Monday, October 22, 2007

It's a Hard Life, Charlie Brown

Just finished reading Schultz, a biography of Charles M. Schultz, the creator of the comic strip Peanuts. It's a fascinating look at his life and at the origins of his phenomenally successful creation. It is not, however, the feel good book of the year. It seems to be the story of a man with a life long inferiority complex. No matter how well he did, he never felt as if he had worth. Though he sometimes denied that his lead character Charlie Brown was based on himself, other times, he flat out stated that he was Charlie Brown.
The bio draws many parallels between Schultz and Charlie Brown, and there are indeed quite a few places where reality intersects fiction. Peanuts strips are cleverly placed beside the real life incidents that inspired them. Schultz seemed to be a very conflicted personality. Deeply moral, he could also be petty and even vindictive. He held life long grudges and often took advantage of his sudden wealth and notoriety to extract vengeance for perceived wrongs.
If you're looking for a biography of a kindly old comic strip artist, then Schultz isn't it. It's a portrait of a complex and deeply troubled man who never outgrew the sense of worthlessness he had as a child. Still, without all that emotional turmoil, we would never have had his classic comic strip. Peanuts is a profoundly personal work, and that's the way Schultz wanted it. He never used assistants and no other creator ever wrote or drew so much as one line or one letter of the strip right up to Schultz's death. In many ways it took a lot of guts to put himself out there the way he did. And ultimately that's the final message of his alter-ego, Charlie Brown. Because no matter what happened, no matter the humiliations and the injustices that the little round headed kid had to face, he never gave up and he never quit trying. He endured and he pushed on. And so did his creator.

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