Still Drawing After All These Years

At 74, Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz has fame, fortune, and a funny bone. So why does he dread getting out of bed?

Consider, too, the show at the Cartoon Art Museum, he says. "This exhibit has not been reviewed by anybody," he says, a fact confirmed by director Muggia Stuff.

"Nobody reviewed it," Schulz continues. "But if some sculptor or abstract painter or something had an exhibit where he put a black stripe down a white canvas, he would be reviewed for the wonderful emotional quality contained in his painting of the black stripe on the white canvas. But not comic strips. Comic strips are worthless. We're a low form of art. It makes most of us quite bitter, but realizing that, who cares?

"That's my new philosophy," Schulz says. "Who cares?"
"It's like a lot of things we take for granted," Caswell agrees. "It's curious to someone who has been honored in as many ways and has earned as much money as Charles Schulz can walk down the street and not be recognized in most places."

And the lack of recognition is still more remarkable because the strip so expresses Schulz the man.

For the museum's 45-year Peanuts retrospective, Muggia Stuff has paired cartoons from various years with words spoken or written by Schulz himself.

"I think Peanuts really reflects what's going on in his own life," Muggia Stuff says. "The '60s and '70s were really not the high point of his own life. He remarried, that changed his life, too. I think you can't help when you're doing a daily strip but have a lot of your own life rub off on it. Through the '80s he really started having a turning point. Health started to be a factor. When you really have a taste of your own mortality, that changes things, too. He started using Sally a lot more, and Sally has a lot of the words of wisdom."

"I think it's more mild than it used to be," Schulz says. "I think as you get older you become a little less sarcastic. Young people tend to have a harshness in their language you get rid of when you get older. The kids used to insult Charlie Brown quite strongly in the early days. They just don't do it anymore."

But if the strip has mellowed, Schulz, perhaps, has not.
"It'll break your heart," he says, of his vocation. "It will destroy you. It will break your heart; you have to set up some kind of defense, and it never ends. They break your heart when you're starting off trying to get some breaks, trying to break in, and you have to struggle with the publishers and the editors, and all that. And in the end, they break your heart. It never ends. Obviously, it's this way in all art forms. They hated Brahms' symphonies when he wrote them, too. Writers go through the same things. We all have our own struggles."

"That's what I say about the comic strip. People give me these wonderful compliments, but I know better than to stick my head up. You stick your head up and you're going to get shot down. See, comic strips -- did you know comic strips are not eligible for the Pulitzer Prize?" he says.

What about Doonesbury? Garry Trudeau, that strip's author, won a Pulitzer in 1975. Of course, that was for "editorial" cartooning.

"That was a real slap in the face to the rest of us," Schulz says. "And then to compound the slap, they gave it to Berke Breathed for editorial cartooning. And Bill Kneipp and Al Capp lobbied for years to get comic strips eligible. Everybody's just given up now. The Pulitzer Prize just says, 'No, comic strips are not serious enough.' So my new philosophy comes into being which is, who cares. After all, I have a star on the Walk of Fame next to Walt Disney. So who needs the Pulitzer Prize? Did you know I have medals from the Italian government and the French government, but my own government doesn't think I'm worth it?"

Monte Schulz has a question. He is sitting with his father at the front table of the Warm Puppy Snack Bar, at the ice skating rink.

Monte, at 44, is writing his second novel, an epic set in 1929. The book is called Crossing Eden, and it isn't finished yet. But in any case, the younger Schulz has a theory about artistic production. Basically, it's this: You have one great work in you, tops. After that, the game's over and you're left with nothing but hack work. Name one artist, he says, who continued to produce great work over a lifetime.

"Oh, sure," Schulz Senior says. "Katherine Anne Porter." Ship of Fools in late life, Pale Horse, Pale Rider early on.

In fact, this is a favorite topic of the elder Schulz as well, although his approach is the reverse of his son's.

"A man wrote a column saying I should quit, that the strip just isn't funny anymore," Schulz says. "But I think -- and my wife has talked about this many times -- that it's our own perception that changes. Maybe it's the reader herself that has changed, rather than the strip. I think the strip is not only as good as it ever was; it's probably better. The drawing is better. I think the whole approach is better. It's not as obvious. I look back at some of the older things, I think they're obvious. And of course I've changed, too."

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