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Book and Comic Reviews

Sunday, May 22, 2008

Uncle $crooge #375 (March 2008).  Every genius has a blind spot, and, for Carl Barks the otherwise splendid storyteller, it was science fiction.  "The 24-Carat Moon," the 1958 classic that leads off this issue, is the one shining exception that proves the rule – the one Barksian outer-space saga that can be read today without reflexive wincing, though a couple of scientifically questionable moments do elicit a twinge or two.  Getting there (in this case, to the solid-gold planetoid that "[Duckburg's] latest satellite" has discovered hiding "in the dark sky beyond our regular moon") is quite literally half the fun, as the tale divides neatly into an action-packed "space race" and a soft-pedaled moral lesson about relative value.  In an opening sequence that seems tailor-made for animation – indeed, why this story wasn't adapted wholesale for TV by DuckTales is a mystery -- Scrooge, Donald, and HD&L ride a rapidly-built rocket into space and outduel the Beagle Boys, the mega-rich Rajah of Eyesore, and the ditto-ditto Fabulous Cattle King (who's the spitting image of Longhorn Tallgrass, a cowpoke tycoon Barks had recently created for a $crooge filler story) for first dibs on the auriferous asteroid.  Scrooge is oddly passive throughout the whole ordeal, permitting Donald to pilot the craft and the Nephews to bamboozle the competition with ersatz golden meteorites (or, in the case of the Cattle King, golden cattle), and the sight of HD&L leaning out the rocket's windows (sic) to create the decorative distractions is a pretty long stretch even by the relaxed standards of Disney sci-fi, but there's precious little else to complain about.  With the race safely won, the other shoe (or whatever) drops when the Ducks meet Muchkale, the erstwhile "richest man on Venus," who has long since claimed the moon as his property but has been stranded on it for hundreds of years "eating nothing [and] drinking nothing!" (Since Muchkale seems to be able to live on the airless moon without breathing apparatus, perhaps this feat isn't as much of a stretch as it seems.)  To Scrooge's utter astonishment, Muchkale proposes to give him title to the opulent orb in exchange for "a handful of dirt!"  Shouldn't Scrooge, that famously canny bargainer, have at least suspected that something was up at this point?  Maybe the "Gold Fever" that was later to nearly cost him and his family their lives in DuckTales' "Treasure of the Golden Suns" was messing with Scrooge's mind, or perhaps Scrooge, reflecting his role as noisy ballast during the outbound flight, was simply having a bad day by his own standards.  In any event, Scrooge makes the deal, and Muchkale whips out a device that uses the dirt to create a miniature, living world – and, in so doing, makes Scrooge's great triumph look mighty hollow.  Sure, some of the story's elements are hokey, but it's the theme that counts – not to mention the "ultimate treasure race" that precedes it.

Terry Laban and Cesar Ferioli's "Curses" keeps the good vibes going with a clever, albeit somewhat flawed, tale in which, for once, Magica De Spell's efforts to exploit magic and drain Scrooge's Old #1 Dime of its "power" are tripped up by some decidedly Earth-bound folly.  Scrooge, having purchased a "cursed" ruby and promptly undergone a financial losing streak, calls for magical assistance to break the spell.  The visiting expert calls in Magica as a "specialist," and the saucy sorceress, to no one's surprise, demands Old #1 as payment for her services.  Overcome by the weight of the decision, Scrooge cracks, and it's left to Donald to hand over the dime.  Magica is home free, right?  Wrong, since she had taken the liberty of siphoning cash from the treasury of the Sorcerers' Union (and the sorcerers need a union to protect them from what employer, exactly?) to play the stock market.  The SU bigwigs get wise and deactivate Magica's ability to manipulate magical items until she repays the money.  Somewhat inexplicably, Magica blames Old #1 for her troubles and chucks it into the maw of Mt. Vesuvius.  Now, shouldn't Old #1 be neutral insofar as Magica is concerned until after she melts it into an amulet?  If it has residual luck from "being in McDuck's possession," then why bother making an amulet in the first place?  Sorry, but this seems to go against "canon" to me.  In any event, Scrooge gets his dime back through a sequence of wildly implausible coincidences, and a stewing, powerless Magica is left to polish Scrooge's coins until she can pay off her debt.  Perhaps Scrooge was channeling Richie Rich's dad, who always liked to give captured villains a chance to repay their debt to society while working for him.  Even so, if I were Magica, I'd hold out for an employer who paid better…   

