Happiness Is This Graphic Novel: Charlie Brown and the Human Condition

[12 April 2011]

By Charles Moss

Peanuts will always be most famous, first and foremost, for the comic strips that Charles Schulz created for newspapers around the world, and that continue to run today in reprints. The animated specials, such as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas, not to mention numerous Peanuts-related merchandise—t-shirts, figurines, trade paperbacks, posters, etc. – have solidified Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang as some of the most recognizable characters in pop culture history.

Schulz died in 2000, with his farewell comic strip published only days after his death. He had planned to retire from cartooning due to the colon cancer that would take his life at 77. For nearly 50 years, Schulz himself created 17,897 original Peanuts strips for daily newspapers around the world. Currently, reprints of his work appear in more than 2,200 newspapers in 75 countries and 25 languages.

Now, Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang have made their way to the graphic novel.

Published by kaboom!, BOOM! Studios all-ages comicbook imprint, Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown is adapted from the newly-released direct-to-DVD title of the same name. The story focuses on Linus and his quest to rid himself of his favorite blue security blanket before his grandmother comes to visit. The content is based on material written by Schulz and adapted by his son, Craig, as well as Stephan Pastis, with art by Bob Scott, Vicki Scott and Ron Zorman.

Peanuts in comicbook form is nothing new, however. Schulz’s characters appeared periodically in various comic books in the 1950s and early 1960s. Tip Top, Fritzi Ritz, United Comics and Nancy were among the titles in which Charlie Brown and company appeared. Though Peanuts did eventually get its own title, it was often lumped in with other stories as a short compilation, a common practice during that time. Quite often, stories were never longer than eight pages and the artwork, though in color, which differed than Schulz’s three-to-five panel daily strips, seemed to lack the same quality and spirit as the dailies, probably because Schulz neither wrote nor drew them. He did, on occasion, however, illustrate a cover or two.

The difference with Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, is the freedom the graphic novel form has allowed the artists to take with Schulz’s classic characters. Linus, Charlie Brown, Lucy and the others are bigger and more colorful, yet they maintain the minimalist style for which they are known. It’s nice to see the Peanuts characters not limited by their usual three to five panel storyboards and instead, make good use of the graphic novel medium with elongated, oversized panels, giant word balloons and colors that are reminiscent of the animated TV specials but much more vibrant.

Schulz once said, “Charlie Brown has to be the one who suffers, because he is a caricature of the average person. Most of us are much more acquainted with losing than we are with winning”. This is the basis for what his Peanuts comics have become. This is how his characters have grown into classics. Because everyone, no matter the time, no matter the place, no matter the background, experiences loss, failure, humiliation, and longing at some point in their lives.

In Happiness… not only does Charlie Brown suffer but Linus does as well. After several failed attempts to rid himself of his blanket, Linus explains, “Don’t we all need something?... What do you want from me? Do you want to see me unhappy? Do you want to see me insecure? Do you want to see me end up like Charlie Brown? Are any of you secure?”  The cast of characters looks down at the ground, straight lines drawn across their faces. Even Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s ever-confident Beagle, his polar opposite, has no reply. Only Pig Pen, the filthy little boy with a cloud of dust forever surrounding him, raises his hand proudly.

In true Peanuts fashion, it says a lot about who we are. Our need for security, our need for acceptance, our need for something warm to hold tightly on to.  And this is really how Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown begins to get it right.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/139450-happiness-is-this-graphic-novel-charlie-brown-and-the-human-conditio/