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'Charles Schulz is the only man we know who can make a round circle, a dash, a loop and two black spots express the following: an abiding love for Beethoven, a disillusionment with all women or an eight-day crusade of hate against a paper kite. If Charles Schulz jiggles the circle, spots, dash and loop one way a comic character named Charlie Brown will tear your heart with man's inhumanity to man. If he wiggles them a little differently he will make you laugh. The ability to make these little ink scratches into facial expressions is, of course, the mark of a great cartoonist.'
You're a Winner, Charlie Brown! is a selection of Charles Schulz cartoons from Go Fly a Kite, Charlie Brown vol 2 and was first published in 1959. The collection features more enjoyably neurotic and self-deprecating adventures for our hero Charlie Brown as he battles once again with life's disappointments and humiliations. You're a Winner, Charlie Brown! naturally features the regular cast of amusing supporting characters too. The Beethoven obsessed Schroeder, the occasionally profound Linus with his comfort blanket, the sarcastic and brutally honest Lucy, and, of course, Charlie Brown's eccentric and colourful dog Snoopy. This is a strong and often funny early collection by Schulz and the big event that frames the book is the birth of Charlie Brown's sister Sally, an event which delights him although, being Charlie Brown, he does inevitably begin to worry about what sort of world Sally will be growing up in. 'You don't have a baby sister to worry about! I tell you the world is getting worse all the time! Murders, robberies, automobile accidents, blackmail, all sorts of terrible things!'
Highlights of this volume include several pages of Charlie (who inanimate objects conspire against WC Fields style) unsuccessfully attempting to fly his kite with all manner of comical accidents (and some droll asides by the supporting roster of characters) and Linus hitting upon the idea of throwing rocks in a vacant lot as a cathartic device to get rid of anger and tension. 'This is for hot summer nights! And this is for cold winter mornings! And this is for lies and broken promises!' He even takes requests! Great panel/joke where Linus only flips a rock gently out of his hand a tiny distance in serene fashion. He explains that he had to do that because he feels quite good today and has no need to hurl rocks in anger! Linus has some great lines in You're a Winner, Charlie Brown! and is given some funny situations too. One line I really liked was when Linus observed Charlie becoming really depressed. 'Poor Charlie Brown. Out of all the Charlie Browns in the world, he's the Charlie Brownest!'
One thing I liked about this early collection is that Charlie Brown is very much the focus of the strips rather than Snoopy. Snoopy seems a more subdued character here and doesn't feature half as much as he would in later volumes and Woodstock, Snoopy's feathered sidekick, appears to be absent at this stage of the cartoon too. Actually, Snoopy, who is always playing tennis or at a typewriter or something in the later strips, seems much more like a real dog in this early collection, albeit one who is prone to lie on top of his kennel and muse via thought bubbles on a dog's lot in life. There are some good Snoopy panels but far fewer than you would get in a less vintage Charlie Brown/Snoopy collection. I really liked, for example, a bit where Snoopy is a bit dubious about a snack Charlie offers him and Charlie comments that he's getting so he doesn't trust anybody and is always suspicious. 'He'd make a good human being!' says Linus.
The big thread that runs through this is the birth of Charlie's sister Sally and this is quite good fun as Charlie worries about what sort of world Sally is coming into and the other kids, especially Lucy, become rather jealous of the excitement in the Brown household with the new arrival. This plunges Linus into his own existential crisis when Lucy complains that instead of a baby sister she just ended up with him! The strips are gently humorous and rather cosy with the expressive and warm art and it's always fun to slip back into the world of Charlie and his friends as they ponder on life and dispense various witticisms and asides. There are some wonderfully inventive moments too scattered throughout the collection like Schroeder catching a cold because Beethoven's third symphony gave him chills and Linus and Lucy tasting snowflakes and deciding that it's too early in the season for them to taste right. Great bit too where Charlie and Linus write a letter to Father Christmas together and end up discussing what he does in the summer. Does he go swimming or play golf maybe?
One other thing I loved about this collection was Charlie's recurring worry that the perfect word to describe him is 'blah'. 'When you're looking at me you're looking at the all-time number-one blah!' The always tactful Lucy tells him not to worry, he can just marry a blah woman and have blah kids who will go and marry other blah kids! You're a Winner, Charlie Brown! is a good collection on the whole and has some delightful moments and lines as you flip through the collection. This can probably be read in an hour or so if you go straight through it and that hour or so will certainly be pleasant and amusing and a lot of fun. I don't read my Charlie Brown books terribly often - and these strips appear to be something of an acquired taste for some - but I always enjoy them a great deal when I do and resolve to read them more often.
Anyone unfamiliar with the world of Charles Schulz would probably find You're a Winner, Charlie Brown! as good a place as any to start.