Of Stumptown and Opening Day

It’s April. Spring is officially here. Baseball is back.

Opening Day is more like “Opening Days” — three games yesterday, a few more today, a few more tomorrow, and then the season and the daily grind begins in earnest on Wednesday.

Nothing says baseball more than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, what with Charlie Brown and his baseball team. Heck, the day I was born, the day’s Peanuts strip was about baseball.

The official Peanuts Twitter account posted this:

When I shared the image on Facebook, I added a caption: “There’s always hope on Opening Day, even for Stumptown in the Green Grass League.”

The baseball legend of Joe Shlabotnik goes through Stumptown of the Green Grass League. Shlabotnik was a fringe player at best; after batting an astonishing .004 in a season and being sent down to Hillcrest, he’s later traded to Stumptown, a team that sinks ever deeper in the standings of the Green Grass League. When it’s clear his playing days are over, he accepts the managerial job for the Waffeltown Syrups and, when that doesn’t pan out, he travels the sports memorabilia circuit.

Where was the Green Grass League based? Where was Stumptown? I have no idea. Charles Schulz never said, as far as I can tell.

Last summer, when listening to A Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor’s monologue, one that involved a game played by the Lake Wobegon Whippets, Lake Wobegon’s baseball team, I decided then and there that it made perfect sense for Stumptown and Lake Wobegon to be part of the same league.

There is, of course, no reason why the Lake Wobegon Whippets should play in the Green Grass League against Hillsdale and Stumptown. It seems quite improbable, and the facts we have are few. Hillsdale and Stumptown are clearly part of organized baseball, specifically the farm system of minor leagues that support the major league teams, since Joe Shlabotnik was “sent down.” But Lake Wobegon? They could be part of the affiliated system, or they could be a semi-pro town team made up of local players who play for the sport of it, for the love of the game, instead of the dream of reaching the big leagues and playing in the big cities in stadiums that seat tens of thousands under the lights. It’s likelier than not that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon would never meet on the fields of green.

Yet, in my imagination they do, for no better reason that Charles Schulz was a Minnesotan and Garrison Keillor is a Minnesotan. The absolute silliest reason in the world, absolutely no evidence whatsoever, but it made a kind of intuitive sense, that these two great storytellers who worked in two very different mediums could share a common mythology, one that arose from minor league baseball teams in the backwaters of America, played in small towns in front of tiny crowds, in places where baseball was pure and simple and innocent. That sufficed for me, and I will forever think that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon have played an intense rivalry for at least fifty years in ancient wooden ballparks that were throwbacks to an earlier time even when they were built before the war.

No matter who you root for, whether it’s Stumptown or the Chicago Cubs, Opening Day brings with it the promise of hope and the belief that anything is possible.

Play ball!

Thoughts About Endings

This morning I was working on text for the UK edition of January’s catalog. (The UK has a special version of PREVIEWS with more pages and UK-specific items.) And I worked on the text for Canongate’s edition of The Complete Peanuts Volume 25: 1999-2000.

The final volume.

A wave of emotion washed over me that I wasn’t expecting at all. This is it, the end. A journey that began back in 2004 is nearing its end. I knew it would be soon — just last week, the twenty-fourth volume, covering 1997 and 1998, with Rerun on the cover, came out — but I’m not ready for this to end. Not yet.

The truth is, the ending of Peanuts has always carried emotional freight with me, and not simply because Peanuts was always a part of my life. The way the strip ended and the circumstances around its ending — Charles Schulz dying as the final strip went to press, as though with his life’s work done there was nothing left for him to do — touched me deeply, and even now I find some of the strips of the final few years difficult to read.

What follows is an e-mail I wrote the evening of February 13, 2000, the day the final Peanuts strip ran. I look at it now with some embarrassment; I conflated Royanne Hobbs and Peggy Jean in my mind, and I was sure then (and am sure now) that Charlie Brown really did kick that football in the late 1999 strip where Rerun held the ball.

