Charles Schulz’s Peanuts has long been available in book-length collections, the slim, often topical paperbacks a staple of children’s departments at libraries and old book stores.
Such collections pre-dated the normalization of the term “graphic novel,” though—the technical definition of which could be argued at great length, but the current popular definition of which within the publishing industry is simply comics bound with a spine—which allows Boom Studios to proclaim Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown the first Peanuts graphic novel.
One could argue whether or not that is the case, I suppose, but not without first arguing about the semantics of the term, so let’s skip all that. This is definitely the first Peanuts-branded comics packaged and sold as a graphic novel, as opposed to a collection, its the first that reads like a graphic novel and, more noteworthy to fans of the characters and their creator, it’s also the first new Peanuts comics material produced since the death of Schulz.
“New” probably needs some qualification, though. The 85-page book is an adaptation of the recently-produced animated special of the same name, and that was based on Schulz’s strips. The result then is a pretty perfect balance between providing new Peanuts material without resorting to someone other than the late Schulz doing it—No, he didn’t draw these lines, but these are still his gags and his story. The book, like the special, is therefore more of a respectful cover song than a whole new band exploiting the name of another one.
The script is from Stephan Pastis, the Pearls Before Swine cartoonist, and Craig Schulz, Charles’ son. Three artists are credited, along with two who get an art direction credit: Vicki Scott provides layouts, she and Bob Scott provide pencils and Ron Zorman inks.
The style is reminiscent of previous animated specials moreso than where Schulz’ strip left off, and the creators were self-consciously seeking to replicate the Peanuts style of the 1960s—1963-1964 specifically, according to some of the notes in the back—but the layouts are quite modern. Pages are laid out to read more vertically than horizontally, and the panel sizes change frequently, depending on the pace of the gags; the artists also use angles and “shots” that seem daring when applied to characters that for decades were relegated to medium shots. One doesn’t often see a close-up applied to a Peanut.
The construction is that of a graphic novel—that is, it reads like a graphic novel—but it’s still quite episodic and gag driven. The specifics of those gags are all familiar: Charlie Brown’s difficulties with kites, Lucy’s bossiness, Sally’s unrequited love for Linus, Lucy’s unrequited love for Schroeder, Pig-Pen’s filthiness, etc. Giving the book additional structure is another familiar conflict—Linus’ attachment to his security blanket, which here takes on a sort of star-crossed lovers, two-of-‘em-against-the-world stort of vibe, as various characters try to come between him and his blanket, for his own good.
Snoopy tries to steal it all the time because that’s something Snoopy tries to do. Lucy tries to forcibly separate him form the blanket. Charlie Brown tries to help him kick the blanket habit as a friend. Linus himself struggles mightily to do without it before his anti-security blanket grandmother comes to visit.
You’ve seen this all before, of course, but you haven’t seen it quite like this, and that in and of itself is pretty interesting and, considering how seminal Schulz and his signature work are in the field of comics and American pop culture in general, well worth paying attention to.