What I’m Reading: Complete Peanuts, 1981-82

The Complete Peanuts is a noble 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 now up to the early 1990s, but I’m a little behind and have only reached 1981-82.  I’ve reviewed two previous volumes of the Complete Peanuts, the 1977-78 volume here, and the 1979-80 volume here.

The volume continues the trend of the previous two in that each one is just a little less sharp than the one before, the long-running gags a little more tired, the new ideas a little less inspired. For instance, there’s only one new character introduced here–Marbles, another of Snoopy’s brothers. I’m pretty sure more members of Snoopy’s family are not what the strip needs at this point. Anyway, Marbles is a down-to-earth dog, and is fairly mystified by his visit to Snoopy and his constant imaginative antics. He doesn’t have much personality and I’m not sure he ever showed up again.

Much funnier is a sequence in which Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty enter a bowling tournament. Patty lords her high average and correspondingly high handicap over Charlie Brown’s more modest handicap. They both wonder at the identity of the terrible bowler with an average score of one, only to find Snoopy nonchalantly strolling in. Unexpectedly, Charlie Brown leads the tournament, but in the final frame he’s so nervous he bowls the ball out the front door. It rolls across the parking lot and through a pumpkin patch where Linus and Sally are waiting for the Great Pumpkin to show up. When Linus is knocked out by the bowling ball, he assumes he fainted on seeing the arrival of his hero. Good stuff with some well-timed punchlines, and really rewards a familiarity with the strip’s recurring themes.

Other highlights are a long-ish sequence re-uniting Snoopy and his tennis doubles partner, Molly Volley, and one of my favorite on-going gags, Snoopy’s hobby as a hack writer and his never-ending quest to get published (I guess I can identify!).

Still, we’re well into the twilight years here. Unless a reader is interested for some reason in one of the particular strips or sequences in this volume, I’d recommend one of the older books.  For me, the best ones are from the 1960s, with the strip maintaining a pretty high degree of quality through the 1973-74 volume. I suppose I’ll get the next one, but as with the previous couple, I’m really not sure if I’m going to follow this through all the way to the end.

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