From his earliest memories, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz (1922-2000) remembered thinking of himself as a man who was "born to draw." He was a six-year-old with a singular ambition, and he sold his first cartoon at age fourteen. Such early vision and success, however, did not prepare Charles Schulz for the life of a celebrity cartoonist. Peanuts became the most widely syndicated cartoon on the planet, and at the height of his career, Schulz earned between $26 and $40 million annually. But throughout his life, he battled his own insecurities and loneliness in the same way that, perhaps, his characters such as Charlie Brown and Lucy fought out their differences on the page.
David Michaelis' Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography makes connections between Charles Schulz's private life and his art by tracing the trajectory of Schulz's career alongside the narrative of his personal development. Michaelis weaves over 250 Peanuts strips throughout the book to illustrate the parallels in Shultz's personal and professional lives, exploring Schulz's claim that "If somebody reads my strip everyday, they'll know me for sure-they'll know exactly what I am."
This book reveals, however, that knowing Charles Schulz was no easy task. He could be contradictory and enigmatic, intense or lighthearted, and his comics explore a wide variety of subjects, including music, authority, aviation, ice skating, and space exploration. Some of the strips simply supply a good laugh, but most of them connect with readers on a more philosophical level.
Through his Peanuts characters, Charles Schulz brought grown-ups into a world of six-year-olds, where children's problems matched their own. In this way, Schulz used humor to diffuse lifelong anxieties over things such as social acceptance or perceived obligations. It is likely, as Michaelis points out, that Schulz's own feelings of being a loner gave him the insight he needed in order draw laughs from readers across the globe who could at least identify with Schulz's witty commentary on life's darker moments-even if they had not experienced such struggles themselves.
Michaelis begins his book with Charles Schulz as a "lonesome young man...being carried away on a train through the snow." The most traumatic experience in his life, Schulz was departing to fight in the Second World War, leaving home within a week of his mother's funeral. His mother had been the person Schulz desired to please the most, and because she never had the opportunity to see his success, Schulz's need for her validation would remain unfulfilled.
When Schulz came back from the war, he returned to his childhood home in St. Paul Minnesota, where his father ran a barbershop. Schulz and his father lived in an apartment above the shop, and Schulz began faithfully sending out his strips at night after spending five days a week looking for work but coming home empty-handed. Even after he was hired to teach art, Schulz kept sending out his own drawings, and his persistence eventually resulted in publication. His first publication as a comic artist coincided with the birthday of his lost mother and gave him enough encouragement to continue developing his work until Peanuts was born.
Throughout this book, readers will find themselves wrapped up in stories such as these that explain how Schulz overcame personal and professional obstacles to reach an unprecedented level of success within the cartoon industry. With over 550 pages of text, the book provides a long, and sometimes overly-detailed, account of Schulz's life, but its pacing is even, and Michaelis knows how to craft a story.
As the first full-length biography of Charles Schulz, this book does a great deal to help us understand the cultural relevance of cartooning and to relate the person who created Peanuts with the characters we have grown to love.