“I don’t mind you having a black character, but please don’t show them in school together.”
November 30, 2008 12:00 AM   Subscribe

Charles Schulz: "I finally sighed and said, 'Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?'" We don't usually think of Peanuts as given to political statements but this great post at Edge of the American West makes the case for Schulz's progressive racial politics.

In this 1988 interview Schulz describes the reception of Franklin, the black character introduced to the strip in 1968.
posted by LarryC (69 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
By the way, this year Charles Schulz once again made the Forbes nagazine list of top-earning dead celebrities.

And good on Schulz for what he said in that interview, and especially for what the author of that blog post points out:

"There’s much to admire in the matter-of-factness of Schulz’s racial politics. Not only is there no meta- to it, there’s no mention of it—Franklin arrives, befriends Peppermint Patty, and plays football."

That Dennis the Menace one, though... wow.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:26 AM on November 30, 2008


Chris Rock's take:
I was the only black kid in my grade. I felt like Franklin from The Charlie Brown Show. You've seen Franklin for 25 years and not one line! Nothing. Twenty-five years! Everyone on Charlie Brown is their own character that's all thought out, you know, Linus got the blanket, Lucy's a bitch, Schroeder plays the piano, Peppermint Patty's a lesbian. Everybody got their thing except Franklin. Come on, give him a Jamaican accent or something! Twenty-five years, man! They don't even invite him to the parties, but Snoopy's dancing his ass off. He's in the house, I don't believe it! Pig Pen's in the house! Pig Pen! I'm upset. I gotta go! I can't take this! That damn dog!
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:26 AM on November 30, 2008 [12 favorites]


That Dennis the Menace panel was something. And Ketcham's explanation for it didn't help much.
posted by jfrancis at 12:26 AM on November 30, 2008


"We have enough trouble here in the South without you showing the kids together in school."

sigh
posted by Glibpaxman at 12:33 AM on November 30, 2008


But the point is made: the virus of casual discrimination is insidious and unaware, and can manifest itself at an early age.
posted by erniepan at 12:45 AM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Always liked Franklin. He was always seemed slightly bewildered by the different idiosyncracies of the rest of the gang, a rational character who kept the story on the ground. That his dad was in Nam, that just adds a whole new layer to him.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:16 AM on November 30, 2008 [7 favorites]


May not seem like much

Actually, it doesn't. Given the ferment of radically progressive ideas which was going on in 1968, given the way, as I recall, that the psychedelic Maoist mystical love-in revolution really seemed to be on the brink of taking over, this looks like a cautious, conservative, perhaps somewhat belated move to keep more or less in tune with the respectable mainstream. Schulz's introduction of a black character looks like the minimum he needed to do to avoid controversy.

Fair enough, I suppose; Peanuts was hardly supposed to be biting political satire. But I don't think you can make the man out to be some kind of taboo-busting radical crusader.
posted by Phanx at 2:10 AM on November 30, 2008


twoleftfeet: There was a quote in the article itself that would serve as a good response to Chris Rock's complaint:

But I’ve never done much with Franklin, because I don’t do race things. I’m not an expert on race, I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a little black boy, and I don’t think you should draw things unless you really understand them, unless you’re just out to stir things up or to try to teach people different things. I’m not in this business to instruct; I’m just in it to be funny. Now and then I may instruct a few things, but I’m not out to grind a lot of axes. Let somebody else do it who’s an expert on that, not me.
posted by JHarris at 2:34 AM on November 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Wait, Peanuts is supposed to be funny?
posted by 1adam12 at 3:58 AM on November 30, 2008 [8 favorites]


JHarris: Personally I can't complain that Peanuts didn't do enough to break down racial barriers - it's a friggin' comic for crissakes - but by the same "token", I can't applaud Peanuts for doing what little it did.

