Literature: Michaelis’ Schulz and Peanuts

“If somebody reads my strip everyday, they’ll know me for sure—they’ll know exactly what I am.” –Charles Schulz

Traci J. Macnamara on Schulz and PeanutsI have no particular interest in cartoons or cartooning, but I found David Michaelis’ Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography to be a good read. People fascinate me, and I generally enjoy reading biographies, so maybe that had something to do with my interest in this book. I also recently saw that this book was picked by Louisville’s The Courier-Journal as one of the top ten books of 2007. I can see why: Michaelis is a meticulous researcher, and he knows how to make a person’s life readable. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz (1922-2000) was a fascinating man; even though Peanuts became the most widely syndicated cartoon on the planet, Schulz battled insecurities and loneliness in the same way, perhaps, that his characters Charlie Brown and Lucy fought out their differences on the page. This book tells the story of Schulz personal and professional development, from his beginnings as an art teacher to the high point of his career, during which he earned between $26 and $40 million annually. Schulz (the artist) is not the same person as Charlie Brown (the artist’s creation), but readers will find themselves rooting for Schulz—often the underdog—in the same way that Peanuts readers find themselves sympathizing with Charlie Brown. Schulz could be contradictory and enigmatic, intense or lighthearted, just as his characters were, and that’s what keeps this book interesting. One drawback? With over 550 pages of text, this book is a brick. Sometimes Michaelis goes overboard with detail, such as offering the street addresses of Schulz and his acquaintances throughout the book, but the story’s pacing is even, and its subject’s personal drama is likely to keep readers tuned-in despite the author’s enthusiasm for minutiae. Nonetheless, 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.

For more on this book, click here to read my review of it on the About.com Contemporary Literature website.

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