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>The peanuts < von Charles M. SChulz (1922- 2000 )

Links: Peanuts01 /Peanuts02 /Peanuts03 /Peanuts04

  

Whenever asked, Charles Schulz has repeated the statement that fans now know almost as a mantra: Unlike those involved with many other "assembly-line" newspaper comic strips, he remains the only person whose hands touch the adventures of Charlie Brown and the gang. Schulz writes, draws, inks and letters his strip, and has done so ever since October 2, 1950, when the strip debuted. Similarly, Schulz always promised that the strip will cease production when he finally called it quits. Unlike other classic strips that have been revived, often by lesser talents, Peanuts will forevermore remain solely a Schulz legacy.Except...that's not entirely true.

 During the 1950s and early '60s, Charlie Brown and his friends didn't just appear in newspaper strips and reprint paperback collections; they also were a popular feature of comic books...a medium usually dominated by the likes of Superman and Captain America, but one that included plenty of room for lighter fare.

And -- surprise, surprise! -- when the Peanuts comic book appearances stopped being newspaper reprints and "graduated" into original features, true fans immediately spotted the fact that somebody other than Sparky Schulz was doing the artwork.

But that's getting a bit ahead of things. Let's turn back the clock to 1952, when Peanuts simultaneously debuted as a supporting feature in two comic books -- the March-April issues of Tip Top Comics (#173) and United Comics (#21) -- both published by United Feature Syndicate.

UFS recycled many of its newspaper features in these and other comic books. Tip Top, for example, routinely starred newspaper strip favorites such as Tarzan, Li'l Abner, Nancy, and the Captain and the Kids (the Katzenjammer Kids). United Comics tended to focus on Ernie Bushmiller's Fritzi Ritz. This pin-up style, "good girl" feature seems outrageously chauvinistic by contemporary standards; what's perhaps more intriguing is that it was pretty sexy for its time period, and I can't help laughing at the notion of a single comic book that included both the sweetly innocent Peanuts characters, and a curvaceous, bikini-clad Fritzi Ritz.

After that initial appearance in Tip Top #173, the Peanuts back-up feature moved to a third book, Tip Topper, beginning with #17 (June-July 1952); it remained there until the book was discontinued after #28 (April-May 1954). The first few issues of Tip Topper reprinted four daily strips on two pages of each issue; the format then switched to two Sunday strips, one apiece on two pages of each issue. Oddly, the run was consecutive except for #23, which inexplicably did not include any Peanuts material. Shortly before the final issue of Tip Topper, Peanuts also returned to Tip Top as a supporting feature, beginning with #184 (Jan.-Feb. 1954) and continuing through #188 (Sept.-Oct. 1954). Each of these issues reprinted four Sunday strips on four pages. Several of these later issues feature Peanuts covers, and this cover art -- although not signed -- appears to be by Charles Schulz.

 

Peanuts also continued to appear, during this same period, as a back-up feature in most issues of United Comics, later retitled Fritzi Ritz (beginning with #27). The run here also was consecutive: #21-#33 (the latter dated March-April 1954).

Sparkler Comics, another "anthology book," is known to have included reprints of Peanuts daily strips in at least one issue: #115 (Jan.-Feb. 1954). Similarly, issue #33 of Sparkle Comics (Feb.-March 1954) also included reprints of Peanuts daily strips.

The Peanuts gang earned "star billing" only once during this period, when UFS released a one-shot comic titled Peanuts. Although identified on the inside front page as #1, UFS never produced any subsequent issues. The exact date of release is murky, and is thought to be late 1953-early '54. It boasts a truly wonderful Schulz cover, which shows Charlie Brown, Patty and Snoopy playing baseball indoors; Charlie Brown acts as catcher, hunched in front of a fireplace grate, while Patty licks her lips as batter and waits for the pitch from somebody off-camera. Snoopy watches at one side. This issue reprinted 42 daily strips on 21 pages; a few additional pages had unrelated supporting features. Some of these strips (possibly all; I don't yet have enough information to make a definite statement) are themselves reprinted from earlier issues of Tip Top and Tip Topper.

All told, UFS produced close to three dozen comic books with Peanuts content, in all cases reprints of newspaper strips, sometimes daily panels, sometimes Sunday strips. What's particularly pleasing, though, is that all these reprints -- even the daily strips -- are in full color, a luxury rarely enjoyed by fans accustomed to the black-and-white reprint paperbacks and anthology collections. Better still, the Sunday strips reprinted in these comic books are from the very early days, and in many cases represent material which, to this day, has not been gathered in any reprint books.

It should be noted, however, that some of these comic books repeated strips...not much of a bargain, when one considers the wealth of Peanuts newspaper strips available at the time! Fritzi Ritz #29 (July-Aug. 1953), for example, reprinted only two daily strips...both of which also were included three years later (with four others) in Fritzi Ritz #45 (Aug. 1956).

UFS got out of the comic book publishing business at the end of 1954, and some of its titles were picked up by St. John in 1955, including Fritzi Ritz and Tip Top. Although there was a noticeable gap of several months, the numbering of both books continued consecutively. Thus, Tip Top resumed with #189 (May 1955), and continued to include Peanuts as a supporting feature during St. John's entire run of this book, through #210 (July 1957). Each issue had from four to six pages of Sunday reprints, one per page.

Peanuts continued to be only an occasional supporting feature in St. John's run of Fritzi Ritz, starting with #37 (1955, month unknown). Early issues reprinted six daily strips on three pages. Further details here are hazy, although it is known that Peanuts subsequently appeared in #38, #41and #43-#47. I suspect there are others, and I await verification from enterprising collectors. The St. John run of Fritzi Ritz continued through #55.

To the extent that I've been able to identify the contents of each UFS and St. John comic -- which is to say, when I've been able to examine the comic itself -- the chart below specifies the contents of each issue, and notes the cases where the strip(s) have not been reprinted subsequently:

Peanuts newspaper strips in comic books
* = not reprinted in any book

United Comics/Fritzi Ritz

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