Charles M. Schulz took childhood, its joy and its trauma, and turned it into an iconic comic strip that became part of the culture. Granted, Peanuts faltered somewhat in its later days, and it became associated with endless marketing and spin-offs. Never mind: the best of Charlie Brown and the gang endures, deceptively simple line drawings turned into art, with a depth of philosophical perspective rarely found in other strips.
It’s no surprise that many cartoonists cite Schulz as a key influence and, in 2015, his estate permitted several of them to draw licensed takes on Peanuts for a Sixty-fifth Anniversary Collection.
Many people contributed to this volume, which features some prose commentary and nearly forty comic contributions. A number of these are depictions of the characters in a given artist's style: interesting, perhaps, but for me, not that engaging. The best feature original stories that illustrate the influence, universality, and possibilities of the characters.
"Escapade in Tokyo" by Stan Sakai and Julie Fujii looks and reads like an authentic Peanuts adventure that we missed at some point. Charlie Brown gets lost on a trip to Japan. The strip turns around his usual blockhead luck; getting lost becomes the best thing that could have happened to him.
Terry Moore, whose work has incorporated tributes to Peanuts before, here gives us a fresh take on familiar Peanuts scenarios, in a story that takes nine gag strips. It doesn't slavishly imitate the source, but I suspect that the story, if illustrated by Schulz, could have been slipped into the run of Peanuts without many people noticing. I consider this high praise indeed.
Some artists and writers directly address the Peanuts influence. Matt Groening and Hilary S. Price both relate their experiences of actually meeting Schulz, with Price connecting the cartoonist's identity to his characters. Jimmy Gownley's "A Dark and Snowy Night" instead puts himself into the world of the strip so that he can let the characters know how much they meant to him, especially as a child. Chris Schweizer uses the medium to discuss the influence of Snoopy on popular culture: the Air Ace genre in story and film is long dead, and "a century has passed since the first flying Aces took to the skies. Thanks to Peanuts, we remember them"(51).
Jeremy Sorese's contribution examines the absence of adults from the strip—or, near-absence. The adults exist as unheard off-panel voices and, of course, the famous muted trumpet noise of the animated specials. He also revisits the one actual Peanuts storyline to depict adults, from May of 1954. The characters look lost among adults, and Schulz never depicted them in the strip again.
The lack of adults and other odd conventions, along with changes to the strip, get addressed in the obligatory marriage of Peanuts and Eldritch Horror, "It's the Great Old Ones, Charlie Brown" by Evan Dorkin and Derek Charm. The tale includes very direct references to H.P. Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers as it considers the disappearance of characters, the anthropomorphizing of Snoopy, and the peculiar passing of time, among other matters. I'm not certain what Schulz would have made of this story, but it works bizarrely well.
Finally, there's a story that begins with the reflections of a certain bespeckled girl: "For as long as I can remember, adults have used that word for us... Kids use different words." Perhaps the best blend of source tribute and original approach, Melanie Gillman's "Weird" examines the speculation that surrounds Peppermint Patty and Marcie. The tale illustrates the challenges of growing up queer and the need for role models. Marcie realizes the stories that surround her and her friend aren't really written for them, though Gillman's story never forgets that, as depicted in Peanuts, these girls are still children.
Memory and TV specials have kept the Peanuts Gang alive, in the years since Schulz's death. I do not know how long they'll remain familiar, but this anthology demonstrates that they have cast long and diverse shadows.