Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz

I'm going to say right up front that I loved every page of this book.  That's no surprise.  I adore Peanuts and am a great fan of Chip Kidd's art books, particularly Batman: Animated and the under-discussed The Golden Age of DC Comics: 365 Days

What is surprising is that it took me this long to get around to reading the damned thing.  Published way back in 2001, the book seemed particularly noteworthy at the time for showcasing some of the earliest Peanuts strips, which as aficionados are aware are quite different from what the series would eventually evolve into.  Fantagraphics started up their complete reprinting of the strip a few years later, but before that I don't think those early fifties strips were readily available anywhere.  Actually, The Art of Charles M. Schulz makes a great companion to the Fantagraphics series.  Those books, reprinting two years worth of strips per volume, are about at the halfway point right now, so reading the Chip Kidd book now reminded me of how much the strip changed over the course of its long run, a change that appears much more gradual when reading the Fantagraphics volumes.  It's neat to see the changes take place within the pages of a single volume, and the eighties and nineties strips reprinted here by Kidd serve as a kind of preview of what's to come in the Fantagraphics releases.

For those unfamiliar with Chip Kidd's books, they take an art-heavy, text-light approach to their subjects.  Printed here are strips photographed from the original artwork or from the pages of the newspapers in which they originally appeared, with minimal interjections by Kidd, usually noting subtle changes in Schulz's drawing style or the first appearance of a major character.  Also present are photographs of various Peanuts merchandise, to the chagrin, I'm sure, of those comics purists who are uncomfortable with this aspect of Peanuts.  Readers of this blog know I have no such problem, so I enjoyed this aspect of the book greatly.  Both strips and merchandise are lushly photographed by Kidd's frequent collaborator, Geoff Spear, who does his usual exemplary job and probably should have his name on the cover of the book along with Schulz and Kidd.  Spear's photography transforms mass-produced, off model toys into fine art that is just lovely to look at and, in its way, quite moving.

I'm not sure there are many like me who love Peanuts and haven't gotten around to this book yet, but on the off chance that there are, consider this your reminder that it is out there, and that it is well worth your time.


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