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Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography

Schulz and Peanuts

David Michaelis’ much awaited Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, the first comprehensive bio of Charlez Schulz, is arriving into bookstores next week. Nat Gertler offers an in-depth review of the book on his blog, calling it “by far the best and the fullest biography of Schulz to date,” though he tempers that by questioning how Michaelis overreached in some of his conclusions about Schulz. Furthermore, according to this article in yesterday’s NY Times, Schulz’ children are none too pleased with the book’s portrayal of their father as a “depressed, cold and bitter man who was constantly going after different women.”

UPDATE: Commentary from Monte Schulz, Charles Schulz’s son, can be found in this followup post on Cartoon Brew.

  • MAD artist extraordinaire Tom Richmond posted a related story over on his blog – along with a neat little story about the time he and his wife met Schulz at a Reuben Awards event.

  • At first glance I thought this post was about Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salty Peanuts” – but upon further review I see that I was mistaken.

    Looks like an interesting book.

  • Aaghaaz Madan

    I’ve never seen this strip, but I think when I was a little younger I saw an episode or two of Charlie Brown. I’m a little shocked. The cartoon is so gleeful, and the author, depressed? Interesting.

  • Rick Farmiloe

    It makes me a little sad to see Sparky portrayed as an unhappy man. I knew him a little bit, and both my parents knew him. I grew up in Santa Rosa, CA where Sparky lived and worked. He was a fairly quiet man, but gave SO much to our community. Wanting to be a cartoonist or animator when I was 9, I looked up to him as a hero figure….as what could be acheived even though I had this unrealistic dream. When I met him many years later when I was at Disney, he was so kind and friendly and insisted I call him whenever I visited Santa Rosa. We had many, many great conversations about cartooning and whatever the latest Disney feature I was animating on. I certainly can’t verify or condradict some of the statements the author makes about Sparky…..but portraying him as a sad and melencholy man just doesn’t jibe at all with the man I knew. We ALL have moments of sadness, insecurity, self-doubt…..maybe it comes with being an artist. But MY cherished memories of this wonderful man will those of lively conversations with a very giving, friendly, encouraging artist….who I looked up to for inspiration for both his wonderful work and his sincere kindness. He’ll always be a hero to me.

  • DanO

    i read excerpts from the book in last month’s Vanity Fair and saying that the author overreached with his conclusions is the understatement of the decade. the hyperbole and conjecture would be funny if it wasn’t tarnishing a man and audaciously claiming to represent the collective sentiments of Schulz’ readers.

  • Dock Miles

    >audaciously claiming to represent the collective sentiments of Schulz’ readers.

    Well, that would be foolish and deranged. I have a hard time believing a professional biographer would make such a claim. Can you back this up?

    I haven’t read the book, but Nat Gertler’s review was thoughtful and persuasive. I really don’t see how anything the book says about the great Charles Schulz “tarnishes” or diminishes him as an artist. Or, really, as a person, unless one wants him to be a walking greeting card. Someone as perpetually genial as some folks seem to need him to be couldn’t have created a newspaper comic as profound as “Peanuts.”

    All this reminds me of the latter-day efforts to more or less suppress re-runs of the weirder, more neurotic early strips.

  • “All this reminds me of the latter-day efforts to more or less suppress re-runs of the weirder, more neurotic early strips.”

    That’d be great if they ran the very first Peanuts strip ever in the paper nowadays.

    Anyways, having read in the blog linked to above that his daughter didn’t like the book then I’m thinking I won’t be buying it.

  • DanO

    according to that article, Snoopy:

    had a “single minded pursuit of the enemy, and his hatred of losing epitomized the America haunted by an always victorious John Wayne”

    his “World War I Flying Ace mocked the martial spirit of a mere half generation past”

    and “was allowed, in romantic encounters with a ‘country lass’ to enter just ever so slightly into adult sexuality”

    thats some genuine conjecture right there. Shulz was mocking previous american generations? he was offering up messages of sexuality? good grief indeed. one wonders what kind of messages would be projected upon Calvin & Hobbes if the author wrote a book about them….

  • I’m glad that you find my review of value… I am going to note my own caveat on my review, which is at

  • Paul N

    Gillespie’s song was “Salt Peanuts”.

