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...thatís not entirely true.
During the 1950s and early '60s, Charlie Brown and his friends didnít 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 thatís getting a bit ahead of things. Letís 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, Liíl Abner, Nancy, and the Captain and
the Kids (the Katzenjammer Kids). United Comics tended to focus on Ernie Bushmillerís Fritzi Ritz.
This pin-up style, "good girl" feature seems outrageously chauvinistic by contemporary standards;
whatís perhaps more intriguing is that it was pretty sexy for its time period, and I canít 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 #16 (April-May 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 two issue: #115 (Jan.-Feb. 1954) and #120 (Oct.-Nov. 1954), which leads me to suspect that the issues in between probably also had some Peanuts material...but this is, as yet, unverified.
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 í54. 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.
Most of these strips (possibly all; I donít 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 somewhere in the neighborhood of three dozen comic books with Peanuts content, in all cases reprints of
newspaper strips, sometimes daily panels, sometimes Sunday strips. Whatís 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. Johnís 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. Johnís run of Fritzi Ritz, starting
with #37 (July 1955). Early issues reprinted daily strips on one, two or three pages; subsequent issues alternated this
with Sunday reprints, also on a random number of pages (somewhere between one and four). At least one issue, #49, reprinted both
daily and Sunday panels. The St. John run of Fritzi Ritz continued through #55.
At least one issue of Nancy and Sluggo -- #142, March 1957 -- also featured Peanuts reprints, of Sunday panels.
To the extent that Iíve been able to identify the contents of each UFS and St. John comic -- which is to
say, when Iíve 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:
Big changes came in late 1957, and not just because St. John abandoned these books and
turned them over to Dell Comics (Western Publishing). After a delay of several months to half
a year -- depending on the title -- Dell revived the flagship St. John titles, again with
consecutive numbering. Thus, Tip Top #211 returned as a quarterly in late 1957, with a cover
date of Nov. 57-Jan. 58. Fritzi Ritz resumed with #56, dated Dec. 57-Feb. 58.
Our concerns, of course, are with the Peanuts content in these books. Aside from these two,
under Dellís stewardship Charlie Brown and the gang also became supporting features in Nancy,
beginning with #146 (Sept. 1957). Perhaps this was because the kid-oriented Nancy seemed a more
likely companion for the Peanuts gang than leggy Fritzi Ritz -- who, by the way, was Nancyís
aunt -- or perhaps Dell already had decided that Fritziís title soon would cease publication.
The biggest change, however, concerned the content itself. When Dell took over all these books,
the covers promised "All brand-new stories"...and they meant it. No more newspaper strip
reprints...and that included the Peanuts supporting feature.
Readers first spotted the change in Nancy #146, which boasted a four-page story with a baseball theme.
Although thereís no signature on the material, comic book historian Michael J. Vassallo, writing in the
Nov. 28, 1997, Comic Buyerís Guide (the Charles Schulz 75th birthday tribute issue), states his opinion
that this "really looks like Schulzís work." This opinion has been confirmed by Jim Sasseville (about whom more below),
who verifies that Sparky handled the content in this first Peanuts appearance in Nancy. Having seen the story in question,
I agree that there's no doubt at all; nobody drew Linus like Sparky Schulz.
But Schulz quickly decided that he didn't want to be involved with all those "all brand-new stories."
Somebody else (alas, unknown) handled the art chores for Nancy #147, and after that Schulz turned the reins over
to his good friend and colleague Jim Sasseville, who handled the art and story from this issue through Nancy #168 (July 1959).
Sasseville also did the work in the Fritzi Ritz and Tip Top issues during this time (further details below).
It's important to note that Sasseville had a completely free rein with these comic book strips, handling both art and writing chores.
We then come to an interesting issue. The final panel in Nancy #169 (August 1959) is almost
identical to the final panel of the June 23, 1957, Sunday newspaper strip (reprinted in Youíre Out of Your
Mind, Charlie Brown). The comic book storyline is an expansion of that Sunday strip, and the aforementioned
final panel in the comic book is signed by Charles Schulz...the only case where any interior comic book stories
bear his signature. This came about because Sasseville had just stopped his work on the comics, and Schulz needed to
supply his own "fill in" issue until the next artist, Dale Hale, began with issue #170.
