[…] Given the cavalcade of Peanuts appreciation, one might question the need for a new book. This critic questioned it himself, sitting down with a cup of coffee and wondering how best to write something along the lines of “With all due respect to the man’s genius, one might question . . .” and then the coffee was cold and your humble critic was staring at page after page with a silly grin plastered on his face. “Only What’s Necessary” turns out to be exactly what one wants: a reconsideration of Schulz’s work that fits perfectly with its umpteenth delightful conjuring. […]
An appreciation of Schulz’s clear-cut style puts his masterly writing into even more, um, sharp relief. Schulz’s comic sense is a blank one; however hilarious, there’s always something odd or sad around the edges. When Snoopy keeps sniffing around Charlie Brown’s catcher’s mitt, spoiling the game, our hero has to admit that he has been using some extra padding: a slice of bread. It’s a weird punch line, but right: just the sort of childhood logic that’s simultaneously wrong and irrefutable. Juxtaposed with the tidy little shape that Schulz gives us for the padding, the joke has an extra, doughy layer of blankness. […]
But what makes the biggest impression is how invisible his care is, in the bareness of his work. “Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain!!” is the first draft of a speech bubble. Schulz cuts it to “Rain, rain, rain!!” and then, in its final form, makes it “Rain, rain, rain, rain . . .” One has the feeling that every inked line of rain in the drawing was the result of a similar pensive process.
The result of all this care and thought, both from Schulz himself and from Messrs. Kidd and Spear in arranging this book, is a melancholy familiar to anyone who has seen Peanuts in any of its incarnations. Funny things happen to these kids, but the emptiness of the panels, the starkness of the drawings and the sketches, leave a slight but indelible sadness. I closed this terrific book with a regretful sigh, both that I’d reached the end and that there wasn’t even more. There is, of course, so much, much more available, so it was a little silly to feel this way. Silly and sad, both at once. Charlie Brown has a good expression for it: Good grief.
- Daniel Handler writes under the pen name of Lemony Snicket.