In the previous two posts in this three-part series, I examined how we determined whether two instances of comics art were, or were not, instances of the same comic type. In Part I, I examined panel layout (with the help of Calvin and Hobbes) and in Part II, I examined coloring (with the help of the 1988 and 2008 editions of The Killing Joke).
Here I look at a case I take to be particularly difficult (and one that also illustrates the tragedy that can result from haphazard archiving of comic art). The second volume of Fantagraphics’ amazing series of Peanuts reprint volumes (edited and designed by Canadian comic artist Seth) contains a short note at the end regarding the status of the May 3, 1953 Sunday strip. After bemoaning the sorry state of newspaper comic strip preservation, the note notes that:
“… one strip has proven at least partly ‘lost'”.
This is the aforementioned May 3, 1953 strip. The strip actually included in the volume is described thusly:
“The version reproduced in this volume is a composite of a trimmed but relatively clean copy from the Chicago Tribune extensively retouched and re-inked to incorporate material visible in a very blurry but more complete microfilm copy; the top tier has been created from scratch by the book’s designer, Seth”
The Seth-Schulz collaboration that resulted is reproduced above. The question, of course, is whether or not this is an instance of the same comic that Schulz originally produced.
At first glance, it might seem easy to answer this question. After all, the top tier is a complete (albeit ‘authorized’) fabrication, since no record of the original top tier exists. But this answer might be too quick. After all, the top tier of a Sunday comic was often not printed (as a space-saving device), and comic artists (including Schulz) designed their strips with this in mind.
In my previous posts on identity conditions for comics, I suggested that whether or not two instances were tokens of the same comic likely depended (at least in part) on whether or not the comics in question shared those features that are relevant to our appreciation of them as comics. So one aspect of the question is this: Is it possible for Seth to recreate (or completely invent) aspects of the comic while it nevertheless remains an instance of Schulz’s original work?
In thinking about this question, it is worth keeping the following facts in mind:
(1) The main content of the comic strip (i.e. the ‘gag’) is retained (in tiers 2 and 3) even though Seth retouched and re-inked this work.
(2) The new strip is authorized by both Fantagraphics and the Schulz estate (at least in the sense of it being ‘legitimate enough’ to be included in the collection).
(3) At present, this strip provides the only access we have to the original strip (regardless of whether that ‘access’ is merely partial).
So is this strip a genuine instance of the strip Schulz drew in 1953?