The new book Funny Things: A Comic Strip Biography of Charles M. Schulz presents the story of the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, through over 400 pages of comic strips.
It's a very interesting approach, as authors Luca Debus and Francesco Matteuzzi create comic strips that stick pretty snugly to the format, style, and tone that was used in Peanuts. The artwork evokes but deliberately doesn't exactly match Schulz's style, and Debus and Matteuzzi throw in plenty of allusions to Peanuts elements, like the title lettering on the "Sunday" pages, the exasperated "AUUUGGGH"s and derisive "HA! HA! HA!"s
The comics are even presented in the same rhythm that daily comic strips like Peanuts must adhere to: six smaller black-and-white comics (for Monday through Saturday) then one larger color comic (for Sunday).
I've been in love with Peanuts ever since I was a toddler, and as a cartoonist, I've also tried my hand at appropriating the strip's style, tone, and tropes for my own purposes. But this is a pretty massive formal undertaking, as they have to tell the full story of Schulz's life, professionally and personally, in tiny fragments, each ending in a Schulz-like punchline. It's an interesting effect to read his life story in precisely the format that defined his creative life.
Even though they are using the daily comic strip format, the authors are fairly unblinking in presenting some of the darker elements of Schulz's life. I've always been fascinated how the strip became much lighter and less psychologically complex following the collapse of Schulz's first marriage in 1970.
And just as Schulz necessarily borrowed from his life experiences to create Peanuts, the authors in turn throw in Peanuts tropes to portray events in Schulz's life. In the comic strip, Charlie Brown admires from afar a little red-haired girl from a playground bench, but is too shy to ever approach her. In Funny Things, the authors take the real-life episode Schulz based that on and draw Schulz on a bench just as Schulz drew Charlie Brown.
Of course, for copyright reasons, the Peanuts characters cannot appear in the book at all (aside from a partial image of the back of a skating Snoopy mascot), but their presence is felt through the comic strip character of Charles Schulz.
Images posted with permission of Top Shelf Productions.