Thus, aside from these two issues of Nancy comics, Schulz did not do any interior artwork for any of Charlie Brownís
subsequent appearances in any Dell comics...and there were dozens and dozens.
Peanuts appeared in every issue of Dellís run of Nancy, from the aforementioned #146 through #187
(March-April 1962). The title changed to Nancy and Sluggo with #174 (Jan.-Feb. 1960), but this did not
affect the content. No Nancy covers featured Charlie Brown and the gang, not even as a "teaser" or bottom panel.
The Peanuts stories always ran four pages, often elaborating on story concepts that Schulz had used in the
newspaper strips (Snoopy carrying soap bubbles in his mouth, Snoopy imitating various animals, Linus being
the "fastest draw in the West," etc.). Starting with #169, the stories began to have titles ("The Vicious Circle,"
"The Chow Hound," etc.).
The stories themselves often are an unintentional howl, because Charlie Brown and his friends are
thrown into situations wholly unlike those normally found in their "universe." Just as some episodes
of the Saturday morning "Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show" seemed a stretch, in terms of shoe-horning
our beloved characters into unlikely adventures, some of these comic book stories are...well, unusual.
Consider, for example, a 1960 tale titled "Mechanical Maniac," which finds a pint-sized robot running
amok in the neighborhood! Borrowing from events in the newspaper strip, the gang expanded in latter
issues to include Frieda, who appeared in a few of these original comic book adventures.
Jim Sasseville and Dale Hale were associates and good friends of Sparkyís from the Art Instruction
School in Minneapolis. The former deserves lots of credit for preserving an artistic style that is remarkably
similar to Schulz's line work, during two solid years of stories that appeared in three different books.
Hale, too, obviously worked hard to make Charlie Brown and his friends look reasonably "authentic."
But this changed in mid 1961, with issue #183 (July/August 1961). It seems obvious that Hale must have stopped
at this point, allowing another artist to take over; the style isnít anywhere near similar to Schulzís own work.
And it would get even worse...but weíre not yet at that point.
Fritzi Ritz lasted only four issues under the Dell label, before being discontinued after #59
(Sept.-Nov. 1958). Peanuts did not appear in #56, but each of the remaining three issues included
a new four-page story by Sasseville.
Peanuts fared better in Tip Top, which as already mentioned also featured "all brand-new stories"
beginning with #211. Charlie Brown and his friends shared covers with Nancy, Sluggo, and the Captain
and the Kids. These Peanuts "cover panels" seem to be Schulzís work, although they are not signed.
The interiors featured longer stories, often running eight pages, along with (sometimes) a one-page
quickie, much like a typical Sunday strip. As with Nancy, the art in the early Dell Tip Top issues
closely approximates the Schulz style (first Sasseville, then Hale), but it also changed (not for the better)
in this book as of #221 (May-July 1960).
For the record, by the way, Sally made her only comic book appearance in a one-page quickie
at the back of #222 (August-October 1960).
Tip Topís last issue was #225 (May-July 1961), after which Dell cancelled it. All told, then,
under three different imprints -- UFS, St. John and Dell -- Peanuts appeared in #173 and every issue
from #184 through #225.
Dell also did something that neither UFS nor St. John had undertaken, and gave Peanuts its own ongoing
book. This began with issue #878 (Feb. 1958) of Dellís Four Color Comics, an "umbrella title" that rotated
various stars. This all-Peanuts issue boasts a gorgeous signed Schulz cover and contains three one-page
stories (inside front cover, inside back cover, and back cover) and four eight-page stories, all by Sasseville.
This exact format was retained for the second all-Peanuts issue, Four Color Comics #969 (Feb. 1959) -- work by
Sasseville and Hale -- and with the third, Four Color Comics #1015 (Aug.-Oct. 1959).
Dell then made it official, and Peanuts began its run under its own title with issue #4 (Feb.-April 1960),
by way of acknowledging those first three appearances in Four Color Comics. This lasted through #13 (May-July 1962),
after which the book was discontinued.
Each of these issues features a signed Schulz cover, numerous one-page stories, and several longer
stories...but these books also include stories with other stars, such as Sluggo, and a one-page all-text story
(not Peanuts) typical of comics from this era. Particular attention must be paid to the back covers, some
of which are full-page advertisements, and others of which are one-page Peanuts stories. (According
to Vassallo, Dell routinely released its books in both styles.) By #8 (Feb.-April 1961), readers can detect
the same change in the artistic style, and subsequent books leading up to #13 become increasingly un-Schulz-like.
