Ever since I was little, there was something about Peanuts that made me sad. At first I thought it was Charlie Brown’s constant despair and unease, his inability to make friends, and his constant self-criticism. Maybe that’s part of it, but there’s something else, too. As someone who subscribes to the philosophy behind the Mr. T Experience line, “At the age of six or seven I was in my prime/ Ever since that time it’s been a steady decline,” I’ve spent most of my adult life obsessed with the culture of childhood nostalgia. One of my favorite artists, Henry Darger, spent his life as a recluse, drawing thousands of pictures of children fighting evil in a strange, mythical world. Darger managed to immerse himself in this world almost completely, leaving his apartment only to work as a janitor and attend church.
Darger saw childhood as something strange and wonderful, full of mystery and possibility. Schultz saw childhood as every bit as sad and melancholic as the adult world. Charlie Brown looks like an old man. Linus builds a sand castle, and it gets washed away as soon as he finishes. Lucy competes for attention. Occasionally, there are some sentimental moments, but they always seem bittersweet.
Peanuts: 1959-1960 is the latest in a twenty-five-book collection, published by Fantagraphics. When they’re done, Fantagraphics will have reprinted, in order, every single Peanuts strip, starting with 1950, in beautiful hardcover editions. In this installment, Lucy sets up shop as a DIY psychoanalyst, Linus discovers the pumpkin patch where he awaits the Great Pumpkin, and Snoopy moves into his doghouse.
One of my favorite strips features Linus showing Charlie Brown his collection of rocks. Linus says, “These rocks are meant to be thrown in anger! When I get real mad, I throw rocks as hard as I can!” Linus then picks up the rocks and starts throwing. “This is for all the nasty things they said about George Washington! This is for people who hate little kids! And this is for people who kick dogs! This is for hot summer nights! And this is for cold winter mornings! And this is for lies and broken promises!”
Although Schultz’s work often seems dark, in many ways, he was living the life of a child in the best possible way. “It seems beyond comprehension of people that someone can be born to draw comic strips,” he said in his official biography. “But I think I was.”
Only the true collector could earn afford to own this entire collection, but, if you’re looking for a Christmas present for me… –Maddy (Fantagraphics, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115)