By the way; a reference for the Chris Rock Franklin thing.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:16 AM on November 30, 2008


I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a little black boy, and I don’t think you should draw things unless you really understand them

He didn't grow up as a little white girl, or a bird, or a dog either.

Maybe he's just more comfortable with different species.
posted by dydecker at 4:59 AM on November 30, 2008 [12 favorites]


Schulz's introduction of a black character looks like the minimum he needed to do to avoid controversy.

there wasn't any controversy over blondie, nancy, bc. hagar the horrible, etc etc and their lack of black people - i agree that what schultz did wasn't that much, but it wasn't intended to be - and he really could have gotten away with doing nothing - quite a few others did and still do
posted by pyramid termite at 5:30 AM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Last year I started reading David Michaelis' biography Schultz and Peanuts. I only read about half way through. As much as I love Peanuts, and as much as I wanted to like Schutz ... the more I read, the more I disliked the guy. Sigh.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:49 AM on November 30, 2008


Heh, Schulz that is... sigh.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:50 AM on November 30, 2008


I always think of Franklin as the inspiration for South Park's token black kid, who is literally named "Token Black".

Token's family is the wealthiest family on the show, which leaves him open to ridicule from the other boys. In a mockery of racial stereotypes, the episode "Here Comes the Neighborhood" has Token feeling like an outcast, not for his skin color, but for his wealth. The episode explores this theme further as Token gets other rich families, who all happen to be black, to move to South Park, which leads to the white adults of South Park developing a hatred for what they call "richers".

posted by spoobnooble at 5:56 AM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes, Peanuts was funny, even at the end. It did not have the consistency of Far Side, Bloom County or Calvin and Hobbes... but those stars that shone brightly burnt out early. Peanuts had wit and irony, but slowly changed from biting, dark sarcasm hiding behind cute post-modern caricatures to a personal journal, observations from a keen observer, rendered freehand and with a forced joke or two crammed in to keep the syndicate happy. He was still drawing them, himself, when he retired. This is why the characters seem more crudely drawn, with dark squiggle outlines, in the late 80's and 90's.

Peanuts is a lot like David Sim's Cerebus - best remembered for the wild genius of the early years, but its very longevity and adherence to the creator's vision alone, to the very end, is a triumph that deserves recognition. Also like Sim, it's best to remember that some of our most beloved writers and artists can have serious personality flaws.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:03 AM on November 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


I hate to be distracted from Schulz's understated chutzpah there—I had no idea about the context and handling of Franklin's introduction (having the naive privilege of being young enough that as far as I knew Franklin was just Always Part Of The Cast).

But, seriously, that Denace the Menace. What the fuck. Someone let the Comics Curmudgeon know about that one, stat.

Peanuts didn't do much for me as a kid, and I think it's because it was too dry and restrained compared to full-bore punchline-and-slapstick stuff like Garfield. Over the years I have gained more and more respect for Schulz, and fondness for his work, as I've developed my own taste for existentialism and wry, dark, humanizing humor in my comics. It's probably as much as anything a sign that I got to just be a kid when I was a kid that Peanuts didn't always click for me.

(Andy Capp didn't do much for me either, though, and it turns out that's just because it's a terrible strip about some alcohlic shitheel.)
posted by cortex at 7:27 AM on November 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


I liked the Sergeant Schultz.
posted by juiceCake at 7:28 AM on November 30, 2008


Wait, Peanuts is supposed to be funny?

Didn't you read the four baseball strips in the middle of the linked page? Charlie Brown is knocked upside down by a baseball. Then whenever anyone says anything to him he just responds by saying "I'm upside down." For several strips. If that's not funny, my name isn't Matt Haughey.
posted by grouse at 7:46 AM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


there wasn't any controversy over blondie, nancy, bc. hagar the horrible, etc etc

Maybe you're right, but I think those strips were less vulnerable. I suspect Schulz foresaw that people were soon going to ask "Why no black kid?"; with Hagar it's a less cogent question.

a terrible strip about some alcohlic shitheel

Not really; it's a satire on Geordie culture, but of course that would be opaque to non-Brit readers, who I'm told often take Andy to be a Cockney. The mystery is why it was so widely syndicated outside the UK.

