A while back, I rediscovered my love for Charles Schulz's Peanuts, and have been gradually collecting and reading through The Complete Peanuts, an ambitious collection of every cartoon from the strip's 50+ years.
I completed The Complete Peanuts: 1963 - 1964. At this point in the series, the characters had been more clearly defined and their ages had been established. (You may not recall that Lucy was introduced as a toddler, that Sally and Linus were once babies, and that Snoopy didn't always play baseball.) This was still pre-Woodstock (though birds were recurring characters), when the only Patty was not Peppermint, and the neighbourhood had not yet been integrated with the arrival of Franklin.
The brilliance of Charles Schulz is hard to categorize. I think it lay in a combination of many factors, perhaps most notably in taking adult understandings, anxieties, and ponderings and distilling them into the mouths of children. Heartache and despair are as much a part of the Peanuts world as laughter, but somehow the futility of the baseball season, the unrequited love between Lucy and Schroeder (or between Charlie Brown and the Red-Haired Girl, or between Linus and Miss Othmar), and the unreliability of the Great Pumpkin still bring a smile to the reader even as these disappointments ring familiar. Schulz is also a master of pacing, somehow using four frames (more on Sundays, of course) to communicate the perfect timing of these brief moments of story.