Graphic novel review: Peanuts by Schulz – Scotland Bound, Charlie Brown by Jason Cooper & Robert Pope

(courtesy kaboom! / BOOM Studios via Simon & Schuster)

Going anywhere with Charlie, Snoopy, Lucy and the gang is to feel like you are with friends.

That might seem cloyingly sentimental but the truth is that if you have grown up with Charles M. Schulz’s delightful creations, all drawn from the expansively imaginative and heartfelt panels of his justly famous comic strip Peanuts, or to be fair, even if you haven’t, you feel a sense of kinship with these characters because while they bicker and make difficult for themselves and others, they are a neighbourhood family of sorts, there for each other come what may.

(Well, except for Snoopy who, god bless him, is often just there for him; he does it so charismatically and dramatically though that you don’t begrudge him a second of hilariously accomplished grandstanding.)

That camaraderie of the group. however fractious it might be at times thanks largely to Lucy is heartwarmingly explorative display in Scotland Bound, Charlie Brown, which was released in 2021 as part of BOOM! Studio’s imprint kaboom!’s ongoing series of Peanuts revival titles (many are a mix, though not this title, of old and new stories, with nominated artists keeping Schulz’s magical world alive for a new generation).

Based on an un-produced feature-length animated television special – story by Charles M. Schulz himself with storyboards by the legendary Bill Melendez, an animator, voice actor and producer who was an integral part of the Peanuts specials – Scotland Bound, Charlie Brown is a graphic novel evocation of what intended in the storyboards unearthed at the Schulz Studio archives.

Writer Jason Cooper admits to some nervousness in taking on a story helmed by the creator of Charlie Brown himself but ultimately accepted the challenge of adapting the story for the present day, mindful that some changes needed to be made such as excising the grandfather of new Scottish character Nell, the gang’s tour guide in Scotland, since adults never really make a visual appearance in the comic strip or its specials. (You usually only hear them via the iconic “Mwa-Mwa-Mwa” sound.)

(courtesy kaboom! / BOOM Studios via Simon & Schuster)

He also changed the reason why Charlie, Lucy, Linus and Schroeder and, of course, Snoopy in full Scottish kit (the better to dance with sheep with, naturally); the original storyboards it was a school trip but in Scotland Bound, Charlie Brown it’s so Charlie Brown can follow his heart and meet the pen pal of his dreams, a girl who unlike the elusive Little Red-Haired Girl, might actually be meetable.

Lucy pours cold water on the idea at every turn, annoyed that Charlie Brown is even happy for once, and whistling no less, Linus simply wants to find the Loch Ness Monster, a natural focus given his devotion to the Great Pumpkin, Snoopy wants to have some idiosyncratic fun and Schroeder is lured by the idea of performing at the Scottish Arts and Music Festival in Ediburgh.

Something for everyone it seems but mostly for Charlie Brown who is enamoured with the idea of meeting his penpal Morag (most analogous to Sarah) who he adores partly because she is “someone who think I’m worth the cost of international postage” and believes that finally his beleaguered life may be taking a turn for the better and in foreign climes too!

To get there they need to do some fundraising, which in typical Peanuts style happen in spectacular carnival style – it’s fun to ignore the fact that kids themselves could never really pull all this off, and concentrate instead on the joyful narrative convenience that says they can, part of the magical possibilities of Schulz’s kid-empowering world – and in no time they are in Scotland, guided by the lovely nell whose family puts them up on a farm outside of the Scottish capital.

With art by Robert Pope who evokes the style of Schulz to a near-perfect degree while adding some originality of his own, Scotland Bound, Charlie Brown takes us a heartwarming tour of Scotland which naturally gives us Nessie (well, search for anyway, all on the loch itself in the good ship RScN Beagle), “coos” (cows aka ancestral Highland Cattle) to which Lucy shows a fiercely obsessed devotion (they’re super soft – how could you not?), Mary Kings Close (restoration of a 400-year-old street in Edinburgh) the Old Course at St. Andrews (Lucy also loves golf) and the historic and deeply-sobering battlefield of Culloden.

(courtesy kaboom! / BOOM Studios via Simon & Schuster)

The main game in town though, apart from Nell being a charming delight who actually likes Charlie Brown for him – for reasons best left to the reading, Morag is not around to sway his heart otherwise) – are the performances at the festival where Schroeder excels with some initially unwanted but vital support from Lucy and Charlie Brown’s gloriously average poetic tribute to Scotland comes hilariously alive with some characteristically over-the-top help from an Elton John outfit -clad Snoopy who somehow manages to get sheep doing acrobatic routines through a choreographed blizzard of fruit and vegetables.

Sound like charmingly manic in all the right ways?

It is, it truly is, with Scotland Bound, Charlie Brown capturing not simply the found-family warmth and supportively sweet dysfunction of the comic strip but the chaotically heartwarming vivacity of the animated specials which always managed to balance going all out with a meaningful message and some truly thoughtful character moments that reinforced why you love the Peanuts gang so much in the first place.

With a Making of- series of pages in the back section, and the original storyboards to give you an idea of what Cooper and Pope were working with, Scotland Bound, Charlie Brown is a delight on every level, an all-new Peanuts adventure straight from Schulz himself, updated and changed in ways that feels quite organic and very much fit the comic strip, capturing the supportively inclusive spirit of Schulz’s beloved creation, its reassuringly dysfunctional heart (I’ve always loved how imperfect everyone is and yet how they love each other all the same) and the fact that maybe, just maybe, good things can actually happen to dear old Charlie Brown …

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