As I was working today in the library, I ran across the book, Schulz and Me by David Michaelis, a biography of Charles Schulz. Its cover is yellow with a black zig zag, like Charlie Brown’s famous shirt. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but I skimmed a few pages and think it looks good. I don’t know much about the man, but his comic strip Peanuts had a profound effect upon my childhood. I spent countless hours drawing Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and this comic strip, more than anything else, inspired me to become an artist.
In my early days of school, we would periodically get book order forms, where we could buy books for 75 cents to a dollar fifty, and I bought quite a few Peanuts collections from the 1950s and 1960s. I loved those books, and they never had a chance to collect dust as I read and reread it for years. I just enjoyed how wonderfully complex and imaginative that world was. It was often a cruel world, as Lucy and the other neighborhood kids always picked on poor old Charlie Brown, but it was also a world where kids were eternally hopeful for their fortunes to change. Year after year, Charlie Brown kept trying to kick that football, Linus would return to that pumpkin patch to wait for the Great Pumpkin, Lucy would wait by Schroeder’s piano for him to return her affections. I often wondered to myself: How could he keep making up such great characters? I was like Charlie Brown as a kid: shy, introspective, who’s atheletic skills didn’t always match my ambitions. And I had my own little red headed girl type crush, a girl named Jennifer in second and third grade when my family was staying in Fort Ord, California. She had a novelty record about Snoopy and the Red Baron that further cemented my bonds to the Charlie Brown gang.
If I most resembled Charlie Brown, I most wanted to be like Snoopy. Snoopy’s forays with the Red Baron, his life as a vulture, the endless rooms in his dog house, fueled my own childhood imagination. Snoopy always seemed more with it than the other members of the comic, able to rise above the petty conflicts that often engulfed Charlie Brown, Linus, and especially Lucy. He often disarmed Lucy’s natural antagonism with his charm and playfulness, and those are not bad qualities to emulate.
The Gospel According to Peanuts played an important role in my nascent spiritual conscience. I first encountered the book as a 10 year old, and I remembered being fascinated with the book, even if most of it went way over my head. I returned to the book 4 years later, as I was getting confirmed and becoming more serious about learning about God and my spiritual life. As a 40 year old, I may no longer agree with all this book extols, but it still serves as a touchstone on how art can touch upon spirituality in a nondogmatic and accessible way.
In the late 1980s, I stopped reading Peanuts for a while, as Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, and the Far Side took up my attention. But I never lost my affections and admiration for Charles Schulz comic strip. One of the most important lessons that I took from this wonderful comic strip was to persist in the face of life’s disappointments with imagination and hope. Sometimes when I’m depressed, I remember a scene in the movie A Boy named Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown had just lost a spelling bee after misspelling the word “beagle” and hides out in his room, depressed and dispirited. Linus visits to try to coax his friend out of his room, and as he leaves, he asks Charlie Brown if he notices something. In spite of all the bad things that happened, he tells Charlie Brown, “the world hasn’t come to an end.”