Talking With Charles M. Schulz
Copyright The HUMOR Project, Inc 1988 -- All rights reserved
Charles M. Schulz' delightful and insightful THINGS I LEARNED AFTER IT WAS TOO LATE (AND OTHER MINOR TRUTHS) contains such gems as: My life is going by too fast-- my only hope is that we go into overtime....If no one answers the phone, dial louder....Never lie in bed at night asking yourself questions you can't answer....I'm always sure about things that are a matter of opinion....Life is like an ice cream cone-- you have to learn to lick it.
Happiness is....the second part of an interview with Charles M. Schulz. Mr. Schulz has given the gift of his humor and creativity to millions of people throughout the world. We now pick up where we left off in the previous issue of LAUGHING MATTERS-- Mr. Schulz answers questions, shares opinions, and gives us a lick of his cone-- by speaking of his own personal experiences and philosophy. We hope this gives you some learning about humor (before it's too late). Again, we are indebted to United Feature Syndicate for giving permission to include the PEANUTS strips.
Joel Goodman: When you were young, did you envision that you wanted to be a cartoonist and do a comic strip when you grew up?
Charles Schulz: Oh sure! It's the only ambition I ever had. I didn't know completely what it was all about, but I knew you could make a living at it. I just loved the funny papers. I became a real student of comic strips. I think I know as much about drawing a comic strip as any person who has ever done them. That doesn't necessarily mean that mine is the best one, but I still think I know as much about how they should be done because it has been my whole life.
JG: In my workshops and speeches, I look at the relationship between humor and creativity. The last time I was here, you mentioned that "man is at his happiest when creating." Has creativity been an important part of your life for as long as you can remember?
CS: I think having an outlet for your creativity is really important. Whether it's carving little statues out of wood, or making grand pianos, or building a multi-billion dollar dam, creativity in its broadest sense makes a person happy. People who are not given this privilege, I think, are rather handicapped.
JG: You have a wonderful way in the strip of reaching a crossroads of humor and creativity.
CS: I think the drawing is important. The writing is extremely important, but being able to draw characters who are fun to look at, are pleasant to look at, are not overly caricatured, is essential. I think it is very important that the reader know immediately what the expression on the character's face is supposed to indicate. It is important to be able to create a pose or an expression for an action that is really fun to look at because then you are making the fullest use of the medium.
JG: Do you ever feel like Rodney Dangerfield-- that your medium, the comic strip, doesn't get any respect?
CS: It's never going to anyway, so that doesn't bother me. No matter what people say, it will always be what it is. It's just something to sell newspapers and it will always be treated by some editors as something really wonderful and by other editors as something they would just as soon not have to spend their money on, but their readers want it. But it's never going to be elevated to pure art, because it's not pure art. It has to please too many people and it has to go through too many editors just to get printed. But that doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter what we call something. The only thing that matters is what it says and how many people it pleases, or does it please the creator. If you are fortunate enough to be doing this, pleasing yourself while pleasing others, then you are really fortunate. If you are having to do something you'd really not rather do just to make a living, that isn't so good. But I'm fortunate. I'm pleasing myself when I'm drawing.
JG: Earlier in this conversation, you mentioned that you seemed to be rejecting more of your own strips this year than in the past. (see first part of interview in LAUGHING MATTERS, Volume II, No. 1) Would you say that you are your own worst critic?
CS: There's no doubt about it.
JG: What about PEANUTS and social issues? Are there commitments or values you have that are reflected in the strip?
CS: I think I deal with more social issues than any other cartoonist drawing today, but because they are not as obvious as we can see in some of the other strips, it is not mentioned. I think it is very easy to criticize people in government offices. It's another thing to get in there and do it yourself. All you have to do is be president of your local PTA to realize how difficult it is to get people to work together and try to accomplish something. Things which I think are difficult to deal with or difficult to get humor out of are much much more important.
JG: Do you have a message that you hope people in future years would rmember from the PEANUTS strip?
CS: For adults the message would be to watch what's going on with their children and not to forget that being a little kid is hard work. Being a little kid is a struggle.
JG: I'm curious to know what role humor plays in your own life-- in your family and in your work.
CS: I don't know, Joel. You'd have to ask somebody else. I'm not a clown by any means. I'm not the life of the party, and I'm not one who can entertain a group of guys around the table after a round of golf with all sorts of funny stories. I'm not good at that. I'm not funny like that. I suppose I'm reasonably pleasant. I'd like to think I'm a reasonably pleasant person. All the things that I use in the strip are things that I say myself when I am with people. So, what yousee in the strip is basically me. But I'm not the life of the party.
JG: As Director of The HUMOR Project, I sometimes meet people who expect me to be "on" all the time. That's not my particular style either.
CS: I think that when somebody is "on" all the time it can get to be a drag. I really prefer more serious conversations, more intimate conversations with people. You can still be friendly when you talk to people about serious things. I don't think I'm very good at small talk.
JG: If I were to give you a year off right now with no responsibility-- first of all, I'm not even sure you would take it...
CS: Yeah, I would.
JG: Would you? Okay, what would you do with it if you had a year off and no responsibilities at all?
CS: Well, I would finish a rock wall that I'm building at our house which I'm doing just for the fun of it. It's a rock wall that has no use whatsoever. It probably doesn't even look very good, but it gives me something to do because I'm not very good at working around the house. But I've discovered that I have the ability to pick up a rock and move it from one place to another, and I know how to cement it into a wall. And so I'm doing that.
