Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Funny Things: A Comic Strip Biography of Charles M. Schulz

He was a man of deep faith and deep neuroses. Despite his extraordinary success, Charles Schulz remained a very humble and humane man. What better means to tell his story than through the artform he perfected? Writer Luca Debus and artist Francesco Matteuzzi chronicle Shulz’s life with comic strips (including a double color panel every seventh page) in Funny Things: A Comic Strip Biography of Charles M. Schulz, which releases today in bookstores.

Clearly, much of Debus’s dialogue is fictionalized. In real life, we usually don’t have reliable punch-lines on every third beat, but a comic strip pro like Shulz would surely appreciate it. Presumably, the Schulz family did not sanction
Funny Things, because none of the Peanuts gang are ever pictured, but it is hard to imagine they would object to its lovingly humanistic portrayal.

Most of the major events will be familiar to fans, especially if they have seen Apple TV+’s
Who Are You, Charlie Brown, but Debus places much greater emphasis on the impact of various family tragedies on the young Schulz. He also devotes a good deal of time to the cartoonist’s wartime service, his early professional service, and his long history of church work (which Apple predictably overlooks).

Peanuts finally hits it big, viewers will consider it payoff for years of struggle, rather than an overnight success. Of course, the big stuff is here, like the Apollo 10 mission adopting Charlie Brown and Snoopy as their mascots. The Christmas special is covered at-length, with the music of Vince Guaraldi getting its due credit. Plus, Funny Things also does a better job covering the Peanuts musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Funny Things
is gentle and sweet, but it also serves up some black humor with surprising regularity, especially during Schulz’s final years. Lucy Van Pelt would surely approve. Today, we almost take Snoopy and Charlie Brown for granted, because they have always been with many of us. Funny Things reminds us when Snoopy was a bigger craze than Bart Simpson was thirty years ago. It also reminds us how much better Snoopy has held up. Throughout the comic-strip-novel, Matteuzzi evokes the style and vibe of Shulz’s art, without becoming a copycat or a parody. It is all so darn nice, in the best way possible. Very highly recommended, Funny Things: A Comic Strip Biography of Charles M. Schulz goes on-sale today, wherever books and graphic novels are sold.