I thought nothing of my necktie choice this morning. The news was impossible to avoid; Charles Schulz had passed away. As I was dressing for work, then, there was no real choice; it would be a Snoopy tie. The only choice, then, was which Snoopy tie it would be — the Valentine’s Day tie, an obvious choice given Monday’s holiday? The Snoopy baseball tie, in light of the impending start of spring training? Any of two dozen other Peanuts ties in my collection?

The choice came down to Starry Night. The tie is as the Van Gogh painting of the same name, Woodstock and his relatives alight in the night, Snoopy sleeping atop his doghouse in the foreground, the heavens above painted in the dark, heavy manner as Van Gogh had done. And written on the backside of the tie, the caption: “Goodnight, Vincent.”

Goodnight, in more ways than one. Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, of Charlie Brown and Snoopy and Linus Van Pelt and Rerun and Pepperment Patty and all the rest, gone to another place. And Peanuts, the last Sunday strip, the last original strip ever, running today in the newspapers. Charlie Brown would be no more. Snoopy would never again fight in the trenches of Flanders, joust with the Red Baron in the skies, dream of writing the Great American Novel. Lucy could never dispense her useless psychobabble to another unwary listener, pull away the football from the luckless Charlie Brown yet one more time.

Revisiting the past, revisiting one’s youth, is never a wise action. But I will always revisit the past of Charlie Brown and his friends, as long as the old strips are reprinted in whatever their form. Revisit the storylines that I read as a child with the understanding of an adult. Stories such as Charlie Brown’s first girlfriend (Roy Hobbs’ great-granddaughter, no less), Rerun starting Kindergarten, Charlie Brown’s first baseball victory, the time he finally kicked the football that Lucy had always pulled away.

Childhood ends, but in the world of Peanuts, childhood will never end, so long as we empathize and understand.

That’s the place where the profound sadness I felt as I copyedited and formatted Canongate’s suggested text came from. Oh, there is the new Peanuts Movie, which I thought was splendid. And the comic books from BOOM!, which I’ve in the main enjoyed. But the original thing, the thing itself, its great reprinting project will draw to a close in a few months, and I will again face the ending of Peanuts and all the sadness therein.

And, as for the day’s news, I have nothing to say about it but this:

The Peanuts Movie

Last night after work I went to see The Peanuts Movie, the new CGI animated film based on Charles Schulz’s characters. I had tracked this movie pretty carefully over the last year and a half, from the first trailer to the second, and last month I even read the kids novelization.

The Peanuts Movie is the second Peanuts film I’ve seen in the theater; I have vague memories of seeing Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown with my dad, my brother, and maybe my sister when we lived in Chicago in the late 70s. This movie, I had the option of seeing it in 3-D, and I opted for the 2-D showing.

The film was preceded by an Ice Age short. I’ve never seen any of the Ice Age films, so I’m not familiar with the characters. One of the characters finds his way into a UFO that’s been buried in the ice, accidentally takes off into space, promptly blows up several planets by accident (which rains debris down on the Earth, presumably causing an extinction event), and probably ends up suffocating in space. Let’s just say it didn’t go over well. I didn’t find it funny and, judging by the utter silence of the theater, no one in my audience did, either.

As for The Peanuts Movie, that had a better audience reaction. The story, as I’ve described it in the past from the trailers and the novelization, is basically the secret origin of Charlie Brown’s crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl. Charlie Brown had a rough day — the Kite-Eating Tree has destroyed his latest kite, and Charlie Brown’s attempt to fly the kite wrecked his friends’ hockey game — and, feeling particularly low, Charlie Brown sees that someone new is moving into the neighborhood. He thinks this is a good chance for a fresh start with a possible new friend, someone who doesn’t know him as a wishy-washy loser, and what follows is a series of comic misadventures where Charlie Brown tries to talk to or impress the Little Red-Haired Girl, only to have it blow up in his face in embarrassing and public ways.

