Four Peanuts Essays and Charles M. Schulz
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The Norwegian-American cartoonist Charles Monroe Schulz (1922-2000) was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and loved drawing. A bright boy, he skipped two half-grades in elementary school. However, as the youngest in his class at Central High School, he became shy and timid.
He was drafted into the United States Army in 1943, After leaving the army in 1945, he returned to Minneapolis where he took a job as an art teacher at Art Instruction, Inc.
Schulz' first regular cartoons, Li'l Folks, were published from 1947 to 1950. In 1950 Schulz approached the United Feature Syndicate with his best strips from Li'l Folks, and Peanuts first appeared late that year. The strip became one of the most popular comic strips of all time. It ran for nearly fifty years without interruption and appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers in seventy-five countries.
Schulz drew much of the inspiration for the strip from his own life. He single-handedly designed, researched, wrote, and drew every Peanuts panel and strip that appear in daily and Sunday newspapers around the world. The artist dared to use his own quirksa lifelong sense of alienation, insecurity and inferiorityto draw the real feelings of his life and time.
With a sharp sense of humor and a keen understanding of alienation, Charles Schulz made 'Peanuts' an indispensable cultural touchstone. Schulz explained America the way Huckleberry Finn does: . . . in the end, we are dominated by our apartness, our individual isolation — an isolation that went very deep . . . in Schulz and in his characters.
Schulz knew the universal power of varying a few basic themes, and he said things clearly.
His strips are teeming with neat, existential statements; they are comic strip koans about the human condition.
His characters often speaks "in two different keys.", . . . novelist and semiotics professor Umberto Eco has noted. By fusing adult ideas with a world of small children, Schulz reminded us that although childhood wounds remain fresh, we have the power as adults to heal ourselves with humor.
Charles Schulz made 'Peanuts' an indispensable cultural touchstone. - David Michaelis
The following extracts are from Robert Short's The Gospel according to Peanuts, a small theology book that has sold 15 million copies. And the extracts and quotations are put into a specially designed format again. [Gap]
The real world is one of perceptions that are translated into images deep inside oneself
BOTH THE Church and the artist must constantly beware of cheapening what they have to say by making it too accessible. [Gap 28]
Art can also bring about some radical shifts in one's intellectual presuppositions. It does this by providing "conversation pieces" that attract one's attention while moving the basis of conversation onto entirely new grounds. For the conversation pieces of art are loaded (and thus they "always have a way of backfiring") with entirely new sets of symbols or ways of looking at things. [Gap 16]
Art, as a reflector, can also judge us in our very act of judging it. [Gap 15]
The artist is capable of bringing us into these honest confrontations with ourselves by indirections. He is not above sugar-coating the most bitter pill, above being "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16), above cleverly disguising the truth in order to get it through the enemy's defences. This is why all real art, though at first it may seem to be a most welcome escape from reality, will . . . lead one into a face to face encounter with realitybut always with reality in a different light from which it was first seen. [Gap 15-16]
Peanuts lends itself easily to . . . interpretation. . . . Thus Peanutsand countless other efforts in the modern artscan play a vital part in the life of the Church by providing meaning-full "conversation pieces" between the Church and culture, by being wonderfully imaginative parables of and for our times. [Gap 122-23]
The Church, rather than always being annoyed by the arts, should encourage a vanguard of men and women to be interpreters of these tongues, or arts. [Gap 171]
Art, just because of its subtlety or indirectness, has a way of sneaking around "mental blocks" and getting to the heart of the matter where it is capable of deeply and literally "moving" . . . men and women. [Gap 13] ◊
It sees the secular and the sacred as one and indivisible. And it does it with a sense of humour. - Methodist Recorder. [Gap BC]
"Conversation", then, arises between the work of art itself and the observer of the work who feels that work has somehow "spoken" to him. [Gap 17]
Decisions of great makings may need major deceptions to decipher too, as in great art
ART CAN be "holding [a] mirror up to nature" [Cf Gap 14]
There is no "impartial criticism" . . . no critical neutrality. . . . critics who think themselves disinterested but who are really swayed . . . by the beliefs . . . acquired by being members of a particular society in a particular place and time. [In Gap 30]
Art can be understood as being a parable (and vice versa), for the indirect methods of both are identical. [Gap 21] ◊
Hamlet could say, "The play's the thing / Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king", or Denis De Rougemenot can define art "as a calculated trap for meditation". [Gap 16]
In making our decision about what (art) is, we reveal and define who we are. [Gap 15]
Art can also aid in penetrating man's emotional prejudices by showing him who he really is; by accurately reflecting his own pretensions, foibles, and anxieties; by setting up before him a mirror where he may see his own inmost part. [Gap 14]
"The greater the art, the more indirective it will be"
THE GREATER the art, the more truth-full it will be. [Gap 17]
Many peoplefrom statesmen to thievesare sometimes suspicious of art. They have learnt to be "on guard" even against the indirect approach". [Gap 16]
Real decisions are as great as art, if not greater, eventually.
