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Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography
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Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography

3.8 25
by David Michaelis

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The definitive epic biography of an American icon -- Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.

Charles Schulz, the most widely syndicated and beloved cartoonist of all time, is also one of the most misunderstood figures in American culture. Now, acclaimed biographer David Michaelis gives us the first full-length biography of Schulz: at once a creation


The definitive epic biography of an American icon -- Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.

Charles Schulz, the most widely syndicated and beloved cartoonist of all time, is also one of the most misunderstood figures in American culture. Now, acclaimed biographer David Michaelis gives us the first full-length biography of Schulz: at once a creation story, a portrait of a hidden American genius, and a chronicle contrasting the private man with the central role he played in shaping the national imagination. The son of a barber, Schulz was born in Minnesota to modest, working class roots. In 1943, just three days after his mother's tragic death from cancer, Schulz, a private in the army, shipped out for boot camp and the war in Europe. The sense of shock and separation never left him. And these early experiences would shape his entire life.

With Peanuts, Schulz embedded adult ideas in a world of small children to remind the reader that character flaws and childhood wounds are with us always. It was the central truth of his own life, that as the adults we've become and as the children we always will be, we can free ourselves, if only we can see the humor in the predicaments of funny-looking kids. Schulz's Peanuts profoundly influenced the country in the second half of the 20th century. But the strip was anchored in the collective experience and hardships of Schulz's generation -- the generation that survived the Great Depression and liberated Europe and the Pacific and came home to build the postwar world. Michaelis brilliantly weaves Schulz's story with the cartoons that are so familiar to us, revealing a man we've never fully known and shedding new light on a touchstone of American life.

Editorial Reviews

“This fall’s breakout biography.”
Time Magazine
"An extraordinary achievement . . . that shrinks Schulz down to human size and enlarges our love of his work."
Time magazine
“An extraordinary achievement . . . that shrinks Schulz down to human size and enlarges our love of his work.”
Michiko Kakutani
It is Mr. Michaelis's achievement in these pages that he leaves us with both a shrewd appreciation of Schulz's minimalist art and a sympathetic understanding of Schulz the man. He shows us how Schulz's sense of vocation as a young child, fueled by a fierce ambition, led him to the career he'd always wanted, and how he gradually assimilated a host of influences to find a voice that was inimitably his own. He also shows us how Schulz constructed an anomalous fictional world that captured the public imagination, eventually reaching readers in some 75 countries, 2,600 newspapers and 21 languages. At times the author's prodigious research may overwhelm the casual reader, who may well wonder if we really need to know about all of Schulz's unrequited crushes, all his panic attacks and spasms of self-doubt. But Mr. Michaelis, who had access to Schulz's papers, has done a fluent job of weaving the many facts and anecdotes he's collected into an engaging narrative that underscores how the artist's solitary childhood in Minnesota—as the only child of a father preoccupied by work and a withholding, erratic mother—shaped both his insecurities and his will to succeed.
—The New York Times
Charles McGrath
Michaelis, who had the cooperation of the Schulz family, tells this story brightly and engagingly, if not always succinctly and without repetition…Throughout the book Michaelis maintains affection for his subject without losing sight of how exasperating and narcissistic he could be. And the smartest thing he has done is to pepper his pages with actual strips from "Peanuts," dozens of them, usually without comment or footnote or even date: an appropriate strip just turns up in the middle of a paragraph that happens to be talking about something similar. Sometimes it's an illustration, sometimes a wry comment. The effect is to continually remind us of why Schulz matters in the first place, and of the potential not just for humor but for feeling and eloquence in the odd and oddly persistent art form where he made his home.
—The New York Times Book Review
Julie Phillips
…sensitive and satisfying…Michaelis, also the author of a biography of artist N.C. Wyeth, uses strips as illustrations, a clever way of showing just how very adult these children were in their concerns—and how brilliant it was to endow children with real, adult struggles and anxieties that could be explored without becoming threatening. If Schulz seemed wise, it's because he could tease out profound human concerns without taking sides. Whether Michaelis's portrayal is too dark, as some of the Schulz children have claimed, is hard to say. It seems clear that Schulz was often anxious and difficult, but he also clung to his melancholy as an artistic tool: He feared that without it, he couldn't draw. (His anxieties may also have helped him remain himself while earning millions a year.) Really, he was all his characters: philosophical, gentle Linus; remote, artistic Schroeder; stubborn, grandiose Lucy; irrepressible, sexy Snoopy. One thing that might be missing from this otherwise fascinating book—and maybe this is what the children feel—is an explanation for the joy and pleasure that shine through his work. Where, in his lonely Minnesota upbringing, did Charles Schulz learn to let Snoopy dance?
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Holter Graham's reading is clear and well paced, and he makes good use of pauses and emphasis for emotional effect as we peer into the miserable life a genius-the fabulously successful and enormously influential creator of the Peanuts gang. Schulz thought of himself as ordinary rather than brilliant, as "melancholy" rather than "depressed." But no kind of unhappiness ever interfered with his 50 years of daily cartooning. Michaelis shows us that "[t]o the very end, his life had been inseparable from his art" and that his art reflected not only his own changing thought and circumstances but also America's political and social shifts from one decade to the next. There are two minor limitations to the audio version: it's missing the 240 Peanutsstrips that illustrated and illuminated Michaelis's text, and one wishes that this captivating and well-researched biography had been unabridged. Schulz's very last Peanutsstrip was published the day he died. Simultaneous release with the Harper hardcover (Reviews, July 23). (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

