Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis

Books Completed: 26
Completion Date: January 28, 2009
Pages: 672
Publication Date: September 29, 2008

Reason for Reading: Received review copy from Harper Collins. New author challenge.
Charles M. Schulz, the most widely syndicated and beloved cartoonist of all time, is also one of the least understood figures in American culture. Now acclaimed biographer David Michaelis gives us the first full-length biography of the brilliant, unseen man behind Peanuts: at once a creation story, a portrait of a native genius, and a chronicle contrasting the private man with the central role he played in shaping the national imagination.

It is the most American of stories: How a barber's son grew up from modest beginnings to realize his dream of creating a newspaper comic strip. How he daringly chose themes never before attempted in mainstream cartoons—loneliness, isolation, melancholy, the unending search for love—always lightening the darker side with laughter and mingling the old-fashioned sweetness of childhood with a very adult and modern awareness of the bitterness of life. And how, using a lighthearted, loving touch, a crow-quill pen dipped in ink, and a cast of memorable characters, he portrayed the struggles that come with being awkward, imperfect, human.

With Peanuts, Schulz profoundly influenced America in the second half of the twentieth century. But the humorous strip was anchored in the collective experience and hardships of the artist's generation—the generation that survived the Great Depression, liberated Europe and the Pacific, and came home to build the prosperous postwar world. Michaelis masterfully weaves Schulz's story with the cartoons that are so familiar to us, revealing how so much more of his life was part of the strip than we ever knew.

Based on years of research, including exclusive interviews with the cartoonist's family, friends, and colleagues, unprecedented access to his studio and business archives, and new caches of personal letters and drawings, Schulz and Peanuts is the definitive epic biography of an American icon and the unforgettable characters he created.

When I saw that this book was coming out, I knew I was going to have to read it. I mean, who doesn't know who Snoopy and Charlie Brown are? I have read the comic strips and seen the movies, so now it was time to see just who Charles Schulz was. I have to admit, the extent of my knowledge outside of the comic was that he didn't wish for it to be carried on after he had died. That's it. Obviously, this was a rather large book, so I know a lot more now! As I was reading along, though, I found that I knew more than I thought I did about the man behind one of the most famous comic strips of all time.

Now, on with the book! I am always worried about biographies. They can easily cover too much information and become over-whelming in detail. There is also the possibility that they will be really dry. But this book! I thought it was excellent! I learned loads of information, but I never felt over-loaded. Schulz was actually a really interesting person, even if he didn't think so, and it was fascinating to learn about his life. Michaelis starts from the very beginning and goes to the very end, so you get a pretty clear picture about what life was like for such a legendary man. Michaelis interviewed family, friends, and colleagues to give as clear a picture as possible. It made the book all that more interesting because you got to hear what everyone that knew him thought about him.

My favourite part of the book, though, was the inclusion of comic strips. It was a great touch! It broke the book up, for starters, so there was a bit of variety. Michaelis used the comic strips to both illustrate a point or provide an example. It was fun to read all the old strips. Connected to this was the idea behind the whole comic. Michaelis explains how the characters came to be and who they represented in the authors life. With no background history, I just read the characters as what they were, but Michaelis clearly points out that there was a point behind them. One of the big questions is whether Charles 'Sparky' Schulz was Charlie Brown, and if he wasn't, just who was. Again, not something I thought about. The comic was around for about 40 years when Schulz had to retire because of illness, so I only got to see the end, really. By the time he reached that point, most of the characters had been around forever.

In this book you learn about his childhood. What life was like for him, including a glimpse of his parents. His mother died when he was just making the cross into manhood, which is something that stuck with him for the rest of his life. His father was successful at what he did, but had his eccentric nature. It talks about Schulz and his military career, which he was very successful at. It moves on to his years of trying to get established and learn how to draw, and then his struggle to become the man we all know his as today. Michaelis talks about the two marriages, the affairs, and the children. We learn about Schulz' weaknesses and insecurities, as well as his fears. Michaelis carries the story until the bitter end when Schulz is faced with his own immortality and frightened by it. And, that is just some of the things covered in this book!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I think it is one of the best biographies I have ever read. I enjoy Peanuts, so it was enlightening to learn about the man behind the strip. If you have even the slightest interest in the man or the comic, you really should take a chance and read this book! One thing of note is that I was just putting the page number in its spot above and I was shocked that the book was that long! It sure didn't feel that long when I was reading it!


  1. Wonderful review! This one is on my TBR.

  2. wow thats a lot of pages! the Christopher Plummer book I read was big like that.. amazing when they don't seem that long and other books seem looooong at half that amount of pages!

  3. Not sure if I would have even considered this book, but you've made it mighty tempting!

  4. Sounds like an interesting book (and the book cover is genius)!

  5. Yep, you definitely convinced me to read it! Like I told you before I was intrigued ever since I saw it on your "currently reading" spot, but I'm more than sold now.

  6. Teddy: It was really good! I hope you enjoy it. :)

    Deslily: It didn't feel like a lot of pages, so I was happy about that. And you are right, there are short books that feel so long!

    Debi: I am glad that I read it! It was worth it. :)

    Stephanie: I know! I love the cover!

    Nymeth: I hope you do read it! I was actually very impressed with it. :)

  7. Sounds good. Reminds me of the biography I read on Dr. Seuss last year.

  8. Tink: I wouldn't mind reading a biography of Dr. Seuss... I remember thinking that but I never did look it up!


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