The new ongoing comic book series Peanuts, from Boom! Studios’ kaboom! children’s line, has two rather Herculean tasks on its hands. First, of course, is following in the footsteps of a master cartoonist like Charles M. Schulz; it partially solves this issue by running the artist’s original Peanuts Sunday strips alongside the new material. The second feat: adapting the Peanuts characters into a format that breaks them out of the comic strip and fits them more into a standard comic book narrative for kids. The result is not exactly the Peanuts I grew up with, but a a spirited hybrid that has a little something for everybody.
First, on to the great: the art here by Vicki Scott, Paige Braddock, and Matt Whitlock has a charming, bouyant quality that keeps the spirit of Schulz’ work alive without being a stiff & studied copy. In particular, Whitlock’s art in “Cat Cash” has alot of bounce and charm, taking full advantage of the unique dimensions of the comic book page but avoiding becoming something unrecognizable to Peanuts fans. The coloring is bright and gorgeous across the board, really making the book “pop” -- though it might be weird seeing modern “modeling” techniques and shading (though subtly done) on these characters.
The effectiveness of the new stories written by Scott and Shane Houghton really depends on what you’re looking to get out of them. The oft-devastating wry commentary on the human condition that Schulz injected in so much of his strips (especially the earlier stuff) is not quite there. We do get a nice slice-of-life bit with the song Lucy can’t get out of her head in “Music Goes Round,” and the character is at her catastrophically (sorry) cranky in “Cat Cash.” But compare the hi-jinks in both stories with that single last panel in one of the reprinted Sunday comic strips, where Linus, after being mercilessly harassed by his sister for making too much noise, asks Lucy if he is buttering the toast too loud. That “punchline” is like a kick in the gut, condensing a whole book’s worth of sibling drama in one image.
But the question is: are such darkly funny and somewhat adult moments what’s needed to build Peanuts into a comic book for kids (or, in a larger sense, to re-introduce the brand to new child audiences)? I forsee the argument that if the Peanuts comic strips and paperback collections of our youth were good enough for us, they’ll be good enough for an 8-year-old encountering the characters for the first time. But we also had the animated Peanuts specials, and they included a lot of the traditional narrative and slapstick elements seen in Peanuts #1. I would even go as far as to say that the cartoons really helped extend the life of, and mainstream, Peanuts as a property that has lasted to the present day. And there were a lot of nuances and jokes I didn’t “get” in Peanuts the newspaper strip until I was much older.
With the comic’s mix of reprints and new material, I think we get the best of both worlds -- satisfying Peanuts fans old and new.