Many facts of life can make you burst into tears
CHARLES Schulz: "Not long ago I had Linus' blanket-hating grandmother come to his house for a visit. She tried to get him to give up his propensity for the blanket; so he threw up to her the fact that she was drinking 32 cups of coffee a day!" [Gap 58]
One day, for no apparent reason at all, Lucy suddenly bursts into tears. "What's the matter, Lucy? Can I help you?" asks Violet, rushing to Lucy's aid. "No, thank you, Violet (snif). There's nothing you can do," Lucy tells her. "My problems are deep-rooted!" [Gap 80]
Much depends on how you go on from there, and your friends
LUCY IS raising . . . the so-called "problem of evil," the problem of vindicating the justice of a sovereign God in permitting the existence of suffering. Why must we endure discipline in order to learn? [Gap 83]
Charlie Brown, who numbers himself "among the walking wounded," and frequently becomes "sick and tired of everything," certainly is aware of that Weltschmerz, that "world weariness," "from which there is no escape". [Gap 77]
Most often it's like this: The greater income, the greater oppportunities
FEEL FREE to try to make your opportunities concur with the opportunities of people whose incomes are ten times greater than yours [Cf Edward S. Martin].
But "the penalty of success is to be bored by the attentions of people who formerly snubbed you. [M.W. Little]" STAR
You must grieve - it is natural - if you suddenly find you depend on friends with greater income and greater opportunities than yourself.
The most sincere expressivity hardly judges before the time is ripe
"YOU'RE crazy!" Charlie Brown tells (Linus). "All right, " replies Linus, "so you believe in Santa Claus, and I'll believe in the 'Great Pumpkin'". Furthermore, the "great Pumpkin" will only appear in "the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere."
We, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. [Gal 4:3]
According to quantum physics, our purpose to act as interpreters by pointing out some of the themes and symbols that run throughout Peanuts, may or may not influence the cartoon too. they may if there is connection, they may not, if the time for connecting is past. [Cf Gap 29]
If the church fails to use the divine imagination given to it, to see the unseen, to see "sermons in stones and good in everything", to see "that all that passes to corruption is a parable," as Karl Barth has put it, it will constantly be embarrassed by a world capable of far more imagination that the Church itself. [Gap 33]
Schroeder, who idolizes Beethoven, has been known to die a thousand deaths on such occasions as forgetting his hero's birthday. [Gap 63] It is not until we seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness that all the Schroeders of our lives can then find satisfactory places in our lives. [Gap 64] Snoopy, like Christ, must know how it feels to show up on an obscure little plot of ground. [Gap 108-9.]
"The Church, rather than always being annoyed by the arts, should encourage a vanguard of men and women to be interpreters of these tongues, or arts." [Gap 17Q] Historically . . . the Church has been impatient with the arts, just as many of Christ's detractors were impatient with his parables and indirectness: "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" (John 10:24).
