Charles M(onroe) Schulz Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.