You like Garfield?
posted by Phanx at 8:06 AM on November 30, 2008


There was a link from John McWhorter off one of the links, talking about the token issue ("Black Isn't a Personality Type").

I think one of the reasons that black characters don't get a lot character may be fear -- if you're going to introduce one black character into a situation, and you give them some kind of foible or uncomplimentary character trait, would that be seen as negative stereotyping? I mean, if Franklin had been stupid or a kleptomaniac or even something innocuous such as being afraid of the dark. The only solution other than no personality is to go for the opposite of any possible negative stereotype and have the black character be smart or nerdy (because, sadly, nerdom has been racialized as white - which really bothers me) or powerful (thus leading to the spate of black bosses and black presidents - ways to have token black characters but no one could say was a bad or pointless depiction).

There are exceptions, of course. Night Court had Mac and Roz and that defendant from early on who all had clear personalities - I think it helped that when the characters were developed, they weren't the only black character. But this was also 15 years later.
posted by jb at 8:10 AM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


You like Garfield?

I liked it when I was eight, for damn sure. The feeling I have for it these days is not exactly like, per se, but is positive in its own complicated and bizarre fashion.
posted by cortex at 8:13 AM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


You like Garfield?

I'm upside down.
posted by mullacc at 8:22 AM on November 30, 2008 [17 favorites]


Peanuts is "gentle humour". You know, like in that episode of the Sarah Silverman show.
posted by Artw at 8:24 AM on November 30, 2008


(because, sadly, nerdom has been racialized as white - which really bothers me)

There's always Urkel.

Whether or not this is supposed to be consolation will be left as an exercise to the reader.
posted by Spatch at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


I suspect Schulz foresaw that people were soon going to ask "Why no black kid?"

Yeah, but he still had the spine to tell his editor "I drew these characters in school together. Now either print them or piss off."
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:31 AM on November 30, 2008 [11 favorites]


(Andy Capp didn't do much for me either, though, and it turns out that's just because it's a terrible strip about some alcohlic shitheel.)
posted by cortex at 4:27 AM on November 30


As opposed to Snuffy Smith who was just an Appalachian Alcoholic shitheel or Beatle Baily who is just a shitheel.
posted by Megafly at 8:37 AM on November 30, 2008


Marmaduke, of course was a heeling shit.
posted by cortex at 8:39 AM on November 30, 2008 [7 favorites]


Great stuff, thanks. The links in the comments there are wonderful, esp. this one; someone went to Ketchum's autobiography and dug up his explanation for the "Jackson" character:

Back in the late 1960s when minorities were getting their dander up, painting signs, joining in protest marches, and calling attention to their plight, I was determined to join the parade led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and introduce a black playmate to the Mitchell neighborhood. I named him Jackson and designed him in the tradition of Little Black Sambo with huge lips, big white eyes, and just a suggestion of an Afro hairstyle. He was cute as a button, and in addition to being a marvelous graphic, he would reflect the refreshing, naive honesty of preschool children as yet unexposed to prejudice and rancor. It was a splendid opportunity to inject some humor into the extremely tense political climate. I urged my writers to give this priority and rolled up my sleeves with enthusiastic anticipation.

He then writes a statement to newspapers:

not to apologize but to express my utter dismay at the absurd reaction to my innocent cartoon… Any regular Dennis-watcher would surely know that I am never vindictive or show any intent to malign or denigrate… It was my depiction of Dennis’s new pal that got their tails in a knot. I gave them a miniature Steppin [sic] Fetchit when they wanted a half-pint Harry Belafonte.