What appears . . . as the immediately given reality of "thing" is transformed by the religious view into a world of "signs". . . . All physical and material things, every substance and every action, now become metaphoric . . . expression of a spiritual meaning. - Ernst Cassirer, in Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. [In Gap 19]
"Do not pronounce judgement before the time," says St. Paul (1 Cor. 4:5) [Gap In 31] ◊
Grunwald: "the view of unfallen human nature is shallow and illusory . . . we have made fools of ourselves in the cult of the child and in its origin, which is really the cult of man." [In Gap 55]
It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants. (Rom 9:8)
As natural men we wake up in life with faith in the natural and with a feeling of well-being; as men of the world we come into the world feeling that both life and we personally are basically good. It is not until we really wake up that we discover the precariousness of our situation. [Gap 43]
Snoopy has . . . faults (or "character traits," as Linus likes to refer to "faults"): he is lazy, his is a "chow hound" without parallel, he is bitingly sarcastic, he is frequently a coward, and he often becomes quite weary of being what he is basicallya dog. He is, in other words, a fairly drawn caricature for what is probably the typical Christian. . . . it is good to remember Luther's teaching here that "Ecclesia est abscondita," the Church is hidden, for it lives by faith and not by sight or works. [Gap 102]
The society must depend on what is called respectable ones or respectability - it's mostly had by mere habit
"THE THEME is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable." - Golding. [In Gap 51]
"Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Cor. 5:11). [In Gap 87] Yet, in the New Testament it is not the work of a man's hands, but only the faith in Christ of a man's heart, or one's "hunger for righteousness," that can save or satisfy a man. [Gap 45]
"Some of our adult habits are ridiculous." - Charles M. Schulz [Gap 18]
The Bible often speaks in a sort of "love your enemiesit'll kill them" sense. (Cf Rom 12:20; Prov 25:21-22) [In Gap 22] The admonition to "Remember!" is thrust again and again throughout the Bible at God's elected people. [Gap 47]
"The cartoons contain shrewd comment on human nature . . . " - Expository Times. [Gap, back cover] There are, of course, many people who do not believe in the doctrine of Original Sin. [Gap 56]
By becoming a direct communication (Christianity) . . . becomes a tiny superficial thing. [Gap 29 Q]Difficulty always arises for the Church when it forgets 'that the spirit blows where it wills' (John 3:8). [Gap 47] ◊
But the psalmist anticipated the answer as well as the problem: / It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes. (Ps. 118:8-9)
The inability of the Peanuts kids to produce any radical change for the better in themselvesor in each otheris a constant Peanuts theme. [Gap 41]
Dance the (figurative) security blankets away if you manage to do it
ALL PHONEY gods have one thing in common: it kills your soul to worship one of them. . . . This is unfortunate. [Gap 61]
"To live is to dance!!" - Snoopy. [Gap 112]
Generally Snoopy, like Lucy, also is trying to get Linus' blanket away from him. . . . As the "Dominican" of Peanutsthe Domini canis, or "dog of God"Snoopy is subject to frequent humiliations, not the least of which are similar to those of the "suffering servant" of Isaiah . . . (Isa. 52:14; 53:3). [Gap 107]
To educate a man in mind and not in morals often amounts to making a menace more effective. [Cf a saying by Theodore Roosevelt]
You may also wish to know why something to believe in first has to be told about before it is up to frantically sought, not why stars and strengthening ideals without solid foundation under them, must shine.
1. In a sincere society the people is fond of dancing.
"I'm a great believer in the mild in cartooning. I'm a great believer in mild caricatures . . . I hate this business of overreacting." - Charles M. Schulz
Be an artist to give your family a respectable life and give millions to charities if you can
FOR A TIME in the 1950s Charles M. Schulz (November 26, 1922 - February 12, 2000) was called the "youngest existentialist". And before that, before he was a one-week old infant born to Carl and Dena Schulz of St. Paul, Minnesota, an uncle nicknamed him Sparky after a horse the uncle was fond of.
In Kindergarten a teacher told him, "Someday, Charles, you're going to be an artist." Schulz later recalled he thought he was born to draw comic strips. "I think I was." The earliest ambition he could remember was "to produce a daily comic strip".
Late in life he repeated it, "My main job is to draw funny comic strips for the newspapers." He didn't set himself up as a philosopher or therapist to the millions. He made no statements about important issues. He sat on no commissions.
Using a Crow-quill pen dipped in ink, Schulz drew every day through the next three decades. He always worked alone, without a team of assistants. The strip cartoon was an ideal form for him: The strip cartoonist can get up, go to work, draw his daily panels, and go to bed at night feeling he's done his bit.
