Disneyworld…. Schulz, a neo-classic in his art, has not reached so far, has not sought to be so encyclopedic and seems (in spite of the size of Peanuts Jubilee) to have none of the classic Disney megalomania.

Smallness and conciseness are virtues in Schulz's work, and perhaps it is just as well that circumstances have forced him to create in restricted format. His best work is in the daily strip; typically four panels for which he early found the perfect episode structure. Apparently the working method is to find the climactic situation or epigram for the last panel and then construct backwards…. Schulz has been attracted recently to continuous, strip-to-strip narrative but only when he has been able to work it into his established style, so that each concise episode, as well as advancing the plot, also stands by itself as a discrete thing. The larger Sunday features, in color have been more of a challenge, as Schulz himself points out. Some esthetes, like myself, would argue that his daily black-and-white strips are the place to look for his greatest work, but I am sure that all children and most adults find much more pleasure in the Sunday color episodes. In either format the images gain an almost Egyptian rhythm through repetition and a sense of relatedness across the vertical bars dividing the panels. (p. 29)

Simplicity is a virtue in the eye of the critics, not of the public. Yet we can revel, one and all, in the familiar simplicity of the settings and props of Peanuts: a tree, the television set …, the old-fashioned school desk, even the bench and fence at the ballpark….

Snoopy's home has become the preferred setting, and the guises and disguises of its occupant, this Woody Allenish beagle, have come to dominate the strip in recent years…. [It] is Snoopy's adventures that are the most innovative, forming the leading edge of the strip…. More recently, Snoopy has turned to literary dreams, providing Schulz a vehicle for punning and name-twisting. This adds another dimension to the otherwise conventional conceit of the strip, which is based upon the idea of little people, a modest and innocent device which has now grown to mythic proportions….

[Peanuts Jubilee] is interesting and quite revealing…. But the trouble with the books is that it is simply not a sufficiently thorough anthology of Peanuts themes and episodes over the years…. It is of course useful to have the chronological survey, but this is a bit thin for the first decade and a half; indeed, much of the earliest work does not hold up too well, either in subject or graphically. It took two or three years for Schulz to get the strip moving and to sharpen his line, to give it the right edge of gentle caricature…. The remarkable thing about Peanuts is its continual growth, the careful addition of characters and the stretching out of the themes that fans can respond to with recognition, as in the repetitions of pop music. Anticipation and surprise are used gingerly and with consummate understanding of the needs of this art form. (p. 31)

Basic and more encyclopedic—indeed, as comprehensive as could be wished for—is The Snoopy Festival: probably every Snoopy episode down to about a year ago. Given the ever-growing importance of this character in the Peanuts hierachy, this may be the most important volume yet published. (p. 33)

John Jacobus, in Art in America (copyright © 1976 by Art in America, Inc.), March-April, 1976.

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