For more than 50 years, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts gang have entertained readers in the United States and throughout the world, appearing in newspapers, books, and films. Even following the death in 2000 of their creator, Charles M. Schulz, many newspapers continue to run the 17,897 comic strips he produced. But few people know anything about the creative genius himself, a man who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar period. An intensely private man, Schulz told people that to read his comic strips was to know him; in fact, that would only tell them part of the story. In this painstakingly and thoroughly researched biography, Michaelis (N.C. Wyeth: A Biography) brings to light and allows readers to reimagine the life of one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. Strategically interspersing 240 of Schulz's comic strips throughout the text, he demonstrates how much of Schulz's art reflected his life and develops a clearer picture of this extraordinary American. Recommended for all public and academic libraries. [On Oct. 29, in its first American Masterstribute to a comic book artist, PBS will air a feature-length documentary about Schulz.-Ed.].
—Mark Alan Williams

Kirkus Reviews
The idolized comic strip and its revered creator, conjoined American avatars of the second half of the 20th century, are both fully explored in this shared biography. As Michaelis (N.C. Weyth, 1998, etc.) demonstrates with the help of many cartoons, the antics of Peanuts' characters formed a clear autobiography of Charles M. Schulz (1922-2000). The barber's son from Minnesota was born to create a comic strip, if nothing else. He was a dweeby, dreamy lad called "Sparky" from infancy-an odd nickname for a serious youth who ignited little excitement. An abstemious churchgoer, he was timid around girls, especially pretty redheads. Sparky was determined, though, to have a cartoonist's career. Home from the Army in 1945, he worked as a correspondence-school art instructor. Early on, he knew three Charlie Browns: One was a high-school friend; one was an art-school colleague who became a bit odd as his fictional namesake became celebrated; the third was an ecclesiastic. The energetic first Mrs. Schulz, usually managing Sparky, morphed into Lucy. The flourishing Peanuts strip provided a lavish California home and studio, spawned endorsements, television specials and books. Happiness was not, however, a warm bank account. With an upscale ice rink came tax problems, divorce and remarriage. The world's most successful and rewarded cartoonist, the man who coined the term "security blanket," nursed anxieties. "Sparky really didn't give a damn about people," one friend noted. Schulz was the subject of many articles and interviews, so much of his story is known, but this fine, exhaustive text is well-organized and knowledgeable. Whether or not Peanuts was inspired, as fans insist, or just insipid,Michaelis offers considerable insight into the semiotics of comics and the psyche of a master of the craft. All that's needed about a prodigy of American cultural history. Agent: Melaine Jackson/Melanie Jackson Agency
Walter Cronkite
“An insightful rendering of the life of this American treasure.”
Walter Isaacson
“Michaelis takes us on a wondrous journey through the worlds of Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz.”
Chris Ware
“After you read this book you will know the genius that went into every single line that Charles Schulz drew.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Schulz and Peanuts
A Biography

Chapter One


We'll probably never see each other again.
—Dena Halverson Schulz

The great troop train, a quarter-mile of olive green carriages, rolled out of the depot and into the storm. Nearly a foot of snow had fallen on the Northwest through the day, and now, in the short winter afternoon, the blizzard veiled the domed heights of the State Capitol in St. Paul and the pyramid-capped Foshay Tower, tallest building in Minneapolis. Snow curtained the Twin Cities from one another, blurring everyday distances. Only the railroad and streetcar tracks cut clear black lines into the mounting white cover.

