The "Young Jesus Chronicles," a book of cartoons created by friends, will soon join the publisher of "Dilbert," "Calvin and Hobbes" and "The Far Side." Mark Penta and Spencer Smith, who drew and captioned the book's 60 cartoons about the childhood adventures of the young savior, said they have signed a contract with Andrews McMeel Publishing of Kansas City, Mo., which will release an expanded edition of their book in February.

Young Jesus will soon be keeping company with Calvin and Hobbes.


The "Young Jesus Chronicles," a book of cartoons created by Framingham friends, will soon join the publisher of "Dilbert," "Calvin and Hobbes" and "The Far Side."


Mark Penta and Spencer Smith, who drew and captioned the book's 60 cartoons about the childhood adventures of the young savior, said they have signed a contract with Andrews McMeel Publishing of Kansas City, Mo., which will release an expanded edition of their book in February.


Penta, a Framingham caricaturist and freelance illustrator, and Smith, who provides ideas and captions, self-published "Young Jesus Chronicles" in December 2008. The two Framingham residents who met in first grade both grew up in town and attended catechism classes together.


Offering witty rather than irreverent jokes about the adolescent messiah, their book has sold about 600 copies over the last year.


"They'll be releasing it worldwide," said Smith. "This is big news for us. It's very exciting."


Smith believes the self-published first edition, which sells for $9.95, has "the potential to be a collector's item."


Founded in 1970 by two college friends, Andrews McMeel Publishing sells books, comic strips, calendars, greeting cards, puzzles and other items. One of the founders, Jim Andrews, "discovered" Gary Trudeau, the creator of "Doonesbury," when he was drawing a cartoon strip titled "Bull Tales" at Yale.


Drawn by Penta and captioned by Smith, their cartoons are wry and gentle, focusing on the humorous situations that might have occurred long ago in Galilee when real parents raised a divine child.


In one panel, Young Jesus delivers "the Sermon at the Jungle Gym" to his little playmates. In another cartoon, Young Jesus wins the high school swim meet by running across water. In Chariot Drivers School, a stern instructor teaches Young Jesus how to make a three-point turn.


"They're really harmless cartoons, well done and smart and never mean-spirited or disrespectful," said Smith. "In our cartoons Jesus is a pretty typical little kid."


Penta is also the author and illustrator of "Cape Cod Invasion," which injects science fiction into a nostalgic look at Cape Cod life.


Smith said the new edition of the "Young Jesus Chronicles," will be the same size and format but include about eight new cartoons and add coloring to Jesus' halo and the sun.


According to their agreement with their new publisher, Penta and Smith can only sell their self-published version through Dec. 31. It's available at Wellesley Booksmith, Brookline Booksmith, Trident Booksellers & Cafe on Newbury Street, Boston, Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge and Eight Cousins Children's Books in Falmouth.


Rather than wait for a break to come their way, Smith introduced "Young Jesus Chronicles" to several publishers last May at Book Expo America, a large book fair in New York. "I gave away copies like candy to get people interested," he said.


His ploy worked when two weeks later the representative from Andrews McMeel Publishing contacted Smith and Penta and made them an offer they were happy to accept.


Penta and Smith will be signing copies of their book Nov. 8 at Annie's Bookshop at 774 Water St. in the Nobscot Shopping Plaza from noon until 2 p.m.


To learn more about The Young Jesus Chronicles, visit www.Youngjesuschronicles.com.


The MetroWest Daily News