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Words and pictures: Christmas classic's roots planted in ATL

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"A Charlie Brown Christmas; The Making of a Tradition"

By Lee Mendelson. Harper, $14.95. All ages.

Just like the comic strip "Peanuts," "A Charlie Brown Christmas" has become a classic, a holiday tradition since it was first broadcast 40 years ago. This book, published in 2000 and now available in paperback, tells how it happened.

In a sense, it started in Atlanta in 1965 when Coca-Cola decided to sponsor a Christmas TV special. Its agency contacted producer Lee Mendelson, who had made an unaired show on cartoonist Charles Schulz. Former Disney animator Bill Melendez was hired to turn Schulz's still drawings into animation.

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" captured Schulz's characters perfectly, but it was different from other TV shows. The soundtrack went beyond Christmas carols to include classical music and jazz piano themes by Vince Guaraldi. There was no laugh track. The voices weren't done by adults but by real kids. And whoever heard of a cartoon that included a reading from the Bible?

But millions of Americans tuned in, and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" got huge ratings. It won awards, including an Emmy for animated special. Guaraldi's soundtrack from the show sold 4 million records, and his "Linus and Lucy" theme became a standard.

Mendelson and Melendez tell the behind-the-scenes story of the show's making. There are interviews with the original child actors and reminiscences of Schulz and Guaraldi, plus production notes, photos, background sketches and music score. The show's full script is printed with the original animated art.

If watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is an annual tradition at your house, you'll love this book, too.

--- Frank C. Rizzo,

Black Panther #10

Marvel Comics, $2.99. Older teens.

Now this is much more like it. After a poorly paced relaunch that languished in summer crossover purgatory, this series starring Marvel's first African superhero is finally a solid read.

Writer Reginald Hudlin (yes, the filmmaker and new head of BET network) dumps or ignores most of the dumb elements found in his six-issue introductory story line while retaining its strengths.

For example, Hudlin's script occasionally reads a bit too streetwise to fit a cast set in Wakanda, a fictional African nation that was never colonized. He gets around that limitation by guest-starring African-American superhero Luke Cage to do most of the talking, then by setting this issue's story in a Manhattan club.

It's not flawless, especially when a minor character does something that doesn't make much sense. But overall this is still a fun, nearly self-contained issue that serves as a better introduction to the title character than the first six issues of the series. It's a welcome bonus that Luke Cage plays so well off Black Panther that you wish they'd have a full adventure together. And then Hudlin grants the wish.

--- Khari J. Sampson,

Mark of the Succubus

By Ashly Raiti and Irene Flores. Tokyopop, $9.99. Ages 13 and older.

Maeve, in training as a succubus, finishes her paperwork so she can enter the human world to practice her humanity. The first person she meets there is Aiden. She fits in well enough to be perceived as a threat by Aiden's girlfriend, Sandra, the stereotypical pretty, blond girl who is not nice. "Heathers," anyone?

Aiden, who's prone to wearing his emotions on his T-shirts, becomes friends with Maeve, especially after a confrontation in which Sandra slaps Maeve. (Doesn't Sandra know that the girl who initiates the fight always loses the guy?) Maeve passes the test for her license to kill, because that's to be her new job: "to impersonate [people] well enough to get close . . . and then kill them." What Maeve doesn't realize is that there's someone in the demon realm who doesn't want her to succeed. And when Maeve realizes who her mark is --- well, she might want the same thing.

Raiti and Flores were both finalists in Tokyopop's national Rising Stars of Manga competition. The book reads as if both writer and artist watched enough of the throwaway high school movies in the '90s to use all the conventions in "Mark."

But they can be applauded for having something you rarely see in manga of any kind: a parent. High school as torture is hardly new, but these two give it a bit of a spin with the demon (albeit a cute, thoughtful demon) as hero. All hail Maeve.

--- Dawn M. Burkes,

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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