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Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography

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Charles Schulz, the most widely syndicated and beloved cartoonist of all time, is also one of the most misunderstood figures in American culture. Now, acclaimed biographer David Michaelis gives us the first full-length biography of Schulz: at once a creation story, a portrait of a hidden American genius, and a chronicle contrasting the private man with the central role he Charles Schulz, the most widely syndicated and beloved cartoonist of all time, is also one of the most misunderstood figures in American culture. Now, acclaimed biographer David Michaelis gives us the first full-length biography of Schulz: at once a creation story, a portrait of a hidden American genius, and a chronicle contrasting the private man with the central role he played in shaping the national imagination. The son of a barber, Schulz was born in Minnesota to modest, working class roots. In 1943, just three days after his mother′s tragic death from cancer, Schulz, a private in the army, shipped out for boot camp and the war in Europe. The sense of shock and separation never left him. And these early experiences would shape his entire life. With Peanuts, Schulz embedded adult ideas in a world of small children to remind the reader that character flaws and childhood wounds are with us always. It was the central truth of his own life, that as the adults we′ve become and as the children we always will be, we can free ourselves, if only we can see the humour in the predicaments of funny-looking kids. Schulz′s Peanuts profoundly influenced the country in the second half of the 20th century. But the strip was anchored in the collective experience and hardships of Schulz′s generation-the generation that survived the Great Depression and liberated Europe and the Pacific and came home to build the post-war world.


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Charles Schulz, the most widely syndicated and beloved cartoonist of all time, is also one of the most misunderstood figures in American culture. Now, acclaimed biographer David Michaelis gives us the first full-length biography of Schulz: at once a creation story, a portrait of a hidden American genius, and a chronicle contrasting the private man with the central role he Charles Schulz, the most widely syndicated and beloved cartoonist of all time, is also one of the most misunderstood figures in American culture. Now, acclaimed biographer David Michaelis gives us the first full-length biography of Schulz: at once a creation story, a portrait of a hidden American genius, and a chronicle contrasting the private man with the central role he played in shaping the national imagination. The son of a barber, Schulz was born in Minnesota to modest, working class roots. In 1943, just three days after his mother′s tragic death from cancer, Schulz, a private in the army, shipped out for boot camp and the war in Europe. The sense of shock and separation never left him. And these early experiences would shape his entire life. With Peanuts, Schulz embedded adult ideas in a world of small children to remind the reader that character flaws and childhood wounds are with us always. It was the central truth of his own life, that as the adults we′ve become and as the children we always will be, we can free ourselves, if only we can see the humour in the predicaments of funny-looking kids. Schulz′s Peanuts profoundly influenced the country in the second half of the 20th century. But the strip was anchored in the collective experience and hardships of Schulz′s generation-the generation that survived the Great Depression and liberated Europe and the Pacific and came home to build the post-war world.

30 review for Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    4.5 stars "Schulz's characters reminded people of the never-ceasing struggle to confront one's vulnerabilities with dignity. Humanity was created to be strong; yet, to be strong and still fail is one of the universally identifying human experiences. Charlie Brown never quits . . . " -- the author on page 189 Snoopy and Charlie Brown (a 'dog and his boy,' you might say). Siblings Linus and Lucy. Best friends Peppermint Patty and Marcie. Solid supporting characters Schroeder, Pig-Pen, and Frieda/>"Schulz's 4.5 stars "Schulz's characters reminded people of the never-ceasing struggle to confront one's vulnerabilities with dignity. Humanity was created to be strong; yet, to be strong and still fail is one of the universally identifying human experiences. Charlie Brown never quits . . . " -- the author on page 189 Snoopy and Charlie Brown (a 'dog and his boy,' you might say). Siblings Linus and Lucy. Best friends Peppermint Patty and Marcie. Solid supporting characters Schroeder, Pig-Pen, and Frieda. For nearly fifty (!) years these 'Peanuts' graced the comics page of daily newspapers in America and then the world. For those of us in a slightly later generation our end of the year holiday season was marked by CBS' annual airings of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), and of course A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). As I type this review I have the jazz stylings of the Vince Guaraldi Trio - responsible for the music of the TV specials - playing to set the mood. Michaelis's Schulz and Peanuts is an exhaustive, and at times exhausting, bio of creator / artist Charles Schulz. It quickly becomes apparent that Schulz was a troubled man for much of his life. An only child from the chilly Upper Midwest, happiness did not really come easy to him from the start (affecting both familial and friend relationships). This melancholic tone carried over and plagued him into adulthood, though after returning safely from the horrors of WWII he created his comic strip / cartoon juggernaut. It soon brought him success beyond anything he ever imagined, and eventually he reached the respectable upper echelon of the annual Forbes 500 listings with his earnings. The trivia aspects were particularly strong in Michaelis' work. I loved learning exactly where Schulz gleaned inspiration for his roster of juvenile characters - it usually came from family members or co-workers who were a steady presence in his life - and how he decided on the signature art style for the strip. Schulz was a quietly driven, hard-working and disciplined man (a product of our country's 'Greatest Generation') though parts of his personal life were very problematic. For a man who brought smiles to the faces of many folks is was actually little sad to peak behind the curtain.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kiekiat

    I must confess that before starting this book I knew very little about the "Peanuts" comic strip, less about its creator Charles Schulz and, though I had read the comic sporadically while growing up, I could not (and still cannot) name all the characters of the strip and the nuances of their relationships. I also watched just about all of the Charlie Brown TV specials as a kid. My point is that I am not a "Peanuts" fanboy and am so clueless, for example, that I had no idea that the character Pep I must confess that before starting this book I knew very little about the "Peanuts" comic strip, less about its creator Charles Schulz and, though I had read the comic sporadically while growing up, I could not (and still cannot) name all the characters of the strip and the nuances of their relationships. I also watched just about all of the Charlie Brown TV specials as a kid. My point is that I am not a "Peanuts" fanboy and am so clueless, for example, that I had no idea that the character Peppermint Patty (and her friend, Marcie) had been adopted by the lesbian community (is it still politically correct to use that term?) as exemplars of a typical and normal lesbian couple. I had no idea, even, that the word "lesbian" no longer had to be capitalized. I may be the least hip person on Goodreads! The Schulz biography sat on my home "unread" shelf along with 2721 other books and I recall having ordered it about five years ago because Charles Schulz and "Peanuts" had a place among the bizarre assortment of things I wanted to know more about. Until I picked up the book, I had NO idea that Charles Schulz had been called "Sparky" from early childhood and that no one called him "Charles Schulz." After thirty-three days, I finally finished the book and began reading reviews on here so I could steal, uh, I mean obtain, other readers' insights and opinions about the biography. I learned that Sparky's family didn't much like the book and felt betrayed by the author, David Michaelis--mainly because he did not "capture" the "real" Charles Schulz and because he brought up some unsavory facts such as that Sparky had an affair while married to his first wife. The author makes it pretty clear that he had full family cooperation while researching the bio and this made me feel like the family must be pretty naive to have given the author access knowing the affair would come out. In any event, it, to my mind, is a small part of Sparky's life and did not happen in a vacuum. I don't think it should be used as a measuring rod of the man's morality or ethics or as a reason to vilify him. Let me also issue a warning to potential readers. This book is a slog. I'm admittedly a slow reader but upon finishing this book I felt worn out. This may say more about me than it does about the book but I do NOT recommend this book to anyone unless you are a "Peanuts" fanatic. You can probably gain all the knowledge you need to know by doing a web search for Schulz and reading the "Peanuts" strip, all 1700+ of them. Schulz led a fairly tepid life considering he was the world's foremost cartoonist, and Michaelis's biography does little to spice it up. Despite the Schulz family disgruntlement, I felt Michaelis's book was fairly evenhanded. It is by no means a hatchet job. When I read a biography I rarely expect it to give me any "real" feeling about the person. At best, most biographies are simulacrums of their subjects. The reader can form his or her own opinions or make conjectures based on actions the subject took--but this is FAR different from having a personal knowledge of the subject, which even then will be skewed since everyone is going to view a person based on their own distortions and prejudices, setting aside that humans, by nature, are extraordinarily complex and often behave in unpredictable fashion and with consistent inconsistencies. (Sorry, Good Readers, for this statement of the obvious. I make it because Schulz, in particular, appears to have been venerated to an almost godly level, such that any chinks in his armor appear as monstrous character flaws rather than the foibles and frailties common to all of us). I get the feeling that Schulz used "Peanuts" to convey this message that humans (and animals) are prone to contradicting themselves, to using various crutches as hedges against reality, to sometimes facing life with a brave equanimity and sometimes with tears and rage. Michaelis sums "Peanuts" up quite astutely on page 245 of the book: "Peanuts," full of empty spaces, didn't depend on action or a particular context to attract the reader; it was about people working out the interior problems of their daily lives without ever actually solving them." Sparky Schulz was a man of contradictions, like most humans, and had suffered his fair share of disappointments. He was a melancholic even after achieving fame and wealth beyond what any other cartoonist in history had achieved. He had great confidence in his abilities, yet at the same time was rife with uncertainties about his worth. He often felt unworthy and unloved despite raising five children and two stepchildren that loved him, aside from having every accolade and award his profession offered, along with the respect and esteem of every major cartoonist. Despite his self-doubt, he had a competitive nature and took great pride in his work. He was, in most respects, a lucky person to have realized his dream and to have spent his life doing the thing he loved. He was by no means perfect, prone to being reclusive and anhedonic, mired for years in an unhappy marriage and either lacking understanding how to make it happier or not bothering to do so. He was, in other words, a normal human being with a variety of flaws and a variety of great qualities whose work spoke to millions around the world. The work is what made him an extraordinary human being. Michaelis's biography of Schulz offers many pithy insights that I enjoyed gleaning. As others have mentioned, the early years of Sparky's life are covered in-depth and go a long way toward explaining his behavior as an adult. The book becomes bloated after opening with a bang and it feels like the author simply heaped fact upon fact as he altered between a chronological account interspersed with varying asides. The book also used various comic strips Schulz had drawn and tied them to events in his life. This is one of the work's strongest points. My only complaint regarding this use is that the comics were of a size that required me to use a magnifying glass to read them. Perhaps I should have gone with the hardback version. The interjection of the comics drove home the point that Schulz revealed more of himself in drawing "Peanuts" than he ever did in any real-life interview. This book was worth reading, even though I don't recommend it, and would have been better if a third of it had been omitted.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Darren

