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It's Only a Game
posted January 10, 2005
 

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Creators: Charles Schulz, Jim Sasseville, Nat Gertler (designer)
Publishing Info: About Comics, 240 pages, $14.95
Ordering Numbers: 0971633894 (ISBN)

It's Only a Game was one of the legendary Charles Schulz's rare creative forays outside of Peanuts, and probably the least-seen of any that are generally discussed in histories, interviews and articles. It was offered as a three day a week panel or as a Sunday strip made up of that week's panels and with a throwaway silent gag in the border above it. Only ever a modest success -- which meant more in terms of relative income back in those days -- It's Only a Game ran from late 1957 until early 1959, after which it ended by mutual agreement of cartoonist and syndicate.

Nat Gertler at About Comics presents the panels one at a time, although there's an example on the back cover as to how they were grouped, and many if not all of the silent Aragones-style border gags are run as well. Gertler's choice at least gives us a chance to inspect the artwork closely, and places the full force of our attenton on Schulz's abilities as a gag man. He's not bad. There are plenty of nice physical sight gags at work, and Schulz gets a lot of mileage out of the difference between how someone involved in a sport looks at it and what it looks like to everybody else. Schulz was a fan of bridge. Schulz does several panels on the card game, but as most are based on ridiculing the excesses of passion that many bring to it, they clearly communicate to those of us completely ignorant of the specifics.

Except for a few inspired gags where Schulz goes slightly over the top, such as an early offering where a character imagines out loud how his mother-in-law would do taking a beating in a boxing match, It's Only a Game is fairly middle of the road material. I could read this kind of thing all day, but my guess is that most Peanuts fans are attracted to that strip's wealth of psychological and character-based humor rather than the straight-up gag work, making this more of a curiosity than a vital purchase. It does show you what Schulz adults look like, with only the occasional jarring "Schroeder's Head on a Too Big Body"-type moment. You're also like to come away with an appreciation for the general handsome look provided the feature by Jim Sasseville, who took over full art chores fairly early on. There's also a glimpse or two through Sasseville's commentary into his working relationship with Schulz -- what Schulz says to Sasseville after killing the strip cracked me up.

This is the kind of book I didn't find very attractive in its presentation (Mr. Gertler is no Seth), impressive in is achievemens, nor in the slightest way necessary. Yet somehow that makes the whole project that much more endearing.