charles schulz, peanuts, and interior lives -- 12/4/14

Today's encore selection -- Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis. In 1952, the introduction of Peanuts, with its clean drawings and psychological orientation made for a stark contrast with both the clutter and the vaudeville-gag orientation in cartoon strips of the time:

"Most cartoon drawing is about distraction: popular masters like Walt Kelly and Al Capp crowded their panels with characters and activity; Pogo and Li'l Abner are dense with what actors call 'business.' 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. The absence of a solution was the center of the story. ...

"The American assumption was that children were happy, and childhood was a golden time; it was adults who had problems with which they wrestled and pains that they sought to smooth. Schulz reversed the natural order of [things] ... by showing that a child's pain is more intensely felt than an adult's, a child's defeats the more acutely experienced and remembered. Charlie Brown takes repeated insults from Violet and Patty about the size of his head, which they compare with a beach ball, a globe, a pie tin, the moon, a balloon; and though Charlie Brown may feel sorry for himself, he gets over it fast. But he does not get visibly angry.

" 'Would you like to have been Abraham Lincoln?' Patty asks Charlie Brown. 'I doubt it', he answers. 'I have a hard enough time being just plain Charlie Brown.'

"Children are not supposed to be radically dissatisfied. When they are unhappy, children protest -- they wail, they whine, they scream, they cry -- then they move on. Schulz gave these children lifelong dissatisfactions, the stuff of which adulthood is made.

"Readers recognized themselves in 'poor moon-faced, unloved, misunderstood' Charlie Brown -- in his dignity in the face of whole seasons of doomed baseball games, his endurance and stoicism in the face of insults. He ... reminded people, as no other cartoon character had, of what it was to be vulnerable, to be small and alone in the universe, to be human -- both little and big at the same time."


David Michaelis


Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography


Harper Perennial


Copyright 2007 by David Michaelis


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