    Luciously readable, fascinating, and flawed account of the life of the creator of Charlie Brown. I first decided to read this book because of a massive roundtable featured in the latest issue of "The Comics Journal," the basic conclusion being that the book does the real-life Schulz no justice. (I read the book, and then read the roundtable.) Monte Schulz, the son of the great cartoonist, kicked off the roundtable with a massive essay that's divided into three parts: a brief memoir of Luciously readable, fascinating, and flawed account of the life of the creator of Charlie Brown. I first decided to read this book because of a massive roundtable featured in the latest issue of "The Comics Journal," the basic conclusion being that the book does the real-life Schulz no justice. (I read the book, and then read the roundtable.) Monte Schulz, the son of the great cartoonist, kicked off the roundtable with a massive essay that's divided into three parts: a brief memoir of his time and experience with David Michaelis, in which Monte spent much time and exchanged a number of emails with the biographer, to the point that he thought they had a genuine friendship (proving what should be an old adage, "Do not make friends with your father's biographer."); in part two, he lists the vast amount of grievances he has with the biography, indicating that he has many more and generally despising the entire tone of Michaelis' work; in part three, he provides a minute-by-minute description of his father's battle against, and eventual succumbing to, cancer. The general theme of Monte Schulz's essay is: His father was not a manic depressive paranoiac with vaguely Freudian issues, he was a kindhearted, swell guy who coached his sons' sports teams, enjoyed playing hockey with his friends at the rink his first wife built, and had a great family he was very close to. The problem with the Charles Schulz who appears in his son's essay is really the same problem with the Charles Schulz who appears in David Michaelis' book: namely, both Charles Schulz's are based half on reality and half on bullshit, or, more to the point, bullshit conceived by writers with an extremely one-note thesis about the life of Charles Schulz. The difference is that Michaelis' interpretation is interesting, and Monte Schulz's interpretation is almost pointedly boring. Michaelis turns Schulz into an essentially tragic figure, explicitly referencing "Citizen Kane" and "The Great Gatsby" - Monte Schulz turns his father into that particularly American figure, a normal everyday superhero father. Whichever interpretation you believe will probably depend largely on whether you think every man is an Atticus Finch or a Willy Loman. There are major failings in Michaelis' book, largely because there are so few failings in the books' opening chapters. In incredibly precise (and almost certainly heavily imagined) detail, Michaelis presents us with the youth of Charles Schulz, in the process visualizing a Depression-Era America which reads like an alien planet compared to the world we live in today. The book makes the argument that Schulz essentially wanted to be a cartoonist his whole life, and spent his first few decades following that dream. The problem is that he achieves that dream relatively early, and indeed, the dream was larger than he could have imagined. As "Peanuts" becomes a megahit, and then a marketing phenomenon, and then one of the real globally recognized brands on the planet, Schulz's life becomes too big, both for Schulz (who, even his son agrees, was somewhat agoraphobic) and for Michaelis. The later chapters present intriguing snippets - how "Peanuts" became a global brand, in the process radically altering advertising and practically inventing the notion of multimedia. The problem is that Michaelis is really just interested in Schulz, and his interior life, so all of this wild tumult fades to the background at the exact point when we want to learn more about it. Michaelis essentially brushes it all off by saying that Schulz was never really interested in all the other stuff, besides the strip, but that in itself needs more exploring. What did it feel like for this essentially lonely man to see his work everywhere, on everything - in blimps, on T-shirts, in advertisements, on TV and stage? Maybe the problem is that Schulz's life plays like a surrealist melodrama. However, there's another great failing with Michaelis' book, and this is also a failing shared by Monte Schulz's portrayal - it never takes us to Schulz's drawing table. Earlier in the book, Michaelis wonderfully describes the first time young Sparky Schulz saw original comic strip art, with all of the obvious corrections and blue ink marking where the word balloons should go, but curiously, after taking us within and behind the art form, Michaelis provides only a cursory examination of what cartooning is once Schulz becomes successful. We see how Schulz took incidents from his life and turned it into the strip, but we never quite get the sense of how and why and what it felt like. At one point in the book, Schulz engages in an affair with a much younger woman. Monte Schulz, and others in the panel, find it distasteful that Michaelis dwells for so long on this affair (it takes up much more space than the description of Schulz's second marriage, which took up about 5 billion percent more of Schulz's life.) The problem is that the younger Schulz doesn't really talk about it at all. This is understandable, since what kid wants to talk about his dad cheating on his mom, but it also proves that, as a biographer, Monte Schulz is just as unqualified AS Michealis, and with vastly less of a sense of what makes for an interesting read. Michaelis juxtaposes the affair against a series of strips in which Snoopy dreams about his sweetheart. The use of the strips to explicate and explore aspects of Schulz's life is an easy device which reaps huge dividends. At times, it's far too easy. At other times, it's genius. Yet even when it clearly reflects aspects of Schulz's life, there's an essential link in the chain missing. We're told that Schulz claimed to be not all that self-reflective - refusing to see a therapist, rarely talking about himself, claiming that he never used any aspects of his own life in his own writing. Yet clearly, Michaelis concludes, his own life was all over his writing. Okay, but then what about things that weren't taken directly from his life? Someone on the roundtable notes that Michaelis directs his gaze to just a few characters in the "Peanuts" case, and uses this fact to note Michaelis' forced perspective - purposefully leaving out details in order to prove his case. Okay, fine, but who really wants to read a book about Rerun, Franklin, Pig Pen, Spike the mustached Dog, and Frieda? Even if Michaelis' literary analysis is essentially one-note - Snoopy's in love, JUST LIKE SCHULZ! Charlie Brown plays baseball, JUST LIKE SCHULZ! - he gives a wonderful portrait of the creative evolution of the strip in its first few decades. Really, there are three biographies here, one excellent, one good, one awkward yet fascinating. The excellent one is the life of young Charles Schulz; the good one is first twenty-five years of Schulz's cartooning, juxtaposed against the rise and development of "Peanuts"; the awkward yet fascinating one is the story of Schulz beginning in his middle age, when he carried on a couple of affairs of the mind (and perhaps one genuine affair), lost one wife, gained a new one, slowly became happier and less interesting in the manner of all great artists who age away from their greatest creative spark. Michaelis' problem is that he mashes the three biographies together. His detractors' problem is that his story is much better, and feels far truer, than theirs.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carol Storm