It seems that Sammy Davis, Jr., was the only one who could safely poke fun at the minorities. To this day, Jackson remains in the ink bottle. A pity.

posted by mediareport at 8:48 AM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


I named him Jackson and designed him in the tradition of Little Black Sambo with huge lips, big white eyes, and just a suggestion of an Afro hairstyle. He was cute as a button, and in addition to being a marvelous graphic, he would reflect the refreshing, naive honesty of preschool children as yet unexposed to prejudice and rancor.

Who'd've thought they'd get their first taste in a Dennis the Menace cartoon?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


I always knew american Dennis was a bad thing.

/conveniently fails to mention repeated instances of Beano characters getting cooked in a big pot by 'natives' with bones through their noses.
posted by Artw at 9:15 AM on November 30, 2008


..designed him in the tradition of Little Black Sambo with huge lips, big white eyes, and just a suggestion of an Afro hairstyle.

The author of Dennis the Menace had a tin ear for humor? Who knew??
posted by DU at 9:22 AM on November 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


You like Garfield?

My 7 yr old loves Garfield. I had no idea there were that many Garfield books. I think he's read all 50 of them.
posted by e40 at 9:27 AM on November 30, 2008


Also like Sim, it's best to remember that some of our most beloved writers and artists can have serious personality flaws.

Schulz had his personality quirks. It's obvious that, without them, Peanuts would have been a substantially weaker work. And because they played such a large role in the strip and its outlook, they were public, terribly public, wonderfully public. They had to be. We don't all draw introspective comic strips, so our own terrible, wonderful quirks aren't visible.

Dave Sim, on the other hand... to put Schulz's quirks in the same league as his seems disingenuous. Peanuts got wise over the years, Cerebus got odd.
posted by JHarris at 9:44 AM on November 30, 2008


I'm still confused by this "black people can't swim" thing. I'd never heard of that.
posted by adipocere at 10:04 AM on November 30, 2008


Isn't it great how when someone does something racist in media, it's "only a comic/movie/game/cartoon", but when someone does something that shows (all) people as people it's, "Why are you getting all PC/zomg stuntcasting/don't put the colored kids in the same class in a comic"?

You know, because we wouldn't want our kids to grow up thinking people who look different are normal.
posted by yeloson at 10:05 AM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


SCHULZ: And why? If Andrew Wyeth dies tonight, are they going to bring somebody else in? Everything has to end sooner or later.

Earth to United Features...paging United Features....
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:06 AM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think Schulz handled it in a way where it would fit easily in with the strip and fit the overall tone of Peanuts. My guess (judging from the people easily scandalized by the comics) that there were more people upset that he would add a black character than people who were starting to wonder why there wasn't one.
posted by drezdn at 10:06 AM on November 30, 2008


Peanuts is "gentle humour". You know, like in that episode of the Sarah Silverman show.

It's actually really not. The humor is primarily derived from frustration and disappointment. It's not even really for kids -- what kid wants to read that? If not for Snoopy and Woodstock, I don't think it'd speak to kids at all.

I should also like to note that the Schulz biography has taken a lot of heat for being bullshit perhaps a bit embroidered; and that, when we hold Sarah Silverman up as some sort of authority on comedy, it is good to remember this: Jimmy Kimmel. I find her judgment...questionable.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:09 AM on November 30, 2008 [6 favorites]


"Why no black kid?"; with Hagar it's a less cogent question.

Are you saying there are no black Vikings?
posted by jonmc at 10:17 AM on November 30, 2008


jb's got it. The problem with having a token black character, aside from the simple dishonesty and artistic compromise inherent in creating a character simply to fulfill demographic requirements, is that you then run the risk of having that character come off as representative of the whole. This still persists today. Newsradio is a particularly good example, as the show was brilliantly written except for Khandi Alexander's Catherine Duke, who the writers had no idea of what to do with. Alexander has since proven herself to be a great actress, but all that Tom Cherones and Paul Simms could give her were half-assed needle-threading bits about her being the only black person in the office, which she performed with good humor, despite the fact that she must have been wanting to throttle the writers' room. Any other characteristics Catherine had were courtesy of Alexander herself, because the writers didn't want the flack they assumed they'd get if they gave their black character the same amount of follies as they gave their white characters.

