What I’m Reading: Complete Peanuts, 1977-78

The Complete Peanuts is a project to publish every strip of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, from its inception in 1951 to its final panel in 2000.  It’s a gargantuan undertaking, and a new volume covering two years is issued every six months.  The project is up to the mid-1980s, but I’m a little behind and have only reached 1977-78.

We’re deep into the period when Snoopy had superceded Charlie Brown as the main character.  In this volume, I’d say Snoopy appears the most times of any character by far, followed by Peppermint Patty.  Charlie Brown may possibly even be beaten by his sister Sally, who has a longish story arc at summer camp, as well as numerous week-long arcs and daily gags.

Charlie Brown’s only long arc is a good one, though.  After the kite-eating tree eats one too many of his kites, Charlie takes a bite out of it, only to be sued by the EPA for dental assault.  He runs away to another neighborhood, where as it happens, a baseball team of little kids is looking for an older kid to be their coach.  He takes the job on, sleeping in a cardboard box at night and coaching by day, but when the time for their first game comes, the opposing team turns out to be his own team from the old neighborhood.  His old team refuses to play on grounds that they would step on the little kids, and Linus informs Charlie that the EPA has dropped its suit.  I think this sequence rivals any of Charlie Brown’s long arcs.

As is typical of the later, Snoopy-dominated years, Peanuts has a much more whimsical tone in this volume than in its earlier, neurotic period.  I believe this volume is the first one in which we’ve seen Snoopy’s Beagle Scout troop, composed of Woodstock and other bird friends whom he leads on wordless, fanciful adventures.  His brother Spike comes to visit in a long arc, and there are, I think, three arcs where Snoopy plays doubles with Molly Volley, a hyper-aggressive tennis maniac who is perpetually, loudly disappointed by Snoopy’s missed shots and double faults.  There are also numerous strips with Snoopy as a writer, banging out hackwork on his typewriter, one of my favorite of the running gags.

Since we’ve gotten past the classic volumes covering, say, 1956-1970, each new volume has caused me to question whether I’d get the next.  I suppose I will get the 1979-80 volume.  Beyond that, I expect diminishing returns.  I’m positively dreading the sad, late years when Schulz’s hand turned shaky and the art declined, the storylines a morass of recycled annual gags and baroque explorations of Snoopy’s extended clan.  But we haven’t gotten there yet.

This volume, if not as sharp as the earlier years, still provides a pleasurable re-acquaintance with the beloved characters (including cameo appearances, for the sharp-eyed, of Shermy and Violet!), new characters Molly Volley and the very cute Eudora, and quite a few highly entertaining story arcs.  If you’re looking for any of the best-known strips, you should probably stick to an earlier volume, but this is good an example as any of the gentle, later strips.

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