The balance between good fortune and self-defeating behavior is also very much on display in "The Hard-Shelled Sage of Duckburg," in which Joe Torcivia, working from a story by Jens Hansegard, once again outdoes himself in the dialoguing department.  Overwhelmed by the choices that are flung his way as part of the normal run of business – the parallel to the opening sequence of Barks' "Tralla La" story should be clear – Scrooge takes a flyer on purchasing a mysterious box from a Chinatown dealer that happens to contain the legendary "oracle turtle" from Chinese folklore, the creature that carried the world's first magic square on its shell.  Scrooge is soon using "Tobias, [the] wheatgrass-wolfing wizard" to make all sorts of decisions.  While a similar device, Helen of Troy's magic harp in the DuckTales episode "Raiders of the Lost Harp," didn't come with a downside – except for those whom Scrooge caught in the act of lying -- Tobias does: Scrooge is soon wearied by the sheer predictability of knowing everything in advance.  When Tobias predicts that the Beagle Boys will be able to rob the Money Bin, a spooked Scrooge caves and sends away his guards, surrendering to the inevitable.  After the Beagles (big surprise) break in, Scrooge realizes that he himself made the prediction come true.  The Beagles promptly defeat themselves in exactly the same way.  (In an earlier scene, foreshadowing the clash of karmas to come, a Beagle responds to another Beagle's complaint that they never succeed in besting Scrooge by saying, "It's what we do, brother… Deal with it!"  My favorite line in a script chock-full of great quips.)  Scrooge, having learned that choices are part of life, is soon basking in the typical chaos of his office.  I may be repeating myself, but this is Joe's best script yet.  Excellent art by Rodriques, as well.

Another adaptive ace, Jonathan Gray, does the word-smithing for the concluding story, Jan Kruse and Bas Heymans' "The Laurels of Julius Pecunius."  This Dutch effort poses a question that actually contains a fair bit of intrigue: When Scrooge is faced with a nearly impossible task – such as locating the titular baubles of an obscure Roman emperor on an estate he's recently acquired – why doesn't he simply call in Gladstone Gander to exert the effects of his wondrous luck?  Before you reply with the standard "But that would be a form of work!", consider that Gladstone would merely need to "let nature take its course."  That's exactly what Scrooge asks him to do here, with the insufferable gander tossing in a few verbal barbs directed at the laboring Donald and HD&L, who are converting the estate into a golf course.  Obviously, allowing Gladstone to do the dirty work flies in the face of Scrooge's entire philosophy and worldview, but as a one-off plot device, it's a pretty interesting notion.  Though Gladstone does receive a broken web for his trouble, the misfortune (of course) leads to his pointing the way to the location of Pecunius' palace.  Scrooge gloms the goods and soon displays how the unfortunate Pecunius got his name: thanks to the effects of an ambient gas, he begins to spend money at a furious pace.  If the story has a flaw, it's that too little time is given over to Scrooge's spending spree, but, truth be told, the Gladstone angle did deserve the space.  Scrooge recovers, but not before the damage (from his point of view) is done.  Jonathan and Joe write dialogue so much better than me, it isn't even funny (actually, it is, much more so, and that's the whole point).  In my next review, I'll try to go easy on myself.  I promise.

One additional nugget of praise needs to be bestowed on this issue.  In commemoration of Scrooge's 60th anniversary, Don Rosa is producing a "pin-up series" of highlights from Barks and Rosa stories.  #4 in the series, "Scrooge McDuck's Early Life," adorns this ish's back cover, and it is by far the best to date.  I just adore the central image of "shoeshine boy" Scrooge and his shine box.  Joe once compared the boy Scrooge to Tale Spin's Kit Cloudkicker, and that devil-may-care attitude sure shines through here.  Hopefully, these pin-ups will be offered for sale in an enlarged form at some later date, by Gemstone or by Rosa himself.