Schulz did exactly the same thing - making Franklin the black child, and then giving him no discernable personality beyond that. While that sucks a little bit, looking at the Dennis the Menace comic and reading Ketcham's thoughts on it proves just how quickly those good intentions can lead to hell if you don't know exactly what you're doing. A white cartoonist is inspired by Dr. King, and in an attempt to join the movement, intentionally creates a Sambo-character. Jesus Christ.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:27 AM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who is black who insists that black people can't and won't swim. She earnestly believes it, too. Perhaps it is like the story that Jews are afraid of dogs. Nobody in my family is afraid of dogs, and no Jew I have ever known has been afraid of dogs, but I still tell people that Jews are afraid of dogs because there are some good jokes that go along with that tale and I would hate to lose them.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:28 AM on November 30, 2008


kittens' point about the criticisms of Michaelis' Schulz bio as full of errors and omissions - not to mention an axe-grinding agenda to portray Schulz as bitter and depressed - deserves emphasis. Charles Schulz' widow was very specific in her criticisms, posted last December at the Sans Everything blog; it's worth reading in full. Cartoon Brew has lots more, including damning detail in this comment from Schulz' son Monte:

...I’ll summarize as best I can. First of all, there are three levels of problems in the book for me (and not only the family objects to this book, by the way, but also everyone in Dad’s inner circle — close friends, his lawyers, business associates, etc.), and they are as follows: an array of factual errors, both large and small, which highlight David’s intentions in the book; a number of people who were interviewed but whose comments were essentially excluded because they either contradicted or failed to support David’s thesis; and lastly, the greater part of Dad’s story, which David’s deliberately left out of the book because it did not interest him...

But once I read the manuscript and several of the things in it, well, basically, the top of my head blew off. Factual errors, by example: he argued that my dad was able to work so effectively because my mom ran the place where we lived, doing all the cooking, cleaning, etc. But he left out a wonderful black woman who worked for us almost seven years, Eva Gray, one of the dearest people I ever knew (she just died last year, and we made sure that she and her husband Jim were able to attend Dad’s memorial service), and very integral to our lives back then. David leaves her out of the book entirely, boosting Mom’s roll in our lives and diminishing Dad’s. Then, when he does mention her as fixing snacks for us in 1969 while my mom worked at our ice arena, it’s absurd because she hadn’t been with us for three years by then, having left in 1966 to help with her husband’s business.


Why would Michaelis distort something like that? If anyone has any links to places where Michaelis responds to the specific errors the family has objected to, I'd love to see them, because all I've seen so far from him is general "but they agreed to cooperate and now they're angry!" hand-waving.
posted by mediareport at 10:34 AM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


I suspect Schulz foresaw that people were soon going to ask "Why no black kid?"

I do not suspect this at all.

Look back at the last fifty years of American entertainment, and ask, about anything written by white folks, "Why no black people?" See if you get a more thoughtful response than silence, interrupted only by the sound of the creator depositing his steady, controversy-free paychecks into his bank account. Ain't no one ever run into trouble by avoiding any mention of race in a creative work. Black people don't make up enough of the population to significantly affect the profitability of a work, and white people really don't give a shit; the few that actually do give a shit (say, by hoping for more open and honest portrayals of a multiracial society) are easily counterbalanced by those that give a shit the opposite way (as in the linked article: by hoping not to see things like Franklin and Patty in school together).

I'm not saying that Schulz is some great hero for introducing one bland black kid into his strip, but it's obvious that this was a decision that, as pyramid termite menioned, Schulz didn't have to make at all. Which Peanuts readers would have complained if it stayed all-white forever?

