I got to meet Schulz once, in May 1998. I was holed up on the Fox lot in Century City, working on some Simpsons nonsense, when I received word that the great man was eating lunch nearby. I dropped everything and raced across town, stumbling into the restaurant where the affable Schulz held court before a group of fans and friends. I told him of my all-time favourite Peanuts comic strip, which I hadn’t seen in 40 years. The strip shows Lucy methodically making a series of tiny snowmen, then stomping on them, as Charlie Brown looks on. Lucy explains matter-of-factly: “I’m torn between the desire to create and the desire to destroy.”
“Thank you for that strip,” I said. “In one sentence you summed up my life.”
Schulz smiled politely. Do you hear me? He smiled politely! I made Charles Schulz smile politely! I just now realise I’m more like Charlie Brown than I’ve ever admitted to myself.
Schulz wasn’t an artist because he suffered. He suffered because he was an artist. To keep choosing art over the comforts of a normal life – to grind out a strip every day for 50 years; to pay the steep psychic price for this – is the opposite of damaged. It’s the sort of choice that only a tower of strength and sanity can make. The reason Schulz’s early sorrows look like ‘sources’ of his brilliance is that he had the talent and resilience to find humour in them. Almost every young person experiences sorrows. What’s distinctive about Schulz’s childhood is not his suffering, but the fact that he loved comics, had a gift for drawing and was the only child of good parents.