December 27, 2018
(++++) BLASTS FROM THE PAST
Snoopy: Boogie Down! A “Peanuts” Collection. By Charles M. Schulz. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.
Magic Eye Amazing 3D Illusions: 25th Anniversary Book. By Magic Eye Inc. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.
Care to revisit the disco craze of the 1970s or the pre-virtual-reality 3D visualizations of the 1990s? If so, these are the books for you. Actually, there is much more than disco in Snoopy: Boogie Down! It is the latest re-collection of some of the wonderful Peanuts strips that generally seem as fresh, funny and innovative today as they did during the lifetime of Charles M. Schulz (1922-2000). Peanuts endures in part because Schulz explored childhood’s wisdom, uncertainty, discoveries and trials in so thoroughly timeless a manner. Charlie Brown and his friends changed appearance over the decades – none more than Snoopy – and the nature of Schulz’s writing changed, too. But his focus remained always slightly off-kilter, turning traditional notions of childhood innocence inside-out by having the Peanuts characters behave in both childlike and adult ways, dealing in their everyday lives with everything from thumb-sucking to Biblical exegesis. Peanuts could be a surprisingly bittersweet comic strip, but it was almost never a news-oriented one, and that is one reason it still stands up so well. Nevertheless, Schulz and his characters did not exist in a vacuum, and the strip contained occasional contemporary references: in one sequence, for example, Charlie Brown loses a spelling bee by spelling the word “maze” as “Mays,” since he is thinking of baseball great Willie Mays. That story would have none of the resonance today that it had when Schulz created it: Mays retired in 1973. Still, even if disco is long-dead, there is something very Snoopy-ish about seeing the smiling beagle in an arms-raised dance pose on the cover of Snoopy: Boogie Down! It is fun to look at even if today’s young readers, for whom this book is intended, will not likely understand why Snoopy is wearing a white suit and sporting gold chains. And most of the strips in the book are not time-bound at all. There is the one, relevant in any year, in which Lucy observes that there are “only six more shopping days until Christmas,” while Snoopy lies peacefully atop his doghouse thinking, “Not if you don’t buy anybody anything.” There is the one in which Charlie Brown laments that he has “always been criticized,” that even when he was born “they said I wasn’t right for the part.” There is the one in which Snoopy, frustrated that it is raining on his face, asks if it could just rain on his feet – and that is exactly what happens, to the amazement of Lucy; but Snoopy knows “there are always ways of working things out.” Of course, the book also contain samples of recurring Peanuts themes, such as Lucy holding a football that Charlie Brown never manages to kick, Schroeder playing brilliant and complex music on his toy piano while Lucy asserts her undying (and unreciprocated) love for him, Sally talking to the school building as it reminisces or complains, and Charlie Brown’s never-flying kite getting stuck in improbable places (in one strip, the kite string has managed to weave itself although all the uprights of a picket fence). There are also multi-strip sequences, such as one in which Snoopy’s brother, Spike, leaves his home in Needles, Arizona, and Charlie Brown tries to find a neighborhood family to adopt him. The attempt fails; unadopted, Spike eventually hitchhikes back to Needles. But the final strip of the series, like one of the earlier ones, contains one of those dated references that pop up from time to time in Peanuts: Spike enjoys watching TV, especially a show containing the dialogue, “Ah, Colonel Hogan!” That would be Hogan’s Heroes, a comedy set in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp (no kidding). It ran from1965 to 1971, and neither today’s kids nor their parents will likely remember it or even know about it – or find the premise amusing. The whole thing seems even more outdated than the very thick TV set, complete with rabbit-ear antenna, on which Spike watches the show. Still, if there are occasional strips in this collection that will not resonate with 21st-century readers, there are many, many more that will. Peanuts will not be losing its entertainment value anytime soon – in fact, the strip has never really gone away at all, even though Schulz himself has been gone for nearly two decades.
The Magic Eye illusions – which look three-dimensional even though they are flat, provided you train yourself to see them the right way – have never really gone away, either, even though they are well past their heyday in the 1990s. The illusions continue to appear in various forms, ranging from calendars to vision-improvement books, as the rather self-congratulatory introduction to the 25th-anniversary Magic Eye book points out. Aside from that introduction and some instructions on how to see the illusions, this is a wordless book: the pictures are the point. Actually, Magic Eye pictures are still impressive after all these years, even though virtual reality and computer-generated imagery have long since produced more-3D-ish appearances than anything Magic Eye is capable of offering. These pictures still have charm, though, and the charm varies depending on how the pictures are designed. Most look like jumbled overlays of objects, sometimes to the point that a whole page resembles little more than a smear of colors. Looking correctly at the pictures by “diverging your eyes,” to use the Magic Eye term, results in the many images coalescing and producing what appear to be different but related images that seem to float against a backdrop in the distance. For example, a flat image of dogs and balls becomes an apparent 3D one in which dogs are actually chasing the balls, running and leaping toward them, against a background of dog pictures. Equally intriguing, in a different way, are what Magic Eye calls “floaters,” pictures that show the same objects in “3D” as when you first look at them – except that the objects end up appearing three-dimensional. These can be strikingly realistic: for example, a picture showing a large flock of seagulls above a beach turns in “3D” into one in which some birds are over the sand, some are over the waves breaking at the shore, and some are – that is, seem to be – over water considerably farther out. Verbal descriptions have never done justice to Magic Eye creations, which are a strictly visual phenomenon. For example, one page in the 25th-anniversary book simply shows roses of all colors and a few red hearts – a pretty enough picture all by itself. But viewing the page by “diverging your eyes” turns it into a view of a huge, white, rose-and-red-heart-covered “3D” heart appearing to float in front of a background of additional roses and red hearts. To be sure, there has always been an issue for some people regarding Magic Eye images: not everyone sees them. The creators of Magic Eye believe this is just a matter of training and practice, and certainly it is true that once you get the hang of seeing a few pictures, it becomes much easier to see others. If, however, you simply cannot see these images in their apparent 3D, as their creators intend, there are plenty of other ways of seeing and enjoying 3D imagery in the 21st century – ways that did not exist when Magic Eye was at its zenith. Still, it is worth the effort (and does not require much of it) to practice “diverging your eyes” so you can see the material in the 25th-anniversary Magic Eye book. These cleverly made pictures use design and printing technology in a way that produces some unusual effects, presented in this book with a very pleasant overlay of nostalgia for those who remember when Magic Eye first appeared – and with a very pleasant sense of the curious and unusual even for those encountering Magic Eye for the first time.