Charles M(onroe) Schulz Essay - Critical Essays

Schulz, Charles M(onroe)

Introduction

Charles M(onroe) Schulz 1922–

American cartoonist and illustrator. Schulz's comic strip, "Peanuts," is internationally popular for its humorous and sensitive portrayal of children and their reactions to life. Schulz grew up knowing he would someday be a cartoonist. Lacking confidence, however, he studied art via correspondence rather than facing the instructors in person. His strip entitled "Li'l Folks" first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post before it was bought and renamed "Peanuts" by the United Feature Syndicate in 1950. Many of the characters and their predicaments are personal observations and autobiographical elements in Schulz's life; he thinks of them as a second family. A compulsive worrier like his character Charlie Brown, he is concerned that his characters always reflect the sentiments of their creator. Schulz, therefore, is one of the few cartoonists who has no ghost writers. Throughout the cartoon's lifetime, the "Peanuts" gang has become more defined in character, appealing to children on a literal level, and to adults for their astute observations of human nature at its most precarious moments. Most of the strips carry a message of some sort, be it humorous or profound, which often reflects Schulz's religious background. Critics agree that it is the dialogue that supports the simply drawn figures. The daily strip has branched out to include other media, such as books and television, the most popular of these creations being Schulz's first TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Schulz has been criticized for the commercialization of his strip, which has resulted in a barrage of "Peanuts" products, from greeting cards to Christmas ornaments. However, Charlie Brown and his friends show the wisdom of innocence, and have escaped the limits of the four paneled cartoon into the realm of the American cultural symbol. Schulz was twice presented with the Reuben Award, the cartoonist's equivalent of the Oscar, in 1955 and 1964. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 10.)

In a decade that has seen much of the fun leak out of the funnies, a Popsicle-set Punchinello named Good Ol' Charlie Brown has endeared himself to millions of newspaper readers with a quietly wistful brand of humor that is both fresh and worldly-wise….

The appeal of Peanuts lies in its sophisticated melding of wry wisdom and sly one-upmanship. Unlike such funnypage small fry as Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Menace or Jimmy Hatlo's Little Iodine, its characters are disingenuous and uncute. Charlie, whose peanut-bald head is surmounted by a single dispirited curl, is a junior-grade Walter Mitty, whose highflying dreams of popularity crash in endless ignominies.

"Child's Garden of Reverses," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1958), March 3, 1958, p. 58.

Nathan A. Scott, Jr.

[The] art of the cartoon strip must not have been wholly corrupted if it can still afford a working medium for so scrupulous and lively an imagination as that of Charles Schulz. For, in and through the fabulous little world of Charlie Brown and Lucy and Linus and Snoopy and Shermy and Violet, Mr. Schulz has been turning a remarkably penetrating searchlight on the anxieties and evasions and duplicities that make up our common lot; and … the analysis of human existence that Mr. Schulz is giving us is essentially theological and, in its basic inspiration, deeply Christian. (pp. ix-x)

Nathan A. Scott, Jr., in his foreword to The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert L. Short (© 1965 by M. E. Bratcher; used by permission of John Knox Press), John Knox, 1964 (and reprinted by Bantam Books, 1968), pp. ix-x.

Robert L. Short

Peanuts, the famous cartoon strip, often assumes the form of a modern-day, Christian parable. To illustrate how closely the parables of Peanuts can parallel the parables of the New Testament—in lessons suggested, in ways of suggesting these lessons, and in indirect method—[the cartoon showing Linus' kingdom of sand washed away by rain] is coupled with Christ's parable of "The house on the rock and the house on the sand." (p. 19)

And so there are lessons to be found in Peanuts; but just as in the parables of Christ, we are not always sure what these lessons are. Or, as Lucy would put it, also in Peanuts we have trouble "reading between the lines."…

[Mr. Schulz] has confessed … to presenting something of a religious message in Peanuts, but evidently he has not gone much further in specifying exactly what this message is. Again, why should he?… [The] job of the interpreter (whether minister, priest, professional critic, or perceptive layman) and the job of the artist should usually be kept apart. "How can you give a personal evaluation of a work of art?" was Schulz's guarded reply when one reporter attempted to force him into becoming his own critic. Both the Church and the artist must constantly beware of cheapening what they have to say by making it too accessible….