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Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #690 (March 2008).  Now I can say that my handiwork has appeared in a comic that also featured the works of John Lustig, William Van Horn, Carl Barks, and Floyd Gottfredson.  Lustig and Van Horn reunite for a great opening Donald epic, "A Double Dose of Triple Trouble," which finds the talented duo taking aim at Donald and Gladstone's longstanding rivalry over Daisy.  Of course, there's a catch – in order to short-circuit any nasty scenes at the Pansy Pluckers' Picnic, Daisy demands that the battling boys cooperate and enter the three-legged race.  This isn't your typical such race, either; it's "nine miles of wilderness, swamp, and dangerous danger!".  Don and Gladstone's need to cooperate is so novel that the gander even "[begins] to sweat!" in lieu of relying on his luck.  A series of unfortunate happenstances leads Gladstone to believe that Don is jinxing him, but Gladdy's luck reactivates just in time for the boys to beat burly babes Bertha and Urtha Baker.  (The Bakers are funny, but I've no doubt that their expansive personalities would've been even more exaggerated in L&VH's stories of the late 80s and early 90s.)  In a final twist, Don and Gladdy, turned off by Daisy's health-conscious picnic lunch, end up eating with the Bakers.  It's good, slapsticky fun that brings back pleasant memories of L&VH's golden years.

Next, we have the concluding segment of Gottfredson and company's "The Gleam."  Far be it from me to cast stones (of the jeweled type or otherwise) at Gottfredson, but the wrap-up to this story is a little problematic.  For openers, "The Gleam" gets his powers from an electrified jewel in his turban… with a plug???  If "the smell of greasepaint" (in Mickey's words) didn't give away "The Gleam"'s true identity, then surely the obscenely long extension cord to Minnie's house would have?  The "greasepaint" clue that tips Mickey off came while he was still under hypnosis, so it's not clear why he would have had such precise memories of it.  Finally, is hypnotism really that much of an off-the-wall gimmick that Goofy would pick up on it faster than Mickey and the entire Mouseton police department?  This is especially strange in light of the fact that "detective" Goofy's denseness proves to be the one nut that "The Gleam" cannot crack.  It's still a strong story for all that, but a tidier summation was in order, I think.

After a brace of Scamp newspaper strips, David Gerstein and Dick Matena give Zeke Wolf a new-fangled gimmick for pilfering pigs – a pair of goofy hypnotic glasses straight out of the Ajax Novelty Catalog (nice continuity with Mouseworks/House of Mouse, David!).  For a while, at least, Zeke seems to think that the things will actually work, unlike the Pigs, who know the specs are just "harmless toys."  This is why Zeke, try though he might, will never quite measure up to Wile E. Coyote standards.  Zeke gets "lumped" by Br'er Bear for his pains and winds up unconsciously channeling lines from Animaniacs' "Chicken Boo."  David also tosses in references to ballet, The Black-Eyed Peas, and even St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, if you can believe it.

"The Winter of Their Dissed Kismet," the Junior Woodchucks story originally written and drawn by Kari Korhonen and dialogued by me, suffers a bit due to the delayed release that saw it appear well after snowfall season, but I think it holds up fairly well for all that.  All those years of watching DuckTales stood me in pretty good stead when it came to thinking up believable dialogue for the Nephews.  A line Joe Torcivia and I used to describe HD&L in The DuckTales Index – "They're intelligent, mature kids, but they are just kids" – seems to apply here.  The story turns on HD&L and the Woodchucks' making a wish for snow so that they will have walks to shovel (and a steady stream of income for the Woodchucks' Jamboree) and then coming to believe that the power of their wish is still in effect as a result of repeated snowstorms.  The boys are just credulous enough, I think, to believably fall for such a theory.  Perhaps all those adventures with their Uncle Scrooge softened them up to the extent that they might be willing to accept the likelihood of such a curious phenomenon.  I loved Korhonen's "Sons of the Moon" and was genuinely delighted to get the chance to dialogue another one of his Nephews-focused stories.

The remaining two stories in the issue are pleasant enough time-fillers.  Sarah Kinney and Rodriquez' "Weather or Not" suffers from an awfully contrived premise – after Goofy mistakes the "magic weather stones" powering Doc Static's new weather-controlling gizmo for jellybeans and eats them, he gains the ability to control the climate with his emotions– but it climaxes with a clever conceit.  After Doc S. tries to bring Goofy under control by hypnotizing him (uh-oh, is that "canonical" in light of "The Gleam"?) into having no dreams, Mouseton ceases to have any weather at all.  Sort of reminds me of the Barks story in which Gyro's super dye accidentally gets into Duckburg's water supply and everything winds up having "no color, like water" after Gyro tries to neutralize the dye's effects.  Speaking of Barks, "Donald's Monster Kite," a short story from 1946, finds Donald building a guess-what in order to show HD&L that he can, too, construct a high-flying plaything that's every bit as good as theirs.  Don overdoes it, of course, and winds up sailing over the Duckburg cityscape before a piece of luck that even Gladstone would scoff at bails him out.

