Obama pays tribute to Peanuts gang

NEW YORK • "Like millions of Americans, I grew up with Peanuts. But I never outgrew it."

So begins the foreword written by United States President Barack Obama for the 25th volume of The Complete Peanuts, the latest in a series of hardcover books reprinting every daily and Sunday strip of the iconic series that appeared from 1950 to 2000.

The volume, for release in May, covers Jan 1, 1999, through Feb 13, 2000, when the final Peanuts strip was published the day after the death of its creator, Charles M. Schulz.

Mr Obama writes in his introduction: "For decades, Peanuts was our own daily security blanket. That's what makes Peanuts an American treasure."

No one would agree with that assessment more than Mr Gary Groth, president and co-founder of Fantagraphics Books, which has been publishing The Complete Peanuts since 2004. He wanted to make sure this volume was special, beginning with the introduction - and who was going to write it.

"Obama was at the top of the list," he said. "Let's just reach for the stars. All he can do is say no."

The idea for the collected editions came to him in 1997, when he interviewed Schulz for The Comics Journal, a trade magazine.

"Previously, Peanuts had been collected only in sporadic volumes: thematically or randomly," he said. "Maybe someone should publish a uniform series," he recalled suggesting to Schulz. "And that someone could be me," he added.

Schulz resisted at first, but eventually gave his consent. Still, the project did not take shape until after his death from colon cancer.

Mr Groth credits the cartoonist's widow Jeannie Schulz for cutting through the red tape involved with securing the publication rights to make the series possible.

Still, a series of hardcover reprints was not a safe bet. Previous collected editions of Prince Valiant, Pogo, Popeye and others "were almost always a hard sell", Mr Groth said. "There was no market for newspaper strip reprints. You were targeting the hard-core comics and cartoon aficionados."

But The Complete Peanuts found an audience. Fantagraphics has produced two volumes a year, each selling about 15,000 to 20,000 copies, he said, followed by another 20,000 for a boxed set every holiday season combining the year's releases.

While the 25th volume wraps up the daily newspaper strips, it also includes a look back. It reprints Li'l Folks, the weekly comic from Charles Schulz published from 1947 to 1950, which was a forerunner to Peanuts. The final Complete Peanuts volume, due in October, will provide something different: a collection of stories and drawings that appeared outside the comic strip.

"It is a treasure trove of little- seen and never before reprinted work - all drawn by the hand of Charles Schulz," Mr Groth said.

Mr Obama joins an eclectic group of Complete Peanuts foreword writers, including Garrison Keillor, Jonathan Franzen, Diana Krall, John Waters, Billie Jean King, Alec Baldwin and Patton Oswalt.

"Whoopi Goldberg was terrific," Mr Groth said. "Some celebrities - especially the ones who turned us down - not so much." Mr Groth's experience with Mr Obama was satisfying, he said: "It's great to tell the president, 'We need it by this date. Don't be late.'"

NEW YORK TIMES

•The Complete Peanuts is available for pre-order at Books Kinokuniya at $50.09 (online price).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'Obama pays tribute to Peanuts gang'. Print Edition | Subscribe