Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis

SchulzThis is the first full-length biography of Charles Schulz, creator of the cartoon Peanuts, written with the cooperation of his family. 

From his earliest childhood, Schulz wanted to become a cartoonist, despite many people’s negative reactions to his dream. When he submitted a copy of a drawing in a magazine advertisement, hoping to win a series of art lessons, he failed to win the prize, but the correspondence school accepted him as a student. He took full advantage of the opportunity and eventually had a job commenting on drawings by other students. (This was especially interesting to me, since I remember seeing these ads and think I even tried for the prize at some time in my childhood.)

Schulz suffered from melancholy throughout his life, reacting to everything from minor disappointments to the bullies of his school days and to his mother’s death around the time that he went into the military during World War II. He wasn’t interested in seeing a psychiatrist, fearing that somehow this would interfere with his success as a cartoonist. This is a story of great successes–his advancement from a young soldier crying himself to sleep to becoming a beloved staff sergeant, the many awards he won for his cartoon strip, his fame and popular acclaim, his amazing rise from being a barber’s son to being immensely wealthy, and the fact that after years of unsuccessful longing for various girls, he became truly attractive to women. It is a sad story as well, the tale of a man who told his bride during his honeymoon that he never expected to be happy and who, in his 70s, was still fretting about the bullies he had encountered in his youth.

Schulz’s cartoons enliven the book, keeping it from becoming depressing.  Fifty years of cartoons–all imagined and drawn without assistance–provide insight into Schulz’s personality, and many of these cartoons illustrate the book, placed in just the right places to show us the connections between the creator’s life and the strip.

If you ever read a Peanuts cartoon or saw one of Schulz’s TV specials, I think you’ll find this a fascinating study of a complex character, a great success story, and a source of new insight into Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts gang.

(Helen Snow, Information Services)

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