A Cartoonist’s Spark

Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schultz
By Beverly Gherman
(Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2010, $16.99)

Although Charles Schultz died ten years ago, many American newspapers still run his Peanuts cartoons. Today, thanks to TV specials, greeting cards, and toys, his characters are familiar brands. But when Peanuts first debuted in 1950, the comic strip about a shy boy and his peers was revolutionary. Schultz’s simple line drawings and focus on everyday life charmed audiences accustomed to elaborate illustrations and dramatic plotlines.

In Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schultz, Beverly Gherman explores the mild-mannered man behind the gentle, insightful comic strip. Apart from his success as a cartoonist and brief army service, Charles Schultz lived a quiet life. But Gherman makes the most of Schultz’s ordinary heartaches and triumphs. We meet the real little red-haired girl and learn the touching story behind Snoopy. Gherman emphasizes his dedication to cartooning: his careful observation of people and objects, his willingness to learn new skills, and the long hours he spent honing his craft. Occasionally, Gherman forgets her audience and uses expressions, including “beau” and “seventh heaven,” that may be unfamiliar to today’s tweens. However, she skillfully connects Schultz’s life and work, stressing the universal themes of love, loss, and insecurity that make Peanuts so enduring.

As befits a cartoonist’s biography, Sparky is a beautifully designed book. Photographs, Peanuts strips, and Schultz’s earlier drawings illustrate his life, while different colored pages and fonts make the text fun to read. Students may read Sparky for school book reports, but they won’t feel like they’re doing homework.

Biographers love controversial subjects – they make our job much easier. In Sparky, Beverly Gherman does something far more difficult: she writes about an unassuming man with an ordinary life and an extraordinary talent.

© Dorothy A. Dahm

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