Would that we had a dime for every cartoonist whose course was charted happily copying Charles Schulz’s seminal strip, Peanuts, while other, more athletic children played together in the fresh air and sunshine.
Such admissions proliferate in interviews and blog posts. They’re nearly as numerous as the online tutorials on drawing such beloved Peanuts characters as Woodstock, Linus Van Pelt, and Schulz’ sad sack stand-in Charlie Brown.
The short video above melds the educational ease of a YouTube how-to with the self-directed, perhaps more artistically pure aspects of the pre-digital experience, as Charles Schulz himself pencils Charlie Brown seated at Schroeder’s toy piano in well under a minute.
You’ll have to watch closely if you want to pick up Sparky’s step-by-step technique. There are no geometric pointers, only a spiritual disclosure that “poor old Charlie Brown” was a scapegoat whose suffering was commensurate with that of his creator.
His voiceover downgrades the psychic pain to the level of lost golf and bridge games, but as cartoonist and former Peanuts copyist Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, pointed out in a 2007 review of David Michaelis’ Schulz biography, Schulz’s unhappiness was deep seated:
Schulz always held his parents in high regard, but they were emotionally remote and strangely inattentive to their only child. Schulz was shy and alienated during his school years, retreating from nearly every opportunity to reveal himself or his gifts. Teachers and students consequently ignored him, and Schulz nursed a lifelong grudge that so few attempted to draw him out or recognized his talent…
Once he finally achieved his childhood dream of drawing a comic strip, however, he was able to expose and confront his inner torments through his creative work, making insecurity, failure and rejection the central themes of his humor. Knowing that his miseries fueled his work, he resisted help or change, apparently preferring professional success over personal happiness. Desperately lonely and sad throughout his life, he saw himself as “a nothing,” yet he was also convinced that his artistic ability made him special.
Good grief. I have a hunch none of this found its way into the lifelong workaholic’s own guide to drawing Peanuts characters. It’s not a secret, however, that a dark side often comes with the territory as a slew of recent autobiographical graphic novels from those drawn to the profession will attest.
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Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday
Who do we hear narrating at the end of the clip? Is that Morley Safer?
What always puzzles/fascinates me is how cartoonists jump around doing bits and pieces of what they are drawing. A part of this, a part of that, some more over here, now over there. It all seems so random.