In the Pullman, Sparky kept to himself. No one yet knew him. At roll call he had come after "Schaust" and before "Sciortino," but except for his place in the company roster he seemed to have no connection to the men and, as one of his seatmates was to recall, "no interest in joining in any conversation," not even about the weather. The snowflakes swirling at the Pullman windows only contributed to his impression that he had been thrown among "wild people."

To his fellow recruits he presented himself as nondescript: simple, bland, unassuming—just another face in the crowd. With his regular looks, he passed for ordinary so easily that most people believed him when he insisted, as he did so often in later years, that he was a "nothing," a "nobody," an "uncomplicated man with ordinary interests," although anyone who could attract attention to himself by being so sensitive and insecure had to be complicated.

Don Schaust, then seatedalongside Schulz in the Pullman, later recalled that, as they rumbled across the Twin Cities, his seatmate remained silent, "very quiet, very low . . . deep in his own misery," and how he had asked himself, "What's the matter with this guy?"

No matter what the others said or did, Sparky sat watching the snow sweep up to and pull away from the window, giving no sign that he had just come through the worst days of his life.

He would never discuss the actual kind of cancer that had struck his mother. Throughout his life, friends, business associates, and most of his relatives believed that Dena Schulz had been the victim of colorectal cancer. In fact, the primary site of his mother's illness was the cervix, and she had been seriously ill since 1938. As early as his sophomore year in high school, Sparky had come home to a bedridden mother.

Some evenings she had been too ill to put food on the table; some nights he had been awakened by her cries of pain. But no one spoke directly about her affliction; only Sparky's father and his mother's trusted sister Marion knew its source, and they would not identify it as cancer in Sparky's presence until after it had reached its fourth and final stage—in November 1942, the same month he was drafted.

On February 28, 1943, with a day pass from Fort Snelling, Sparky returned from his army barracks to his mother's bedside, mounting the stairs to the second-floor apartment at the corner of Selby and North Snelling Avenues to which the Schulzes had moved so that his father, at work in his barbershop on Selby, and the druggist in his pharmacy around the corner, could race upstairs to administer morphine during the worst of Dena's agonies.

That evening, before reporting back to barracks, Sparky went into his mother's bedroom. She was turned away from him in her bed against the wall, opposite the windows that overlooked the street. He said he guessed it was time to go.

"Yes," she said, "I suppose we should say good-bye."

She turned her gaze as best she could. "Well," she said, "good-bye, Sparky. We'll probably never see each other again."

Later he said, "I'll never get over that scene as long as I live," and indeed he could not, down to his own dying day. It was certainly the worst night of his life, the night of "my greatest tragedy"—which he repeatedly put into the terms of his passionate sense of unfulfillment that his mother "never had the opportunity to see me get anything published."

He saw her always from a distance, and as the years went by, with each stoical retelling, the moment became more and more iconic. It was safely frozen in time—as puzzling a farewell in its quiet, coolheaded resolve as the lines spoken by the mother as she prepares to lose her son in Citizen Kane: "I've got his trunk all packed. I've had it packed for a week now." Frequently, often publicly, Sparky laid out the terrible resigned pathos of what his mother had said to him that night. Only as he got older and experienced parenthood himself would he "understand the pain and fear she must have had, thinking about what was to become of me."

The blizzard had brought everything to a halt. But the train drummed on across St. Paul, and landmarks familiar even in the snow slipped past his window, alerting him that his own neighborhood was approaching. Then there it was for all to see.

