Both Charles Schulz and Charlie Brown had nicknames. Schulz was called Sparky when he was just two days old. His uncle gave him the name which was based on the character, Sparkplug in the Barney Google comic strip. Charlie Brown received the nickname Chuck from Peppermint Patty, a sandal wearing, tomboy like girl who had a crush on him and never seemed to realize his name was Charlie. But, that is not where the similarities end.
To understand Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts cast, we must first know, really, deeply know Charles Schulz. Why did his main character, a rather round and plain faced kid who could never do anything right, capture the hearts of everyone who read comics from the 1950s until the retirement of Schulz in December 1999?
In the book, “A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Making of A Tradition” we are introduced to Charles Schulz as a quiet and gentle man of deep faith with a love of country and an eternally optimistic outlook on life.
The Destiny of Sparky
Charles Schulz, the son of a barber and a housewife, grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. Unlike Charlie Brown, Schulz was an only child. From an early age he enjoyed drawing; his artistic abilities were noticed by his kindergarten teacher who told him he would grow up to be an artist. Never underestimate the power of a teacher’s observation.
Schulz was a shy and insecure young man. His profound shyness made school unpleasant; even art classes were no refuge for him. His insecurities caused him to compare and always find his work lacking. For this reason when it came time to attend art school he did it via correspondence course to avoid the same issues of high school.
I was afraid to go to art school, because I’d be right back where I was in high school—in a class with a lot of people who could draw better than I could. And I’d be a nobody again.Charles Schulz as quoted in A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Making of a Tradition
Despite this insecurity and multiple rejections, Schulz had drive and a sense of eternal optimism, and I believe a sense of purpose and destiny, that pushed him until The Saturday Evening Post published fifteen of his comics. The door had opened and he stepped through, never looking backward.
The Lessons Thus Far
I have loved the whole Peanuts gang my entire life; however, I have never really delved beyond the surface to really know and understand the individuals. I was content to read the comics everyday and watch the Christmas special each year, to decorate with my favorite ornaments and yard decor, but I didn’t take the time to dissect the deeper meaning to the characters and the story. The humor, as is always the case, is rooted in truth. I dare say there isn’t a person alive anywhere who doesn’t identify, at some level, with Charlie Brown and his insecurities.
There is no doubt that Charlie Brown is Charles Schulz. The story of Schulz and his views on himself shed all the light we need on Charlie Brown and his approach to life. The insecurity and acknowledgment of being different never stops him from trying yet one more time to kick the football or fly the kite. Everyone may jeer and tell him he is a bad baseball manager or horrible play director, but that doesn’t stop him from trying, again, again, and again. There is a very powerful message for all of us in the example set by “Chuck.”
As I spend the rest of the day pondering the depth of Charlie Brown and prepare for tomorrow, I leave you with this bit of Charlie Brown wisdom.
Keep looking up…that’s the secret to life.Charlie Brown