Settling In: The Complete Peanuts, 1977-1978

Posted by on August 30th, 2010 at 5:49 AM

Rob reviews the fourteenth volume of The Complete Peanuts, collecting 1977 and 1978.

Peppermint Patty is the cover girl for the latest volume of Charles Schulz’ classic, a fitting designation for an era that saw her emerge as one of the three most important characters of the strip.  Snoopy is still the star of the show, a versatile performer who could be a straight man, a fantasy figure or the center of a storyline.  Charlie Brown is still the heart of the strip, but his pathos is greatly downplayed, with the exception of a couple of memorable storylines.  It’s Peppermint Patty, however, who not only emerges as a go-to gag figure (especially with her trouble in school), she also becomes the character with the greatest amount of depth.

Schulz revisits her fears when she asks Charlie Brown to borrow Snoopy as a guard dog, and Schulz turns those fears on their head when Charlie Brown himself is forced to become her guard dog.  She engages in elaborate shenanigans, like trying to beat the rap of stealing gold stars from her teacher and getting Snoopy to dress up like her in order to go undercover.  (The overall gag for that ten-day storyline is a doozy.)  Her memorable friendship with Marcie is further cemented as the unlikely pairing of two oddballs.  Finally, she experiences her own relationship pathos when Charlie Brown accidentally calls Marcie, who assumes she’s calling for Peppermint Patty.  While she did soften a little as a character compared to her early days (when she raised a ruckus with the otherwise staid Peanuts gang), Schulz changed the tenor of the strip to accommodate her.

Peanuts became a little more broad and a little less melancholy over time, though Schulz always sought to mine humor out of both aspects of his storytelling.  When he started Peanuts in 1950, the early years of the strip saw a lot of almost manic gags that bordered on vicious.  In the 60s, that broadness subsided and the intense focus on Charlie Brown’s pathetic life, the introspection of Linus and the raw aggression of Lucy created a stew of painfully hilarious emotion.  There were certainly plenty of lighter moments as well, but at least two-thirds of the strips from this era carried that haunted quality to them.  In the 1970s, that number dropped to about a third of the strips, with the rest devoted to both the sort of character gags with which readers were familiar, as well as an array of increasingly-bizarre concepts.

By 1978, bits like the sentient school, sentient pitcher’s mound and sentient body parts of Snoopy had become a familiar part of Peanuts‘ landscape.  Sports were always a key element of the strip and Schulz’ increasing interest in tennis led to him creating the insanely competitive doubles partner for Snoopy, Molly Volley.  She’s less a character than a series of personality tics, outdone only by her arch-rival, “Crybaby” Boobie.

The other new character gave Sally Brown someone new to play off of, a kvetching girl named Eudora.  Playing on Sally’s tendency to complain loudly about the unfairness of everything, Sally met Eudora at camp and found herself trying to get a nervous Eudora to enjoy the experience, despite herself.  Sally’s crush on Linus went in an interesting direction as she wound up in a love triangle with the ever-odd-looking Truffles, a storyline that ended in Snoopy acting as a helicopter and flying Linus out.  Snoopy’s adventures felt a bit stale at times, especially the seemingly endless strips where he was a scoutmaster to a group of birds.  I always preferred Snoopy as a reactive character rather than as a solo star, and that was never more true than in this volume.  It’s amazing that nearly thirty years into the strip, Schulz was still trying new things and finding new inspiration from old characters.

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