Charles Schulz – Art As Autobiography
The above is the cover of the latest issue of The Comics Journal. The magazine, at $12 a pop, is currently the most expensive monthly periodical known to man. Yet I still buy it because it is one of the few publications speaking intelligently, opinionatedly, and thoroughly about graphic arts and comic storytelling.
This month’s issue focuses on Charles Schulz’ recent biography written by David Michealis. The biography has been met with mixed and strong responses. This issue of The Comics Journal publishes thoughtful and well-written responses from Schulz’ son and other Peanuts experts who care deeply about the related topics.
(Click on the images if you wish to view them individually or larger.)
I have not yet read Michealis’ perspectives of Schulz’ work, art, and personal life, and I doubt I will any time soon.
If you want to know about an artist, then study their art.
Study what they do as much or more than what they say they hope to do or they intend to do. Evaluate an artist by what they do more than by what others’ say the artist intended or believed.
If you want to know what is most important to a person, then look to the things they choose to spend their time doing and creating on a daily basis.
You might learn more about an artist through reading a third person’s perspective. But sometimes biographies and autobiographies suggest priorities that are inconsistent with the artist’s real actions and priorities.
Consider all the information, but in the critical analysis, independently weigh for yourself an artist’s actions and work products as much or more than what others suggest the interpretive perspectives should be.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a biography about Charles Schulz. But there are few artists who for so long revealed so much about their personal thoughts. Any biography that would try to suggest there are fewer overriding and narrowing themes that should characterize Charles Schulz as a person or an artist should be distrusted. Few artists have ever expressed their considerations and psyche with such fullness, layering, and complexity as Schulz. Few artists, if any, have ever so openly exposed their social perspectives to as wide of an audience for as long as Schulz did. It would be counter to the creative forces Charles Schulz spent his whole life perpetuating to try to summarize or narrow the possible interpretations of his life’s artworks.
Charles Schulz revealed his thoughts and priorities every day for decades. He tapped into main veins of American culture and no one could escape his draw. I’ve never met a person who could not relate to the Peanuts characters’ thoughts. I’m not saying everyone liked the Peanuts, but I’m saying it would be impossible to have read the strip for any significant period of time and not find yourself saying, “I can relate to that idea or feeling.” In Schulz’ incredible body of work, anyone could pick many individual strips that are autobiographical for their individual life.
Schulz cared about the human condition. He wasn’t a clown. He wasn’t a pessimist. He was an expressionist, expressing the infinite pathways of frustrations and thoughts figure-eighting in our heads. He erred on the side of expressing his inner dialogues. And whether or not he lived a life that was effected by serious depression, few people have created so much joy for so many people. Even if he was regularly depressed, he spent his life leaving behind artworks that are powerful forces against the forces of depression, isolation, psychosis, loneliness, and sadness.
His art speaks for itself. His art speaks for him. It says volumes about who he was as a man. He found that speaking adult concerns through the mouths of babes could be funny, enlivening, and something towards “truth” with a lower case “t.”
Please do not simplify or paraphrase him. If you care about Charles Schulz and his life’s work, take the time to study the artworks and characters he spent a lifetime shaping and publicizing. The more I’ve studied his work, the more the term “genius” seems like a gross understatement of who he was. He was something beyond genius. I doubt Heaven could have an angel more marvelous than what he was for so many of us here on Earth.
My email address for many years: Snoopy_Jump (at) yahoo.com
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