Good Grief: The Life of Charles M. Schulz

By Taube, Michael | The Christian Science Monitor, October 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

Good Grief: The Life of Charles M. Schulz


Taube, Michael, The Christian Science Monitor


Peanuts is one of the most popular and important comic strips of the last century. Children and adults alike chuckled over good ol' Charlie Brown's desire to kick a football just once, Snoopy's battles with the Red Baron, Linus's crusade to see the Great Pumpkin, and Lucy's questionable psychiatric advice for 5 cents a pop.

Yet for all that was known about Peanuts, surprisingly little was known about the strip's creator, Charles M. Schulz. While some books, including Rheta Grimsley Johnson's "Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz," attempted to shed some light, large gaps remained unfilled. The man who let his comic strip do the talking remained a public enigma, even after his death in February 2000.

But with the arrival of Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, David Michaelis's impressive new biography of the troubled genius behind Peanuts, this is no longer the case.

Michaelis, who was granted full access to Schulz's papers by his children, begins with the growth and development of Schulz, a bright, young child from St. Paul, Minn., affectionately nicknamed "Sparky." His parents were caring, but had some unusual views; his father, Carl, actually "equated achievement with egotistical display." Thus, Schulz was taught to keep his head down and not draw attention to himself. As a friend once said, "Sparky was a genius at becoming invisible."

In spite of this, Schulz loved to read, learn, and draw. The purchase of Clare Briggs's "How to Draw Cartoons" on his 11th birthday enabled him to master the styles of cartoonists like Winsor McCay and Frank King. "From that point on," Schulz said, "I was totally fascinated by the style[s] of drawing that different people had." In defiance of the Oscar Wilde axiom that, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life," Michaelis shows that Schulz's life and art often imitated each other. Like Charlie Brown's dad, Schulz's father was a barber. …

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