He didn't grow up as a little white girl, or a bird, or a dog either.

If you mean to suggest that it would cause as few hurt feelings to navigate the minefield of American racial politics as it would to write about a silly anthropomorphic dancing beagle, than you have been living in a very different country than I have.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:44 AM on November 30, 2008 [15 favorites]


I have a friend who is black who insists that black people can't and won't swim.

Um....

posted by Sys Rq at 10:46 AM on November 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


You like Garfield?

When he was fat and ugly, he was funny. That didn't last long, though.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:49 AM on November 30, 2008


We've received a little bit of criticism for doing the insurance ads. A lot of people apparently don't believe in insurance and hate insurance companies.

No, don't do that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:53 AM on November 30, 2008


What really gets me about the Ketchum's defense is this: "It was my depiction of Dennis’s new pal that got their tails in a knot. I gave them a miniature Steppin [sic] Fetchit when they wanted a half-pint Harry Belafonte."

He doesn't understand why Stepin Fetchit is offensive. It's sad. I really used to like Dennis the Menace when I was a kid, although it surely isn't as funny as an adult, although I never really picked up on the racist elements, but thinking back, they were there.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:59 AM on November 30, 2008


Perhaps it is like the story that Jews are afraid of dogs.

I need to brush up on my stereotypes. I don't even recall riffing by Mel Brooks on the subject ...
posted by krinklyfig at 12:09 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


You like Garfield?

I stopped liking him after turning twelve or so. Now I like him again.

That Hank Ketcham excerpt is jaw-dropping. In fact, the jaw dropped at "getting their dander up" and it only got worse from there.

(Little known fact: one of America's first and greatest comic strip artists was black, but he "passed.")
posted by Countess Elena at 1:42 PM on November 30, 2008 [7 favorites]


Holy crap I always figured Herriman was Jewish cuz of all the cryto-yiddish.

Anyway, I'd just like to provide a counter-example about Peanuts being for kids. I never got into Garfield and all that other stuff because I found and read an old huge Peanuts collection of my father's when I was about 7. It was the first book I ever finished and it was amazing and I'm pretty sure I got most of the jokes, or at least thought I did.

It's important to have characters of all races that are subtle and clever and realistic rather than stereotypical, but I don't think tokens like Franklin are meaningless, especially in kid's entertainment. Imagine if there was a gay parents couple in a kid's movie who was totally bland and innocuous...just the act of declaring that marginalized groups are normal enough to avoid typecasting is powerful. It's easy to look back now and say "Man why is that Franklin kid so boring?" because people like Shultz did all the hard work that led to the acceptance of strips like Boondocks or (my personal new favorite) The K Chronicles.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:17 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who is black who insists that black people can't and won't swim.

For a significant part of the twentieth century, US public pools were segregated.
posted by Morrigan at 2:45 PM on November 30, 2008


Michaelis has very wisely not come out strong in response to anything the Schulzes have said. He screwed up many details, some big time, and he should rectify that in the second edition that the biography deserves. The thing is, his portrait of Schulz is heavily based on the strips and is an interpretation of his life in light of the strips. I'm currently reading the book, and its general tenor runs counter to what many of us who dearly love Peanuts would like to believe about the man and his work, but many people are trying to shout Michaelis down simply because he presented his own strong interpretation of Schulz & the strips.

Comics Journal ran a lengthy special about the controversy recently, and some of the complaints people are leveling are penny ante. Yeah, the thing about the maid is a problem, and there are other issues, but some of the mistakes are truly insignificant (e.g. saying his squad entered a certain village during WWII on April 13 when it was actually April 14).

The larger point, which not one of the Schulzes has addressed, to the best of my knowledge, is whether it's OK for Michaelis to interpret Charles Schulz' life based on what he put on the page. His surviving relatives seem most unhappy that Michaelis based a significant part of his portrayal of Schulz on Peanuts and not the oh-so-reliable memories they have of him. To which I say, the book was named Schulz and Peanuts: a Biography, not Schulz as Remembered by Friends & Family.
posted by cupcakeninja at 3:31 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


He didn't grow up as a little white girl, or a bird, or a dog either.