In the side plot, Snoopy discovers an old typewriter and decides to become the Great American Writer For his magnum opus, inspired in part by Charlie Brown’s pratfalls where the Little Red-Haired Girl is concerned, he embarks on a novel about the World War I Flying Ace and his love of the French poodle aviatrix, Fifi. But a danger lurks in the skies — the Red Baron! — and the World War I Flying Ace will face many dangers when he attempts to rescue Fifi from a German aerodrome and its mighty Zeppelin.

The Peanuts Movie did pretty much everything right, I thought. The story has a nice momentum and pace; scenes don’t drag on and linger past their punchlines. There were issues I had with the story from the kid’s novelization — the film’s characters weren’t in the same grade in the comic strip, let alone attend the same school; and the ending didn’t feel appropriately Schulzian — but, in the context of the film, they worked. If you want to show all of the familiar Peanuts characters, putting them in the same classroom is an easy way of accomplishing that. If Charlie Brown’s goal throughout the film has been to talk to the Little Red-Haired Girl, a goal he has consistently failed at, then he’s probably going to talk to her at the end. The ending, no matter how very un-Schulz-ian it was, worked for me and left me with a dopey grin, feeling upbeat.

The film is, as previous paragraphs suggest, Charlie Brown and Snoopy-centric, and maybe the film could have done more with the Peanuts ensemble, but most all of the major Peanuts characters at least had a moment. Linus has moments with his blanket and moments where he’s the Wise Old Sage, Lucy dispenses advice and berates Charlie Brown at every opportunity, Peppermint Patty has flirty moments with “Chuck, you old sly dog,” and imposes on him for baked goods, Schroeder has his toy piano and his Beethoven bust, and so on. Basically, the ensemble gets moments or dialogue that will be callbacks from familiar moments from the major holiday animated specials (A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown). Reading the kids novelization in advance didn’t spoil the movie for me in any appreciable way. Some elements of the film weren’t present in the novelization, such as part of Snoopy’s plot which relied on visual gags that wouldn’t translate well to the printed page.

The CGI animation worked very well. The art models captured the look and style of Schulz’s later (1980s-ish) artwork in the 3-D CGI style, and the film looked like the comic strip come to life. It seemed to me that even the framing of the shots was set up to mimic the perspectives that Schulz would have used in the comic strip. Also, for a long-time fan, there are some nice visual puns; at the dance, for instance, there are kids doing the strange dance moves from A Charlie Brown Christmas. (Speaking of A Charlie Brown Christmas, 5, one of the dancers, is in the film — he’s in Charlie Brown’s class — but his sisters 3 and 4 don’t seem to be.)

The film has two mid-credits scenes — one a gag that wouldn’t have fit anywhere else, one with Snoopy’s family. After the credits (where are a lovely homage to the history of Peanuts), there is a post-credits sting. You honestly don’t need to stay for it; it closes off a recurring gag, that’s all.

There was one thing I really wanted from the film, and I didn’t realize I wanted it until after the film was finished:

To be fair, though, Schulz wasn’t a fan of The Royal Guardsmen Snoopy songs, the most famous of which is “Snoopy’s Christmas.” But I thought it would have been nice to hear a modern band take a crack at it. As for the film’s music, it’s a combination of Vince Guaraldi’s originals (the film opens with “Skating,” for instance), modern renditions by David Benoit, and a lovely orchestral score by composer Christophe Beck. There are two pop songs — Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancin'” and Flo Rida’s “That’s What I Like,” and they were pretty inoffensive. No signs of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”

All in all, I liked The Peanuts Movie. It was funny and it was touching and it was nice. For me, it was filled with nostalgia moments, but those moments didn’t overwhelm the film’s story. The film manages to be reverential without ever becoming inaccessible. Think of those nostalgic moments as Easter Eggs to the audience, reminders that this film may look different and feel modern, but its heart is absolutely in the right place. And, for the young audience who doesn’t really know Peanuts that well, I think they will really like this. Charlie Brown is like all of us — he tries hard, he cares, he falls short, he doesn’t see himself in the positive light that others see him, and he doesn’t give up. That’s a good message to take away from The Peanuts Movie.