    Charles M. Schulz was more than a cartoonist -- he was an American original, one of those profoundly revolutionary individuals who erases an entire art form and reinvents it in his own image. The way Babe Ruth transformed baseball, the way Elvis Presley transformed popular music, the way Clint Eastwood transformed the American western, the way H.P. Lovecraft transformed modern horror, Schulz transformed the American comic strip. Before Schulz, all was darkness and slime. Brenda Starr's drooling Charles M. Schulz was more than a cartoonist -- he was an American original, one of those profoundly revolutionary individuals who erases an entire art form and reinvents it in his own image. The way Babe Ruth transformed baseball, the way Elvis Presley transformed popular music, the way Clint Eastwood transformed the American western, the way H.P. Lovecraft transformed modern horror, Schulz transformed the American comic strip. Before Schulz, all was darkness and slime. Brenda Starr's drooling over international orchid smugglers. Terry and the Pirates are beating up helpless Rickshaw Men. Comic strips are all muscle flexing and B movie sexual innuendo, with an occasional POGO or KRAZY KAT to prove the rule. Then along comes Schulz, and like Isaac Newton he rewrites the rules that govern the universe. Like James Brown he's got a brand new bag. For the first time, it's okay for kids to be lonely. It's okay to be depressed. It's okay to play piano instead of playing baseball, and if you have to play sports, it's okay to drop the fly ball, to miss the football, to strike out again and again, to keep the whole neighborhood awake all night with your cries of agony. And if you're a dog, you don't have to pay any attention to reality at all any more. Be a vulture, be a wolf. Fly combat missions over Germany in 1918. The Sixties are happening. Woodstock is speaking in mad hieroglyphics while soaring eight miles high. Break on through to the other side! But who was Schulz? How did a barber's son from St. Paul, a small and ugly boy known to lurk in the shadows with a big mean dog ready to maul neighborhood kids, transform himself into a visionary, an iconic heroic figure of total brilliance? It's all here. Schulz the lonely boy, mumbling dark imprecations and incantations when his yearbook pictures are rejected. Schulz the GI, marching through his father's Fatherland while making a sacred, secret vow to redeem the German soul by making the Red Baron a worldwide symbol of chivalry and honor. Schulz the ambitious cartoonist, taking the globular, swollen, misshapen head of a mild-mannered coworker and turning it into a whole new look for the daily funnies. And there are The Scandals, roiling the still waters of Schulz's soul and whipping the foaming billows into madness. Schulz the family man, like Charles I of England bullied into greatness by his noisy wife. Schulz the ineffectual dad, watching as The Sixties take hold and his kids spiral out of control. Schulz! Schulz! Schulz! It's all here. Schulz the family man, the super man, the mad man, the legend. Schulz the American!

  5. 4 out of 5

    bup

    I've loved Peanuts since I can remember. I really liked Peanuts - the actual comic strip that appeared daily - not the Hallmark cards and movies and countless tv specials (save the original Christmas one). It drives me absolutely bonkers when people talk about what gentle humor it was, and how it was part of a nicer time that is gone today, and talk about it like it was a bunch of precious princess pony fairies. (Admittedly, it drives me absolutely bonkers whenever anybody talks about Peanuts like they I've loved Peanuts since I can remember. I really liked Peanuts - the actual comic strip that appeared daily - not the Hallmark cards and movies and countless tv specials (save the original Christmas one). It drives me absolutely bonkers when people talk about what gentle humor it was, and how it was part of a nicer time that is gone today, and talk about it like it was a bunch of precious princess pony fairies. (Admittedly, it drives me absolutely bonkers whenever anybody talks about Peanuts like they understand it better than I do.) Schulz started all the subversive "modern" comedy. Without Peanuts, there would be no Simpsons or South Park or Family Guy. There is nothing gentle about a six-year old with an ulcer, or who has to visit a psychiatrist, or a girl who claims authority to kick her brother out of the house. There is something quietly surreal, and missable by people who grew up with all this stuff already established, about a girl running a psychiatric booth like a lemonade stand, and a little kid playing Beethoven on a toy piano with painted-on keys, and a dog who has extended surreal hallucinations about being a fighter pilot. Even when Snoopy first appeared balanced on the roof of his doghouse in an impossible way, it blew people away (because Schulz didn't call attention to it or explain it, he just did it). Snoopy got gassed in a Viet Nam war protest, people! This was not a quaint, cutesy, staid thing! Also, I used to draw a (bad, but still thematically related) web comic wherein the two main characters were essentially an adult, married, Charlie Brown and Lucy. So if you're like me, you're going to love this book, of course. This book, for one, convincingly shows that Lucy was based on, and fueled by, Schulz' first wife (not his eldest daughter, as Schulz hinted), and that Charlie Brown (as well as Schroeder and components of Snoopy) were Schulz himself. It's a fascinating, well-researched*, and not overly-flattering, but neither sensationalist, portrait of the only comic strip artist anyone will remember in 500 years. *except that Diet Coke did not exist in 1972.

