And I have to ask myself: Why didn’t I stop reading this book?
First, the good stuff about the book: In giving the background of his family life it showed how some of his habits and concerns came from his family. It also did a good job of reflecting how the turmoil from the first marriage seemed to enliven his strip during the earlier part of the strip, with a special focus on the years during the divorce (and the part on the stomach ache was a sharp insight).
Now onto my misgivings:
First off, in short-selling the post-1972 era of his work (222 pages deal with life until the first Peanuts comic strip, 260 deal with the era of his first marriage, and LESS THAN A HUNDRED PAGES deal with the rest of his life) we miss a lot. (more on that below)
Second, it appears that the Mr. Michaelis had in mind a book he wanted to write, and when he came across stuff that went counter to his thesis (or didn’t help), he ignored it. Indeed, he seemed to be a bit too deeply in love with the following motifs:
- Them Evil Redhead
- Like parent, like sibling
- A Man Ahead Of His Time, Doomed to Suffer until society catches up ™
- The artist as naturally depressed, fearful and worrying.™
- The Successful Artist Myth (which involves a constant market for your wares, millions of fans, acolytes that can be shat on occasionally without worry of losing their worship, all the attention you can get from others (sexual or otherwise) and a lover/spouse who knows better than to get in the way of the attentions. That last part is especially important)
- The artist can only talk about what he intimately knows: His Life, and the painful parts are the only interesting parts.™
There are a few insights that work wonders. Mr. Michaelis, however, uses them to force his viewpoint down our throats.
Like his focus on Lucy. Agreed that in many ways she was probably the most important character in that she set the tone for the rest of the strip’s characters. However, I find it disturbing that he then proceeds to dismiss everything after 1972 in six pages, (Lucy gets neutered, in short) and then give us cursory glances at “Peanuts the Phenomenon” and “Schulz as both Elder and Kid-wannabe.” Nothing about the development of the Peppermint Patty/Marcie relationship, little about Sally’s Struggles with School outside of the Building/Jean link, nothing about Lila (Wish fulfillment? Red Haired Girl in a Camp Setting? that’s my thinking), little about Rerun (a gold mine Mr. Michaelis missed because of his fixation on Lucy) or Snoopy’s siblings, and NOTHING about the changeover from a strict four-square to a more flexible format in the mid-eighties (saved the strip, IMHO) — and I’m sure there’s other things that could have been commented on but which I’m unaware of.
Then there was the comment about the size of the strip, in which Mr. Michaelis blithely hints that Peanuts destroyed the big story strips because of its small size and great influence. This despite the steady decline in newspapers, which even Mr. Michaelis noted. Did he stop and think that, as newspapers went out of business, the remaining papers responded by putting in more comics and, as they wanted them to fit in the same space they’d always used, the comics had to grow smaller (and get rid of details in the process)? Simple economics in an industry suffering a long decline, but Mr. Michaelis was too deeply in love with his “Man Ahead Of His Time” motif to pick up on the obvious.
But then, it seems that Mr. Michaelis didn’t seem to have too tight a handle on facts to begin with. As the family members and long-time friends who have shown up on this board have noted, the book is shockingly filled with inaccuracies and falsehoods. I can handle a skewered view of someone successful yet severely unhappy (that’s what “grains of salt” are for) and even a small amount of fictionalizations inserted to make a piont, but when the writer can’t even be bothered to get the details right it only proves there’s something wrong at the core of the book.
One can only hope that someone is willing to take a look at the whole of Schulz’s ouvre and make a detailed analysis of what he was trying to do throughout the whole of the strip. Until then, I’d cherry-pick this book. There’s enough insight in the pre-Peanuts years to make that part of the book worth reading and some insights that can be mined during the Joyce Years. Enough to justify a trip to the library or a fried crazy enough to have bought the book’ but not enough to buy.