Wednesday, September 28, 2005

BOOK REVIEW: THE COMPLETE PEANUTS: 1950 TO 1954 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics)

Maybe I'm just overly-reminiscing about my childhood dayze (the GOOD portion, that is!) or perhaps I'm just starved for something interesting to happen for me gulcher-wize, but I guess that my latent fixation with the old PEANUTS comic strips that was revived upon a chance purchase of a couple paperbacks last month has finally come to full fanatical fruitation. And frankly, if you woulda told me even a good ten years back (never mind twenty or thirty) that I'd be dishing out hard-begged money for a PEANUTS anthology of any sorts let alone a hard-covered edition costing comparative megabucks I woulda called you a Jugheadus Supremus! I mean, by that time (roughly mid-nineties, though probably MUCH EARLIER) it was more'n obvious that PEANUTS had devolved into such a pathetic excuse for a comic (which undoubtedly mirrored the sick state of Suburban Ameriga just as much as it echoed its finer, more coherent qualities during the fifties) that I probably would have delivered a Lucy-styled SLUG atcha for even THINKING I'd ally myself with such a commercial and unfunny strip such as that. If anything, PEANUTS after its dip from mega-stardom sometime in the seventies became a comic that was obviously resting on its a solo Beatles album (sorry Tim!), by that time PEANUTS merely existed because it was PEANUTS and could get away with anything whether it was a single-panel throwaway worthy of a greeting card or something completely dour echoing Charles Schulz's own emotional shortcomings (which, in interviews, he freely admitted to...Charlie Brown seemed so much an echo of Schulz not only as a child, but as a world-famed celebrity). I must admit that I held such a grudge against PEANUTS for what it became that for years I felt kinda ashamed that it had been one of my fave strips since the days I used to break my dad's lap having him read the funnies to me...after PEANUTS' fall from grace even at a time when it still remained a fave amongst the unwashed I refused to admit I ever liked it. Naw, my top fave strips were now (and had ALWAYS been) NANCY and DICK TRACY with such old timey faves as HENRY, FERD'NAND and Bob Montana-period ARCHIE up there somewhere (along w/SMOKEY STOVER, THE KATZENJAMMER KIDS, the sexual BEETLE BAILEY and a few more I'll remember in a week or two...).

But I don't care what anybody says, because I really dig the heck outta these fancy, slipcased Fantagraphic-edition PEANUTS bound-volume reprints! Sure it would have been better had NANCY or DICK TRACY or even THE JACKSON TWINS and FRECKLES (see, I told you I'd remember more!) got the royal smythe-sewn bound treatment, but considering that PEANUTS was at its tip-top best during the early days before everyone and their uptight uncle began jumping on the mid-sixties hipster bandwagon I ain't complainin'. When it comes to comic strips, early-PEANUTS is better than late-PEANUTS or maybe even no-PEANUTS for that matter, and given the sorry state of modern-day comic strip craftsmanship and belly-shaking guffaws these books sure come in handy for some quickie escapism that'll take you back to those fun days that presumably happened before you were born when the baby-boomer generation that was inspired by PEANUTS (and vice versa) sure held a lot more promise than it eventually delivered on!

The earliest strips have a quaint, almost NANCY-styled simple sense of humor and are appealing on that great mid-Amerigan doofus level, and after about a year's run you can start to see the beginnings of what the strip would become at its height (which for me was the mid-to-late-fifties, or right before it evolved into one of the more popular comics on the page). There are already some interesting running gags this early in the game, from Violet's mud-pies which Charlie Brown actually enjoys eating (or at least licking the sand off the top of 'em) to Lucy's winning streak at checkers (going for 10,000 wins in a row against Charlie Brown, who's always deluding himself that Lucy is just lucky) as well as the ones that begin with Patty and Violet not inviting Charlie Brown to their party (with Charlie Brown delivering some great comeback taking his rejection in stride thus turning the joke on the two stuck-ups!). The introduction of new characters like Schroeder, Lucy and Linus (originally as infants who quickly grow to the same age/size as the rest of the gang...excepting Linus who stays toddler-sized for quite awhile!) is quite intriguing if you can believe's almost as if you were in on the ground floor of something BIG seeing these kids for the first time, and not only that but you get to see some early experimentation, such as the three-part Sunday sequence where Lucy enters a golf tournament where (shudder!) adult spectators can actually be seen, albeit either at a distance or from the waist down! And, for you sticklers, the first of Schulz's many PEANUTS failures can be observed once we hit late 1954 and the loud-mouthed Charlotte Braun, who perhaps should be given an award of sorts for being scooted outta the strip faster than Faron, Frieda's cat who had previously earned the honors of being the most useless PEANUTS character to get the guillotine.

Looking at the Fantagraphics website I see that the series is already up to 1958, and who knows, maybe if I sell enough BLACK TO COMM back issues I'll be able to AFFORD 'em all. I can always use such fine, engrossing reading for the upcoming winter season, and since I guess there aren't going to be any new issues of DENIM DELINQUENT or CRETINOUS CONTENTIONS coming out any day soon (but I've come to expect that) these books will do fine in easing the winter blahs.

THE STOOGES 2-CD set (Elektra/Rhino)

Apologies must go to Bomp/Alive because I can't find my copy of the Bloody Hollys CD they sent me to review, but until that one turns up amidst the leaning tower of Cee-Dees in my bedroom I guess this li'l gem'll have to do as far as reviewing fodder goes. And although I hate to admit it for fear of looking "square" amongst the throngs of enemies out there but frankly, I've been tiring of a lotta these Stooges repackages that have been coming out for the past few years! Now don't get me wrong, I still think that Iggy and crew were one of the bestest bands to grace this golden earth of ours and I sure dug that FUNHOUSE box set that Jon Behar burned for me ages back, but it hasn't been like I've been champing at the bit to buy that new 6-CD set of 1973 live gigs and outtakes that just came out (even with the DVD!) and a lotta the other repackages have left me yawning from here to San Diego and back. I figure that, at this point in time, I can osmose to about fifty Les Rallizes Denudes CDs in my collection even if there is some overlap, but having at least ten singles, LPs, cassettes and CDs with "I Got a Right" on 'em is merely taking up precious space that can be used storing ten singles, LPs cassettes and CDs with "Heroin".

But this new 2-CD edition of the debut Stooges splatter is different. That junk-shop gem has always been a favorite here at the BLOG TO COMM offices, but as far as outtakes and general additions go it's been the most neglected of the batch. Until now that is, for the extra CD enclosed therein contains a lotta rare booty that everybody said never existed and I believed them which only goes to prove what a gullible jerk I can be! Anyway whatcha get here are "original John Cale mixes," complete versions sans quickie fadeouts and alternate vocal takes of your Stooge faves guaranteed to ground your head into the woofer until it's mere pulp. Sure it woulda been great if some of those free-form freakout early Stooges gigs coulda popped up here (in the enclosed booklet, longtime Stooges biographer Ben Edmonds describes a show where the band played atonal mulch while Iggy sang "Slow Boat to China"!), but we can't have everything!!! Still, if you wanna hear your faves remade/remodeled, this makes more sense than those bogus Stooges "alternate mix" bootlegs that came out in the late-eighties.

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