  6. 5 out of 5

    James

    This is a pretty good book considering it’s about a person who was boring; lonely, distant, anxious, depressed, sad, religious, melancholy, and a teetotaler too. Charles Schulz did not drink, did not smoke, and did not swear. Picasso or F. Scott Fitzgerald he was not. On his honeymoon, Charles Schulz looked at his bride and said, “I don’t think I can ever be happy.” David Michaelis has achieved something truly remarkable and impressive with this work, a fascinating examinat This is a pretty good book considering it’s about a person who was boring; lonely, distant, anxious, depressed, sad, religious, melancholy, and a teetotaler too. Charles Schulz did not drink, did not smoke, and did not swear. Picasso or F. Scott Fitzgerald he was not. On his honeymoon, Charles Schulz looked at his bride and said, “I don’t think I can ever be happy.” David Michaelis has achieved something truly remarkable and impressive with this work, a fascinating examination of a creative process and a brilliant man by intertwining an exhaustively researched biography with close, careful criticism. Under the guise of a biography about a truly unique and Great American Artist, Michaelis masterfully illuminates the unassuming, poignant brilliance that is Peanuts. More than Schulz himself, it is his strip, his life work for which he was fiercely competitive and exceedingly committed to, that emerges as the topic worth reading; and reading about. Michaelis has chosen an unexpected subject for such a long (566 pages!), serious work: a cartoonist. We can only hope that the likes of Matt Groening, Chris Ware, and Bill Watterson eventually get the same treatment. Michaelis’ choice of subject proves to be a subversive one in that Charles Schulz, as the artist behind Peanuts, has had as much, if not more, influence on the culture and psyche of the world as political leaders, sports heroes, or Hollywood socialites. And Michaelis’ book is an impressive, meticulously researched work, methodically revealing Schulz’s life and art to a degree usually reserved for Presidents, War Heroes, Actors, and Rock Stars. As a man, Schulz was deeply melancholic (if you’ve read his strips, surprise!) and lacking the confidence you’d expect from someone who achieved such an extremely high level of success. As an artist, Schulz was a master of the minimal gag and displayed confidence with simple lines. And thusly Schulz did what most great artists do I think: make the most of their failures, shortcomings, foibles, and mistakes by resolving them in their art. Despite Schulz’s infuriatingly melancholic disposition, he was quite aware of the source of his talent and even went so far as to refuse to see psychologists for fear it would take away his talent. He even insisted that, “Unhappiness is very funny.” Still four years away from his infamous Harvard-sponsored ‘Study of Clinical Reactions to Psilocybin Administered in Supportive Environments,’ even Timothy Leary asked permission to reprint one of Schulz’s strips in a forthcoming book because it illustrated a common psychological phenomenon: “the tendency to say one thing about oneself and to act in a way which may be quite different.” Things do manage to get a bit more interesting when Schulz has a few affairs and loses a bit of his hardcore, Church of Christ religiosity, at one point even saying that, “I don’t think God wants to be worshipped. I think the only pure worship of God is by loving one another, and I think all other forms of worship become a substitute for the love that we should show one another.” Even in that well-known story of the Great Pumpkin, Schulz displays a compelling awareness and penchant for commentary: “Linus is keyed to the highest pitch as he marches out with his placard: WELCOME GREAT PUMPKIN! His willed mania demonstrates that people would rather live drunk on false belief than sober on nothing at all, at whatever cost in ridicule. Schulz is saying: be careful what you believe.” Though we as a culture have been spoiled with fascinating, absorbing artists, this book reminds me that we shouldn’t ask that artists be interesting. Their art should be enough. As it is with Peanuts. As it is with Michaelis’ mighty book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Everybody loves Peanuts. The enchanting characters Charlie Brown, Lucy, Schroeder, Snoopy and all the rest speak a universal language we identify with. This biography of Charles Schulz reveals the times and personal influences on its subject as well as any I've read lately. In telling the story he spends about a third of its length on his childhood, which may be appropriate because that was the world Schulz dealt with in his strip every day. Michaelis's analysis of his subject has to include a h Everybody loves Peanuts. The enchanting characters Charlie Brown, Lucy, Schroeder, Snoopy and all the rest speak a universal language we identify with. This biography of Charles Schulz reveals the times and personal influences on its subject as well as any I've read lately. In telling the story he spends about a third of its length on his childhood, which may be appropriate because that was the world Schulz dealt with in his strip every day. Michaelis's analysis of his subject has to include a history of comics and their appeal as well as the social environment in which he grew up. It seems exhaustive. Despite the fact that Schulz may have been a bit colorless as a biographical subject, Michaelis does a wonderful job in capturing his times and the motivations propelling him, in immersing himself in the world in which he lived and taking the reader with him. A second strength of the book is Michaelis's analysis of each Peanuts character. Marvelous. That alone, especially the examination of Snoopy, is worth the read. A third strength is that the biography is lovingly sprinkled with examples from the strip itself which, as well as charming us, illustrate how Schulz used personal experience in his work, so that an overbearing wife might be reflected in Lucy or a fire in his studio would be treated by Snoopy's doghouse burning down. The weakest part of the biography is his affair with a young woman named Tracey Claudius in 1970. In describing the relationship in the idyllic way Schulz saw it, the writing becomes romantically supercharged. Forced to see his subject in those terms Michaelis is unable to lift the telling out of that bathos. But even after this the book fails to return to its former comprehensiveness, making it a little bit of a 2-faced biography. Perhaps suffering from the excess of material celebrity can generate, the book remains mired in a narrative that skips too quickly from that milestone to this important highlight, like an outline. The exhaustive flavor of the book becomes exhausted. But it soars for most of its length, dancing with the same light good-spiritedness as Snoopy. In fact, that mood permeates the book as a whole because Schulz seemed an unconflicted man. He suffered disappointments, may have had the football pulled from under him a few times, but the book doesn't emphasize those events or the stresses of business, or even spend much time on the emotional upsets. Schulz displayed the same low-key tolerance and good grief qualities as his characters.

  8. 4 out of 5

    ^

    “Schultz & Peanuts”. Here is a biography ostensibly of two subjects; the clue lies in the title. Inside, Charles M. Schulz, the boy (and later the man), is depicted as being impressively insignificant and insecure; whilst unsurprisingly the innate nature of the Peanuts cartoon strips are drawn from the values and family life experience of their creator. The puzzle lies in trying to understand just how quite such an unremarkable life engendered a product that went, in today’s terminology, ‘viral’. Did I read “Schultz & Peanuts”. Here is a biography ostensibly of two subjects; the clue lies in the title. Inside, Charles M. Schulz, the boy (and later the man), is depicted as being impressively insignificant and insecure; whilst unsurprisingly the innate nature of the Peanuts cartoon strips are drawn from the values and family life experience of their creator. The puzzle lies in trying to understand just how quite such an unremarkable life engendered a product that went, in today’s terminology, ‘viral’. Did I read a straightforward solution to that puzzle? No. I have long loved the earlier ‘Peanuts’ strips; of which I’m fortunate to own a number of first, and other early, editions. So my interest was well & truly whetted when this large, bright yellow doorstopper of a book caught my eye in my local public library. The cover design, credited to William Ruoto, is really neat: with a background of a glorious Gollancz / bumblebee yellow, bearing the title rendered in a dense black ‘handwritten’ style of font (annoyingly the name of the font is not given); above a simple graphic thick black zig-zag below (i.e. from Charlie Brown’s pullover/sweater); further below which the author’s name is placed. Would I buy this book myself? No. Why? David Michaelis proves to be expert of writing an awful lot of words about, basically, not a lot. After the first hundred or so pages (out of 566) of the narrative, I was beginning to feel an encroaching sense of Charlie Brown–like anxiety that I was never actually going to reach the end of the period of Schulz’s youth. Simultaneously I began to wonder exactly where the evidence for many of Michaelis’ assertions came from. The extensive list of source notes on pgs 573 to 631 is not designed for quick elucidation. Schulz’ mother was of Norwegian extraction. Back on pg.128, the reader learns that Snupi is a Norwegian term of endearment. This becomes all the more bittersweet when considered against the vivid factual paragraph (pg.96) describing the malignant course of cancer of the cervix. Reading just that one paragraph will ensure that no woman over the age of forty ever voluntarily turns down the offer of a routine cervical cytology test. Michaelis writes in a broadly factual style, intriguingly coupled with a subtle almost ‘Lucy’-like psychoanalytic obsession to get at the root of his subject; even if, for example, Ch. 18: the house at Coffee Lane is rendered more as arising from the script of a cheap TV reality show. It wasn’t until pg. 371 that Michaelis straightforwardly informed me that each and every one (17,896) of those daily Peanuts strips was inspired by and drawn from Schultz’ experience of life. Forgive me that I felt less than overawed! If you nerdish-ly want to know how many daily strips and how many Sunday strips that is, you’ll find the answer on p.553. At times Michaelis does turn a really neat phrase; for example when referring to the highly desirable effects achieved by a capable cartoonist through the sheer density of ink applied by pen, as opposed to engraving: Sparky [Schultz] could walk right up to Roy Crane’s panels in a Sunday page for ‘Wash Tubs’ and see where the ink had dried to a gloss that still picked up light.” (pg.82). I loved the cornucopia embedded within the following description of the creative process: of pencilled directions in code to the editor, of positioning tapes, and of other in-process esoteric scribbles and markings. My mind cast back to the excited nervous energy exhibited by the handful of erudite scholars who can read ancient Babylonian cuneiform clay tablets. At other times I found Michaelis’s text unnecessarily irritating. For example, on pg.223 he observes how Judy Halverson, the sister of one of Schulz’s early romantic interests, joked that it wasn’t so much her sister that he was emotionally seeking; more that of their mother to fill the place of his mother. The sub-editor of this book must have been fast asleep (having read too many pages?) in not spotting exactly the same statement, worded only slightly differently, a mere ten pages later! The second string to this book, the dizzy ascent of Peanuts in achieving very nearly but not quite complete world domination, is by contrast largely reduced to numbers. A fundamental and useful business lesson is wisely observed: “Schulz’s knack in business came from stepping back and letting talented people find new ways to mint Peanuts whilst getting more from them in the coin of reputation than they took from him in their share of winnings.” (pg.344). So what DID make Peanuts ‘tick’? Human ‘truths’ apparently. Consider the Great Pumpkin (standing in for Father Christmas / Santa Claus): “His [Linus’] willed mania demonstrates that people would rather live drunk on false belief than sober on nothing at all, at whatever cost in ridicule. Schulz is saying be careful in what you believe.” (pg.354). I must admit that as a child I always had a soft spot for the Great Pumpkin, and (oh dear, this could be embarrassing) genuinely believed that he(?) was an established part of the American Halloween tradition (the British Halloween developed considerably later, and purely for commercial reasons). Though not explicitly stated, by the end of this book Schulz appeared to have lost his Christian faith; despite for very many years tithing a (sizable) tenth of his income to his church. I should have welcomed the author’s clarification on this. Was Schulz’ early and vigorous expression of faith purely social, later betrayed, and if so, how? Or did such rapacious spiritual confusion flourish only later, ruthlessly exploiting failed marriage, family genetics, and deep seated insecurities? Overall, this brick of a book left me wondering what was brick, what was dust, what was good, what was bad, … what was hot and what was cold (other than California and Minnesota!). Perhaps David Michaelis just might (please!) consider rewriting his book down to a couple of hundred tight, concise, perfect pages?