But he wasn't trying to instruct us with them - AFAIK, Sally wasn't giving speeches about why women should earn the same wages in the workforce. He simply created strong female characters to show that girls can play baseball, too, just as well as little boys can. Just like black kids have fathers who serve their country, too, and have homes and go to school. He was showing the situation from his point of view. He wasn't speaking for/as women in the same way he never spoke for/as African-Americans.

What he didn't want to do, it seems to me, was to speak as this character for all African-Americans, because he admitted the truth: what does he know about being a black person that gives him the right to speak for them?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:42 PM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


You like Garfield?

The first strips are quite different from the later ones. The currently syndicated ones...ugh
posted by ersatz at 3:47 PM on November 30, 2008


Michaelis has very wisely not come out strong in response to anything the Schulzes have said. He screwed up many details, some big time

Well, your second sentence certainly explains your first.

The larger point, which not one of the Schulzes has addressed, to the best of my knowledge, is whether it's OK for Michaelis to interpret Charles Schulz' life based on what he put on the page. His surviving relatives seem most unhappy that Michaelis based a significant part of his portrayal of Schulz on Peanuts and not the oh-so-reliable memories they have of him.

Actually, what the Schulzes are saying is that Michaelis, among other things, deliberately ignored elements in his own interviews that conflicted with the interpretation of Schulz he'd decided upon for the book. The criticisms linked above go far beyond "my memory is reliable and that's the only yardstick here" caricature you've presented.
posted by mediareport at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Any little kid who grew up reading Peanuts grew up thinking that playing with a black kid was a non-issue. None of the gang seemed to notice that Franklin was a different race, much less think they should act any differently towards him.

Shulz presented a world where a black kid was treated exactly the same as any other kid and where discrimination would have baffled the other children. Simple and a little fanciful, maybe, but it's the world Emerson and King described and it's one we're all hoping is possible.

And no, Shulz was never a little white girl. But to imagine himself as Lucy he had to switch genders. To imagine himself as a typical 1960's black youth, he would have to switch race, which means, statistically, probably a different education level, likely a different income level, different future job prospects and with them different likely professions for his parents, different crime rates in the likely neighborhoods, different expectations from peers, from society, from family, higher likelihood of being a race crime victim... Lucy was of the same class and had relatively the same obstacles as Linus and Charlie Brown and Shroeder. To assume that the black experience is only nominally different from the white is ignorant and a little racist. It leads to that idea that black people don't earn as much money as whites because they're lazy.
posted by Peevish at 6:22 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Look back at the last fifty years of American entertainment, and ask, about anything written by white folks, "Why no black people?" See if you get a more thoughtful response than silence, interrupted only by the sound of the creator depositing his steady, controversy-free paychecks into his bank account. Ain't no one ever run into trouble by avoiding any mention of race in a creative work. Black people don't make up enough of the population to significantly affect the profitability of a work, and white people really don't give a shit; the few that actually do give a shit (say, by hoping for more open and honest portrayals of a multiracial society) are easily counterbalanced by those that give a shit the opposite way (as in the linked article: by hoping not to see things like Franklin and Patty in school together).