    Just sayin….

  • “Someone as perpetually genial as some folks seem to need him to be…” (Dock)
    Regardless of the new book’s accuracy level, I’m always struck by some people’s seeming determination to paint Schulz as “luvable,” in the worst sense of that slang term. It’s a trend that’s bled into the forewords of some modern Peanuts collections, so we have an introductory piece talking about how the strip is an affirmation of joy and warmth—followed by pages of a strip that, at its best moments, is frankly characterized by gloom and cynicism. But… but that’s what we LIKE about it!
    Snoopy and Woodstock might be there for each other, but pockets of joy do not a generally positive outlook make.

  • Seth

    It’s not uncommon for successful comedians, top comedy writers and engaging entertainers who seem eternally ‘on’ to have a rather depressed flip side. Considering the peaks Schulz hit for so many years with “Peanuts” the suffocating daily deadline pressure to equal or surpass them would be enough to send most humans over a cliff. The level of fame and renown Charles Schulz achieved is a double-edged sword, to say the least. Most of us mortals will never know what that was really like and any biography can only hint at it.

  • Oh, let me note that “suppressing” the early strips is hardly a new phenomenon…. when Fawcett started reprinting the Rinehart & Co (by then, Holt Rinehart & Winston) books in the mass market paperback format in the 1960s, they skipped reprinting the very first book, which had strips from 1950-1952. In general, it’s less a case of “we’re ashamed of this work” and more “this is not what people recognize as Peanuts”, so unsurprisingly that’s not what they’re running in the newspaper Peanuts slot (and that effect is multiplied by the “those were a different dimension than current strips” problem.)
    But obviously, with The Complete Peanuts and other recent reprint books, they’re not exactly hiding those strips.

  • It totally makes sense that Schulz could have been depressed. Charlie Brown was a failure, that was part of his charm. He was bullied, teased and often discouraged. He was always looking at the red haired girl from afar and never got her…the football was always being yanked away…even his catch phrase “Good Grief!” was a cry of anguish. He wasn’t a *stupid* boy, but he was clearly a loser in life, and he knew it.

    He also spent a great deal of time in the “psychiatrist’s office”…so if art imitates life….

  • drazen

    Actually I thought it was interesting how the 3rd post by a person who had never read the strips was surprised that Schultz was depressed
    because his memory of the tv shows was how gleeful they were. Yet at the same time I’ve had discussions with friends in animation who
    watching the cartoons are surprised how downbeat and how depressing the show and music is and their memory of the strip of it is being all happy go lucky. In a way I think this might be part of Schultz’s genius.
    as kid you laugh at all the goofy fun but as an adult you recognize
    the sadness of it as well. To say that Shultz wasn’t a complicated person would be silly. The strip isn’t exactly Family Circus. I haven’t read the book at all but even in interviews I’ve read he comes across as melancholy and obsessed about his work. I don’t think of this as put down or that he wasn’t a happy family man too. But its a lot more interesting than someone smiling all the time and telling you how fantastic everything is and you know the story is going to have a happy ending because in something like Peanuts, the strips don’t always have happy endings but its also richer for it too, and no
    less joyful and funny.
    I’d be more surprised to hear that Jack Davis was a depressed,
    troubled soul than Schultz and he did horror comics.

  • Dock Miles

    >according to that article, Snoopy:

    >had a “single minded pursuit of the enemy, and his hatred of losing epitomized the America haunted by an always victorious John Wayne�

    >his “World War I Flying Ace mocked the martial spirit of a mere half generation past�

    >and “was allowed, in romantic encounters with a ‘country lass’ to enter just ever so slightly into adult sexuality�

    Well, these are all biographer observations one can agree or disagree with, but somebody’s going to have to tell me how they claim “to represent the collective sentiments of Schulz’ readers.”

    (Personally, I always enjoyed that Snoopy knew he’d be lost if he ever vanquished the Red Baron — rising from the ashes of defeat to fight another day was the whole point to him.)

    I’m thrilled the whole range of “Peanuts” is out there now. I fell in love with the strip during the ’50s and ’60s (remember the big wave of commentary about the role of Christianity in “Peanuts”?), but thought as the ’70s went on its pulse got fainter and fainter.

