If you find yourself anywhere near Northern California between now and May, take a side trip to Santa Rosa–and visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which is currently housing two exhibits that are worth your time.
“Sugar and Spice: Little Girls in the Funnies” is about…well, little girls in the funnies. It includes some Peanuts originals, but most of the works on display feature other girls of the comics, including Little Orphan Annie, Nancy, Cookie, Little Iodine, and others. There’s some original art, but also published pieces (at least one printed strip–a huge, handsome Harold Gray Annie Sunday page–is at least as enjoyable as an original would have been.)
“Sugar and Spice” is a few feet from “You-You-You Girls, Youi!!,” which is all Schulz, and mostly wonderful. Some of the museum’s Schulz exhibits have skimped on work from the 1950s and 1960s, and I thought maybe the museum just didn’t have that much early work. But this show is well-balanced, with five decades of good stuff featuring Lucy, Sally, both Pattys (Peppermint and otherwise), and others.
You could quibble about a few things in both shows–OK, I will: “Sugar and Spice” is overly dependent on items from the Ohio State University Collection even when they’re poor examples (why Hank Ketcham is represented by a tiny, black-and-white newsprint version of a seemingly random Sunday strip involving Margaret, I’m not sure). And the commentary in both exhibits advocates a position–that Schulz’s females characters were a quantum leap over previous comics girls, and he reached his zenith with Peppermint Patty and Marcie–which I don’t buy. (The commentary feels like it’s channeling Schulz’s own take on his work…which reminds me of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s apparently sincere belief that The Jungle Book and The Rescuers were highpoints in the history of Disney animation.)
But like I say, I’m quibbling. The Schulz museum is, as Peppermint Patty’s father might say, a rare gem–and it’s as good as it’s ever been at the moment. (“Sugar and Spice” runs until May 29th; “You-You–You Girls” is up until May 15th.) The museum has published a catalog based on “Sugar and Spice” which is in some ways better than the exhibit itself, since it has more commentary from more people (including a few notable woman who talk about the comics they liked as kids). I don’t see it for sale on the museum’s site, but I assume it’ll be there eventually.