Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Thoughts on Charles Schulz

Lately I've been reading Schulz and Peanuts to see if there's some greatness behind the man who has created the immensely popular comic strip, as well as reading some of the anthologies. Like with Walt Disney, I wanted to see why he's so popular, and to see if I could garner an admiration of his work through garnering an admiration of the man. In the Disney case, I picked up a biography while shopping and came to admire Disney immensely, and such an admiration has indeed led to me watching and enjoying his company's animations, even though I ignored and disliked them as a kid. I was hoping the same might happen for Schulz, but unfortunately not.

Now with adult eyes I can see the wit and intelligent construction that goes into the strips, finding new enjoyment in contrast to my childhood distaste, but Schulz himself is hardly a prime mover and has some bad philosophic elements. It surprised me to learn, for instance, that he didn't exert that much control over his art, as he allowed it to be titled something he detested his whole life. He just didn't believe in "making trouble," even if it meant sacrificing something as significant as the title of his strip. Furthermore, I found it sad to learn that an unjustly humble attitude was instilled in him during youth through his family's philosophic opposition to self-esteem, which led to him hiding his talents and feeling guilty about them, and even being baffled in old age as to why everyone thought he was a great cartoonist. Through this he also seemed to develop his malevolent universe premise and victim mentality, where he was afraid of people, withdrawn, and possibly even constructing imaginary wrongdoings against himself, such as frequent bullying on a playground that may have never happened.

From my reading I'm not nurturing what I would say is an actual dislike of the man, but rather a growing disinterest after seeing he's not at all heroic or dominant. It's good to see that he's been recognized for his talents and actual greatness in the comics industry, but I think he would have been capable of much greater things if he had a stronger personality. If only he had fought for his own way.

But at the same time, distinct from the biography, I am recognizing the actual merit behind the comic strip. The writing can be witty and the jokes well-written, the minimalistic lines aesthetically pleasing in their economy, and the malevolent universe not all that bad. On this last point, while I know the strip is known for it's depressing elements I don't think it's that negative, and have noticed there's plenty of good elements too where the characters do find satisfaction and contentment.

I've hardly studied the topic, but my personal opinion is that Bill Watterson, the author of Calvin and Hobbes, is truly the greatest comic strip artist that ever lived. He has enormous integrity and conviction that led to him constantly fighting with his syndicate to ensure that he got to publish his strip the way he wanted to, an inventive creativeness that pushed him to constantly experiment with different styles, and philosophies that not only stimulate the reader's intellect, but are also portrayed with aesthetic mastery through the art. This last point I think is essential to the proper form a comic should take -- illustrating the ideas through the artwork -- as endlessly I see comics fail on this point over and over again, either overemphasizing the artwork in divorce of the content or having the characters do lots of talking which makes the artwork superficial. While it's sad that Calvin and Hobbes is complete, I think Bill Watterson did the right thing since we can view the entire series with happy nostalgia, not having to face what a terrible decline strips such as Garfield have gone through. If only we knew what Mr. Watterson were doing now.

As such, I don't plan on finishing Schulz's biography, but I do think I'll take to finishing the multitude of Peanuts anthologies available from my library. They are very good strips indeed. I'm not sure how I'd rank Peanuts right now, but Calvin and Hobbes is definitely my favorite strip, Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland second, and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend third.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed so much on both counts.

    While both Charles and Bill are unrivaled in the world of comic art, the latter definitely comes off a lot stronger (which explains why Calvin & Hobbes tackled some interesting, even controversial, subjects in funny ways), while Peanuts is mostly cute and accompanied with a sort of idyllic view (with sad overtones), like a novel about one's childhood that is cute, but dwells on the particular things so much that it becomes depressing in parts.


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