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chadwick

    This may really be the first critical biography ever written about a comics artist. The format is revolutionary, actually using the strips to highlight the events of Schulz's life and how he expressed what he felt and thought in the day to day unfolding of Peanuts. If Michaelis is right, and his extensive, exhaustive research seems to support him in this, Schulz may have been one of the most autobiographically transparent artists of the 20th century. Some of his strips are downright creepy after reading This may really be the first critical biography ever written about a comics artist. The format is revolutionary, actually using the strips to highlight the events of Schulz's life and how he expressed what he felt and thought in the day to day unfolding of Peanuts. If Michaelis is right, and his extensive, exhaustive research seems to support him in this, Schulz may have been one of the most autobiographically transparent artists of the 20th century. Some of his strips are downright creepy after reading this. This book is flawed by the fact that Michaelis seems to lose interest in his subject when he attains relative happiness, skipping through the last 20 years of his life in a fraction of the space given to the first 60 or thereabouts. He also does a disservice to the quality of his strips in his later years, in my opinion. They are less cruel, true, and a little more cute or gimmicky at times. But they also have the formal clarity of an artist at the very peak of his abilities, an almost calligraphic purity that I feel makes up for the lack of pain and reflection, at least from an aesthetic standpoint. But otherwise, this is a damned fine biography. I understand that some of Schulz's family were unhappy with Michaelis's portrayal of their Sparky, and I can certainly see that. What we see of him is a bitter, vengeful, terrified man who had real difficulties showing and receiving affection. We don't really get to see the parts of him that made up to his family for all of that, we just have to take their word for it. Honestly though, I can understand it if Michaelis raced to the end on this one. I mean, this doorstop is researched down to the molecular level. All in all, a grand achievement, and a book that really enriches my appreciation of the subject's body of work.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay Russo

    I think the reason I had trouble getting through this is because I think Peanuts is depressing on the whole. It is a world where you lose your voice as an adult, girls screw with boys and a beagle's dream world is much more thrilling than reality. The writing was stellar, and the hook of following the man from his first strip to his last was a great framing device for a man who is made out to be such an iconic figure. A true product of the Midwest's flat landscape, you have to look hard and close at hi I think the reason I had trouble getting through this is because I think Peanuts is depressing on the whole. It is a world where you lose your voice as an adult, girls screw with boys and a beagle's dream world is much more thrilling than reality. The writing was stellar, and the hook of following the man from his first strip to his last was a great framing device for a man who is made out to be such an iconic figure. A true product of the Midwest's flat landscape, you have to look hard and close at him to see the fractures and character. As Michaelis looked at how Schulz' mother's death and experiences in World War II, the reader can see where the melancholy tone of the comics came from and why that tone never wholly went away. His wounds were deep and could not be completely hidden in the simplicity of his work. Peanuts seems so much richer to me now, which shadows of death and war in every strip. And as I, like many, like the earlier work better than where the strip ended, I liked how the book did not shy away from how much looser and less focused the strip became as Schulz' life moved from the Midwest to new life he led in California. To quote Rich Cohen in the LA Times, "He got better at being human right up to the moment he ceased to exist, but he lost his talent as he lost his rage and became less of an artist as he became more of a person."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mikhail

    I, for the most part, found this book to be an enjoyable read. I loved how honestly Michaelis portrayed Schulz as basically an asshole, because, it seems, that he actually was. My only gripe with the book is how repetitive it can get. Michaelis regurgitates a lot of what he already establishes earlier on in the biography (i.e. Sparky's insecurities and self pity and etc.) He even repeats comic strips even though Schulz had made 18,000 to choose from. There were also segments in the book where in I, for the most part, found this book to be an enjoyable read. I loved how honestly Michaelis portrayed Schulz as basically an asshole, because, it seems, that he actually was. My only gripe with the book is how repetitive it can get. Michaelis regurgitates a lot of what he already establishes earlier on in the biography (i.e. Sparky's insecurities and self pity and etc.) He even repeats comic strips even though Schulz had made 18,000 to choose from. There were also segments in the book where instead of Michaelis describing a strip I would have rather seen it for myself, like Schulz's last strip. Michaelis also showed no restrain whatsoever in introducing so many people, most being unimportant, in my opinion. I could never keep straight who was who in Schulz's family such ashis cousins and what not. I did, however, like a lot of the family dynamic, with Schulz's kids, that Michaelis brought up. I wish he stayed more with Schulz's life and what as happening rather then dissecting Schulz's psyche over and over again. The book could have seriously been two hundred pages shorter, easily.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    As much as this book is getting negative reaction from the Schulz family as character assassination or whatever, I've really enjoyed reading. The way Michaelis pulls elements of Schulz's life from the actual Peanuts strips really pays off. But whatever flaws he exposes Charles Schulz as having actually makes me like Schulz more. For a cartoonist who has perhaps been sainted or put up on a pedastel, this book makes him much more complex, and makes him above all human.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    A very well researched biography of Charles Schulz, at least until the 1970’s. There is a lot of detail from his birth and childhood, the influence and death of his beloved mother, his time spent in the Army during World War Two, his career and first marriage. Michaelis hardly looks at Schulz’s life and second marriage from about 1975 to 2000, so this was a disappointment in this respect. However, well worth reading for the Peanuts fan.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    I admit that I'm not a die-hard Peanuts fan. I adore Charlie Brown and Snoopy, but I don't have such grandiose ideas about their creator to be put off by some of the less wholesome details of Charles Schulz's life. I read somewhere that a few of his children were displeased with the way their father is depicted in Michaelis' book. As far as artists go, Schulz was a saint, never touching drugs or alcohol and cranking out over 17,000 Peanuts strips in his career. The characters are so much a part I admit that I'm not a die-hard Peanuts fan. I adore Charlie Brown and Snoopy, but I don't have such grandiose ideas about their creator to be put off by some of the less wholesome details of Charles Schulz's life. I read somewhere that a few of his children were displeased with the way their father is depicted in Michaelis' book. As far as artists go, Schulz was a saint, never touching drugs or alcohol and cranking out over 17,000 Peanuts strips in his career. The characters are so much a part of popular culture that it's easy to forget that they came from one man's brain. Much like his protagonist Charlie Brown, Schulz was deeply lonely, anxious, and sad. Michealis provides the reader with strips from periods of turmoil in Charles Schulz's life so we can see how much of himself he put into his work. Overall a fascinating look into one of the most influential artists of our time.

