Private: Charles Schulz, cartoonist, inventor of security blanket

In The Washington Post‘s latest graphic fiction round-up, Douglas Wolk sees “Peanuts” as a natural outgrowth of Charles Schulz’s “L’il Folks.” He considers both Li’l Beginnings, an anthology of the earlier strip, and The Complete Peanuts, 1950 to 1952, the first book of the 25-volume series collecting the “Peanuts” series:

L'il FolksAs Li’l Beginnings opens, Schulz is a fairly conventional Saturday Evening Post-style cartoonist — his drawings are simple, with a touch of James Thurber’s illustrative style about them, but not too unusual for their time. By the end of the “Li’l Folks” run, the precise minimalism of “Peanuts” is starting to take hold, as he begins to suggest his characters and the objects in their world with only a few, understated lines. And once “Peanuts” itself begins, its visual language is in place almost from the beginning: the steady four-panel pace, the omnipresent tiny scribble that can be a shadow or a landscape, the way the children hover above the ground as they move, the dramatically limited angles from which we see each character.

Complete Peanuts, volume 1 of 25Lucy is just a toddler when she first appears, and Linus is a baby without a security blanket (a phrase Schulz invented), but everybody’s appearance is in place from the get-go — only Snoopy changed his look significantly later on. The jokes of the “Peanuts” early days are often too facile, and Schulz leans too hard on his punch lines. (Even so, his signature language is already present: “good grief,” “blockhead,” “fussbudget.”) The idea behind his early cartoons was that it’s funny when children act like adults — hence, for instance, Schroeder playing Beethoven on his toy piano — or don’t understand the way the adult world works. By the end of the first volume of The Complete Peanuts, though, as the gentle whimsy of “Li’l Folks” begins to give way to existentialist bite, Schulz is already hinting at the much darker idea that made his strip great: that it’s even funnier to see children’s play anticipating adult suffering on a child’s scale.

The re-publication of the “Peanuts” strips is perfectly timed to coincide with the revival of Snoopy decals, now emblazoned on Urban Outfitters products and worn across the breasts of teens everywhere. But so what? Those early strips are as good as any daily comic ever inked.