Schulz and Peanuts

“Schulz and Peanuts” is a book about Charles Schulz, written by David Michaelis. Beginning in 1950 through his death in 2000, Charles Schulz transformed the newspaper comic strip with his “Peanuts” children characters. His strip differed from many others, which centered around gags and action, having its characters register emotions such as anxiety, depression, yearning and disillusionment that had never been in cartoons before. It also provided much relevant social commentary over the years, in a relaxed manner, and became beloved by almost everyone. At its peak the strip reached about 300 million readers in 75 countries. The various animated television specials continue to top the Nielsen charts and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” is the most-produced musical ever. The characters have been merchandised extensively in such things as calendars, lunchboxes, food products, and even Ford cars.

The book covers the history behind Schulz’s love of drawing and process of creating the Peanuts comic strip. It gives the sources of inspiration for many of the characters including Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, etc., how Schulz got the nickname “Sparky” which was how he was primarily known during his life, how the comic strip came to be named “Peanuts” against Schulz’s wishes, and how he developed the shyness and insecurity he carried with him his entire life. Shultz was generally aloof from people and liked to keep to himself and yet had the internal warmth and understanding of children and human nature that made his comic strip so successful.

The book also covers the warts of Schulz such as his failed marriage with his first wife, an affair with a 25 year old lady when he was 47, a subsequent affair with another married women who became his second wife and the abortion he and his wife forced one of his daughters to have when she got pregnant out of marriage. Early in life, Schulz was an active fundamentalist Church of God Christian but turned away from a traditional Christianity later in life partly due to the influence of his two nonreligious wives. He began describing himself as a humanist and became something of an universalist, believing that one could find the Kingdom of God without Jesus. However, before his turn away, he provided intentional Christian references from time to time in his work. The most famous of which was the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” television program, first broadcast in 1965, which had the famous speech from Luke 2 presented by Linus. The Producers did not want the passage included because they thought it would be controversial but Schulz would not relent. The show was a smash hit both then and now, an amazing one-half of all households in the nation watched the first showing, and Linus’s speech was and remains very popular.

The author had the cooperation of the Schulz’s family in writing the book although they did not like the final product as they thought it too critical. However, the book is a very balanced and interesting read for fans of Peanuts. Schulz was really only happy when he was working on his comic strips and that was where he devoted most of the time of his life. Schulz said once that if it weren’t for cartooning he’d be dead, and indeed he died a short time after resigning from the strip because of ill health, the last original strip being published on the day he died.

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