If I were to rank this among the first four Peanuts films, I’d put this second, after Snoopy Come Home and above A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

I hope they make another, though The Hollywood Reporter says it’s not likely. (The article also answers what happened to the follow-up animated special to Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, focused on Snoopy and the Red Baron; this film started from that animated specials script.) If the Schulz estate changes their minds, if they do make another Peanuts film, maybe next time, something with more of an ensemble flavor? Maybe something about Charlie Brown and his baseball team? That would be a lot of fun. :)

Things I’ve Been Reading: Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron

Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron
Fantagraphics Books
Written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz

Coinciding with the release this week of The Peanuts Movie (not seen yet, though my ruminations on the kids novelization are here), Fantagraphics Books, the publishers of the Complete Peanuts, has published a collection of all of the Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace comic strips.

Rather the publish the strips chronologically, the strips are grouped into three broad themes — daily storylines, random daily appearances, and Sunday strips.

The presentation is nice. It’s similar to the format of Complete Peanuts with three strips to a page with Sundays taking a full page. It’s shorter than I thought it would have been, just 200 pages. I assumed there were more Snoopy vs. the Red Baron strips than that.

If I have one objection, the strips are undated. Though I can roughly tell (to within five years) when various strips were published (thanks to things like Schulz’s art style and the panel size and layout), it would have been nice if each strip (or storyline) had dates provided.

Now that I think about it, an introduction or essay on the popularity of the World War I Flying Ace and related merchandise wouldn’t have been at all inappropriate. The World War I is the most famous and most significant of Snoopy’s many personas, so a discussion of why Schulz created the persona and kept returning to it would have been a wonderful addition to this book.

Those objections aside, it’s nice to have all of the World War I Flying Ace strips in a single place. Perhaps Fantagraphics could follow this with other themed collections, like Snoopy as the Great American Writer.

The Peanuts Movie Novelization

Yesterday evening I went to the BAM! (formerly Books a Million) near York Galleria, not for any particular reason, just to get away from the gloom and the muck that had been all day Saturday thanks to the rain brought by Hurricane Joaquin.

thepeanutsmovie-novelizationThere I found a most unexpected book — The Peanuts Movie Movie Novelization, adapted by childrens book author Tracey West. (The double “Movie” in the title is not a typo on my part; that’s what it reads on the cover and the spine.)

I’m not going to critique the book, per se; I’m well beyond the age of the book’s intended audience, and any critique would be bringing a fortysomething’s perspective on and expectations of fiction to a work that doesn’t deserve that type of scrutiny. I did feel something… strange about reading this book and engaging with the Peanuts characters through prose, but that’s my conditioning and expectations born of nearly four decades of reading these characters in comic strips or watching them on television. When I was in second or fourth grade (I skipped third), this would have been my speed. (Or maybe not. I was reading Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by fourth grade, and I’d already been to Narnia and Middle-Earth.) And the book should really be looked at in that way. It’s a book for kids. :)

The important thing to say about The Peanuts Movie novelization is that it’s entertaining and the book is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. West takes us inside the psyches of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and she makes us feel for good ol’ Charlie Brown. The prose isn’t complicated, the characters behave exactly as they should, and the sense of melancholy that pervades Peanuts is present. For the elementary school reader who knows Charlie Brown and the gang from the animated specials, The Peanuts Movie Movie Novelization would be a lovely introduction to the characters.

