October 31, 2018

Four-color Peanuts ... back in the day!

You've a treat in store, with the arrival of KaBOOM! Studios' Peanuts Dell Archive. It lands today at your favorite comic book store, and will be available next Tuesday (November 6) via brick-and-mortar bookstores, Amazon and other online retailers.

The 352-page anthology gathers Peanuts comic book stories published by Dell Comics -- and, briefly, Gold Key -- back in the 1950s and early '60s. And here's the detail that'll lift eyebrows: Only a small percentage of this material was handled by Charles Schulz.

Say what? I hear you cry.

To explain:

Whenever asked, Schulz repeated the statement that fans knew as a mantra: Unlike the case with other "assembly-line" newspaper comic strips, he remained the only person whose hands touched the adventures of Charlie Brown and the gang. Schulz wrote, drew, inked and lettered his strip from its debut on October 2, 1950, until it concluded on February 13, 2000. Similarly, Schulz always promised that the strip would cease production when he finally called it quits. Unlike other classic strips that have been revived, often by lesser talents, Peanuts will forevermore remain solely a Schulz legacy.

But that's true only for Peanuts as a newspaper strip.

Followers of this blog know that KaBOOM! studios has been publishing new Peanuts comic books and graphic novels for quite some time now, with scripts and art by talented individuals who've delivered entertaining new stories while honoring the tone and spirit of Schulz's work.

The same was true back in the day. For the full story, check out this web article.

Meanwhile, a brief summation:

Starting in the spring of 1952, Schulz's Peanuts newspaper strips began being reprinted in United Feature Syndicate comic books such as Tip Top Comics, Tip Topper, Sparkler Comics and United Comics (the latter eventually retitled Fritzi Ritz). UFS got out of the comic book publishing business at the end of 1954, and some of its titles were picked up by St. John in 1955, including Fritzi Ritz and Tip Top. Reprinted Peanuts newspaper strips continued in both.

Big changes came in late 1957, when Dell Comics (Western Publishing) took over from St. John. Peanuts continued in Fritzi Ritz and Tip Top, and also became a regular feature in Nancy (later retitled Nancy and Sluggo). The covers promised "All brand-new stories" ... and Dell meant it. No more newspaper strip reprints, and that included the Peanuts supporting features. But these four- and even eight-page comic book stories involved a lot of work, at a time when Schulz was incredibly busy; Peanuts was becoming a phenomenon, and he also was poised to debut his other newspaper strip, It's Only a Game. He therefore turned the bulk of the Dell Comics work over to Jim Sasseville and (later) Dale Hale, associates and good friends of his from the Art Instruction School in Minneapolis. They "ghosted" Schulz for several years, although -- here's the best part -- Schulz did handle some of the stories and art himself, as you can see from the four-page story we've included here.

During that time, Dell also granted Peanuts its own title: at first only occasionally, but eventually on a regular basis, as with the other books.

Starting in mid-1960, however, it became obvious that different hands had taken over the script and art chores. The stories became less faithful to the Peanuts that we know and love, and the artwork became ... well ... not such a much. Gold Key Comics took over the line in late 1962, and the Peanuts material limped along for slightly more than a year, before being canceled completely. (No doubt Schulz finally put his foot down, dismayed by the dismal turn his beloved characters had taken.)

This KaBOOM anthology gathers all the "new" Peanuts content from Nancy/Nancy and Sluggo, Tip Top, and Fritzi Ritz. It's a wealth of material, with each story dated (by source title), and the artist credited (when known). It's fascinating to chart the evolution of story and art over this seven-year span: from its origins as carefully ghosted material pretty much indistinguishable from Schulz's work, to the lesser quality of the final few years. 

This is roughly half of the Dell content: everything except all the stories that appeared in Peanuts' own comic book. If this initial anthology sells well, we can hope that KaBOOM is encouraged to present the rest in a second volume. So buy two copies, and give one to a friend!

Purists probably need to place all this work into the same category as the later television specials: interesting to see, but "not canonical" (which, I suspect, is the way Schulz himself viewed it). So, just as The Little Red-Haired Girl never appeared in the newspaper strip (silhouette notwithstanding) but did turn up in a TV special; and just as television granted Snoopy two additional siblings (Molly and Rover) never mentioned in the newspaper strip; Charlie Brown and his friends had lots of adventures -- some of them quite preposterous! -- in this "alternate universe" of Dell comic books.

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