thrift store finds: a parcel of peanuts paperbacks
(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the books I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)
I honestly do not have much to say about my collection of Peanuts mass-market paperbacks. This might come as a surprise to some who are accustomed to my writing upwards of a thousand words in a stretch about The Family Circus… but I don’t have a ton to add to what has already been said about Charles Schulz’ enduring comic creation.
Published by Fawcett-Crest, these are probably the paperbacks most familiar to readers of Thrift Store Finds. They were legion throughout the ’60′s, ’70′s, and ’80′s. The very helpful and wonderfully named AAUGH.com informs me that these are known as “half books”, as they collect half the content from a separate collection.
Beyond those facts, I couldn’t say what the hell is going on with the Peanuts paperbacks.
The publishing history for Peanuts is as labyrinthian and confusing as anything I’ve ever seen. There were full books, half books, double volumes, Full Book Excerpts, Big Books, themed books, and Parades. I pity the serious collector! You can comb through the entire publishing history here, if you choose… but be prepared to look in the mouth of madness.
The first thing I want to tell you about the Fawcett Crest Peanuts collections is that they are, by far, the easiest comic paperback book to spot in thrift stores, by virtue of the all-red guilded page edges. A quick scan of any thrift store or used book store’s shelves will let you know instantly if there are any Peanuts on offer. It’s the first thing I do whenever I enter a thrift store- look over the spines and examine the pages.
They’re easy to find… when they make it to the shelves in the first place. Over the past year, I have noticed there is a brisk resale potential for anything Peanuts related… and these books are no exception. They are often scooped up quickly and re-sold at a price higher than the usual “quarter apiece” that my St. Vincent DePaul has most paperbacks marked. I’m lucky to have found the ones I have.
I won’t spend time writing about how very very good Peanuts. Far smarter comic historians and fans than I have waxed rhapsodic on how deservedly large Charles Schulz’ creation looms in American popular culture. I will mention, as a child of the late 1980′s/early 1990′s, my own attachment to Peanuts has practically nothing to do with the comic strip itself and almost entirely born out of the incessant marketing of the characters through television and commercials.
So I loved It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and I coveted a Snoopy SnoKone maker… but the comic strip appearing daily in our local newspaper just seemed bland to me… especially when stacked against The Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes. I dare say it may have become a little bland for Schulz too- the last gag in the strip I really loved is when he named the new Van Pelt sibling “Rerun” as a nod to having been doing the same types of jokes again and again in his career.
Of course… then Schulz proceeded to indeed recycle the same old gags with Rerun Van Pelt that he’d been doing for years and years. I’m not trying to blaspheme here; Schulz did a great job carrying on with Peanuts his entire life and 85% of the strips are amazing. I’m just saying, by the time I reached it in newspapers, the strip wasn’t what it once was. I’ve since gone back and read the best of what Schulz has produced and it is indeed, wonderful stuff.
I don’t need to talk about content any further, so I won’t. What I will instead mention is how well these collections utilize space and the medium of the paperback for these strips. It’s only within the last ten or twenty years that people started looking at comics and comic strips as art… before that point, they were mainly treated as kid stuff. With that attitude comes a certain amount of disdain for professionalism. I’ve mentioned a time or two here how awkwardly positioned some of these comics are when reprinted in paperbacks. You can look at my Howling MAD post or my Superman post for visual evidence to that.
What I want to point out is how well thought-out the panel arrangements and design are in these Peanuts collections. Whereas it looks as though someone was asleep at the switch with that Superman paperback, here it’s clear the designer put some care into setting up these Peanuts strips. That’s no easy feat, considering some of them are Sunday strips and do not conform to the traditional 3 or 4 panel structure!
By eliminating panels and some creative shuffling, whoever put these collections together created a really wonderful reading experience within the limitations of the paperback. These collections even go so far as to include Sunday strips, something I would have thought would make the strips unreadable… but have a look:
I think the design of this strip is even MORE effective than whatever it originally was. As everyone abandons Linus, the strip gets more and more narrow, until he’s left by himself in the rain. These paperback collections are fully of economical and interesting panel compositions like this.
I’m afraid I’m giving them the short shrift by not delving any deeper, but I’m no learned scholar on the ways of Peppermint Patty. I’m just a guy who finds comics in thrift stores… and these are some of my favorite finds.