Edgy, unpredictable, ahead of its time, "Peanuts" "vibrated with '50s alienation" - Trudeau.
Success fell off Schulz. He was unable to take refuge in its rewards. With his first wife and five children, he moved in 1958 to a paradise among the redwoods of Northern California, where he briefly found happiness.
As American soldiers stenciled Snoopy onto their helmets and the Apollo 10 astronauts christened their command module Charlie Brown and their lunar landing vehicle Snoopy, Schulz left his imprimatur on the Cold War's highest and lowest moments.
"Peanuts" became a refuge. Schulz became the patron saint of people who were putting up with all they could take. As a young man he had suffered deep loss. Three days after his mother's early death from colon cancer, he boarded a train for Camp Campbell, Kentucky, and the war in Europe. The sense of shock and separation never left him. Nor did the Scandinavian part of Schulz's character - a quality that took part in making him very different from any other comic strip artist.
Schulz also possessed a strong independent streak against life's injustices - they were piled up and at last found artistic expression in his most interesting characters: the long-suffering Charlie Brown, exuberant Snoopy, philosophical Linus, domineering Lucy, talented Schroeder, narcoleptic Peppermint Patty, became revered figures in Japan, beloved in England, France, Germany, Norway, Italy, and known by sight in 75 countries throughout Europe, South America, Africa, Australia and Asia.
At all levels of society "Peanuts" had a profound and lasting influence on the way people saw themselves and the world in the second half of the 20th century.
Sensitive to slights and many rejections, Schulz experienced growing up as a dismaying process, for he felt chronically unsupported. Like Charlie Brown he was willing to admit that just to keep on being Charlie Brown was an exhausting and painful process. "You don't know what it's like to be a barber's son," Charlie Brown tells Schroeder. . . . He recalls how hard his father worked to give his family a respectable life. Schulz' father was a barber too. ◊
He had few friends at school. In practically every thing he did at school, he felt underestimated by teachers, coaches and peers. No one ever gave him credit for his drawing, or for playing a superior game of golf. "It took me a long time to become a human being," he once said. He wanted only to exist in the extreme bottom right-hand corner of his own panels — where it said "Schulz." He wanted to limit himself to being that little scribble who had dropped having many illusions about what's really happening in people's lives.
At his drawing table in Santa Rosa, he drew with the same old pens, the same old nibs. He liked to say that he would stay at the desk until he wore a hole clean through it. If he could draw his four panels a day, sign himself "Schulz," close up shop and go home, all would be well.
But he married twice and raised five children. He dressed modestly in muted slacks and pastel golf sweaters. He liked to sprawl after work in an easy chair, his long legs pointing at the TV set. In his home and surroundings he was a smiling type, with straight white teeth and a head of silver hair. But the unprecedented obligations of his new role as world-famous cartoonist kept him in a state of anxiety and dread. He panicked on airplanes, broke out in a cold sweat at the very idea of a hotel lobby. He refused very many requests for public appearances and replied to mail instead.
Also, he became the most widely syndicated and beloved cartoonist of all time, with huge success. He took little interest in accumulating money, gave millions away to charities, insisting always that he was the same old Charles Schulz.
From modest beginnings, extend your personal doubts and insecurity into universally popular, extremely welcome art, based on regular, daily routines in a well ordered personal life
"PEANUTS" was proof that you were not alone when you woke in the middle of the night marooned with your failures, staring into the dark, worrying that the world had gone mad.
Charlie Brown reminded people, as no other cartoon character had, of what it was to be vulnerable, to be human.
The Times of London called the Peanuts figures "international icons of good faith" — perhaps not surprising for a cartoonist with a Dickensian gift for characterization.
Until 1965, Schulz set out consciously never to settle issues raised by the strip and never to bring in issues from outside. Having established an idiom and a mode that commented on modern ills such as commercialization, real estate development, generational distrust, Schulz extended the area of doubt in modern life only insofar as he made it funny to doubt. Basically, he had sustained the traumas of his adolescence far into adulthood — far enough, in the end, to see them become a crucial element in the universal popularity of his art.
