To Be (or Not to Be) Continued
by T. Hodler
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Well, one of my initial impetuses for the way [Wilson] was told was that I was reading the collected Peanuts editions [...] And to read them in sequence, it felt like a new way to tell a story, in a way. I mean, that wasn’t Charles Schulz’s goal was for you to read them all at once, that you’re supposed to read them every day. But to read them in sequence, it really felt like it was replicating the way that you remember the passage of time in memory. It – you know, you remember just these sort of high moments, emotional highs and lows or certain resonating moments of a given year.
—Dan Clowes, interviewed for NPR’s Talk of the Nation
I wonder if Clowes is right that Charles Schulz did not intend for his strips to be read all at once. When Schulz first began Peanuts, of course, the idea that the entire strip would eventually be collected in its entirety would have been beyond imagining, but at a certain point in his career, it must have become obvious that the vast bulk of his strips would, in fact, be collected into books. That must have influenced the way he created them on some level, right? Even if he was primarily concerned with the strips as standalone, daily reads (and he presumably was), it could not have escaped his notice that they would eventually be read together, and that after their initial publication, that would be more or less the only way they would be read. One of my co-bloggers (or our readers) might know more definitively what Schulz thought of all this, if he ever said anything about it publicly.
That potential savior might also have the answer to a question this raises: When exactly did the strip cartoonists who might be affected by this fact first begin to realize it? And how, if at all, did it affect the way they conceived of their art? Clearly by the time of later cartoonists such as Bill Watterson and Garry Trudeau, eventual collection in books had become more or less a given for the most successful cartoonists. Walt Kelly of course famously reworked Pogo for his book collections, and I am sure there must be more examples of continuity rearranging that more knowledgeable readers can name. I wonder when exactly the likelihood of this dual publication (at least for the most popular artists) became clear, if ever. (This also brings to mind the loosely similar change in mindset affecting cartoonists like Clowes and the Hernandez Bros., as graphic novels take the place of the serialized comic book their work was once designed to fill.)
Someone like E.C. Segar couldn’t have predicted that the complete Popeye strips would eventually be available for purchase and shelving, but it’s amazing just how well Thimble Theatre works read as a piece. Perhaps because of its vaudeville nature, the repeated setups and gags (necessary to keep readers up-to-date even if they’d missed previous strips) actually often lead to increased hilarity and enjoyment. (I am writing this without access to the books, or I would provide an example or two. Perhaps I will have time to add one here later.)
Another strip whose continuity-preserving repetitions often provoke my laughter is Stan Lee and Larry Lieber’s Spider-Man. But that somehow seems less of a testimony to craftsmanship.