Review: Sparky & Spike

New releases

The new book Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever seems to be on the cusp of transitioning Schulz’s cultural image from artist to icon – not the first leaning in that direction, but perhaps the most blatant. It tells the tale of a boy who is amazed by his dog, thinks he’s the greatest thing ever, while pursuing an interest in cartooning. He gets a picture of his lively dog into the comic section one day, and then (spoiler warning!) grows up to be a famous cartoonist. So this isn’t just a story of how Schulz got to be Schulz, it’s an inspirational story about how doing what you love and having a good dog can get you somewhere. That’s not the final translation over into icon, I guess – that will come when Schulz is used as a character of meaning in the midst of a fictional story, as we’ve seen with folks ranging from Abe Lincoln to Elvis. But I think Schulz might get there (although I bet Stan Lee gets there first.)

And if anything, that fictionalization might make for smoother storytelling. Presumably to avoid creating fiction, there are only two lines of dialog in this whole thing, so that only Schulz specifically quoted as being said are shown as being said. Only one of those lines are from the Sparky character himself, and that one is only one word. That dialogue? “Potato!”, of course.

And really, that lack of dialog makes Barbara Lowell’s text less involving than it may have been for the 4 to 8 year olds that this is targeted at (I’d put it to the lower end of the age ranges.) And Dan Andreasen’s art is interesting, but I think its very open sensibility might actually look better at a smaller size.

Speaking of Dan Andreasen, the back matter has an interesting touch. In addition to a one-page biography of Schulz, there’s the reproduction of a letter from Schulz to Andreasen when Andreasen was a boy – a very basic advice letter for a young boy cartoonist, but seeing how Andreasen went on to a hearty career in the children’s book industry, perhaps it was just the right thing.

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