He dreaded becoming a prisoner of success, perhaps because it meant he would lose control. He wanted to be free and hated to talk about his enormous success.
How popular was it? An example: In December, 1969, when Schulz was 47 years old, more than half the nation's television audience tuned in to the fourth airing of the Emmy award–winning animated television special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas". It's popularity confounded network executives. "That same night, a musical, "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown," was playing to sold-out houses in its second season on Broadway; and a feature-length animated film, "A Boy Named Charlie Brown," was setting attendance records at Radio City Music Hall; every few hours, 6,000 more parents and children would form a vast line outside the "showplace of the nation." More than 150 million readers were following the daily and Sunday "Peanuts" strips, while in bookstores "Peanuts" collections swamped the best-seller lists, eventually selling more than 300 million copies in 26 languages."
This was not awfully bad for someone who had survived the Depression and World War II, the alienation of his youth, and for a time had had no hope for the future. And who later, as part of his morning routine, had an English muffin with grape jelly and drank coffee from a Styrofoam cup, then sat down to his drawing table and the long, white Strathmore board with the five-inch-by-five-inch panels in which he drew the daily strip. Garry Trudeau, creator of "Doonesbury," thought of it as "the first Beat strip."
Schulz was bright in school. Because of it, he was promoted by half-grades above his peers, and had to compete on those unequal terms. By the time he reached junior high school, he was the youngest, smallest boy in the class, and felt lost, unsure of himself. Later, in his art, he made Weltschmerz, loneliness, insecurity and a stoic acceptance of life's defeats his earliest personal themes. ◊
Melancholy would dog Schulz all his life, as would feelings of worthlessness, panic, and frustration. A shy, timid boy, a barber's son, rose from modest beginnings to realize his earliest dream of creating a newspaper comic strip. This he did for nearly 50 years.
From 1965 onward, the strip and its characters had gone from being a campus phenomenon in the late 1950s to a mainstream cultural powerhouse. Schulz took much pride in the achievements of the strip, and at the same time struggled to believe that he was worthy of the respect and love his admirers showered on him. "I just did the best I could," he said. What was it?
As part of his morning routine, he ate an English muffin with grape jelly and drank coffee from a Styrofoam cup, then sat down to his drawing table and the long, white Strathmore board with the five-inch-by-five-inch panels in which he drew the daily strip.
And then, what Schulz had achieved with pencils and paper, turned into a worldwide industry. "Peanuts" captured and began to dominate new markets in stage, television, film, book, record and subsidiary forms. "Peanuts" was expanding an industry that would revolutionize worldwide entertainment into the our century. For the first time in the book trade, booksellers of the late 1960s, started to sell not just "Peanuts" books but also sweatshirts, dolls and an increasing array of paraphernalia that bore the image and form of the characters in the books. Peanuts licencing brought in $1 billion a year to United Features and made Schulz richer than any popular artist in the world.
He influenced two generations of comic strip artists, standup comedians and readers in many countries. Unlike other seminal figures of American mass culture in the 1960s and '70s — Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, Andy Warhol — Schulz was not inclined to be a teacher, a guru, a manufacturer of lesser artists. "I don't know the meaning of life," he once said. "I don't know why we are here. I think life is full of anxieties and fears and tears . . . and it can be very grim." The experience of being an Everyman — a decent, caring person in a hostile world — was essential to Charlie Brown's character, as it was to Charles Schulz's.
The art of Peanuts has helped persons talking with one another and expressing differently than they otherwise might be able to
CHRONIC rejection and unrequited love are the twin pligths of Schulz's early life and later work. He said with conviction, "My whole life has been one of rejection." He had became the highest paid, most widely read cartoonist ever and a class all by himself. At the peak of Schulz's popularity, "Peanuts" captured 355 million readers, and he was earning from $30 to $40 million a year. What is more, throughout the '60s and early '70s, the visual and verbal vocabulary of the strip was one of the only languages that kept both the younger and older generation fluent with each other.
Schulz actively attempted to be ordinary . . . what he thought he had always been — a regular person.
1. A well ordered artist may look different -
Gap: Short, Robert. The Gospel According to Peanuts. London: Fontana, 1966.
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