That out of the way, I want to take some time and discuss the story, which isn’t West’s purview; she worked with the script she was given. What follows will be spoilers, and I’ll leave some suitable space for those who wish to stop reading…

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Back in June, FOX released a trailer for the film that gave some hints about the film’s story. Let me quote from the blog post I wrote about it:

My read on the trailer is that this is an origin story of sorts — the origin of Charlie Brown’s unrequited crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl. A new girl moves into Charlie Brown’s neighborhood, she’s seen a few times in shadows or at a distance in the trailer, no matter what he does Charlie Brown can’t work up the nerve to talk to her, she has red hair. Seems straightforward to me.

Also, there were some things in the trailer that struck me as not quite right:

Shermy’s presence alongside Peppermint Patty and Franklin is ahistorical (Shermy disappeared from Charles Schulz’s strip about the same time they were introduced). We also see that Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin apparently attend Charlie Brown’s school (they didn’t — they were from the other side of town and attended a different school), and Linus appears to be in the same class as Charlie Brown (he wasn’t — he was a year or two behind Charlie Brown).

thepeanutsmovie-profileThese suppositions, which were all reinforced by the newest trailer, are absolutely accurate.

The story has an A-plot/B-plot structure, like the best (and worst) of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the A-plot, Charlie Brown has a crush on his new neighbor across the street, the Little Red-Haired Girl. In the B-plot, Snoopy finds a typewriter and starts writing the Great American Novel, a war story about the World War I Flying Ace and his love of the French poodle aviatrix, Fifi. The story isn’t just “the origin of Charlie Brown’s unrequited crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl”; it’s also the origin of Snoopy as the Great American Novelist. These plots reinforce one another, but they don’t tie together.

And yes, there’s a strange, ahistorical mix of Peanuts characters in the film. Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin, who attend a school on the other side of town, are part of Charlie Brown’s class, along with Linus and Shermy, and their teacher is Miss Othmar.

I understand the creative decision that led to something like that — it’s easier to put all of the characters in the same school and the same classroom because it affords more opportunities to use the characters and have them interact.

But I can’t understand why Shermy was used at all. He is, at best, pure fan-service because he doesn’t do a single thing in the story. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t have it out for Shermy, but he ceased being a major character a decade before I was born, and his peak moment was probably “I’m always a shepherd” in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Unless there’s a reason outside this story for his appearance — such as, “Shermy was secretly Charles Schulz’s favorite character and he always regretted not doing more with him” — he could have been dispensed with entirely.

As for the tone, the story gets it right… until the ending. Throughout, Charlie Brown is faced with a problem — how to work up the courage to have a conversation with the Little Red-Haired Girl — and he comes close to surmounting the challenge, only to fail (in his mind) in an embarassing and public way, time and again, and he’s reminded of that fact by his erstwhile friends. That’s classic Peanuts. But the ending owes more to rom-com cliches than Peanuts, and the reaction by the characters to the ending is not Peanuts at all. Unless, thirty seconds after the end it all blows up in Charlie Brown’s face, that is.

For a new audience, I think the film will work. They’re not going to be nitpicky about how it doesn’t “fit.” They’re going to see a story about overcoming life’s obstacles and learning from the process starring a group of characters that they’re probably a little familiar with. The story does work on its own terms.

For a long-time Peanuts fan of comics and animation like myself, it will probably be best to think of this as a reboot, like Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man or J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, albeit a reboot without decompression and lens flare. I fully expect to be entertained by the film. As I said, the story does work. It’s not entirely true to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, but as the film spools and the story unfolds I don’t think I’ll notice. I’ll just enjoy the 90 minutes with Charlie Brown and the gang.

The New Peanuts Movie Trailer

This week the new trailer for November’s Peanuts trailer was released:

In November, I wrote about the first trailer, and in the days since the new trailer was released I’ve left a few comments here and there. Why don’t I share my thoughts on the new trailer here?

My read on the trailer is that this is an origin story of sorts — the origin of Charlie Brown’s unrequited crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl. A new girl moves into Charlie Brown’s neighborhood, she’s seen a few times in shadows or at a distance in the trailer, no matter what he does Charlie Brown can’t work up the nerve to talk to her, she has red hair. Seems straightforward to me.

