Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson has written a positive review of Schulz and Peanuts the new biography of Charles M. Schulz by David Michaelis for the Wall Street Journal.
The cartoons are also terrifically funny and edgy, even after all these years. The wonder of “Peanuts” is that it worked on so many levels simultaneously. Children could enjoy the silly drawings and the delightful fantasy of Snoopy, while adults could see the bleak undercurrent of cruelty, loneliness and failure, or the perpetual theme of unrequited love, or the strip’s stark visual beauty. If anything, I wish Mr. Michaelis’s biography had devoted more space to analyzing the strip on its own terms as an art. Knowing the sources of Schulz’s inspiration does not explain the imaginative power of the work.
I was also surprised that Mr. Michaelis largely glossed over the later years of the strip, despite major shifts in its focus and tone. As newer characters developed into dominant voices, Charlie Brown receded, becoming almost avuncular, and “Peanuts” abandoned much of its earlier harshness. It would have been interesting to learn how Schulz’s conception of the strip changed over the years and what Peppermint Patty, Spike and Rerun offered him in the way of new expressive possibilities. I was not always enthusiastic about Schulz’s later choices, but it says something for Schulz that he resisted the simple, robotic repetition of a successful formula. In this, too, “Peanuts” was unlike most other comic strips.
For all the influence that “Peanuts” had on me, I was content to admire Schulz from afar, and like most of his millions of readers I never met him. Mr. Michaelis has done an extraordinary amount of digging and has written a perceptive and compelling account of Schulz’s life. This book finally introduces Charles Schulz to us all.