I have always identified with Charlie Brown. Somehow Charles Schulz had gotten into my head and put my life into his comic strip. Not surprisingly David Michaelis found this to be a common reaction to the Peanuts strip among many people that he talked with, in preparation for this book.
Charles Schulz was given the nickname Sparky, in infancy, after the racehorse character in the Barney Google comic strip. The comics page in the newspapers of the early 20th century served some of the same purposes as television does today, adventure series ran in installments, comedy was served up daily. The comics were discussed around the office water cooler like he latest Seinfeld episode, or whatever it is people talk about now.
Amazingly, Sparky Schulz determined that he would be a cartoonist at the age of 6. He was a shy withdrawn child, preferring to draw pictures rather than participate in the rogh and tmble play of the neighborhood children. Then again he formed and managed his own sandlot baseball team. Just like Charlie Brown.
There has been some negative reaction from the Schulz family to the conclusions that Michaelis has drawn. Family members object to his assertion that Schulz suffered from depression, feelings of inadequacy, agoraphobia. Yet Michaelis uses the Peanuts strips to illustrate his points. Certainly Charlie Brown believes that no one likes him, despite his good nature, intelligence and willingness to pitch in and help the other characters.
According to Michaelis, Schulz peopled his strip with representation of those in his daily life. Lucy as his first wife, Joyce Halverson; the little red haired girl as Donna Johnson, the woman who rejected his proposal; Snoopy, Schulz's fantasy life. He carefully inserts strips from Schulz's 50 years of work to illustrate each point. Schroeder, the unrecognized genius, another aspect of Schulz, yet he was always surprised when people complimented his work.
I found the small type, and particularly the speech balloons of the greatly reduced comic strips, shrunk to fit the page of a standard hardcover book, to be difficult to read. I will be wandering over to the large print section sooner than I thought. I persevered, however and, using a magnifying glass to read the strips, I was able to watch, as Schulz aged, a tremor appear and grow in his drawing hand. And I was able to watch as Schulz learned to master, and use that tremor to enhance, rather than detract from, the quality of the drawing.
In the end Schulz, as he was dying of colon cancer, was saddened that Charlie Brown never got to kick the football. I was more than ever convinced that Sparky Schulz had been reading my mind and putting my thoughts into Charlie Brown's speech balloons.
Comic strip image from snoopy.com
"Linus and Lucy" by Vince Guaraldi from wilstar.net