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Book Review

Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America and How We Can Get More of It by Arthur C. Brooks (Basic Books).  The author of Who Really Cares, the tome that turned popular stereotypes about charitable behavior on their heads, is back with more data regarding which groups in the American population report high levels of happiness.  No doubt, most outside attention will focus on the very first chapter, wherein Brooks displays that conservatives have consistently been happier than liberals from the early 70s up until the present, but those who toss the book aside in disgust will miss some important insights.  Some of the keys to happiness outlined by Brooks include practicing a religious faith, enjoying a happy married life, working at a job with meaning, and giving back to others through charity.  A general theme that runs through all of these is that those who refuse to accept victimhood – and instead take steps towards gaining control over those parts of life that can be controlled – are bound to enjoy happy lives.  Not a shocking conclusion in and of itself, but it does fly in the face of redistributionist theories that simply "shifting money around" to equalize income will make everyone feel better, not to mention emphases on the god of "self-esteem" (it's always best to strengthen one's own sense of self-worth, as opposed to relying on others to fill our tanks).  Lest you think that this is just some partisan screed, Brooks also cautions us that those at both political extremes are among our happiest citizens – and, for that reason, their "tyrannical certainties" should be allowed as little control over our political process as possible.  The book gets a little repetitive at times and lifts some of its insights directly from Who Really Cares, but it's a worthy companion piece to Brooks' earlier volume.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #690, featuring a Junior Woodchucks story dialogued by yours truly, is now on sale!  Get it before it's gone.

Comics Review

Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #689 (February 2008). Just in time for Mother's Day, we get to celebrate… ah, me… Valentine's Day with Marco Rota and Don Markstein's lead-off story, "Burning Hearts."  Sounds like the perfect set-up for a tale that trashes soap operas and all they represent, but Rota has something else in mind.  Normally the last Duck creator prone to animation-style wackiness, Rota channels a Warner Bros. cartoon here, putting Donald through one frustration after another after he sees Daisy with a suave sheik and determines to stop the budding "rival" before he can get to the Duck-equivalent of "first base."  The game but faux pas-fain Don breaks dozens of traffic laws, destroys a fancy hotel's china, and gets tossed out by the sheik's trio of bodyguards not once, not twice, but three times (with the third guy's butterfingers supplying a funny running gag).  The ultimate revelation that the sheik is a chick-flick star whose company Daisy is sharing as the result of winning a contest (and who has been giving Daisy pointers on what "sweet nothings" to say to her boyfriend) isn't the biggest of surprises but is clever nonetheless.  I've no idea how much Markstein contributed to Rota's original plot, but his dialogue is excellent.  An odd artistic observation:  A lot of Rota's supporting dogface characters literally look like humans (as in: they have dogface features but human proportions), which leads me to believe that some inside-joke caricaturing might have been involved here. 

In part two of Floyd Gottfredson's "The Gleam," Mickey does his dogged detective best to determine how the mysterious jewel thief manages to douse lights and swipe loot – and who his "inside agent" might be.  The revelation that Minnie, of all people, is assisting the crook whom Chief O'Hara (with no small amount of misplaced pride) labels "an international master criminal" gives Mickey quite a shaking up.  At the close of the installment, we finally see The Gleam in action, as the flashing jewel in his turban hypnotizes Mickey into imitating a chimpanzee.  Given the comparative lack of action (apart from the caterwauling of The Gleam's victims), it's remarkable how well Gottfredson and his creative crew preserve the story's high suspense level.

With "Marriage Mountain-Style," a Fethry Duck story featuring Hard-Haid Moe, an otherwise strong issue suddenly tumbles off the mountain.  Moe is a rather limited (not to mention somewhat unoriginal) character to begin with, but here we see the first appearance of an inevitable hillbilly relative, niece Amy Lou, who's best described as a mutant Peppermint Patty in heat.  Amy's at Moe's shack "rarin' ta git wed up!", and species doesn’t appear to be a major concern for her, as the passing Fethry and Donald find out after their jeep (huh?) conveniently blows a tire.  Amy would gladly accept both hapless Ducks as husbands (would that be a "ménage-erie" or what?), but a male hillbilly who is apparently Amy's old flame arrives just in time to save monogamy-minded Moe from being obliged to blast the losing (or should I say "winning"?) Duck in the marriage sweepstakes.  Dick Kinney and Al Hubbard try their best, but there's really no reason for Donald and Fethry to be involved in the story at all… and their involvement raises all kinds of unsettling issues that I'm surprised the editors at the Disney Studios didn't quash from the start.