  15. 5 out of 5

    nicole

    let the record show: schulz was kind of a tool box. the author goes out of his way to attribute this to the early loss of his mother and inability to accept the love other people give him, but there's only so much artistic temperament one can take while reading a 672 page book. also, he was such a skirt chaser that i found the whole "oh i don't understand why anyone would love me" excuse to be full of crap. i liked the idea of the peanuts strips used to physically illustrate inside jo let the record show: schulz was kind of a tool box. the author goes out of his way to attribute this to the early loss of his mother and inability to accept the love other people give him, but there's only so much artistic temperament one can take while reading a 672 page book. also, he was such a skirt chaser that i found the whole "oh i don't understand why anyone would love me" excuse to be full of crap. i liked the idea of the peanuts strips used to physically illustrate inside jokes and small life moments, but wish i had just gotten an anthology from the library instead.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    I am starting the year with a promise to myself that I am going to start writing some kind of review for the books I complete. Being a life long Peanuts fan I looked forward to this biography even though it is highly criticized by his family for being overly dark. As a l finished the book I asked myself why I am attracted to biographies in general? One thing I have noticed is that there is a lot of commonality in the bios I have recently lived. I have read the bios of Janis Joplin, BB King, Lou I am starting the year with a promise to myself that I am going to start writing some kind of review for the books I complete. Being a life long Peanuts fan I looked forward to this biography even though it is highly criticized by his family for being overly dark. As a l finished the book I asked myself why I am attracted to biographies in general? One thing I have noticed is that there is a lot of commonality in the bios I have recently lived. I have read the bios of Janis Joplin, BB King, Louis Armstrong and now Charles Schulz in the last year. A common thread is many of these people have lost their mothers at a young age and felt uneasy and a sense of not belonging that followed them into adult hood. Maybe this early angst is a source of creativity? Maybe for for some but not for all. I enjoyed this book as it follows young Schulz through his childhood and young adulthood in St Paul. Interesting insight to his years in the army that years later provides the backdrop for Snoopy vs the Red Baron. Following him to the middle 1960's at the heights of his carrier. Yes the author draws Schulz as a dark depressed artist but I know by reading this biography it will only give me a better appreciation of the cool world of Charlie Brown And friends

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tien

    I didn't have any clue about Charles Schulz except that he is the creator of Peanuts. My husband is the Peanuts fan and I got this book for him (because of the cover!!). Nothing stopped me from reading it though... The first half of the book was pretty easygoing but then, it was a bit of a slog for me until nearly the end. It was, however, mostly due to how unhappy he was during his first marriage and how this is mirrored in his comic strips. At this stage, I wasn't sure whether I was regretting rea I didn't have any clue about Charles Schulz except that he is the creator of Peanuts. My husband is the Peanuts fan and I got this book for him (because of the cover!!). Nothing stopped me from reading it though... The first half of the book was pretty easygoing but then, it was a bit of a slog for me until nearly the end. It was, however, mostly due to how unhappy he was during his first marriage and how this is mirrored in his comic strips. At this stage, I wasn't sure whether I was regretting reading his biography or not because really, I would prefer not to know because now, everytime I read the comics, I'd be analysing at what stage of his life it was drawn. I applaud David Michaelis for the thoroughness (well, I don't know very much but it seems very thorough) of his book. I just can't imagine the fantastical amount of researching & analysing that he would have done to produce such a work.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    I loved Snoopy growing up, identified heavily with him (strange, I know!), and going to the library usually meant that me and my sisters would check out a bunch of Peanuts books. This was a great character study of Charles Schultz, and how interesting to see how the cartoons themselves echoed his life and personality. For me, living in Minneapolis, just across the river from the St. Paul that Schultz grew up in, it was interesting to read about locations that I know quite well. Also i I loved Snoopy growing up, identified heavily with him (strange, I know!), and going to the library usually meant that me and my sisters would check out a bunch of Peanuts books. This was a great character study of Charles Schultz, and how interesting to see how the cartoons themselves echoed his life and personality. For me, living in Minneapolis, just across the river from the St. Paul that Schultz grew up in, it was interesting to read about locations that I know quite well. Also interesting to read about the arc of his life as an artist-- how did he get there, how did he live his creative life? What a complex man!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gobasso

    Let me say that I am/was a big fan of Peanuts so it was surprising to find out what a repressed, poorly socialized individual Charles Schulz was. He reminds of "Norwegian Bachelor Farmers" and other ornery characters of Lake Woebegone. A good example of not confusing the artist with his work. As far as the book itself, it would seem the author did his research and it is written in an accessible way. Read this only if you are prepared to be disillusioned.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    This book delivers the goods on Charles Schulz, who, thank God, worked in the pre-Internet world, when content was protected and scores of publications existed so that his genius was unmediated by the selfie generation ... Michaelis delivers an unflinching account of the strange, strange man behind the Peanuts crew. Skilfully written. Read the book for the mother death bed material alone !

