Complete Peanuts 1961-1962, The: By Charles M. Schulz, 314pgs. By Maddy

Another volume in what is quickly becoming perhaps the most ambitious (and definitely) the most ridiculous publishing endeavor of recent memory, The Complete Peanuts 1961-1962 is the sixth book in what will be a twenty-five book series. When it’s done, it will cover the earth and back seven and a…oh, wait. When it’s done, the Fantagraphics gurus will have published every last Peanuts comic strip, in chronological order, in beautiful hardcover editions, with introductions written by everyone from Matt Groening to Walter Cronkite, in what might very well be the most-prolonged Christmas present I will ever receive.

In the world of Peanuts, nothing ever goes well. Snoopy looks up at the night sky from his doghouse and says, “I am always impressed by the constancy of the stars…It gives me a feeling of security to look up, and know that the star I see will always be there, and will…” The next panel shows a shooting star; the next shows Snoopy leaning over his doghouse in despair.

In this volume, Linus’ blanket takes center stage after Linus admits to Lucy at her five cent psychiatric help desk, “I’m in sad shape. My life is full of fear and anxiety. The only thing that keeps me going is this blanket.” Although Linus makes a rousing statement in favor of the child-blanket union (“A blanket is as important to a child as a hobby is to an adult. Many a man spends his time restoring antique automobiles or building model trains or collecting old telephones or even studying about the Civil War.”), Lucy sees the situation differently. She gets to work, burying, cutting, and (finally), making the blanket into a kite and setting it loose. Fortunately, a series of desperate newspaper ads penned by Charlie Brown and Linus results in a mid-ocean rescue mission by a team of air rescue service paramedics. Linus is finally able to relax, because, “This blanket absorbs all my fears and frustrations. At the end of each day I shake it out the door, thus scattering those fears and frustrations to the wind.”

Unlike other family-driven comic strips of this era, Peanuts remains beautifully and magically bleak, full of simple pleasures quickly destroyed by rainstorms, older sisters, or (in Charlie Brown’s case) guilt. Unlike in the world of Family Circus, the Peanuts gang does not exist as mouthpieces for cute, precocious statements adults might like to hear, or as templates for a happy, idealized childhood. Charles Schulz knows that children are interesting enough in their own bizarre worlds that are, thankfully, nowhere near as angelic, cozy, or maudlin as most adults believe. –Maddy (Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115)