You were a good man, Charles Schulz… maybe

As iconic as the “Peanuts” comic strip was in the cartooning world for so many years (indeed, as it continues to be), there’s a lot of dissension over what sort of man Charles Schulz, the strip’s creator, was.

Some have pointed out that his own challenges in life were what enabled him to write so poignantly about life inequities even in what was (supposedly) a forum for children, but that the man behind the ink was dark and difficult. Others have argued that his ability to work through such issues in his art left him a perfectly delightful man in person.

This debate is hardly new, but it’s been cropping up in the news again lately and I thought it was worth looking at. Personally, I find it fascinating that people are so interested in diving into Schulz’s life.

Over at Cartoon Brew Amid does an excellent round-up of reaction to the David Michaelis biography. On the one hand, Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes and himself a cartooning legend and something of an iconoclast) gives Michaelis’ biography, Schulz and Peanuts a glowing review. On the other hand, members of Schulz’ own family have been very vocal in their assertions that the book is not the accurate portrayal it makes itself out to be.

Charles Schulz’s son Monte left a comment at Cartoon Brew which said (among other things):

Honestly, the quote I’ve really wanted to give the press, after reading both the early of the manuscript and the final book, is this: “The book is stupid, and David Michaelis is an idiot.” That said, I had a six year on-going conversation with him about this book, and like David quite a lot. But I was shocked to see the book that emerged, because it veered so drastically away from what he told us he intended to write. Which is why we’ve been so militant in our response. Incidentally, the material David edited out of the book is even more outrageous. The fact is, after reading the book, I decided I’d learned more about David Michaelis than I did about my dad. I found that interesting.

The follow-on comments are interesting, as well, and one commenter is kind enough to point out that later this month there will be an American Masters documentary on Charles Schulz’s life on PBS which may be worth viewing.

In “Good Ol’ Charles Schulz,” AMERICAN MASTERS presents an unexpected portrait of the man behind the most popular comic strip in history. The feature-length documentary premieres Monday, October 29, 2007, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET on PBS.

No word yet on whether the Schulz family has a problem with the upcoming documentary. Or, indeed, why people are so intent on getting the “real” story of a man whose work should arguably be left to speak for itself.

[image credit: Encyclopædia Britannica Concise]

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