Speaking of tetchy situations… After a reprint of "The No-Good-Deeder," a decent, Jack Bradbury-drawn Li'l Bad Wolf story from 1957, Mickey and Butch visit "drag city" in Sarah Kinney and Cesar Ferioli's "Schoolgirls".  Why is Pete, of all people, running a ladies' "charm school" in Mouseton's Snob Hill section?  And why do all the pupils sport stogies and five-o'clock shadows?  Chief O'Hara prevails upon Mickey and Butch to go undercover as Millie and… er… Bechamel and investigate to uncover a possible link to a recent series of robberies.  The complications pretty much write themselves – Pete, evidently oblivious to the similarities between the voices (if nothing else) of "Millie" and Mickey, takes it upon himself to pitch a little woo – but the ultimate figure behind the scam comes as something of a surprise.  Like "Burning Hearts," it's good, slapstick fun, though Mickey and Butch seem a little too enamored of their frilly duds for comfort in the closing scene.

"Jet Rescue," the issue's concluding story, might be considered a Valentine's Day story by proxy in that Donald appears to be contemplating a brief fling with Miss Swansdown Swoonsudden, a fellow member of the Merry Loafers Club.  Why else would Don take Miss S.S. to the top of the improbably tall and narrow Pinnacle Rock (ooh, the symbolism!) to find a nonexistent cowslip?  By the end of this 1946 Carl Barks story, however, Don is stranded with his would-be paramour after "the worst storm in years" (you can tell it is because no one puts on rain gear or heads inside) wears away the base of the peak.  HD&L, dunned by Don earlier in the tale for wasting $20 on miniature jet engines, save the day by using a jet-powered toy plane to rocket a breeches buoy to the stranded pair.  To be honest, this isn't one of Barks' best; apart from the "super-storm" that honestly isn't, the boys learn about their uncle's plight from a same-day newspaper headline (thanks to Joe Torcivia for pointing that out to me), and Donald's sudden switch from domestic terrorism (as in: he's ready to terrorize the Nephews for wasting their money) to Merry Loafer-esque gaiety comes as a little too much of a thematic "180" for my taste.  Besides which, the supposedly comely Miss Swansdown Swoonsudden, with her almond-shaped sunglasses and poofy lips, is actually rather hideous.  Unless Donald is asking Miss S.S. for tips on how to woo Daisy, as Daisy did for Don in "Burning Hearts," it's tough to tell what, exactly, he sees in the chick.

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Book Review

The Complete Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, Volume 4: 1936-1938 (IDW Publishing).  This latest collection showcases the landmark appearance of the first major "grotesque" villain in the Tracy pantheon: "The Blank," a.k.a. Frank Redrum, a disfigured killer who's engaged in getting revenge on the members of his gang while wearing a piece of cheesecloth (and no, Ralph Kramden, it's not French, so far as I know) that renders his face a featureless tabula rasa.  "The Blank"'s almost matter-of-fact approach to his gruesome business makes him seem twice as creepy, at the same time as it demonstrates just how well Gould could characterize his bad guys.  Compared to the faceless felon, the rest of the adversaries in the volume are positively mundane, though The Purple Cross Gang, a bunch of bank robbers who wear masks and quasi-Fascist uniforms and have the titular emblem tattooed on their tongues, skirts the edge of grotesqueness in their own way.  (Wiping away the story's air of conspiratorial, secret-society goofiness in one fell swoop, the gang's leader tommy-guns his compadres, a la the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, after they get a little too uppity regarding a fairer division of the loot.)  Wastrel rich kid Johnny Mintworth provides the obligatory cautionary tale, getting mixed up with a crooked lawyer and an insurance scam before coming to his senses and helping Tracy and the cops nab the atrocious attorney, losing his life in the process.  Tracy's weirdest "case" of all (and calling it a "case" is putting it kindly) runs him up against a bunch of comely female crooks who siphon expensive perfume from department-store shelves for sale on the black market.  Tracy frees himself from their scent-sational clutches by snagging one member's hair with his teeth until she unties him.  Yowtch!  Other features in the volume include the standard intro by Max Allan Collins and a piece on the earliest Tracy film projects.  An obvious must for Tracy fans.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book Review