And that was it for Dell...but not quite all for Peanuts in comic books.
Gold Key took over the reins of Nancy and Sluggo with #188 (Oct. 1962), and the book limped
along for another few issues before being discontinued for good with #192 (Oct. 1963). Peanuts appeared
as a four-page feature in all five of these books, but the art is -- to be as kind as possible -- woeful.
Even the usual stylistic format was abandoned: The kids no longer talk with rounded word balloons, but in
straight-edged boxes; and the individual panels are not outlined in black, which often makes the white space
between panels bleed into the art. Itís rather sad.
Gold Key also revived the Peanuts comic book for four issues (#1, May 1963, through #4, Feb. 1964),
but this must have annoyed people who were paying attention, because the books are virtual reprints of
the first four Dell Peanuts titles (Four Color Comics #878, #969 and #1015, and Peanuts #4)...down to
the identical signed Schulz covers! The differences are minor: The back covers, originally one-page stories,
are replaced by pin-ups of the front covers; and #4 does not include the Sluggo supporting feature.
The total number of Peanuts comic book appearances is still being researched, but it
would be fair to say "somewhere in the neighborhood of 150," and thatís a pretty awesome
neighborhood. Even allowing for the strictly reprint content of the UFS and St. John books, Dell contributed
a healthy chunk of new Peanuts material...all but a tiny percentage written and drawn by somebody other
than Charles Schulz. (Once again, though -- and this cannot be stated enough -- Sasseville and Hale deserve
considerable credit for maintaining a nearly perfect "Peanuts look" during the first several years that Dell
published these books.)
Purists, therefore, probably need to place all this work into the same category as the later television specials:
interesting to see, but "not canonical" (which, I suspect, is the way Sparky himself views it). So, just
as The Little Red-Haired Girl never appeared in the newspaper strip (silhouette notwithstanding) but did
turn up in a TV special, and just as television has granted Snoopy two extra siblings (Molly and Rover)
never mentioned in the newspaper strip, Charlie Brown and his friends had lots of adventures in this
"alternate universe" of Dell comic books.
Want to learn more?
Vassallo was the first historian to take a serious crack at this topic, for an article originally
published in the Comic Buyer's Guide. He has updated and posted the entire article, along with several
Additionally, Vassallo and Nat Gertler collaborated on a guide to Peanuts comic book appearances,
which can be found here. (The information on vintage comic
book appearances has been supplemented in recent years by the new Peanuts material produced by KaBOOM! Studios.)
Finally, I had several opportunities to interview Jim Sasseville, and the thoroughly enjoyable results
can be found here.
A few words on comic book collecting, for those interested in pursuing any of these books:
Condition is of critical importance when dealing with comic books, and itís also important to verify
that the contents are intact; sometimes center pages separate from the staples and disappear. While
professional comic book collectors recognize nearly a dozen different grades, you can get by with these three:
MINT: Like new, as youíd expect to see a magazine at a newsstand. Minor fading of color is allowed,
as is a slightly off-center or mis-cut cover. It must not, however, appear dog-eared or heavily browsed.
FINE: Covers should be crisp, colorful, and flat; no folds allowed. Detectable wear around the staples
and spine, along with possible color loss (flaking) around the spine and edges.
GOOD: A reading copy, but wholly intact: both covers present, and no missing pages. The spine might
be rolled, and minor tears are allowable. Noticeable color flaking. No tape marks or tape.
As for value, both the Comics Buyerís Guide and the annual Overstreet Price Guide are good places to start,
although I very strongly feel that their prices are rather too high.
Finally, an impassioned plea: If any readers own or know of any titles not mentioned above,
which include Peanuts content -- reprint or original -- please let me know.
And a word of thanks to Pauline Graeber, Jennifer Gittins, Janet Long, Michael Chavez, Charles A. Wagner and Cary Swenson,
all of whom spent a lot of time - and, in some cases, some $$$ -- photocopying the relevant pages of their
comic books and sending the copies to me. Research is always a collaborative effort, and I deeply appreciate
the efforts of these individuals.