Friday, May 15, 2009

Book #1: Schulz and Peanuts

In addition to my hopefully extensive movie-watching this summer, I will of course be spending much of my time reading. Since I work at Barnes & Noble, this is actually inevitable, given that most of the staff prefers to spend their break time with their noses in a book. Not being one to waste time or reading opportunities, I have already finished my first book of the summer. That book is David Michaelis's biography of the man behind Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Schulz and Peanuts.
Michaelis paints a portrait of Charles M. Schulz as a deeply troubled man and a brilliant cartoonist. "Sparky" was a web of complexities and contradictions-- a simple man to the public eye, few people who were close to Schulz understood him. He was intensely melancholic, but channeled it into the creation of comic strips that became emblematic of America and connected with its citizens as nothing else could. He was humble to the point of being consistently derogatory to himself, but knew from even before he was famous that he was (or would be) the best at what he did. He was intensely competitive with other cartoonists, no matter how friendly and mentor-like he acted in his later years.
More than anything else, Michaelis's biography does a superb job of showing just how much Schulz poured his whole life experience into Peanuts, primarily by inserting images of the comic strips into the text of the book at different points. You see how Schulz channeled his emotions, thoughts, and philosophies into Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Schroeder, and Linus... how his first wife inspired Lucy and his second wife tamed the same character... how Schulz's ebbing and flowing religious beliefs provided the impetus for the use of philosophy and scripture in the cartoon. With the background information that Michaelis provides, the cartoons soon speak for themselves in telling the story of Charles M. Schulz's tumultuous yet basically lucky and (later) privileged life. David Michaelis's Schulz and Peanuts is a sympathetic, compelling, and highly enjoyable biography of a troubled, flawed American cultural icon.

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