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SCHULZ AND PEANUTS by David Michaelis


A Biography

by David Michaelis

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-06-621393-4
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

The idolized comic strip and its revered creator, conjoined American avatars of the second half of the 20th century, are both fully explored in this shared biography.

As Michaelis (N.C. Weyth, 1998, etc.) demonstrates with the help of many cartoons, the antics of Peanuts’ characters formed a clear autobiography of Charles M. Schulz (1922–2000). The barber’s son from Minnesota was born to create a comic strip, if nothing else. He was a dweeby, dreamy lad called “Sparky” from infancy—an odd nickname for a serious youth who ignited little excitement. An abstemious churchgoer, he was timid around girls, especially pretty redheads. Sparky was determined, though, to have a cartoonist’s career. Home from the Army in 1945, he worked as a correspondence-school art instructor. Early on, he knew three Charlie Browns: One was a high-school friend; one was an art-school colleague who became a bit odd as his fictional namesake became celebrated; the third was an ecclesiastic. The energetic first Mrs. Schulz, usually managing Sparky, morphed into Lucy. The flourishing Peanuts strip provided a lavish California home and studio, spawned endorsements, television specials and books. Happiness was not, however, a warm bank account. With an upscale ice rink came tax problems, divorce and remarriage. The world’s most successful and rewarded cartoonist, the man who coined the term “security blanket,” nursed anxieties. “Sparky really didn’t give a damn about people,” one friend noted. Schulz was the subject of many articles and interviews, so much of his story is known, but this fine, exhaustive text is well-organized and knowledgeable. Whether or not Peanuts was inspired, as fans insist, or just insipid, Michaelis offers considerable insight into the semiotics of comics and the psyche of a master of the craft.

All that’s needed about a prodigy of American cultural history.