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It's Only a Game: The Complete Color Collection Paperback – August 15, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Between 1957 and 1959, Schulz created a single-panel sports-themed feature that ran three times a week or in a combined package on Sunday. He relied increasingly on Sasseville, who was writing and drawing the Peanuts comic book, to turn sketches and concepts into finished work. However, the fundamental style and attitude remains recognizably Schulz's. The same quality that made Peanuts a modern classic—Schulz's amused fascination with human pretensions and delusions—animates this minor newspaper cartoon. Unlike some contemporary sports cartoons, it focuses on amateur activities such as golf, bowling, Ping-Pong and even bridge. There's no cheering crowd, no huge prize to win. The people playing these games are at least nominally adults, though they look a lot like the Peanuts crew and behave like them, too. If Charlie Brown and his friends worry like adults, Schulz understood how childishly grownups can behave when they hit a bad shot or make a grand slam. Such excessive emotion is nothing to be concerned about, though; that's just the way we are. Schulz clearly enjoyed reminding adults of how silly they can be, as on the cover, where a Little League player reminds a scowling adult umpire that he shouldn't take a game too seriously. If nothing else, this book answers the question of what a grown-up Charlie Brown would have looked like.
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The strips are a little more detailed than those from Peanuts. The topics focus a lot on sports like bowling with the biggest focus on the card game Bridge (in fact, the word "Bridge" is placed in the corner of each of these particular strips to let the reader know what the heck the characters were talking about). I have never played Bridge, so the lingo goes over my head.
I'm glad that the Schulz estate is allowing the release of these non-Peanuts related projects because it lets us see another side of Charles Schulz' creativity. But "It's Only A Game" is not a remarkable collection as was the "Lil' Folks" collection that was released about a year ago, but it's fun to see nonetheless.
However, its interest -- to me as I suppose for most readers -- has far more to do with the creator than with the creation. These one-panel strips just aren't as interesting as "Peanuts." There are no recurring characters, no storyline, and no particular topic apart from the sports themes themselves. Of course, just as in "Peanuts," there's an underlying sense of people beset by the human condition, and a few sighs, wails, and cries of despair that will be familiar to any "Peanuts" fan.
What made this collection most interesting to me was to imagine it as a peek into what the "Peanuts" characters would have been like had they ever grown up. And in fact, in the commentary that is interspersed with the art, Sasseville writes that "it's not accidental that some of the adults look like grown-up Peanuts kids. It was harder to emulate Sparky's adults than the kids." And so it's easy to see a middle-aged Charlie Brown seated at a table, looking at a deck of cards and saying (as a young Charlie Brown might have said on his pitcher's mound) "How can a good player like me lose all the time?" (p. 15) or, before his collection of little-bitty trophies, "Oh, I've won my share of tournaments all right, but I'm afraid none of them was very important" (p. 22). The chess-playing grandpa on page 45, however, has to be Linus. There's no other explanation.
This collection has its laughs, but it doesn't have the magic of "Peanuts." It is interesting to see the familiar lettering and drawing style applied to unfamiliar art, and even more interesting to see this corner of Sparky's mind. But I can understand why Schulz tired of "It's Only a Game" -- and more to the point, I can be thankful for the energy and creativity that were invested back into "Peanuts."