November 25, 2007

You're A Good Man, Charles Schulz

Literally, I grew up with Peanuts.

One of the earliest photos taken of me was my pregnant mother wearing a hideously orange Snoopy t-shirt. Part of my reading as a child were the paperback collections of Peanuts strips. As a child at camp, I was selected to "play" Snoopy in a very amateur (read: singing around the piano) version of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. I think it's safe to say that I not only identified with Charlie Brown, but that it provided a context and commentary on childhood.

Much like a recent edition of American Masters, David Michaelis' biography of Schulz attempts to meld Schulz's work with his life. It has also been criticized by members of Schulz's family for being slightly askew, misrepresenting aspects of Schulz's life. They had given Michaelis approval to write the book, but did not like the conclusions he drew...claiming that Michaelis discussed the life of a man who could not love, but who showed his children affection on a regular basis.

However, this is one of the most revealing, less prurient biographies ever written. Even during the "darker" times of Schulz's life, Michaelis often exercises the better part of valor, making Schulz more human - and ironically, giving his strips greater resonance. We can see how his life poured into his work, and the strips are used sparingly. (Some reviewers have wished that Michaelis put more emphasis on the strips, but I disagree - they're used in a way that really shows not only how Schulz integrated aspects of his own life into his strips...but more importantly, the craft that Schulz used in doing so. This is one of the few books that actually deconstructs comic strips...and reveals why Schulz was such a trailblazer.

In short, this book is much like a PG version of the HBO biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. Both deal with artists who tended to "lose themselves" in their work, who used their work as a way of working through inner demons. (Although, admittedly, Sellers claimed to have no sense of self, having it "surgically removed"). Despite growing up with a self-deprecating father, a slightly distant mother, living within a culture that did not promote emotional expression...it is not unlikely that Schulz would turn to art to express his innermost thoughts and feelings It would seem very unlikely that, by doing so, Schulz would create a revolution in graphic literature.

Consider Schulz and Peanuts not just highly recommended, but mandatory reading.



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2 comments:

golfwidow said...

I am worried about reading this because I am such of fan of Schulz that I am afraid I would stop liking him, as I stopped liking James Herriot after Graham Lord's biography of him. In the case of Herriot, I should have waited for the later biography his son wrote, then read Lord's version afterward. I think I will try to do this for Schulz if possible.

Roger Green said...

I think Sparky was...complicated. This interview may be of interest: http://tinyurl.com/33xt7r