I'd spend some time at my ice arena which, of course, is a place that I love and have put a lot into. I don't know if I'd play much more golf or tennis. I would like to think that I would read a lot more, although I read a lot now. I don't know if I could read a lot more, because as soon as I start reading I fall asleep after the fifth page. I would like to try some writing. I have a lot of writing projects in mind, but I'm not sure that I'm a writer anyway. I think those would be my starting points.
I like hanging around the ice arena, especially when there are a lot of people there. The thing that I enjoy most of all, even more than drawing cartoons, is putting together an ice show, getting all the people together and just watching them rehearse-- especially when my own daughters are skating in it. I think that is the ultimate in happiness. Although it always reminds me of a cartoon that I drew where Charlie Brown saw a fellow on TV who had just won a golf tournament. He was being interviewed and the interviewer said, "Well, how do you feel?" And he said, "This is the happiest moment of my life!" And when he got home, his wife said, "I thought the day we got married was the happiest moment of your life!" You have to be careful what you talk about.
JG: My son, Adam, is now two years old and has brought me joy on a deeper level than I can ever remember experiencing.
CS: Absolutely! I have told people who are about to have their first child or maybe just had that child a couple days before, "You are now going to experience a love that you never knew existed."
JG: What have your children taught you over the years?
CS: They taught me to worry. They've given me 15 ideas. I like my kids. I get along well with them and I enjoy being with them. We laugh a lot when we're together. They've all got good senses of humor. Fortunately, they all like what I draw. They're always asking me for drawings that they can give to their friends. That's about the best thing that can happen to a father.
JG: If you were to receive a telegram right now that would make you feel really good, who would it be from and what might it say?
CS: Well, I'd keep that a secret. That sounded like a Barbara Walters question, "if you came back to life as a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" The telegram is a good question, but I'd rather keep that to myself.
JG: How about the way in which you'd like to be remembered?
CS: I'd just like to be remembered as a pretty decent person who drew one of the best comic strips ever.
JG: Would you settle for one of the best or do you want to be the best?
CS: I don't think there is such a thing as the best. I saw a marvelous interview with Arthur Rubinstein, who ridiculed the notion that there was one pianist in the world better than anybody else. I believe the same is true about comic strips. They are all so different and they all contribute different things.
JG: How does competition and the issue of confidence fit together for you? I get the feeling that you compete within yourself for excellence.
CS: I regard the comic page almost like a Stanley Cup or a tennis tournament like Wimbledon. It's a match everyday to see who has got the best thing going on it. It is very competitive, yes. It would be senseless to deny it. I don't think you have to be number one, but you've got to work hard if you're going to stay up there. You never know what's going to be popular from year to year, of course.
JG: You've certainly withstood the test of time.
CS: It doesn't seem possible.
JG: I could ask you if you were to be coming back whether you'd rather come back as George Brett or Wayne Gretsky, certainly one of those two rather than a tree.
CS: Well, they are both astounding. There's something parallel between athletics and cartooning. They're both pop entertainment and they require a certain amount of ability and dedication. I think this is why I am able to identify with sports. I drew a strip once where Linus said to Charlie Brown that sports are kind of a caricature of life, and Charlie said, "Boy, that's a relief. I was afraid it was life."
JG: Is there a question you would like to answer which nobody has ever asked you in all the interviews you've done...or is there something you would like to say about which I haven't asked?
CS: I talked to a group of political cartoonists last year and I told them how I was coming into this from a little bit different direction. Years ago when I went out and gave speeches, people were always interested in how I got started. Then they wanted to know where I got my ideas. I said that what is more important at this stage of the game to those of us in this room is how do you sustain all of this?
I talked to them about the dedication that you have to put into it, your every waking thought and just plain working harder all the time. That would be something I would ask some of the people who had been doing these things for a long time-- how do they sustain the quality? I've always been interested in how professional athletes sustain the streaks that they've got going. If you get a birdie on one hole, how do you get a birdie on the next hole and then the next hole? How do you keep the streak going without giving up? The average amateur in anything gives in too quickly and is not able to sustain quality in what he is doing. So, I think that's kind of intriguing.
JG: I've always admired your ability to do that. I've talked about you in my workshops and speeches as an example of someone who keeps on going year after year.
CS: I set myself a high standard and I don't draw something unless I'm pretty proud of it. Some things I will look back on and wish that I hadn't done, but obviously the schedule enters into it. The schedule is so oppressive that you don't have the luxury that a novelist might have of sitting back and not doing anything for several weeks until something really good comes to you. You've got to get something in. The paper comes out everyday. But I do set a high standard for myself. I'm always trying to think of new things to make it better, new approaches. It's gradual, of course, because it comes out everyday so you don't have the exciting changes you might have in other media. but I do think you always have to be looking for new areas, new things to do, but also let it happen gradually. The thing to do is just go along from day to day doing the best that you can knowing that one of these days some really bright thought is going to come to you, and you will then make a jump forward.
JG: I've really enjoyed the time you have given in meeting with me on several occasions. If I were to send you a telegram, it would probably say, "When you come back, come back as Charles M. Schulz. You have brought so much to so many people's lives. Future generations will enjoy replays of your wisdom, humor, creativity, and perspective. And I'm sure that we could enlist some people to help carry rocks, if you would like."
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