Here Comes Charlie Brown Review

By | Wednesday, March 27, 2024 Leave a Comment
Peanuts is possibly one of the most studied comics in the English language. In part because it ran continuously for a full half-century and in part because it was consistently just so damn good. Every strip wasn't laugh-out-loud funny, but it was rarely meant to be that in the first place. Sure, there were jokes and gags but the indelible charm of the strip came from the poigancy of the characters. That's why the strip continues to run in syndication decades after Schulz drew the last one; that's why it still appears in roughly 2,000 papers a day only down bout 30% from its height when Schulz was still drawing new ones every day. With so many people who've seen and studied the strip, then, what more is there to say about it?

You'd be surprised.

Here Comes Chrlie Brown! A Peanuts Pop-Up came out yesterday. It reprints the very first Peanuts strip, engineered as a pop-up, and... that's pretty much it. It's twelve pages and it's only that long because each panel of the original strip is a double-page spread. Sounds like a bit of a "so what?", doesn't it? I mean, it's only one strip and it's possibly one of the single most well-known four panel sequence Schulz ever did. (Despite the huge array of iconongraphy he developed in the strip over time, readers saw the same ideas but not necessarily the same specific panels.) Why would you want a book reprinting something you've already seen plenty of times?

The beauty of Schulz's work is in its elegant simplicity. Charlie Brown's head is barely more than a simple smiley face, but there's a subtlty and nuance to the specific way Schulz renders it that makes the character stand out. And that's what paper engineer Gene Kannenberg has done here. Unlike previous Peanuts pop-up books that do some elaborate paper-folding to make Snoopy's dog house rise up from the middle of the page or Schroeder's piano somehow unflattens into a standing instrument as improbable as the music that comes from it in the animated cartoons, Kannenberg instead works directly with Schulz's art to layer meaning into what Schulz had already drawn on the page. He notes in the Afterword how placing Charlie Brown in a higher plane for the second panel not only emphasizes the character's forward movement through the strip, but also places him ahead of Shermy in a way to indicate Shermy is talking literally behind his back. And when you start looking at the sequence in that way, with the understanding that that is part of Kannenberg's intention, you start seeing other things you may never have noticed in the strip before.

How the steps Shermy and Patty sit on seem to widen, placing more space between them as Shermy switches to denigrating Charlie Brown. How the position of the viewer pulls back ever so slightly in the same manner. While seemingly depicting a static scene focused on two children sitting on a step, that subtlety and nuance in Schulz's linework can also be seen in his layouts and with the sense of space he generates. Maybe it's just me, but the lines that I always glossed over in the first strip in order to focus on the dialogue and characters get highlighted here in a way I had not really thought about and considered before.

Now it's certainly possible -- dare I say, even likely -- that there has been some academic papers written on precisely this aspect of not only Schulz's work in general but this strip in particular. But for however long and tediously expository those are as academic papers, what Kannenerg has done has distilled it down in such a way that you don't even need any addiional materials. The presentment of the work alone, albeit in a slightly different way than you're used to, is a more subtle and nuanced approach that strikes me as more accessible and more elegant.

I'm led to believe that Abrams Comic Arts is hoping to produce more of these books, although I don't know how many or which strips they might focus on. But I'm certainly down for any more like this; it's a much more effective and entertaining way to read what would otherwise be presented as a dry, academic paper. Here Comes Chrlie Brown! A Peanuts Pop-Up is out now, as I said, and retails for $16.99 US. Sure, you could ready a copy in the store inside a few minutes just to put it back on the shelf, but I strongly suspect you'll want to get a copy so you can revisit it much more frequently.
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