Mud-brown, two-storied brick buildings huddled along his snowbound street. From where the Great Northern Railway overpass crossed North Snelling he could see down to the Selby intersection two blocks to the south, where since Monday he had sleepwalked through funeral arrangements with his father in his family's rented walk-up. Even before this week of calamities, he had considered this part of St. Paul the setting of "my most influential section of life as a child."

Above the buildings to his right, a Greek-pedimented entrance marked the huge elementary school he had attended. He could see Dayton Avenue, a sidestreet among whose small, somber dwellings Carl and Dena had lived in 1921, during the first year of their marriage, and, next door, the roof under which his father had sheltered the family during the Great Depression, some of the lonelier years of Sparky's childhood, and the scanty backyard where the kooky puppy Spike, living in his own world, had gobbled up some glass. There, on the corner of Selby and Snelling, was their streetcar stop, whence came, among his earliest memories, the image of himself getting aboard with his mother, a small boy on a stiff cane seat, off to the department stores. . . .

Schulz and Peanuts
A Biography
. Copyright © by David Michaelis. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Chris Ware
“After you read this book you will know the genius that went into every single line that Charles Schulz drew.”
Walter Isaacson
“Michaelis takes us on a wondrous journey through the worlds of Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz.”

Meet the Author

David Michaelis is the author of two bestselling biographies, including N. C. Wyeth (available from Harper Perennial), which won the Ambassador Book Award for Biography and Autobiography, given by the English-Speaking Union of the United States. He lives in New York City.