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    I am only about 100 pages in, and I am struggling. I am reading this for a book club, or I would have put this down days ago. As someone who loved Peanuts growing up, and enjoyed all of the Charlie Brown holiday specials, I find it amazing how much I dislike this book so far! Living in Minnesota most of my life (and currently quite close to the major action of young Schulz's life), I grew up thinking of Charles Schulz as a local hero and feeling nothing but admiration. However, Charle I am only about 100 pages in, and I am struggling. I am reading this for a book club, or I would have put this down days ago. As someone who loved Peanuts growing up, and enjoyed all of the Charlie Brown holiday specials, I find it amazing how much I dislike this book so far! Living in Minnesota most of my life (and currently quite close to the major action of young Schulz's life), I grew up thinking of Charles Schulz as a local hero and feeling nothing but admiration. However, Charles Schulz seems to have been an obnoxious, needy, egotistical, spiteful, overly emotional, and delusional child, boy, and man. He suffered from the ever obnoxious "nobody can understand me" syndrome we all felt when we were 13... except he never grows out of it! At one point in the book it talks about how emotionally upsetting it was for him when his dad (a barber during the Great Depression) would stop mid-haircut to help a paying customer before going back to finish his son's hair. How dare he put food on the table during such hard times! He craves attention all through growing up and actually thinks his teachers are just plain stupid for not recognizing his special talents (even though he is failing his classes and not applying himself at all, they should just know because he is THAT amazing....) While he was "failing everything in sight" the book actually states that "he was determined to believe that his teachers, like his relatives, were not smart enough to single him out as someone special". What?! Every time a child does better than him in school or art, he doesn't congratulate them, or recognize that they too have talent, he makes excuses for why he didn't win and always walks away from the situation feeling like he can do better than they can. He remembers very specific details of cousins who picked on him, and talks about them even as an old man (come on, they were just kids and what they did wasn't THAT bad, forgive and forget, and just GET OVER IT!). Instead of getting over it, he gloats over minor times when he feels he "got his revenge". Seriously? You still revel in that 60 years later? He also seems to delight in his dog being the terror of the neighborhood. Every one of his friends later says it was the meanest dog on the block and would attack kids, but Schulz found "hilarity at the other boys' fear of his dog". Now for the delusional bit, which I find the most interesting. There have been 2 big instances of this so far. The first was when he was in 2nd grade and had a crush on a girl named Marie. As an adult he remembers that the two of them were the only ones to make the Honor Roll (in 2nd grade). He remembers them being paraded up to the high school together for a formal ceremony and everything. Turns out this was all in his head because the records indicate that some different girl named Rosie was actually the other girl, but he desperately wanted to remember his crush Marie as being by his side through all of this. He knew her for like a year at the age of 8, but yet as an adult, and up until the day he learned of her death, he asks people from that area if they ever knew her, and he even tries to look her up. A little crazy and obsessive if you ask me. In the second example of his delusional mind the book states that "with a bitterness that actually increased as he grew older, Sparky (his nickname I have been refusing to use) insisted that it had been almost impossible to go to the playground and enjoy yourself without some older, bigger kid coming and spoiling it." It goes on to describe him complaining of bullies, and being pushed around. However, when interviewed, his friends from childhood could remember times "in which Sparky's aggressive style inflicted accidental injury on others. But no memory survives of Sparky's being bated or pushed around or knocked down." It goes on to say that later in life he conceded "Maybe a lot of it was [my] own imagination". WOW! This of course makes me wonder what other parts of Charles Schulz's life occurred only in his mind... Through all of this, I feel like Michaelis wants me to like Schulz, and sympathize with him. Excuses are constantly being made for him throughout the book, and instances are given that are supposed to explain him and make you feel sorry for him, but I just don't. You are also supposed to be recognizing his extreme talent and creative genius, but I am seeing him pull depressing stories from his childhood and draw them somewhat impressively. That is all well and good, and there is nothing wrong with that, but that doesn't make him unique and wonderful. All of this has happened in just the first 100 pages might I remind you... On top of all of this, David Michaelis tells far too many anecdotes to illustrate each point - which only adds to my already growing annoyance. I think 2 or maybe 3 examples is sufficient to illustrate a minor point about a person's character, but Michaelis uses 7 or 8 AND a comic on top of that until the point has been beaten in. (I am sure I am exaggerating on this point, but it definitely feels like it). It seems like he included every tiny detail and little story he ever heard about Charles Schulz without any sort of filter. At least a quarter of the stories have felt completely pointless, and I have more than once said aloud mid-read "why did we need to know that?! Who cares?!?" If he really did pare it down to the best stories and sift through them, this 631 page book doesn't feel like it. The comics added in are the one redeeming quality of this book, but I am finding that I like his comics less and less as I learn more about the man behind them. They are just a way for him to complain about his life, and I am left feeling more depressed about them than I used to - most Peanuts comics were depressing anyway. Unfortunately, all this book has done for me so far is make me feel really annoyed about the Peanuts series and wish I was still ignorant. OK, I have finished it.... And I feel basically the same way, only worse. (Warning, if you think a biography could somehow be spoiled, I will probably do it here... in other words SPOILER ALERT) All those things I thought about him being not that great of a person... it is way worse than I thought. He hardcore emotionally cheats on his wife twice, and then full on cheats on his wife long term with a 25 year old when he is like 45. He and his wife pretty much make their 17 year old daughter go to Japan for an abortion even though she had already decided to raise the baby, but they don't want to taint Charles' reputation!! And then there are examples where he treats other cartoonists terribly and is only interested in always being better than everyone else and having to prove that to others. To top it off, the cartoons added in by Michaelis start to feel so repetitive in theme that I actually think he might have used the exact same cartoons more than once in a few spots, but I can't be sure, because I didn't feel like wading back through the book to find out. The fact that I feel it is possible (in my opinion) means he way over did it. Interesting enough to get 2 stars though...

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    I was inspired to read "Schulz and Peanuts" following a visit last summer to the Charles M Schultz Museum and Research Center, Santa Rosa, CA. That visit was an unexpectedly wonderful experience, that made me smile and laugh continually as I wandered the exhibits, and had lunch in the Warm Puppy Cafe. And I had lots of company - people of all ages, languages and origins were also heard to laugh and giggle as they walked around. Yes, I recommend the Charles M Schultz Museum wholeheartedly, to eve I was inspired to read "Schulz and Peanuts" following a visit last summer to the Charles M Schultz Museum and Research Center, Santa Rosa, CA. That visit was an unexpectedly wonderful experience, that made me smile and laugh continually as I wandered the exhibits, and had lunch in the Warm Puppy Cafe. And I had lots of company - people of all ages, languages and origins were also heard to laugh and giggle as they walked around. Yes, I recommend the Charles M Schultz Museum wholeheartedly, to everyone, and it is well worth a special trip to Santa Rosa! That said, this book was way too much. Too much (incredible!) amounts of detail, too many assumptions of what Sparky was thinking, albeit based on the accounts of his life experiences, and just way too many pages. I tried to persist, but in the end, after about 250 pages, I quit reading. However, I happily admit that I did keep skimming the rest of the book, for the sheer joy of seeing hundreds of Schulz comic strips. There are not enough things in this world of ours that bring joy, and Charles M Schultz, flawed character though he may have been, earns huge credit with me for being a major joy-bringer!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kurt

    Well-written and well-researched I read a lot of biographies and histories but am increasingly frustrated by the writing of many of them. Some include too much info that was worth researching but not worth including, like high school chemistry grades of a musician, or were too self-absorbed. Others were simply bad writing, where I repeatedly reread a windy paragraph only to realize there was no information to be learned from it. This book is fairly lengthy and very well-res Well-written and well-researched I read a lot of biographies and histories but am increasingly frustrated by the writing of many of them. Some include too much info that was worth researching but not worth including, like high school chemistry grades of a musician, or were too self-absorbed. Others were simply bad writing, where I repeatedly reread a windy paragraph only to realize there was no information to be learned from it. This book is fairly lengthy and very well-researched. It has a clean writing style and is very informative about a difficult subject. Charles Schulz's strip was present in the lives of many millions of people- but the author was a very private man who ultimately revealed little of himself outside what was in his comic strip. I'm glad I read this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aaron W. Matthews

    The best amazingly boring person’s biography I’ve ever read. 3.75* Interesting, sleep-inducing, encouraging, depressing, and inspirational all in one. Quite a feat. Schulz (no “T” in that name mind you) was a nerdy, needy momma’s boy desperate for the attention of his father who was ordinary in many ways, but he had incredible ambition - even if it was unconventional. He made the most out of what he had and did more with it than anyone could’ve ever conceived; endearing himself to generations of The best amazingly boring person’s biography I’ve ever read. 3.75* Interesting, sleep-inducing, encouraging, depressing, and inspirational all in one. Quite a feat. Schulz (no “T” in that name mind you) was a nerdy, needy momma’s boy desperate for the attention of his father who was ordinary in many ways, but he had incredible ambition - even if it was unconventional. He made the most out of what he had and did more with it than anyone could’ve ever conceived; endearing himself to generations of comic strip-reading and holiday special-watching (and plush toy squeezing) folks. Iconic in his field and interesting to discover more about his life.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm Frawley

    How interesting could a 670 page biography of a guy who never went anywhere & never did anything except draw comic strips possibly be? Start this one & find out. The life of Charles Schulz, from shy only child of Minnesotan barber to most successful comic strip creator in publishing history, is an unparalleled page turner. The author, in spite of never having met Schulz, effortlessly manages to fill every 1 of these pages with his subject's personality; his only child solitariness, his a How interesting could a 670 page biography of a guy who never went anywhere & never did anything except draw comic strips possibly be? Start this one & find out. The life of Charles Schulz, from shy only child of Minnesotan barber to most successful comic strip creator in publishing history, is an unparalleled page turner. The author, in spite of never having met Schulz, effortlessly manages to fill every 1 of these pages with his subject's personality; his only child solitariness, his awkwardness with females, his lack of self-esteem, his fledgling artistic efforts through a correspondence course on how to draw, his unexpectedly finding himself during service in WW2, his fanatical work ethic, his fervid ambition that kept him submitting even after many rejections, his amassing of a gargantuan fortune generated from the desk of his studio, his fierce competitive streak, his marriages, his children, his aging & eventual final years, during which he was still working. One of the author's most telling decisions was to include hundreds of Peanuts strips within his text. They serve as brilliant reminders for all of us in regard to some of our favourite Charlie, Lucy or Snoopy adventures but also illustrate how much they reflected what was going on in Schulz's life & even who his various characters were based on. I read a lot of biographies & this is 1 of the best. Schulz was no Bear Grylls but his character, talent & obsession deserved the kind of attention Michaelis has paid to it. Unreservedly recommended.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lynn G.