[Lessons] "to be found," if they are to be seriously appreciated when found, will always first require a corresponding amount of serious seeking. And so then, like Charlie Brown, the job of Charles Schulz probably should not be the interpretation of "prophetic literature" as much as it is the creation of it…. (p. 20)

The doctrine of Original Sin is a theme constantly being dramatized in Peanuts. And as Lucy asks Charlie Brown, after demonstrating to him how his pebble-like virtues are no match for the boulder representing his "countless faults," "Don't you think you're lucky to have me around to point up these things in such a graphic manner?" Indeed we are lucky! For as Hume maintained, one of the best ways of putting new flesh onto the bones of old and misunderstood creeds is precisely to point up these things in a graphic manner. (pp. 26-7)

The captivity of man's will is most often dramatized in Peanuts just as it is most often dramatized in men's lives—by the significant change that never takes place. In talking about the egotism and brutality of children, Schulz has said, "We grown-ups don't change so much, except on the surface, because we get along better that way." (p. 31)

The inability of the Peanuts kids to produce any radical change for the better in themselves—or in each other—is a constant Peanuts theme…. The classic Peanuts commentary on this rather pessimistic view of human nature is the running gag every year when Charlie Brown's courageous views on man's freedom and goodness are invariably brought back to earth by Lucy [when she promises not to pull the football away as Charlie Brown kicks it]…. Lucy's "bonded word" … sounds more like what theologians have called "the bondage of the will"; and Charlie Brown sounds very much like a follower of Pelagius, who also was "accustomed … to call attention to the capacity and character of human nature and to show what it is able to accomplish." (pp. 32-3)

The "children of men" of the preceding psalm could be well represented by the children of Peanuts, for in both cases all seem to have "gone astray." Even the lovable and long-suffering Charlie Brown, as Schultz has said of him, "never does anything mean, but he is weak, vain and very vulnerable…. And aren't all kids egotists?" Schulz asks. "And brutal? Children are caricatures of adults." Indeed Mr. Schulz had originally planned to call his strip Li'l Folks, and evidently was quite disappointed with the "terrible insignificance" of the "Peanuts" title, when the strip was renamed by a cartoon syndicate. (pp. 40-1)

Children can be a good symbol for the original sinfulness of man since all men originate as children and as sinners…. For this reason the children of Peanuts can be seen as a sort of comic counterpart to the kind of children found in William Golding's terrifying tract of the times, Lord of the Flies. Golding's children, along with an increasing number of young people in modern literature, help us to see the unaccommodated man—left completely free to be himself, to do what comes naturally, without gospel and in spite of law—is a savage…. Seeing the infant as a sinner, however, probably never has been nor will be a popular point of view. It may be, therefore, that the modern "cult of the child," which holds to the child's "original innocence," is partly a reaction against the doctrine of Original Sin…. Whenever they can, even the youngest Peanuts children are crafty enough to take advantage of this point of view…. This kind of "original innocence" of children, as Lucy says of it, "doesn't solve anything, but it makes us all feel better." But the innocence of the Peanuts kids is never an innocence of shallow and sinless "cuteness"; it is always an innocence with biblical or metaphysical overtones, an innocence of being "innocent but not too well informed," as Schulz has said of Linus. (pp. 41-2, 45)

All the Peanuts kids are guilty … of serving a false god; and...

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WILLIAM H. McNEILL

"On a beautiful day like this it would be best to stay in bed so you wouldn't get up and spoil it," says Charlie Brown in Charles M. Schulz' latest triumph, You're Something Else, Charlie Brown. To review it is like getting out of bed—too risky to be undertaken seriously; safe only for the light-hearted. And if you're lighthearted you may read it and chuckle or smile, but chuckles and smiles have never made it in English orthography, even with the license accorded comic-strip artists. So let us merely say hurrah and pass on swiftly to some earnest thoughts about the Charlie Brown phenomenon in general, and another and far less successful Charlie Brown book in particular [You're a Good Man, Charlie...

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Robert L. Short

"Art-Parable is that creation of man with no practical use except to communicate meaning indirectly through forms that capture one's attention." This is the kind of definition that could easily help wear someone out, but it is also why all art is parable, and vice versa…. Charles Schulz's famous comic strip, Peanuts, certainly meets this definition of Art-Parable. But since this cannot be said of all comic strips, we need to distinguish between "art" and "entertainment." All art involves "entertainment" of sorts, but not all entertainment is art. Mere entertainment leads us away from reality; indeed it can even be considered an escape from reality…. Art, on the other hand, can also entertain us, but it goes...

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Johnny Hart

Since the very beginning, each era or generation has had its satirical cartoonist; one who stands above the others, points to what we have really become, and teaches us to laugh.

Our time has given us the best yet. He is Charles M. Schulz…. Charlie is a dear man who has taken it upon himself to make children of us all. Let us be eternally grateful for his foresight. We are God's children after all, and are meant to be no more than that. As a jealous child who loves to laugh, I sometimes … resent the laughs that God must surely enjoy at the expense of his clumsy, faltering children. He shares, of course, an equal amount of sorrow, which I do not wish to get into. Charlie Schulz does get into this....

