April 28, 2016
(++++) THE EVOLUTION OF AMUSEMENT
Snoopy: Party Animal—A “Peanuts” Collection. By Charles Schulz. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.
Adulthood Is a Myth: A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection. By Sarah Andersen. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.
Although some of Charles Schulz’ Peanuts strips have topical references that have become dated, the majority are as fresh now as they were when Schulz created them – quite an accomplishment, considering the fact that he died in 2000 and had been creating Peanuts for half a century. There are just enough older-than-their-years sensibilities in the Peanuts kids to make their observations enjoyable, telling and amusing for readers today. In the latest Snoopy-focused collection from Andrews McMeel’s AMP! Comics for Kids line of books, for example, Charlie Brown walks to Snoopy’s doghouse with Snoopy’s supper dish, muttering to himself that all he does day after day is feed the dog and that he is getting sick and tired of it. After Charlie Brown leaves, Snoopy gazes down at the dish from his usual perch atop the doghouse, then thinks to himself, “How can you enjoy eating when you feel guilty?” The same theme is handled from a different angle, in what was originally a Sunday strip, with Charlie Brown feeling sorry for himself as he gets food ready for Snoopy yet again – “you don’t even get any thanks for it.” But then Snoopy walks on his back legs to Charlie Brown, his arms held out for a hug, which he delivers, followed by a kiss on Charlie Brown’s hand, leaving Charlie Brown to walk away with a typically bewildered expression, saying, “Well, most of the time you don’t.” A lot of Snoopy’s existence is tied to food. In one strip, Lucy drops a candy on the ground and Snoopy grabs it, then thinks, “Happiness is a piece of fudge caught on the first bounce.” And then there is Snoopy bringing his full food bowl to Charlie Brown, who forgot to put a sprig of parsley on top. Elsewhere, Frieda, the girl with naturally curly hair and the character who always insists that Snoopy should be out chasing rabbits, says that Snoopy leads a useless life, so Snoopy puckers up and gives her a loving “smack,” after which he thinks, “A kiss on the nose does much toward turning aside anger!” There are a number of cat strips here, too – not involving the never-seen scary one next door, but relating to one that Frieda gets and carries around (or gets others to carry around) and that just hangs limply over people’s arms, leading Snoopy to think at one point, “They’ve finally developed a boneless cat.” In another strip, Snoopy is seen thinking that “cats are the crab grass in the lawn of life,” but he is really too good-natured to make crankiness stick, even making friends with multiple snowmen in various strips and becoming heartbroken each time one of them is melted by the sun. This collection’s title is not particularly closely connected to the content, although there are a few party-focused strips here. But then, there are a few of many types of strips, such as a sampling of the famous ones in which Lucy holds a football for Charlie Brown to kick, but always pulls it away at the last instant so he goes flying (Schulz’ variations on that particular theme were legion, akin to those in the Warner Brothers cartoons about the numerous ways the coyote failed to catch the road runner). Peanuts has long since attained the designation of “classic,” and this collection, like other recent ones of old-but-still-wonderful material, shows why.
Humor, however, marches on, as does time. And today’s cartoon-based humor is more likely to be “edgy,” more likely to involve young adults, and more likely to originate or be widely available on the Internet than comics of the past. Sarah Andersen’s “Sarah’s Scribbles” fits right into the modern cartooning ethos. Some of these casual-looking white-background comics offer new takes on old themes, such as one in which the protagonist (Andersen’s alter ego) searches for 10 dollars in her huge purse, ends up falling into it, and in the final panel is floating in space and wondering “Where am I?” Others deal with our always-connected contemporary world, such as “Social Media in Real Life,” in which cartoon Sarah stands on a stage with a megaphone, shouting to a packed audience, “I just ate a burger! And it was good!” Then there are strips in which Sarah’s uterus plots against her: she is sad for no reason and wonders what is wrong with her, while “elsewhere” the sly-looking uterus is thinking, “Two more days”; and in another sequence, the uterus exclaims “Still no baby?” and clamps down on her from inside, causing a perfectly captured expression of menstrual pain. Also here are everyday-life strips, such as one in which cartoon Sarah tries on a series of dresses and tops and discovers that her bra shows through each of them, leading her to ask, “Are clothing companies aware that bras exist?” And in one strip there are four examples of good things cartoon Sarah could do while her WiFi is down – read, enjoy the weather, and so forth – plus a “What I do” panel showing her with eyes bugged out, demanding that the technology obey her. Andersen has a wry and often witty approach to just about everything in her life: one panel is “Me before the holidays,” showing cartoon Sarah looking nice in sweater and scarf, and the next is “Me after the holidays,” showing about half of her body, so swollen that “I don’t even fit in the panel.” This is scarcely timeless humor and highly unlikely ever to be considered “classic,” but it is pointed enough and self-aware enough to resonate with its intended 21st-century audience of young adults. “I’m pretty sure adulthood was a myth all along,” says cartoon Sarah at age 85, and it is hard to escape the notion that that is exactly what real-world Sarah and her friends truly expect to believe five or six decades from now.