Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happiness is a Good Desk Calendar

Charles Schulz is sometimes criticized for the extent to which he allowed his famous Peanuts characters to be merchandised. I suppose the thought is that all of the toys, t-shirts, mugs, animated specials, Met Life commercials, et cetera, somehow tarnish the purity of Schulz's vision. The polar opposite example would be Bill Watterson, and his refusal to allow any ancillary Calvin and Hobbes products or animated specials to be produced.

I don't subscribe to this line of thought. While I applaud and support Watterson's decision, I have no problem with Schulz's. In fact, I think the Peanuts characters adapt quite easily to other media while still retaining the essence of what makes the characters and comic strip so great. Case in point: The annual series of Peanuts desk calendars, the latest of which is sitting just to my left as a write this.

The daily comic strip is a natural fit for these daily calendars. I'm not sure how long they have been in production, but this year's takes the same approach as last year's calendar, presenting the cartoons from a single year of the strip in chronological order. Last year it was the strips from 1973, a point at which most of the cast was in place, firmly established in the roles they are famous for. This year's calendar jumps back in time to 1960, an earlier point in the strip's history where the drawing style is subtly different than what many would identify as the "classic" Peanuts look; Schulz's line is tighter, Charlie Brown appears more squat with a thicker neck. Not all of the characters had yet been introduced (Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Woodstock are all several years away at this point). Shermy is still around.

Curiously, characters who do not appear in the 1960 run are used as spot illustrations underneath each daily strip. Perhaps the makers of the calendar didn't want to upset any die-hard Peppermint Patty fans by having her absent. All of the strips are colored, with a simple, primary-color focused palette, and on the back of each page there are games (crossword puzzles, mazes, trivia), a neat little extra that was not present in last year's calendar.

All in all, it's a nifty little package, something that puts a smile on my face every morning. 1960 is a pretty good year for the strip, too. Sometime this summer, one of the funniest single Peanuts strips (and I believe Schulz's personal favorite) should appear, having to do with Charlie Brown and Linus remarking on the shapes taken by clouds. I won't spoil the gag here.

There are two other Peanuts calendars released annually: a "mini" desk calendar and a wall calendar. Those are probably great,too.


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