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John Tebbel

One of the most remarkable facts about [Peanuts] is the way its popularity cuts across every kind of classification. People from very young children to the very old admire it, for all kinds of special reasons. Schroeder, the Beethoven-loving character who is usually seen playing the piano when he isn't playing baseball, appeals to people who had never heard of Beethoven before. The little tyrant Lucy is seen by the small fry as a deliciously contrary girl, and by some adults as the typically abrasive female in American life. Linus, with his security blanket, seems to speak to everyone who would like to have a blanket of his own in troubled times. And Snoopy, the beagle who has Van Goghs hanging in his doghouse...

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Charles M. Schulz

During these twenty years, I have had the opportunity to observe what makes a good comic strip. I am convinced that the ones that have survived and maintained a high degree of quality are those which have a format that allows the creator room to express every idea that comes to him….

[What] is funny in a comic strip today will not necessarily be funny the following week. A good example of this is the character of Snoopy. The mere fact that we could read Snoopy's thoughts was funny in itself when Peanuts first began. Now, of course, it is the content of those thoughts that is important, and as he progresses in his imagination to new personalities, some of the things which he originally did as...

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Clarence Petersen

[Snoopy and the Red Baron] was Schulz's first full-length cartoon adventure and, as the publisher describes it, "In the tradition of the great war novels, it is an odyssey of love, guts, and tears." In case you don't read the comics, Snoopy is Charlie Brown's hound dog, and the life he leads would do credit to Walter Mitty. In his most persistent fantasy Snoopy is a World War I air ace, and his doghouse is the Sopwith Camel in which he ventures at dawn into the wild blue yonder to do battle with the butcher of the skies, Baron von Richtofen. Ridiculous? Don't be silly! Think of it—Snoopy under anti-aircraft fire over France; Snoopy smiling coldly in the shadow of the familiar Fokker Triplane; Snoopy piercing...

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Michael Ruby

"Peanuts" [is] the evocative, touching and wise comic strip that has quietly become an American institution. As unpretentious as Schulz himself, the strip has restored to use idioms of a simpler day: "Good grief," "Rats!" and "You blockhead." It has invented the cult of the Great Pumpkin, and the concept of the Failure Face. It has given the world a dozen definitions of happiness and a store of homespun philosophical reflections…. It has expressed what may be the quintessential American lament: "How can we lose when we're so sincere?"…

The magic begins with the characters, an appealing lot whose foibles, anxieties and frustrations make a human comedy that hovers always on the lip of despair. (p....

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REINHOLD REITBERGER and WOLFGANG FUCHS

That Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, is a lay preacher in the 'Church of God', a conservative, biblically orientated Protestant sect, is today common knowledge; and books like The Gospel According to Peanuts and The Parables of Peanuts, both by Robert L. Short [see excerpts above] have made it clear that Peanuts has a metaphysical background. Short's biblical paraphrase of the human condition is illustrated by sequences from Peanuts and it is evident that Schulz, in his own way, gives a much clearer picture of humanity's malaise than Short's often cited favourite authors Kierkegaard, Barth and Tillich. (p. 54)

The Peanuts children have aged only about two or...

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Robert G. Miner, Jr.

Without even venturing into the possibilities [the "Snoopy Come Home" Movie Book] suggests—among them the cliché that this is a post-literary generation—I can't help feeling that the "Movie Book" may herald a new trend. Instead of the book-to-movie progression of the past decades, TV, ironically enough, may have made the moving picture commonplace for today's children and the moving word intriguingly new. Schultz's book is graced with the laconic humor and pointed jabs of pure feeling that already have made Peanuts a staple for adults of all ages. The book also offers some startling double-page illustrations that share, in their unconventional focus and perspective, some of the unnerving aptness of...

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Arthur Asa Berger

Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, is a rather shy person who personifies the American Dream. (p. 181)

Peanuts is now so ubiquitous that it is literally part of the fabric of modern American society, and Schulz is the spokesman for millions of mute Americans. (p. 182)

Because the comic strip does not have much status as an art form, and because the characters in Peanuts are little children and a dog, we tend to underestimate Schulz's achievement, even though almost everybody admires his work. I believe that Schulz is one of the greatest humorists of the twentieth century…. [He] has developed a distinctive style of art work, an incredible assortment...

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Sherwin D. Smith

["Peanuts" is the] General Motors of comic strips, it sometimes seems. The latest count was 44 in print, not all of them by any means proper reprints of newspaper strips. At their best, they're very, very good—a mixture of pop philosophy and fantasy. At other times, they go icky-commercial. (p. 27)

Sherwin D. Smith, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 9, 1974.

