By James Rosen
Sunday, April 25, 2010; B07
MY LIFE WITH CHARLIE BROWN
By Charles M. Schulz
Edited by M. Thomas Inge
Univ. of Mississippi. 193 pp. $25
"I worry about almost all there is in life to worry about," wrote Charles Schulz at the age of 53, when the creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip was the most beloved and successful artist in American history, an adored husband and father of five. "Perhaps some form of maturity should take care of this, but in my case it didn't."
And it never would. "I'm not a complete grown-up," Schulz confessed 20 years later. "I'm always insecure." That this unconquerable dread should have coexisted with the artist's gentle, philosophical humor and vigorous love of God and life, right up until his death in February 2000, represents the irresoluble paradox at the heart of "My Life With Charlie Brown," the first collection of Schulz's major writings.
Edited by M. Thomas Inge, the volume compiles 27 essays penned between 1959 and 1999. Seven are previously unpublished; the rest prefaced "Peanuts" collections, graced periodicals both mainstream (TV Guide, Sports Illustrated) and obscure (Liberty, Cartoonist Profiles), or were delivered before commencement or convention audiences. The unpublished pieces include a term paper written for an adult education course in 1965 and an undated love poem for Schulz's second wife, Jeannie.
Because Schulz was a major figure of American arts and letters -- it was his contribution, more than anyone else's, that elevated the comic strip from low-rent ephemera to exhibitions at the Louvre -- the rationale for "My Life With Charlie Brown" is self-evident. But the impetus for the book, published with the cooperation of the Schulz estate, appears to be his family's well-publicized disappointment with the most recent portrait of the master: David Michaelis's mammoth, critically acclaimed "Schulz and Peanuts" (2007). The family cooperated with that effort, too, granting Michaelis full access to Schulz's archives of artwork and correspondence; but Inge, a professor of the humanities and personal friend of the Schulzes, notes in his introduction that "none of [the existing biographies] seem satisfactory." The intent of this collection, Inge writes, "is to round out the portrait of the man" by ensuring that Schulz "speaks entirely for himself."
Schulz's prose is straightforward, seldom as elliptical, poetic or biting as the dialogue he invented for Linus and Lucy. Yet these essays prove unfailingly compelling and often mesmerizing -- not merely for the insight they offer into the towering genius of "Peanuts," but because Schulz the memoirist was so penetrating an observer. "When I was small," he wrote in 1975, "I believed that my face was so bland that people would not recognize me if they saw me some place other than where they normally would." And of a 1990 dinner at Maxim's, he recalled that "the whole experience was something of a mystery. You're not quite sure what you're ordering, you don't know what anything costs, and everything is pompous."
A self-described "lay theologian," Schulz often struck a tone of confession: of his perceived inadequacies, of bewilderment at his singular success. Most revealing, however, was the rapturous witness he bore, at a 1994 cartoonists' convention, to what truly motivated him -- and it wasn't insecurity: "I am still searching for that wonderful pen line that comes down . . . when you are drawing Linus. . . . To get feelings of depth and roundness, and the pen line is the best pen line you can make. That's what it's all about."
James Rosen is a Fox News correspondent and the author of "The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate."