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Charlie Brown And Friends
posted March 3, 2014
 

imageCreator: Charles Schulz
Publishing Information: Andrews McMeel Publishing, softcover, 224 pages, February 2014, $9.99
Ordering Numbers 1449449700, 9781449449704

Charlie Brown And Friends is one of Andrew McMeel's AMP! books, which means it's a smaller softcover at an affordable price aimed, one supposed, towards younger readers in a way that provides them an introduction to the various rich universes of the comic strips involved. You can see them as a reaction to the trend towards archiving these works in formats designed for completists and hardcore fans, or as a callback to more accessible paperback collection programs of years abast. I believe in as many programs for comics publication as might have an independent audience and that don't put an unecessary strain on retail channels. I would include digital serialization and syndication as options to get the work into the hands of potential readers. I certainly read and treasured paperback strip collections as a younger reader. I don't know that I would have had the same affection for giant, fancy hardcovers. I'm on board.

And it's Peanuts, I think mostly 1970s material, which means it's strong and accessible work. Of all the great strips in the second half of the 20th century, Peanuts is the sturdiest divorced from our preconceptions of its characters and milieu. Schulz always created as if from a place of anger over his feature's initial tough sales period, and as a result an inordinate number of his comics would work as a first strip read even decades into the Peanuts run. A big chunk of the "Mr. Sack" storyline appears in this very Charlie Brown-focused volume, and that was in many ways Schulz's finest run of dailies. The focus on the round-headed kid in that narrative and others puts Peppermint Patty, Lucy and Snoopy -- all characters that could carry their own strips and frequently come to the forefront in Schulz's -- into their best roles as member of a top five comic strip ensemble. All the kids in Peanuts are great; Charlie Brown is a miracle. The work reads as reasonably timeless, too, particularly if you see Charlie Brown and his friends as little kids shorn of most obligations and electronic items -- although this never bothered me with kids-oriented work when I was a same-age reader, where the Little Rascals and the Bad News Bears could hold our attention with equal authority. But yeah, primetime Peanuts, curated for maximum joy to new readers: what's not to like?

Unfortunately, there's an answer to that question, one even beyond preferring black and white to color, or full storylines to partial ones. I thought the production sloppy. That surprised me in two ways. One, there's no reason production on a first-class property like this one at a publisher the size of Andrews McMeel should have any shortcomings whatsoever. With the reprint dates embedded in the strips -- which is a curious choice, if not one of great significance -- this collection seems like it was made as quickly as possible. Two, I have the worst eye for production quality of anyone I know that writes about comics, and what's wrong here was wrong to the extent that I noticed. That's not good. I think I've spent a solid nine and half hours of my life at the San Diego Con having a cartoonist or fellow critic point out to me on the page where a book or publication has fallen short of professional standard. So for me to notice that some lines are feathery, some text is difficult to read and some entire strips look muddy, I must be seeing some strongly sub-standard strips. Maybe I wouldn't have noticed as a kid, but I'm not sure why the production should make me wonder. As an adult reader, the wildly uneven look of the book made me defensive to the point I started looking for the lack of tweaking I never would have noticed otherwise, like snow that's green like grass. It took me out of the book, which is a shame in that I like visiting that neighborhood so much I always want to stick around.