The Complete Peanuts: Comics & Stories (Vol. 26) (Vol. 26) By Charles M. Schulz Fantagraphics 344 pp.

Perfect gift for anyone: 'The Complete Peanuts: Comics & Stories (Vol. 26)'

Good grief! The award-winning series concludes with rare 'Peanuts' art and stories by creator Charles Schulz.

In 2004, Fantagraphics began their ambitious project of collecting every "Peanuts" comic strip chronologically starting with the strip's debut strip on Oct. 2, 1950, until its last on Feb. 13, 2000. Twelve years later, after publishing two volumes per year, the project is complete. Or is it?

The Complete Peanuts: Comics & Stories (Vol. 26) collects a select portion of Schulz's "Peanuts" work beyond the daily comic strip. The editors explain in the introduction that they choose only work they could verify was done by Schulz. (While Schulz is the sole creator of the comic strips, he employed other artists to assist with outside projects.) They also sought out material most resembling a comic strip and work that had not been previously collected in book form. That said, this is a wonderful selection of rare "Peanuts" material.

I could go on about each item in this thick 344-page book but here are a few highlights:

– Seven comic book stories written and drawn by Schulz are included. It's fun to see Schulz stretch his creative legs telling longer stories. It makes you wish he had done it more often. 

– Many folks think of Peanuts during the Christmas season and included here are some rare Christmas "Peanuts" that originally appeared in "Better Homes and Garden." "Charlie Brown's Christmas Stocking" is a delightful tale of a panicked Charlie Brown trying to figure out where to hang his Christmas stocking since his house has no fireplace. 

– Four "Peanuts" storybooks star Snoopy. Two feature Snoopy in his World War I flying ace persona (one versus his arch foe the Red Baron) and two deal with Snoopy the writer, manned with his typewriter.

– Two "life lessons" books – "Things I learned After It Was Too Late (And Other Minor Truths)" and "Things I've Had To Learn Over And Over And Over (Plus A Few Minor Discoveries)" – are filled with charming and heartwarming phrases like "Candy bars are like years. We're paying more but they're getting shorter" and "Summers always fly … winters walk!"

Also included are plenty of advertising comics work, comics based on his two passions golf and tennis, and numerous spot illustrations. When you realize that Schulz created 17, 897 comic strips AND managed to do all this other work, not to mention all his "Peanuts" TV and movie work, it's an unparalleled accomplishment.

Appropriately, the book (and series) is brought to a close by Schulz's widow Jean. In her afterward she shares what it was like to be married to Sparky (Schulz's nickname). How despite all his "Peanuts" responsibilities he always had time for her and their children. In social gatherings, he was always more interested in others than of talking about himself. His devotion to her is described through the many activities they shared together, including dancing, playing golf and tennis, ice skating, and charity events. She retells his amusement at playing jokes on friends (no he did not pull a football away from anyone!) What I enjoyed best was her recollection of actual strips and how she saw her husband reflected in them. Each character was a facet of the man himself. Reading her essay, you can see her love and devotion to "Sparky" and although he's gone she still feels him with her. And you can see her sense of responsibility in maintaining his legacy, a job she loves, evident in the way she enjoys talking with fans who visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

As with the entire series, Fantagraphics maintains its high standards in reproducing each page in crisp black and white. If you still have a hankering for more "Peanuts" books, Fantagraphics is currently publishing all of Schulz's Sunday "Peanuts" comics in full color. (They were included in the "Complete Peanuts" series in black and white). Kudos to Fanatgraphics for completing this important work of art, making it available for years to come.

While it's bittersweet to see this series come to its conclusion, we can console ourselves within the pages of these 26 volumes. Our friends Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy and the whole gang will be there waiting to warm our hearts, console us, and most importantly, to make us laugh.

Seth, the artist who designed each "Complete Peanuts" book, described this series best: "I'd rather these books be seen as headstones than as jewel cases. A marker that spells out a man's name, reminds us that he was here, and of what he left behind."

And Jean Schulz sums up her husband best by sharing the way he wished to be remembered – "He made people happy!"

Schulz's legacy is a gift of happiness for us all. How lucky we are.

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