    This is an interesting read. Charles Schulz is revealed to be a study in contradictions, a man who lived his life feeling that he was not quite good enough, he needed affirmation constantly and, yet, when he had affirmation heaped upon him he never quite trusted it. He was lonely, melancholy, and distant while hundreds of millions of people around the world felt inextricably connected to him, his characters, and what they believed they knew about him and his life. As a lifelong reader This is an interesting read. Charles Schulz is revealed to be a study in contradictions, a man who lived his life feeling that he was not quite good enough, he needed affirmation constantly and, yet, when he had affirmation heaped upon him he never quite trusted it. He was lonely, melancholy, and distant while hundreds of millions of people around the world felt inextricably connected to him, his characters, and what they believed they knew about him and his life. As a lifelong reader of Peanuts, reading Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography was revealing and poignant.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steve Weller

    This book was hauntingly real. While it depicted Schulz’s greatest accomplishments, it did not shy away from his weaknesses and failures. Both ups and downs are the things that ultimately define our lives. What a man. Even if he never knew it himself. As an aspiring cartoonist in an age where newspapers are declining, he gives me hope that I can still do something good.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Carin

    This exhaustive and thorough biography by the author of N. C. Wyeth certainly leaves no stone unturned. Yes, it was authoritative and comprehensive, but I think taking some pruning shears to it would have improved it a bit. That said, the voluminous information did have an interesting result. The author's sympathy for Mr. Schulz is very obvious despite his best attempts at being impartial. However because he gives you all the info, not just the details that support his view of Sparky, you do hav This exhaustive and thorough biography by the author of N. C. Wyeth certainly leaves no stone unturned. Yes, it was authoritative and comprehensive, but I think taking some pruning shears to it would have improved it a bit. That said, the voluminous information did have an interesting result. The author's sympathy for Mr. Schulz is very obvious despite his best attempts at being impartial. However because he gives you all the info, not just the details that support his view of Sparky, you do have enough to form your own opinion. Which I did. To Mr. Schulz's chagrin. He grew up bordering on middle class, but in the depression. His father though managed to keep the family together and housed and clothed while other families did much more poorly. Perhaps only having one child was a help. When Sparky was in high school, his beloved mother died after a painful bout with cervical cancer, just as he was being shipped off to boot camp. Luckily he managed both to have a talent for sharp-shooting, and was tapped to train subsequent fresh recruits that allowed him to say stateside a long time, and go to Europe during a later, safer period than his peers. He had gone to correspondence school for art, and after the war he got a job at the same school where he worked alongside a young man named Charlie Brown. Dogged determination and an inability to give up finally did lead to his lifelong success with "Peanuts". But meanwhile, he was a black hole of emotions. No one could ever convince him they loved him. He was both overly self-deprecating yet full of himself. When in his 3rd year of syndication he didn't win the Rube Goldberg Award (cartooning's Oscar), he got up and walked out in the middle of the dinner. After a while, it's exhausting listening to his constant, neverending whine of "Nobody loves me, I'm not a real artist, oh this little cartoon? Why I just threw this old thing on." Eventually I wanted to shake him and tell him to grow up. He takes no responsibility for anything in his life. he wants a big family, but refuses to parent his children. He accepts more and more licenses for this products, but leaves all the bill-paying to his long-suffering wife. He constantly accepts speaking engagements and cancels them at the last minute. He's resentful when people ask if he's really Charlie Brown. But he is. And it's not the mopey-ness I'm referring to, but the fact that he's forever age six. He's still undeniably a genius, but he's also a jerk. He was very lucky to marry such a dynamo as Joyce but he never appreciated her. He resented the very few times she tried to get him to act like an adult, and he acted out when she did so. He held resentments and grudges until the end of time. He never got over anything. It was a fascinating story. I'm actually a little glad he's a jerk because otherwise he's a holy roller, teetotalling goody-goody, and that would make for a seriously boring biography. I love the cartoons sprinkled throughout (and they are pertinent to the immediately preceding paragraph where they appear). A couple that are important and explained in great detail don't appear and I don't know why (such as the very last cartoon.) I wish there had been more explanation of his impact on cartooning today, and how he influenced and impacted modern cartoons, but that was kept pretty superficial. We are told he's really a mentor for Lynn Johnston (the creator of "For Better or For Worse"), but later publicly lambastes her when the family dog in her strip, Farley dies. We aren't really told of Lynn's reaction or why she forgives Schulz his arrogant criticism. He does obviously resent the success of "Garfield," but we're never told of anything that really comes of that. Speaking as someone who came of age in the 1980s and did own every Garfield book and all the stuffed animals, I perhaps had a slightly different perspective. But I did also read all the Peanuts compilations and my parents had the Happiness is a Warm Puppy books too, so I have read the entire Schulz oeuvre too. Schulz's childhood is examined with a microscope (you're nearly halfway through the book before he gets a cartoon published) but his last 20 years were blown by in what felt like as many pages. It was informative and well-written. Schulz is not nearly as sympathetic a character as he thinks he is. Luckily, Michaelis has gone to great lengths to show all the sides of this genius man-child.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brent

    I did enjoy learning a little more about Mr Schulz, but this delved a little deeper than I thought neccessary, and seemed to draw conclusions that would be impossible to make.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Schneider

    This book answers a question I've had for more than 30 years. Why did the quality of Peanuts seem to drop off during Charles Schulz's final two decades writing and illustrating the strip? Schulz's health certainly did take a toll on the strip during this period, if for no other reason than his hand tremors made it increasingly difficult to draw, and he insisted to the end on producing "Peanuts" entirely on his own, with out assistants. But the answer, as with so many other aspects of "Sparky's" This book answers a question I've had for more than 30 years. Why did the quality of Peanuts seem to drop off during Charles Schulz's final two decades writing and illustrating the strip? Schulz's health certainly did take a toll on the strip during this period, if for no other reason than his hand tremors made it increasingly difficult to draw, and he insisted to the end on producing "Peanuts" entirely on his own, with out assistants. But the answer, as with so many other aspects of "Sparky's" life, was a good deal more complex. Michaelis tells the story of how unhappiness, fear, and self-doubt were the wellsprings of the cartoonist's greatest work, from the death of his mother right before he entered the army in World War II through his tumultuous first marriage to Joyce Halverson. When he met Jean Forsyth Clyde, the woman who became his second wife, just as his first marriage was collapsing, Schulz gained a measure of contentment that always seemed to have eluded him. Not enough, however, to rob him of the ability -- even the compulsion -- to write, draw, and pour out his heart onto the printed page. It must be noted that Michaelis' study of Schulz remains highly controversial. Members of the Schulz family, who provided the author with full access to Schulz's papers and whom he interviewed at length, criticize the book harshly, claiming it contains many errors of fact and interpretation. The book has won plaudits, though, from no less a figure than Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes. As Watterson noted in his own review of the biography in the Wall Street Journal, though, Michaelis' decision to speed through his coverage of the last two decades of the strip meant he gave short shrift to the more intriguing developments of this period. There's very little attention to the rise of Peppermint Patty as one of the strip's most popular characters, let alone the odd love triangle that formed between her, her best friend Marcie, and Charlie Brown. There's even less attention to how Snoopy developed after the introduction of Woodstock. The most puzzling omission is the lack of discussion of Charlie Brown's younger sister, Sally, who was introduced less than ten years into Peanuts' run and remained a major figure straight through to the end. Her unrequited love for Linus was as big a recurring theme in the series as Lucy's for Schroeder, or Lucy's love-hate relationship with Charlie Brown, to both of which Michaelis devotes considerable space as as analogs for Schulz's relationship with Joyce. Sally instead only earns mentions late in the book for sequences such as her attachment to her anthropomorphized school building. All in all, though, this book is a must read for any fan of Peanuts and anyone interested in learning about the many-layered personality of the man behind the brilliant characters.

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