Updated 11/12: After the glow of reading this book wore off, and I looked into things a bit more, I’m of the opinion that this portrait of Charles Schulz is flawed in a fundamental way. His son Monte is quoted as calling the book “preposterous.” His daughter Amy declared that “the whole thing is completely wrong.” His wife, Jeannie, said that it’s “not a full portrait. Sparky was so much more. Most of the time he loved to laugh.”
While one could discount these statements as protective or overly biased, I think now that they are absolutely true. Although I came away from the book still thinking highly of Charles Schulz, and the author claims that the biography “comes out very strongly (that) this was a great artist,” it ultimately presents a lopsided and then condensed portrait of a sad man. Unfortunately, since the book is so well written and researched, that is the total picture many reviewers and readers are coming away with.
While I’d prefer to just delete it, I’m leaving most of my original review up…
Schulz and Peanuts, a biography by David Michaelis, is a compelling book about a remarkable person. Some dissatisfaction was expressed by several of Charles Schulz’s children upon reading the finished manuscript — that it didn’t focus more on his fun and funny side — but I found the book to be insightful, honest, and fair, with “Sparky” Schulz’s extremely kind and decent nature, as well as his immense creativity, shining through. The book does delve into the sense of aloneness and melancholy that permeated his very being, but as Schulz himself acknowledged, the strip probably couldn’t have existed without those feelings.
Charles Schulz was a genius of many contradictions. He lacked self-confidence and yet was supremely confident in his abilities as a cartoonist. He was reserved and avoided direct confrontation and yet was intensely competitive in everything he did. He pictured himself a loser and yet was motivated by an unshakable will to succeed and win — and he did.
Although he often imagined himself as unloved and uninteresting, people were captivated by his charm and quick wit. He was friendly and generous and I’ve never heard a cartoonist who didn’t have nice things to say about him. As for his art, professionals and the public were of one mind in revering the innovation, intelligence, simple beauty, and humor of his strip.
Of course, the great revelation of the book is in showing the direct connection between events in his life and events in the strip. Situations that he might have avoided dealing with in real life regularly resurfaced with the use of his pen — very clearly defined and with a clever dose of wit mixed in to bring them alive.
In short, I came into the book thinking Charles Schulz a genius. When I closed the book, I thought him even more so.