Eagle-eyed viewers will note that the new neighbor, what little of her we see, does not resemble Heather from the animated specials. The one time that the Little Red-Haired Girl appears on panel (a storyline in late May 1998 when Snoopy was the “F. Scott Fitzgerald Hero”), she resembles Lucy rather than Heather. There is a vague Lucy resemblance to the new neighbor in this. (Of course, I could be imagining that because that’s what I want to see…)

There are also elements that are reminiscent of A Boy Named Charlie Brown — Charlie Brown, who’s not good at anything, does something to suddenly become popular. (Inevitably, this will blow up in his face and his friends will treat him like a loser, even though he got further in whatever it was than any of his friends did. His friends are fickle assholes.)

There are a couple of moments in the trailer that I think are there to reassure older fans, like myself, that this is the Peanuts we remember. There’s a cute sequence that recreates some moments from the animated specials, and then there’s a CGI recreation of the ice skating from A Charlie Brown Christmas. No sign of 3 and 4 doing their head-bopping dance, though we do see Shermy (also known as “Taller Linus among fans) several times.

There are a few moments that irritate the purist in me. Shermy’s presence alongside Peppermint Patty and Franklin is ahistorical (Shermy disappeared from Charles Schulz’s strip about the same time they were introduced). We also see that Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin apparently attend Charlie Brown’s school (they didn’t — they were from the other side of town and attended a different school), and Linus appears to be in the same class as Charlie Brown (he wasn’t — he was a year or two behind Charlie Brown).

However, the general feeling of the trailer is so right — even with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” as the trailer’s soundtrack — that I can overlook those irritants. And they wouldn’t have kept me from seeing the film anyway. :)

The Washington Post had an article on the trailer that pointed out ten Easter Eggs that, honestly, I didn’t catch.

The Peanuts Movie will be out on November 6th.

Meet the Peanuts Gang

This October marks the sixty-fifth anniversary of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, and the following month we’ve see the release of the first Peanuts movie in thirty years. I’ve noticed this year that there’s a concerted effort at releasing Peanuts books and collections, probably to both tie in with the anniversary and the upcoming film.

One such book is Simon Spotlight’s Meet the Peanuts Gang!, released last week. If you’re a little kid just discovering who the Peanuts characters are or a parent who wants to introduce your children to Schulz’s Peanuts, this book is a good place to start. It’s a ninety-six page book, in full color, with a dozen chapters, each one profiling one of the major Peanuts characters with a short bio, some details about the character, a couple of strips that illustrate the character’s personality, and a quote from Charles Schulz about the character.

It’s a cute book with a lovely presentation, though it’s not for me, the fortysomething Peanuts fan who has all the volumes of Fantagraphics’ The Complete Peanuts published thus far. But it does fill a role, for the child who’s just meeting the Peanuts gang for the first time. That’s who Meet the Peanuts Gang! is for.

Things I’ve Been Reading: Get Well Soon, Charlie Brown

Peanuts #27
BOOM! Studios/kaboom!
Written by Jason Cooper
Art by Vicki Scott & Paige Braddock

As I turned the pages of “Get Well Soon, Charlie Brown,” I felt like I had read this story before.

During one of his baseball games, Charlie Brown begins to “feel kind of woozy,” and he leaves the game to go home. Everyone assumes that he’s “been hit on the head with too many fly balls,” but Charlie Brown is checked in to the local hospital. While Sally frets about who will feed Snoopy and moving her stuff into Charlie Brown’s room, Peppermint Pattie and Marcie hold a vigil outside the hospital, and Lucy vows that if Charlie Brown leaves the hospital she won’t pull the football away again.

“Get Well Soon, Charlie Brown” is, like “It’s Summer Camp, Charlie Brown” two months ago, a full-length Peanuts comic book. “It’s Summer Camp,” though it was clearly reminiscent of past Charles Schulz summer camp stories, felt original. “Get Well Soon,” however, kept nagging at me. I knew I had read this story before.