There's also the third factor, which is that if you try and get anything wrong (or, more accurately, your character strikes a section of your audience as wrong), you'll cop more flack than someone who didn't even try.
posted by rodgerd at 6:58 PM on November 30, 2008


A little late to the thread, but I just wanted to make sure people knew that SEK has his own fabulous internet writing place called Acephalous that is one of my favorite non-Metafilter places to do a little procrastination. Part history, part literature, part dissertation woes (sometimes to hilarious effect), part just plain funny. (There are best of Acephalous links on the sidebar there; I'm sorry that I didn't go through and pull representative bits for the less light-minded bits.)
posted by felix grundy at 7:58 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


This reminds me to get the latest three volumes of the Complete Peanuts out of the library -- thanks!
posted by not_on_display at 8:18 PM on November 30, 2008


In the past, black people were not allowed in public pools, thus had little opportunity to learn to swim.
Former NBA players Mychal Thompson and Kermit Washington had a local radio show for a time in the Portland market. They solemnly declared that black people do not go boating because look what happened last time.
posted by Cranberry at 11:27 PM on November 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Countess Elena, that piece on Herriman was fascinating. Thank you.
posted by tiny crocodile at 2:43 AM on December 1, 2008


mediareport, I may have engaged in caricature, but it didn't happen without cause. I read dozens of reviews, analyses, and reactions to the Michaelis book before I finally got around to it, and I expected to hate it. Surprise surprise, I didn't. While I think the criticism that he left out important details is relevant, at some point a biographer does have to make choices about what to put in and what to leave out. I have read few reactions to the book that don't amount to "ZOMG that's not the Sparky I knew personally, and that's why you failed." Millions of people worldwide read Peanuts daily for fifty years, and Charles Schulz was dedicated to the strip for those fifty years. To rely more heavily on the tone and content of the strip than on the events of his life is a choice, not a crime.
posted by cupcakeninja at 3:36 AM on December 1, 2008


Hey, I'm afraid of dogs and can't swim well. WTF?
posted by Artw at 8:44 AM on December 1, 2008


Fair enough, cupcakeninja; the errors I read about turned me off of the book so much I never bought it (and I was a natural for it, the early Peanuts is one of my all-time favorite strips). It just seemed to me you were minimizing too much the seriousness of the many specific distortions, errors and omissions folks claim Michaelis made. No one's denying a biographer's right to interpret the life he's researching, or the necessity of making difficult editing choices, but it's certainly reasonable to expect that a biographer not ignore evidence that doesn't fit his conclusions. To me, it's the *way* Michaelis went about doing his interpretation that's under criticism, and I have yet to see him respond to the specific, damning examples that are easy to find.
posted by mediareport at 9:14 AM on December 1, 2008


I've grown old enough that I find it hard to remember a time when I really enjoyed Peanuts, but I'll give credit where it's due, I hadn't considered the significance of Franklin or what his introduction's implications might have meant. I mean, it was barely a decade after the National Guard blocked the entrances and the 101st Airborne had to be deployed to ensure that the Little Rock Nine could go to school.

I grew up going to school with black kids, and I thought nothing of it, because it's just the way it was. So it's hard to imagine how much of an impact something like this could have had when it was still an uncomfortable subject. I suspect it would be on par with a kids comic today introducing an openly gay character: something that in 40 years we will wonder why anybody found it to be a big deal, but now some would find it scandalous.
posted by quin at 10:39 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dogs can't look up.
posted by Artw at 11:50 AM on December 1, 2008


Any little kid who grew up reading Peanuts grew up thinking that playing with a black kid was a non-issue.

Hi, I was a little black kid who grew up reading Peanuts thinking that Franklin was like no black kid I had had ever met. Seriously, he was among the first in a long line of black characters that made me think "Has this writer ever actually talked to a black person?!"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:20 PM on December 1, 2008


You might as well ask if the writer has ever talked to a 7 year old. They all use pop psychology terms, literary references, and generally don't speak like any kid I ever knew. In a conversation about how Charlie Brown is never going to be able to make his handwriting look like the examples in his penmanship book, Linus explains that the author of the book couldn't either and adds, "you are a victim of studio technique." Charlie Brown says, "whom do I sue?"

So I really wouldn't describe it as a case of him not sounding like a black kid as none of them sounding like kids. As a kid it was part of the charm for me. I actually wanted to be able to talk like that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:44 AM on December 2, 2008


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