Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bill Watterson on Schultz and Peanuts

Bill Watterson, the reclusive artist of Calvin and Hobbes, emerged recently, for just a moment, to write a review of Schultz and Peanuts, the new Schultz biography by David Michaelis that is making such waves in the news currently.
The comic strip grew slowly at first, but as its vision expanded and the characters solidified, it caught fire with readers. Schulz's fixation on his work was total, and his private life suffered as a result. Mr. Michaelis uncovers quite a bit of Schulz's more personal tribulations. Schulz's strong-willed and industrious first wife, Joyce, grew disgusted with his withdrawal, and she often treated him cruelly. As the marriage finally unraveled, Schulz had an unsuccessful affair, and he later broke up the marriage of the woman who became his second wife. Schulz's life turned more peaceful after he remarried, but he never overcame the self-doubt and dread that plagued him.
It is certainly noteworthy that Watterson would comment on Peanuts, since so much of the book is concerned with the concealed pain that Sparky supposedly had, and how that bittersweet view of life drove the strip's humor. Watterson's Calvin was a marvel of conflicting humor and impulses, and he has, above just about everyone else, chosen to withdraw from the world of cartoons and art and leave the magic intact. With Peanuts, for many years, one had to live with any number of superficial interviews that very easily served both Sparky's, and/or the syndicate's needs without giving any real depth, any real window into the sardonic humor that made Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and Linus so memorable. So it is with Watterson. We are left to open up the three volumes of collected strips and relive Spaceman Spiff again and again with with naught but a hint but what lives behind Calvin's raised eyebrows. There is no man behind the curtain here for Toto to discover. The great and powerful Oz of Calvin and Hobbes telecommutes.

Schultz also, apparently, phoned his pain and loneliness and imagination from a much closer area code of Santa Rosa, but the roots of those emotions clearly go back in time and place to somewhere so far removed they may as well be Oz. I'm already reading Schultz and Peanuts, as well as reading how angry his family is in the New York Times, and will post a review soon.

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