Saturday 1 December 2007


A few days ago, I blogged my response to Schulz and Peanuts, David Michaelis' biography of Charles 'Sparky' Schulz.

For what is touted as an "official" or "authorised" biography, the book has generated considerable critical comment from Schulz' fans who, not unnaturally, have been dismayed by what is a largely negative depiction of a man who was nothing less than an American original.

Indeed, my own observations were essentially those of an admirer of Schulz both as a writer of brilliantly observed and wittily told capsule dramas and as a consummate comic draughtsman. But I was also aware that there were others who did not agree with the biographical portrait in Schulz and Peanuts, including some of those who knew him best - his family and friends.

So, I was both surprised and touched to receive a comment posted on my blog from the artist's wife, JEAN SCHULZ. In addition to publishing her thoughts and observations there, I decided to reprint them on today's blog for the benefit of those readers who don't go back to check out comments made on previous posts...
Dear Mr Sibley,

First of all, I am Charles Schulz' widow. You have written perceptive comments of the biographer’s shortcomings, such as: reducing Sparky’s genius to autobiographical sketches, and positing that familiar episodes such as the kite and football were created to exorcise ugly demons. Michaelis’ simplistic approach blurs rather than reveals the creative process.

Michaelis stated in a forum in Seattle that he saw his book as a “corrective” to Schulz’ public persona. However, never expressed that to me. What he left out of the book is how much Schulz loved to laugh, what good company he was because he never talked about the ordinary things that occupy people’s conversation. He became a student of anything that interested him. How multi-creative he was, having energy for all sorts of creative outreach from putting various books together, to his interest in critiquing the three amusement parks, to creating the ice shows, to short essay writing, to special drawings for dozens of things. He never settled for the ordinary approach.

Sparky was sensitive. He remembered his feelings from the past, but he didn’t dwell on them in his private life. He was just like the rest of us. Except that he saw more than many people. He was extremely softhearted and never wanted to hurt even a bug, which is pretty unusual, I’d think, for his background and age.

He was extremely honest. That threw people off, because they didn’t expect the answers he gave them. An interviewer asked me for one last thought about him, I said: “He worked very hard”. The interviewer was stunned. That seemed like such an ordinary thing. But he did work hard. He gave everything he could to the comic strip everyday, and that is really the thing he wanted to be known for. He said, "If they write on my tombstone, He made people happy" he would be satisfied.

Oh, and I have to add that, in contrast to Michaelis’ reportage, I never heard Sparky ever say anything about his mother being distant or cold. He did say that she felt uncomfortable at parent meetings because of her lack of education. Sparky felt sorry that she should feel that way because he said she was as smart as anyone else.
Jean, thank you for this contribution. And, yes, your husband did make people happy --- and millions of us, at that.

Images: Peanuts characters © Charles Schulz


Suzanne said...

I think I've found the way to leave my comments!
And now for a re-run...
And some of his quirkiest remarks were so PROFOUND!
The other day after your Peanuts post, I reread the Peanuts books in my bookshelf (unfortunately only 3 or 4) and I giggled through the afternoon!

Brian Sibley said...

SUZANNE - Well done for beating the blogger-bugs; you succeeded in posting while I was being told that MY attempt to add YOUR comment had encountered a 'Blogger Problem'!

Anyway, yes, you are right: Schulz' take on life was often profound. Indeed, perhaps his greatest gift was his ability to tap into a kind of universal psyche.

SharonM said...

What a shame you didn't write the biography rather than Michaelis. Thanks for reproducing his widow's letter which I'm sure tells us so much about what he was really like than the author's imaginings.

Diva of Deception said...

Maybe you should write the AUTHORISED version Brian!

How truly wonderful that Mrs. Schulz took the time to read your blog and reply to your writings!

I guess, when you write as admirably well as you do, you just never know who will be reading your thoughts....

Brian Sibley said...

DIVA - You're too kind... But I was astonished to read the opening words of Jean's comment.

I guess it proves, if nothing else, that we never know who's reading what we write...

Bill Field said...

I concur with Diva- your balance and objectivity as a writer would serve a better testament to the life of "Sparky", than the Michaelis mess did. I just wanted to put a plug here, too,as I did your other thread, for tomorrow's Stu's Show on Monte Schulz will be calling in, on this very topic. Thanks for your thoughts on this great American humorist.

Anonymous said...

I have not read this Michaelis biography (or supposed biography, as it sounds!)-
but i can testify to the veracity of what you said, and what Mr. Schulz wife said he hoped for- he definitely made people happy! The peanuts are quite loved by myself and my family as well. They are such a loving and uniquely insightful representation of life in such a charming, humorous and warm manner. And they have been well loved, from the day my parents first introduced me to the peanuts with a snoopy piggy bank (that i could never bring myself to hammer open), to the present, where my little 7-year-old brother Caspian in particular is so fond of them. They have found their way into our holiday traditions as well- Halloween always celebrated with a showing of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!", and Christmas with "A Charlie Brown Christmas", the songs of which my brother loves to dance to- I must confess he is quite the Peanut himself!