Good grief: Author shares insight into ‘Peanuts’ creator

The author gained unprecedented access to Charles Schulz’s private writings.

Betsy Graca

Minnesotans are always proud of their native cultural icons: Bob Dylan, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Garrison Keillor and of course, Charles Schulz.

Schulz, the creator of the legendary comic strip “Peanuts,” who died in 2000, has been brought back into the spotlight due to the best-selling biography “Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography” by author David Michaelis.

Michaelis discussed his newest book at a bookstore signing in Coffman Union on Tuesday.

“When the world woke up on Feb. 13 to his death, it was awakening to the loss of someone that we all felt we knew, someone we were all very attached to,” Michaelis said. “My childhood was officially over Ö I was (part of) the ‘Peanuts’ generation.”

Michaelis said he spent seven years working on the biography, despite his publishers pushing for a more immediate release because Schulz’s death was fresh in the public’s mind.

“For me, if I was spending less time, I would feel like I was cheating,” Michaelis said. “I want to get it as right as I can.”

The biography, however, wasn’t released without controversy.

For the biography, Schulz’s family gave Michaelis unprecedented access to the cartoonist’s private writings. The book brings up several unflattering aspects of Schulz’s life, such as his struggles with depression and infidelity.

The Schulz family has been vocal in other media outlets since the book’s release, expressing disappointment with the way their father was portrayed.

Michaelis said he understood Schulz family’s need to defend their father, but the biography is about the whole man and the artist that was Schulz.

“Great artists are flawed people,” Michaelis said. “(Those flaws) do point to his larger self, which was an artist who recognized that sadness and joy are part of the great glory and pain of life.”

Brad Phillips, who attended the book signing, said people have talked about Schulz in the same vein as President Lincoln and Vincent van Gogh, both of whom are known for their depression.

“I’m hoping the book will put Schulz in a good background that isn’t tainted by either the family or by people looking from outside with no real knowledge,” Phillips said.

Erin Harris, an English junior, said she was skeptical of the Schultz family’s criticism.

Harris said she was intrigued by the Schulz family’s reaction, because they were so open in providing Michaelis with intimate interviews and details of Schulz’s life.

Michaelis, who warmly referred to Schulz by his nickname “Sparky,” addressed the phenomenal popularity of the “Peanuts” comics.

He said one of the reasons “Peanuts” was so successful was due to Schulz’s unwillingness to take sides in the United States during the 1960s when people were so often divided on so many issues.

Schulz’s popularity also came from an awakening for children and adults to the unexpected and original, Michaelis said.

Terry Labandz, manager and buyer for the bookstore, said the “Peanuts” comics have been translated into 21 languages and reached 300 million readers in 75 countries.

During the 1980s, Schulz was ranked as one of the top 10 highest-paid artists, Labandz said.

However, Michaelis said Schulz was not that concerned with wealth or power.

“The thing he really liked about money was that it meant he could always buy a fresh can of tennis balls and a hard-backed book,” Michaelis said.

Michaelis said of Schulz, “He was the most human of human beings,” and also quoted Schulz as saying if he could go back to any time in world history, he would go back to his childhood in St. Paul.

As Schulz’s own character Charlie Brown once said, “In the book of life, the answers aren’t in the back.”