Losers Get Started Early: Charles Schulz on Childhood Sadness and Dentists

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Minneapolis filled with great hope for the future and I asked a certain girl to marry me. When she turned me down and married someone else, there was no doubt that Charlie Brown was on his way. Losers get started early.Charles Schulz
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Charlez Shulz never considered himself a writer. In fact, he willingly accepted the view that comic strips were often considered a rudimentary art form. This didn’t stop him from working hard and realizing that true solace came to him when sitting in his studio pondering what Charlie Brown and his band of friends were up to next.

Thomas Inge edits and introduces the beautiful compilation of prose from Schulz in the book, My Life with Charlie Brown, rich with autobiographical articles, lectures and ramblings about his life’s work, religion, art and finding themes from his childhood misery.

Schulz on His Schooling and How to Inspire Kids

Although some of his writings provide memories of brief successes in school, his true takeaway was that both good and bad experiences can send a kid towards great things.

It didn’t matter that I sucked at school. I went anyways, and that’s just the way it always was. Give a kid a chance and he may surprise you. Tell them they can’t do anything with their life and they may just change the world.

Choosing Joy Over a Commercialization Debate

When discussing how many people accused him of over-commercializing his work, Schulz gave a powerful take on what work is really about.

It really does not matter what you are called, or where your work is placed, as long as it brings some kind of joy to some person someplace. To create something out of nothing is a wonderful experience. To take a blank piece of paper and draw characters that people love and worry about is extremely satisfying. I hope very much that I will be allowed to do it for another twenty-five years. 

The Link Between Sadness and Humorcharlie brown

This view has a stunning parallel to how comedic artists are often the most troubled of us all.

If you are a person who looks at the funny side of things, then sometimes when you are lowest, when everything seems totally hopeless, you will come up with some of your best ideas. Happiness does not create humor. There’s nothing funny about being happy. Sadness creates humor.

Being Grateful for Talent and Feeling Like a Dentist

Closure is a beautiful thing with any vocation, and Schulz’s visuals of closing up shop like a dentist is a feeling to aspire towards.

If God has given you a talent, do not use it ungratefully. When I finish the last drawing of the day and drop the pencil in the tray, put down the pen and brush and put the top on the ink bottle, it always reminds me of the dentist when he puts his instruments down on the tray and reaches to turn off the light.

Sadness in the Mortality of Loved Ones

The support of his parents was clearly a strong motivating factor in how Schulz succeeded at his work, but he also reflects on the sadness he still felt long after his mother passed.

My mother also encouraged me in my drawing but, sadly, never lived to see any of my work published. She died a long, lingering death from cancer, when I was twenty, and it was a loss from which I sometimes believe I never recovered. Today it is a source of astonishment to me that I am older than she was when she died, and realizing this saddens me even more.

A Glimpse into His Creation Process

snoopy on his houseSchulz reminisces about a dog name Spike he had when he was thirteen. This black and white pup turned out to be the inspiration for Snoopy.

When I decided to put the dog in Peanuts, I used the general appearance of Spike, with similar markings. I had decided that the dog in the strip was to be named Sniffy, until one day, just before the strip was actually to be published, I was walking past a newsstand and glanced down at the rows of comic magazines. There I saw one about a dog named Sniffy, so I had to go back to my room and think of another name. Fortunately, before I even got home, I recalled my mother once saying that if we ever had another dog, we should name him Snoopy.

Coming Face to Face with Loneliness

 

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Schulz included several instances of the Peanuts kids at summer camp, and these ideas came from the fact that he had no desire as a kid to go to summer camp. He compared it to being drafted in the army–an army that brought about much solitude.

When World War II came along, I met it with the same lack of enthusiasm. The three years I spent in the army taught me all I needed to know about loneliness, and my sympathy for the loneliness that all of us experience is dropped heavily upon poor Charlie Brown. I know what it is to have to spend days, evenings, and weekends by myself, and I also know how uncomfortable anxiety can be.

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Schulz explains how he worries about many aspects of his life, and because of that, Charlie Brown had to worry as well.

I suppose our anxieties increase as we become responsible for more people. Perhaps some form of maturity should take care of this, but in my case it didn’t.

He credits the source of most of his problems from his time in the army, during which he found it unbearable, with the lack of timetable and wondering if the war would go on forever. However, Schulz found a sense of calm at some points.

I recall a particular evening when I was on guard duty at the motor pool at the far end of the camp that is now called Fort Campbell…it was a beautiful summer evening, there was no one around in this area of the camp, and it was my job simply to see that no one interfered with any of the vehicles in that part of the motor pool, or tried to take any of them out of that particular gate.
As I sat there in the tiny guard shack, I seemed to be at complete peace with the world. Still, I knew for sure that I did not want to be where I was. My mind has gone back to that hour many times, and I have tried to analyze why I should have been so at peace at that time. This is the kind of examination that produces some of the pages in [Peanuts].

The Roots of Charlie Brown

Schulz is quick to acknowledge that much of his inspiration, at least many of the names he used in the Peanuts strips, stemmed from people he knew.

Charlie Brown was named after my very good friend, Charlie Brown, whose desk was across the room. I recall perfectly the day he came over and first looked at the little cartoon face that had been named after him. “Is that what he looks like?” he expressed with dismay. The characters of Linus and Frieda were also named after friends of mine who were instructors.

Every Artist Needs at Least One Proud Creation

Although he claimed that he never had a single favorite story or comic strip, Schulz still showed that some pieces of art are more gratifying than others, regardless of how much notoriety they get or even how much they connect with the audience.

One that worked out far beyond my expectations concerned Charlie Brown’s problem when, instead of seeing the sun rise early one morning, he saw a huge baseball come up over the horizon. Eventually a rash, similar to the stitching on a baseball, began to appear on his head, and his pediatrician told him it would be a good idea if he went off to camp and got some rest.
Because he was embarrassed by the rash, he decided to wear a sack over his head. The first day of camp, all the boys held a meeting, and someone jokingly nominated the kid with the sack over his head as camp president. Before he knew it, Charlie Brown was running the camp and had the admiration of everyone.
It seemed that no matter what he did, it turned out well, and he became known as “Sack” or “Mr. Sack,” and became the best-liked and most-admired kid in camp. Unfortunately, he could not resist taking the sack off to see if his rash was cured, and once he had removed the sack, he reverted back to his old self. I don’t pretend there is any great truth to this story, or any marvelous moral, but it was a neat little tale and one of which I was proud.
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Despite the deep thought and intertwined maturity he brought to a comic strip about children, Schulz never saw himself as an intellectual. He catered to the average person, the hard-working individual who raised a family and chuckled about misfortunes in school, on the golf course and while at work. This is what made him unique.

Share your thoughts on what Charles Schulz has to say about his creative spirit in the comments section below. Feel free to check out the My Life with Charlie Brown book for an often lighthearted, sometimes heartbreaking, and always thought-provoking read.

Image credits: Orange County Archives, Smart Destinationsjaycrossgui.tavareslethaargicandertoonsfrankieleonlethaargic

About Joe Warnimont

I am a writer, marketing expert and adventure seeker. I help people write, market their writing, live truthfully and embrace their lives through creativity. You can find me riding my bike around the streets of Chicago. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.