    I don’t get a paper with the reprint “Peanuts” in it. Is it true they still aren’t re-running any strips from the ’60s, even?

  • “I don’t get a paper with the reprint “Peanutsâ€? in it. Is it true they still aren’t re-running any strips from the ’60s, even?”


    There are two different daily Peanuts reprint packages (done because some papers had trouble running the strip in the older size ratio.) One is running the strips from the 1990s. The other is currently rerunning 1960. All papers get the same Sunday strip, currently the 1960 one.

    By the way, if you get a chance take a look at the strips from the last, oh, three years of its run, particularly the stuff built around the character Rerun. Schulz was doing some fine stuff at the time, long after people had written off the strip as being not as good as it once was (which, let’s face it, is a pretty weak condemnation.

  • Monte Schulz

    The point of objection to this biography of my father is how much is simply untruthful, and deliberately so. There are many factual errors throughout the book; there are people who are give authority to speak about our family who have no insight to do so; and there are so many elements of my father’s life that David deliberately left out of the book, that it really is impossible for anyone outside of our family, or Dad’s circle of friends, to come to any genuine conclusions. I can tell you absolutely that he was not a depressed, melancholy person, nor was he unaffectionate and absent as a parent. Honestly, the quote I’ve really wanted to give the press, after reading both the early of the manuscript and the final book, is this: “The book is stupid, and David Michaelis is an idiot.” That said, I had a six year on-going conversation with him about this book, and like David quite a lot. But I was shocked to see the book that emerged, because it veered so drastically away from what he told us he intended to write. Which is why we’ve been so militant in our response. Incidentally, the material David edited out of the book is even more outrageous. The fact is, after reading the book, I decided I’d learned more about David Michaelis than I did about my dad. I found that interesting.

  • When I was 10 years old, I had to write an essay about one of my heroes. I chose Charles Schulz, and got an A for my efforts. My main reason for choosing him was his ability to make me laugh.

    36 years later, he is still my hero. Not only because his comic strip can still make me laugh, but now I appreciate his honesty. Life can be a trial sometimes, we can’t always win. But if we look at our situation with humor, our path will be easier.

    I wrote a fan letter to Mr Schulz about 13 years ago, telling him how much I admired his work. He was kind enough to send me a thank you letter. This is the man I know.

    Michaelis’ book will soon be forgotten. Sparky Schulz will live forever.

  • Linda Fraley

    I went to Barnes and Noble and Borders in the past two weeks and neither Michaelis’ book nor Peanuts books were on display. I appreciate the anger the Schulz offspring have about the bio. I’ve had the same reaction reading “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” which is a hot classic about cultural miscues in medicine. Because I knew the participants, I resented the author’s tone and statements.(even though Ann Fadiman probably reported things she had heard). I have read Michaelis’ book and it is informative. It does reflect the man and his circumstances as I saw him in 1969. I will say all the children except Meredith appeared happy.

  • I wrote two long review essays on the book. One for the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail (dealing with the book for a general audience) and one on my blog (dealing with some of the more in-depth issues that are more for a specialized audience). I think the essay on the blog will be of interest to many.

  • And to add very odd insult to injury… One of my favorite artists, Bill Watterson, has written a very odd review of the book, which seems to insult Mr. Schulz even more.

    I love Bill Watterson’s work. He’s an incredible artist, which is often overlooked because of his amazing sense of humor. He is definitely the bastard child of everything “Peanuts.� And I mean that in the most appreciative and positive way.

    However, whenever I’ve read his three interviews (he’s only done three, that I know of) and the introduction to his fantastic Box Set Collection of Calvin and Hobbes, I find a person of black and white literals. Watterson seems to have the same harsh, strict Ayn Randian outlook that Steve Ditko has. (I said “seems…�)

    He states his “observations� about this book about Charles Schulz with an “objectivist� viewpoint of quite certain Right and Wrongs, and then makes a few cruel remarks, playing psychologist to a man he never met.

    I would bet that Wattersson speaks of his own foibles rather than Sparkys.

    Of course, maybe I just did the same.

  • Jym

    =v= There is nothing remotely Objectivist about Watterson’s review.