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Schulz and Peanuts 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michaelis had over six years to write this book with unfettered access to all of Sparky Shulz' papers and Peanuts-related materials from the family as well as friends and business associates. In the end, he focused almost entirely on what he perceived as a very unhappy cartoonist who was lonely and aloof. Much of his writing seems to have evolved from the distortions and vapors of Shulz' first marriage. Furthermore, Michaelis never met the man. My wife and I got to know Sparky through a business relationship that grew into a friendship lasting many years. This was a man with tremendous humility but loaded with creative talent. He often wondered why people loved Peanuts but he was so pleased that they did. What's missing from the book is an accurate profile of a creative genius who loved life, had a phenomenal humorous side and kept you laughing with his witicisms. His family feels betrayed by this book and more about their feelings and those of others can be learned by going to Cartoon Brew and finding the discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Comprehensive biography, which includes numerous comic strips that further interpret the artist's life. Book shows major research work was undertaken. Highly detailed to give shy creator a complex history. Finally meet the "little reheaded girl." A life with a happy ending. Great gift for Peanuts fans. Especially for those going through a bumpy time---provides celebration at the end of the tunnel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this biography and I found it a compelling and entertaining read. After reading it I have rediscovered my interest in the Peanuts classic cartoon strip. Think what you may about the author's portrayal of Sparky, this is a good biography that presents a vivid portrait of a man consumed by his desire to be liked and his life long passion at being the best at his craft.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Certainly not Charles M. Schulz, if you are to believe this new literate biography. He was allegedly cold and distant toward his children, harbored bitterness toward ancient wrongs both real and imagined, lacked even a meager semblance of self-confidence and was so anxiety-ridden that he had to take Valium in order to travel to Europe. He was strong and satisfied only at the drawing board. And from this supposed train wreck of a man emerged the most endearing, influential and popular comic strip of the twentieth century. Schulz' family and friends are fuming over this biography, and justifiably so--the author's psychoanalysis is interesting but overwrought at times, and he bases his research strictly on second-hand accounts which can be notoriously inaccurate, since he never had the opportunity to interview Schulz himself before the 'Peanuts' creator died. So if you doubt the premises of this biography, open the book only for the artwork, some of which I had never seen or don't remember--Schulz's early single panels of 'Li'l Folks' in the 'Saturday Evening Post' and the series in which Snoopy is teargassed while giving a speech at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm because the residents are rioting over the use of dogs in the Vietnam War. I don't know how tortured of an artist Schulz was, but it was wonderful to see orginal images of Snoopy when he was an ordinary dog and not a World War I fying ace and Charlie Brown when he was a smart-aleck rascal before he became the eternal dupe who could never kick a football.
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AlexLovesToRead More than 1 year ago
There are so many things to learn about Schulz from this book. Most of them are not very savory but they do offer tremendous insight into one of our biggest pop culture icons.
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Steets More than 1 year ago
This is a must read for any "Peanuts" fan! To learn just how much of Sparky's life made it into his strip, with little to no dilution, is truly remarkable. It's hard to believe that such a well-loved man felt so alone, even up until the day he died. The level of intimacy in this book, especially regarding such a beloved yet mysterious man, makes one feel as an accepted member of the family, and front-row-center throughout Sparky's entire life. I would like to have heard a little more from the children, but, all-in-all, a fantastic read!
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grumpydan More than 1 year ago
I was somewhat apprehensive about reading this biography after reading some of the bad reviews and found out that the Schulz family hated it. But it is a book, and I love to read, and I take it all with a grain of salt. I actually enjoyed "Schulz and Peanuts" and it didn't change my opinion of Charles Schulz. I feel that Mr. Michaelis did a fine job in researching Mr. Schulz's life. I enjoyed the insertion of the comic in relation to what was being written. What I didn't understand is why the biography stopped in the 70s and then picked up near the death of the artist. What happened in those few decades? I guess nothing important, according to Mr. Michaelis. I did learn much about Mr. Schulz's early years and his career that I had not know before and that made the book worth reading.
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When the family comes out and says the book is inaccurate, how can you believe anything inside. It felt sensationalized too, so I question did I waste my time reading a less than mediocre work of fiction? Whatever I found interesting I found myself questioning so I struggled through and never found myself believing or enjoying it along the way. 
KrisPA More than 1 year ago
This is too much book--too many unimportant details. The amount of research that went into this book was incredible, and it shows. However, just because you interview everyone who ever talked to Schulz doesn't mean you need to include that information in the book. A more compact book would have been an easier and happier read because I found this book just too overwhelming and overreaching to fully enjoy. I think Schulz sometimes got lost within all the information about other people. Michaelis included mini-biographical sketches of many people Schulz had dealings with. It wasn't enough to just mention the name of his publisher, we also had to read about his background too. And did we need to know about every girlfriend Schulz ever dated or had a crush on? I am not interested in the drawing of comics or the comics business, so I found the many details about that boring. This easily could have been a 300 page book by simply compressing the themes that Michaelis explored over and over again. Yes, Schulz had parents who were cold and unable to express affection. Yes, Schulz himself was often insensitive and unable to express affection. Yes, he expressed his anxieties, depression, agoraphobia, etc. through Peanuts. He wouldn't get treatment for these conditions because he knew they fueled his art. These themes were explored over and over again. What I liked about the book was the inclusion of the comic strips and the exploration of Schulz's relationships/influence with/on later cartoonists (Lynn Johnston, Cathy Guisewitz (sp?), Bill Watterson). I can see why the Schulz family would not like the finished product of this book because it reveals Schulz as a complicated person with a charming, funny witty personality but who could also be needy, insecure, vicious, insensitive, and extremely unlikeable. Overall, the book has me more interested in re-reading Peanuts (I haven't looked at comics in years although I am a huge fan of Calvin & Hobbes), but I wouldn't recommend this book to someone unless he/she had a lot of time to read it and was really interested in biographies in general and Schulz in particular. While well-written and easy to read, it is exhausting and time-consuming to read. Even my friends and family were exhausted just by watching me read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a lifelong Peanuts fan, and native MN, I found it very intriguing. It totally gave me a different perspective of what I formerly new of Schulz, and definitely a better understanding of really how deep his cartoon is. I always knew it was a mature cartoon (even though marketed to kids), but this gave a definition to the inner suffering artist.
Cyrille More than 1 year ago
This book, Shulz & Peanuts is too detalied in some aspects. While I appreciate the in depth research of the subject and where he got his ideas for the comic strips. I feel that the coverage of early family life while germain to the book could have been less detailed. I found that part of the biography boreing. Charles Shulz's later life and career also interesting has as much detail about it as should be, anymore, if indeed there is anymore than is related in the book would have made it IMHO as mundane and plodding as the first part of the story. The chapters are much too long. I prefer a book of numorus short chapters or "breaks" within chapters, but that's just my druthers. All in all I'd give this book three stars