And I had. You can find it on pages 79 through 92 of Fantagraphics Books’ The Complete Peanuts: 1979-1980. Charlie Brown complains of being woozy on July 3, 1979 and checks into the hospital on July 7th. Sally moves into his room on July 10th. Lucy worries on July 16th. Peppermint Pattie and Marcie’s vigil begins on July 20th (and includes the Sunday strip of July 22nd). Lucy makes her vow on July 27th, Charlie Brown attempts the football kick on August 2nd.

It’s the exact same story, down to the dialogue. There are some original beats in “Get Well Soon, Charlie Brown” — Snoopy has a subplot and we get an explanation for why Charlie Brown was hospitalized here that we didn’t in Schulz’s original storyline in 1979. Despite those original beats, the credits more accurately should have read “Written by Charles Schulz, adapted by Jason Cooper.”

Now that that’s out of the way, let me say that, on its own, this comic book is very good. The storytelling is strong, both in the narrative and in the artwork. (Strangely, given the source material, the artwork looks more like mid-60s Peanuts than late-70s Peanuts. Yes, there’a a difference.) The comic isn’t simply a redo of Schulz’s original comic strips; the scenes are restaged and have a comic book, rather than comic strip, flow.

In other words, taken on its own terms, “Get Well Soon, Charlie Brown” is an enjoyable piece of Peanuts. And if you don’t have those original 1979 comic strips, it’s a great way of discovering one of Schulz’s long-form Peanuts stories.

Things I’ve Been Reading: It’s Summer Camp, Charlie Brown

Peanuts #25
BOOM! Studios/kaBOOM!
Written by Paige Braddock and Vicki Scott
Pencils by Vicki Scott
Inks by Paige Braddock

For about three years now, BOOM! Studios has published comic books and original graphic novels starring Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts characters. Typically, each issue of the the comic book has three or four original stories of about four to six pages, along with reprints of classic Schulz Peanuts comic strips in full color. For the twenty-fifth issue of the ongoing series, BOOM! decided instead to do a single, ad-free, long-form story, “It’s Summer Camp, Charlie Brown.” Thirty-two pages of Charlie Brown and the gang going away to summer camp, as some of them do every summer.

School is out, and it’s time for Charlie Brown to go away to summer camp. He doesn’t want to go, Lucy tells him it’s a growth experience for him, Snoopy tags along, Peppermint Patty and Marcie are at another camp, Snoopy and his bird scouts go on a camping trip, Charlie Brown gets mail from home, and so on. Most pages are self-contained scenes with beginning, middle, and punchline. (The exceptions involve Snoopy and his bird troop, which amount to a longer-form narrative.) Sally’s friend Eudora makes an appearance, as does Roy.

It’s delightful to read. Each page feels like one of Schulz’s daily comic strips, told in four to six comic book panels, and the punchlines on many pages feel authentically Schulz-like; in other words, they’re bitter and somewhat cruel. The overall feeling I got from the comic was that I’d watched an early 80s Peanuts special, one that’s not a classic but is certainly fondly remembered. If you’re looking for something on par with the classic “Mr. Sack” summer camp storyline, you won’t find it here, but what you will find is something with its heart in the right place.

It’s not without flaws — it’s not clear that Charlie Brown and Linus are at the same camp until one page puts them together, and Charlie Brown has no story that carries through like Snoopy or Peppermint Patty and Marcie do — but they are flaws I can overlook because the overall feel of the comic is so charming. One issue I’ve had with BOOM!’s Peanuts comics has been their inauthenticity; tonally they weren’t as bitter as Schulz’s work, and the comics have an approach toward the characters (like telling stories with Shermy and Pettermint Patty at the same time) that forced me to treat them as though I were reading comics based on The Charlie Brown & Snoopy Show rather than on Peanuts itself. “It’s Summer Camp, Charlie Brown” feels like a cut above BOOM!’s usual fare, like its ambitions were higher.

