All We Ever Do is Talk About Wood by Tom Horacek

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All We Ever Do is Talk About Wood
By Tom Horacek
Drawn & Quarterly

Tom HoracekAs one of the medium’s longest reigning genius, it’s nearly impossible to quantify Charles Schulz’s impact on the comic strip. Nearly every strip that has been conceived subsequently owes an incalculable debt of gratitude to Schulz’s long-running strip Peanuts, and while plenty have borrowed heavily from many of the author’s now near-ubiquitous tropes, nearly all have failed to capture the true spirit of the strip, but not for lack of trying.

It’s immediately clear at first sight that, like countless artists before him, Tom Horacek’s work takes strong aesthetic cues from Schulz, imbuing even his adults with proportions similar to the children that populate the Peanuts universe. Schulz’s influence permeates much deeper than body imageine in All We Ever Do Is Talk About Wood, however. Whether conscious or not, the single sentence captions that accompany Horacek’s one-panel cartoons capture a quality oft lost in the translation amongst the slew of copycat strips that have arisen in the wake of Peanuts’ massive popularity: pure existential angst.

It was a quality that defined Schulz’s comedy from the onset, from the comic’s first punchline, which found Shermy angrily muttering “how I hate him,” unbeknownst to an uncharacteristically cheery Charlie Brown, obliviously passing by. It’s a fitting precursor for the interactions that would follow for decades to come, their true impact retroactively blunted, perhaps, thanks to dozens of dulled copycats and Schulz’s own later work which seemingly bought into the warm and fuzzy feelings generated by Peanuts’ subsequent merchandising empire (and, if David Michaelis is to be believed, the swapping out of characters’ real life counterparts).

It’s a quality that Horacek’s own strips tap into, with an flinching deadpan, like Schulz, tempering such sentiments with adorably disproportioned humans and anthropomorphic animals. All We Ever Do is Talk About Wood takes such disconnect to the next level, however, never asking for any emotional investment from the reader beyond a single punchline, which is to say, that, for all wonderful qualities of Peanuts tie-ins, like animated films, they went far to strip our expectations of just how malicious Schulz’s characters could truly be, by demonstrating a warmth rarely found in early strips.

Horacek’s strips are drenched in dryness sans all emotional investment, like Peanuts filtered through The New Yorker cartoons, with punchlines that crack like a whip, making All We Ever Do is Talk About Wood the perfect short-term solution for those lamenting the days before comic strips were refuge for warm and fuzzy feelings.

–Brian Heater