November 19, 2007


It's hard not to approach "peanuts" with reservations: all that ubiquitous merchandising, those sickeningly sweet television specials... but charles schulz's original comic strip, which he wrote, drew, ruled and lettered for 50 years without assistants, is most often a tragic self-portrait of a lonely and doubtful man. Even towards the end of his life, with 55 million people reading his strip, and an income upwards of 40 million a year, he often complained to his wife, "I wish I knew if people really liked me". It's amazing that such unrelenting pessimism had so much appeal. When asked why charlie brown had to always lose, he replied, "because there is nothing funny about the person who gets to kick the football. Drama and humor come from trouble and sadness, and mankind's ability to survive life's unhappiness." "Charles Schulz and Peanuts", the most exhaustive Schulz biography, was recently published. A quick recap with examples of his strips can be found here. And if you missed the wonderful PBS "american masters" episode from two weeks ago, look for it on video.


SpaceMan5000 said...

I second the American Masters PBS special. It was fascinating, but ultimately depressing. It made my wife cry.

Stexe, have you read the bio? I've heard mixed reviews, but am thinking about picking it up.

I can also recommend The Comics Journal #200 which contains an interview with Schulz.

stexe said...

Very sad stuff. The guy had it all: a fortune, a large family, the admiration of tens of millions. But he was hardwired to always consider himself a failure. I was moved by the segment of his interview on "60 minutes", shot just shortly after he retired. He was asked if he had anything to say about the end of his career. His only reply was "I did the best I could", then collapsed into tears. Then he died weeks later. Not a healthy or objective way to look back on your life, especially if you're the most successful person in the history of your field.

Haven't read the new bio, or any of his previous bios. But the hype over it and the "american masters" show inspires me to pick it up soon.

Lance Ehlers said...

There were several things all the kids in grade school were into which never did anything for me. For example: fruit flavored tongue depressors (compliments of a local doctor) and Peanuts. I have absolutely no memory of EVER being entertained by a Peanuts cartoon, but I did have Peanuts sheets on my bed, and I vividly recall lying there, trying to think up an excuse so I could skip school, and studying the quality of the lines used to create the characters. I've also never enjoyed any of the Marvel or DC comic book heroes (yawn), though I was really into Richie Rich. It's the same deal with those characters: I really dug the quality of the lines.

All the Peanuts characters rolled into one big pile pale in comparison to Richie Rich's Hillbilly friend "Freckles" or his smart-ass cousin "Reggie."

stexe said...

Who says the only purpose of art is to entertain? For schulz, it was a method of venting is misery. Which makes it all the stranger that it somehow translated into cute bedsheets.

Unknown said...

You might enjoy this audio interview with “Schulz and Peanuts” biographer David Michaelis (with transcription).