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Paul Engle

It should have been expected that Peppermint Patty would kick the national holiday around [in "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving"], and that Marcie and Franklin would find a fresh way of celebrating the traditional event. Their faces are precise, highly individual and their remarks full of wit and irony. Imagine—the real Thanksgiving comes in out of the comic page, which may say something very authentic about the U.S.A. right now, when there is so much for which the country really can't give thanks. (p. 27)

Paul Engle, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 3, 1974.

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John Seelye

That Snoopy! If recollection serves, Charlie Brown's dog began where Dagwood's Daisy left off, a silent, even passive witness to human folly, occasionally giving off a bubble of gassid comment. He was a generic descendant of Buster Brown's Tige, that fabulous canine who smiled with human teeth, and both were variations on a traditional genre touch, the Boy and his Dawg. But, in time, as the Peanuts gallery expanded to include more unlikely children, increasing our suspicion that they are actually midgets, Snoopy took on a larger and more complex role, until, as [The Snoopy Festival] reveals, he has become a little dogpersonality, walking, very nearly talking, even sitting at table and enjoying an...

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Richard R. Lingeman

[Everybody] likes Peanuts, and that is as much a tribute to Mr. Schulz's Lilliputian genius as it is to his avoidance of controversy. The Peanuts children precociously know that life can be lousy and their popularity from the late fifties on may be due to their reflecting a secret, self-doubting, self-questioning mood abroad in the nation: Charlie Brown is everybody's loser because everybody is a loser much of the time. Peanuts offers a gentle philosophy of human relations, of stoically coping with existence, that is the underside of the preachments of those eupeptic middle-class yeasayers from Norman Vincent Peale to "How to Be Your Own Best Friend." (p. 7)

Richard R. Lingeman,...

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John Jacobus

[For] the true Peanuts fan, accustomed to the more functionally proportioned soft-cover collections, the giant Peanuts Jubilee is a bit much. However, its creator, Charles Schulz, in his modestly phrased text, lets us know that, one, he doesn't much care for the title "Peanuts," wished upon his strip by syndicate biggies; and, two, he dislikes the strip's small format—so, bigness may be important for Schulz.

Peanuts graphics are in the classic American cartoon tradition, to which the Disney atelier contributed not only its Parthenon frieze but its Arch of Constantine as well. This simple, laconic manner, a world removed from the late-'30s baroque of Alex Raymond and Milton...

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Alastair Fowler

[Charles Schulz's] autobiographical memoir Peanuts Jubilee reads almost like a story, a myth of middle America. However modestly told, it must be a great success story….

The memoir gives the real-life origin of many Peanuts events and characters. But this is a little deceptive: Mr Schulz often divulges less than he seems to.

He would have us think of him as the real Charlie Brown, a loser, stimulated to creativity by failures or disappointments in love. But if Charlie Brown ever wrote a comic strip, it would not be successful like Peanuts: it would be an international flop. Mr Schulz, we feel, must have something in him of Schroeder and Lucy—to say nothing of that...

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Benny Green

For some time now I have been mystified by the sheer extent of the Peanuts trend. That the average casual reader is a schoolboy I have always realised…. But the discovery that he is not a schoolboy after all but a child comes as a bit of a smack on the face, especially as it seems to me that the Peanuts cartoons disappeared, aesthetically speaking, a long time ago down the chasm which separates adult sensibility from infant sentimentality….

[The] draughtsmanship … is, of course, where Schulz scores. It appears that his line, his proportions, and his sense of colour convey something to small children which reminds them of the way they see the world. The captions, on the other hand, please...

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Joyce Swartney

[Charlie Brown's Second Super Book of Questions and Answers: About the Earth and Space … From Plants to Planets!] will answer questions such as where do the stars go in the daytime and what is a tornado. The answers are written in a manner understandable to children and adults. Frequently the questions are interspersed with color-coded squares containing interesting facts…. Some of the illustrations appear to be copies of daily "Peanuts" comic strips, while others seem to have been prepared for this publication. They are chosen with care and often support the text as well as amuse the reader. The content is accurate and instructional, but the sections on Earth, weather and climate, and on the stars and...

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JEAN MARIE HIESBERGER and PAT McLAUGHLIN

A major problem with What A Nightmare, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz is that the format and illustrations suggest it was written for young children. The familiar and popular Snoopy and Charlie Brown are presented in full color, comic strip style. The small quantity of text does not form a cohesive or credible story. Basically, the "plot" concerns Snoopy's nightmare encounter with frightening monsters and terrifying dogs in Alaska following his overindulgence of pizza. The monsters in this book are consistently vicious and realistic and Snoopy only manages to save himself from them by magically becoming more vicious than they are. The whole thing seems purposeless, confusing, and somewhat frightening for...

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