The Complete Peanuts: 1967-68 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Press).  As America careened into the ghastly late 1960s with its pop culture fracturing in pieces, Peanuts stood virtually alone as the one creation with quite literally something for everyone.  As revealed in this latest collection (and many earlier ones – virtually all of the strips in this volume have been reprinted at some time or other), the psychological discourses and keen personality conflicts that had boosted the strip to fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s were still very much a part of the mix, but they now existed cheek-by-jowl with Snoopy's burgeoning fantasy life, the initial introduction of ethnic diversity into the Peanuts "universe," and Schulz' first tentative stab at fashioning an entire continuity around Peppermint Patty, his one true breakout character of the decade.  While some fans may have chided Schulz for not taking sides in the cultural conflicts rocking the nation, hindsight reveals that he had the right idea all along.  The Peanuts strips of this era are still eminently fresh and readable in a way that a dog-eared copy of Crawdaddy or Ramparts is not.

Fantagraphics' back-cover blurb claims that Snoopy's identity as the "World War I Flying Ace" had "almost entirely taken over" his personality during this time.  To the contrary:  this era saw ol' Snoop go in so many different directions, both frivolous and un-, that it's a true challenge to list them all.  On the serious side, we get the saga of Lila, Snoopy's previous owner, whose letters torment Snoopy (and, by extension, the baffled Charlie Brown) in a couple of powerful continuities.  In the sequence that inspired the plot for the movie Snoopy Come Home (1972), Snoopy rushes to Lila's aid after his ex-owner goes to the hospital.  Granted, Snoopy doesn't temporarily decide to return to Lila for good here, as he did in the movie, but it's easy to see why Schulz latched onto this relatively short sequence as ideal screenplay fodder.  Snoopy also seeks psychological help from Lucy after hearing strange noises in the night (needless to say, Lucy doesn't take kindly to being paid in dog food).  After concentrating on "Red Baron"-battling shtick early in the volume, the beagle later kicks into high gear with visits to The Masters, the wrist-wrestling championship in Petaluma, and (at least until an ocean unexpectedly gets in the way) the Olympic skating finals in Grenoble, France.  He also finds time to run for political office (don't ask me which one), wield an "iron paw" as the demanding new manager of Charlie Brown's baseball team, track Lucy as a secret agent, and pose as a "Cheshire Beagle."  Snoopy hadn't gotten to the point of taking over the strip just yet, but one can sense Schulz beginning to lean ever so slightly in that direction.

The introduction of the black character Franklin in early 1968 is often cited as Schulz' acknowledgment of the changing racial climate of America and his need to get with the multicultural program.  Schulz did get some flak from bigots who complained about Charlie Brown inviting Franklin home after the pair met at the beach.  In retrospect, the flap hardly seems worth the trouble, as Franklin never developed a truly distinctive personality (nor even a "hook," as did the equally bland Schroeder with his Beethoven-mania).  Earlier, Schulz essayed a lighter touch in diversifying the cast when Peppermint Patty, making one of her then-regularly-scheduled Summer pilgrimages to the main Peanuts cast's neighborhood, brought along the pint-sized Mexican/Swedish slugger Jose Peterson.  One can almost hear Schulz chuckling to himself, "Let's see how they try to categorize this guy!"  Alas, Jose never officially appeared again, nor did he speak so much as a word of dialogue.

Peppermint Patty herself is still a fairly minor character at this point, with Schulz still working out some details – PP isn't even calling Charlie Brown "Chuck" consistently yet – but the June 1968 continuity in which she goes to summer camp represents a watershed of sorts.  Rather than meeting Charlie Brown, Linus, or any other familiar figure at camp, she shoulders the burden of leading lady all by herself, taking charge of a trio of younger girls, one of whom (Clara) is the proto-Marcie.  (For the record, Clara isn't the first one to call PP "Sir"; that honor goes to Sophie, who complains of homesickness – that is, until she meets Snoopy, who's at the boys' camp across the lake.)  From this point on, Schulz permitted PP more and more "screen time" until she became a full-fledged regular.  (Just before the camp sequence, PP got star billing in a Father's Day Sunday strip, indicating that she was very much on Schulz' mind at the time.)

John Waters' introduction to the volume is serviceable, but Fantagraphics, isn't it about time to balance the political scales a bit?  Where are the famous right-wing fans of Peanuts to give us their views on the strip?  Given that Schulz was performing a delicate balancing act at this time, pleasing a mass audience  at a time when that was proving harder and harder to do, getting views from all sides would only seem fitting.

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