As I write this entry, I am about a third of the way through The Complete Peanuts Volume 3, which features all of Charles M. Schulz's strips from the years 1955 and 1956. I've read both of the preceding volumes in this wonderful series published by Fantagraphics Books, and so far, this is my favorite. For some reason, it seems really apparent that Schulz hit his stride in June of '55 and never slowed down.
The art in this particular volume is very close to the Peanuts we all remember. Sparky's linework is very tight, very controlled and there's some wonderfully detailed Sunday strips here, that go against the utter simplicity of the later strips. The dense and busy strip for Sun., May 22, 1955 shows Charlie Brown in 14 packed panels running through alleys, fences and ruins to catch a ball, only not to, in classic Charlie Brown fashion. This period shows Linus growing up into a full-fledged major character, although still not at a talking stage, Snoopy beginning to think more and more like a human, Pigpen all cleaned up--at least for ONE whole strip--and that's the gag, and Charlie Brown and the rest of the kids acknowledging then-current pop culture, namely the Davy Crockett craze with a rare burst of multiple strips based on one topic.
It's amazing how most of all of Schulz's characters were so fully realized at their inception. Linus is a wunderkind, doing all kinds of tricks, including building elaborate houses of cards, and doing jigsaw puzzles while they stand on end, vertically. Snoopy is growing out of the cute puppy-like phase that marked the previous 2 volumes, and is increasingly elastic, almost constantly in motion, and Schulz is endlessly inventive with his cartoon dog in this period.
There is a rare 4 panels of black on August 3, 1955 as Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty stare off at a night sky filled with stars. "Aren't the stars beautiful, Charlie Brown?" Peppermint Patty asks. "Uh, huh," replies CB, "Let's go inside and watch television...I'm beginning to feel insignificant." Reading Schulz's masterpiece, a strip many of us have utterly enjoyed, but just as utterly taken for granted due to the sheer repeated exposure to it, makes me feel insignificant, too, but just because Sparky was such a genius. A comic strip about kids, telling little and big truths about all of us and making us laugh each and every day. That was Schulz being a genius.