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Schulz's Youth
posted June 5, 2007
 

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Creator: Charles Schulz
Publishing Information: About Comics, softcover, 296 pages, May 2007, $14.95
Ordering Numbers: 0975395890 (ISBN10), 9780975395899 (ISBN13)

About Comics' Schulz's Youth makes a fine companion volume to both The Complete Peanuts and About's own 2004 collection of the It's Only A Game material. Although made up mostly of single-panel cartoons that were run in the Church of God (Anderson) magazine Youth, publisher and editor Nat Gertler has supplied three supplementary sections: illustrations from a youth convention, a series of illustrations and cartoons from the book Two-by-Fours and cartoons in the same vein as the Youth material that ran in Reach at the end of the 1960s. It's a nice suite of work.

image In addition to seeing a looser version of Schulz's linework and coming face to face with the still-startling oddity of his teenager designs after years of immersion in the kids-only Peanuts, the great thing about Schulz's Youth is that the strip doesn't always work that well. It is a legitimate creative effort; it doesn't feel tossed off. If it's casual work, it's casual work from a cartoonist so skilled that there's not an underlying conceptual strength to the proceedings. In fact, the way Schulz settles on something of a main character and starts to restrict the areas in which he finds humor is the same winnowing process that all strips undergo, even panel features like the one presented here. Schulz grasps at a potentially interesting subject matter that's going to make this material inaccessible to a lot of people: reasonably pious kids struggling to honor their faith. The kids are still full of crap, like most teenagers, but the backbone of the feature takes their commitment seriously.

Schulz plays around with various approaches, and occasionally slips into straight-gag material -- my favorite is a kid who declines an officership by declaring himself too stupid to hold it -- but for the way to best explore the strip's primary concern he tends towards jokes that show an unrealistic sense of how religion is applied to day to day living. This makes for some pretty obtuse humor, which isn't aided at all by what feels like a few overwritten captions. Still, there's something lovely about learning that Schulz took the work and the kids for whom it was intended seriously, but in terms of their being readers and fellow Christians.