If you read one Peanuts comic book this year, make it “It’s Summer Camp, Charlie Brown.”

The Peanuts Movie Trailer

Yesterday, the first trailer for next Christmas’ Peanuts film was released.

Wait. What? There’s a new Peanuts movie? How can that be?

Yes. Next Christmas, Blue Sky Studios, the animation studio behind the Ice Age and Rio series, will be releasing The Peanuts Movie, the first Peanuts film since 1980’s Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back) and the first CGI animated Peanuts film ever.

And for the “how,” in the past few years, the Schulz estate has started to open the door somewhat on Peanuts. Since Charles Schulz’s death, no one has written or drawn new editions of the Peanuts comic strip, but there are Peanuts comic books with new stories and there’s Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, a new animated special that was adapted from a number of old Peanuts comic strips. Plus, old material is being repackaged in new formats, like AMP’s themed collections (such as Snoopy: Cowabunga or Charlie Brown and Friends) or Fantagraphics’ holiday books (like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Stocking or Batter Up, Charlie Brown!)

With that in mind, they wanted to move forward with a new animated film. And, to be honest, I can’t blame them. Animated movies, especially CGI animated movies, are a big deal right now. And new Peanuts projects will put Peanuts in front of new audiences who may not be familiar with the classic comic strip; get a comic book in their hand or get them in the theater for The Peanuts Movie, and those can be their gateway drug, for want of a better term, into the real Peanuts.

I have to admit, I was skeptical when The Peanuts Movie was announced. “CGI animated Peanuts?” I thought. “Sacrilege!” But then I thought about the trailer for Snoopy Flying Ace, a game for the Xbox 360, and the CGI animation worked really well there. Yes, I’m used to seeing Schulz’s characters in 2-dimensions, but it wasn’t weird to see them in 3-dimensions when the first teaser trailer came out in March:

It worked for me! Even the 2001 joke at the beginning! I said elsewhere at the time, “Considering all of Snoopy’s fantasy personas (heck, he even imagined himself as Mr. Sulu once!), I don’t have any problem with the 2001 intro. :)”

And that brings us to this week, when FOX Searchlight began to promote the film, first with an article in USA Today, and then yesterday with the first full-length trailer:

I liked it. But it’s also hard to judge.

The CGI look is fine and the punchline to two gags (Snoopy electrocuting Woodstock and everyone laughing at Charlie Brown in the movie theater) have sufficient bite to them. That’s something that we forget or conveniently ignore about Peanuts; it’s a meaner, more cynical piece of work than we give it credit for, and things like A Charlie Brown Christmas are actually downright cruel.

But! The pop song was wholly inappropriate; it’s as ahistorical as Charlie Brown in a Minnesota Twins uniform. Given the segment of the trailer that it matches — the Flying Ace in pursuit of the Red Baron — I would’ve preferred a Royal Guardsmen song (or at least a cover). “Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron” would’ve been ideal, though I believe that Sparky absolutely hated the song.

Noah Berlatsky of The Atlantic thought the trailer was too saccharine and I can’t say that he’s entirely wrong. Yet, judging a film and its tone from a trailer is impossible. This is two minutes long, the film will be eighty minutes or more. At this point, other than a few sentences in the USA Today article, we don’t know what the film’s story is; being a year out, that’s not really something that FOX needs to sell audiences on just yet. Right now, FOX is playing the nostalgia card, and the trailer seems designed to say to audiences, “This is the animated Peanuts you remember, these are the characters you love, and now they’re in 3-D CGI.” What matters for FOX and Blue Sky Studios right now is awareness, not Charlie Brown’s friends and dog being mercilessly cruel toward him.

Suffice it to say, I’m excited to know this is coming. Time spent with Charlie Brown and his friends is always time well spent, and next Christmas I and many others will undoubtedly be spending time with them. :)