Monte Schulz pens new book ‘Metropolis,’ sets record straight about his ‘Peanuts’ father, Charles M. Schulz

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Monte Schulz (Part 1)

Monte Schulz wants to set the record straight about his father, the late “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz.

He said that David Michaelis’ 2007 biography “Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography” was largely a work of fiction.

“I don’t know why David Michaelis and Harper Collins decided to portray Dad as this distant person who didn’t have friends and wasn’t involved in his kids’ lives, but it was completely false,” Schulz told WTOP. “He would get up and cook us breakfast, take us to school in the car and pick me up after school. … He was a really fun dad.”

Schulz said that his father actively supported his pursuit as a novelist, a journey that continues today with his sixth prose fiction novel, the epic dystopian war romance “Metropolis,” which is 22 years in the making.

“It’s a love story, it’s an adventure novel, it’s a war novel, it’s a mystery, it’s a philosophical exercise on eugenics, love and the purpose of morality,” Schulz said.

Written in the first person, the story follows a college senior named Julian Brehm, who matriculates against the backdrop of a 60-year eugenics war taking place in a fictional land dubbed The Desolation, which in our reality would be located in Eastern Europe. There, he meets a young revolutionary named Nina Rinaldi, who helps him discover what is actually going on in this republic as they embark on an adventure above and below ground.

“The republic has made a decision 100 years before … to get rid of people they don’t like: the infirm, the feeble minded, the sociopathic, the ignorant, thinking it’s going to improve the society when in fact it drags them down to a morass of dystopian horror,” Schulz said. “The war in the Soviet Union in the ’40s with Nazi Germany was essentially a eugenics war, killing everybody they thought were subhuman to make room for the German people.”

Monte Schulz published his first novel “Down by the River” in 1990 before spending the next decade writing a 1,000-page opus set in the Jazz Age called “Crossing Eden.” He started writing “Metropolis” on June 11, 2001, but stopped after about 50 pages in 2003. He spent the next 16 years writing and editing other books before picking “Metropolis” back up in 2019, after which he followed a disciplined writing schedule to finally complete it.

“My writing schedule was to write at least one page every morning before I’d eat or drink anything,” Schulz said. “I could write whatever in the afternoon after I ate, but I had to write that one page. … That got the 668-page novel written in nine months, minus that [initial] 50 pages, so that’s 620 pages in nine months. No plot outline. … I had to write before I ate and sometimes I was very hungry … with visions of a ham sandwich floating in front of me.”

Dedication to one’s craft is a lesson he learned from his father, who was born in Minneapolis in 1922.

“Dad was a big fan of comic books,” Schulz said. “His nickname Sparky was given to him when he was really young, named after Spark Plug, the horse in the ‘Barney Google’ comic strip, and he died three hours before his last comic strip ran in the newspaper, so his entire life was spanned by the cartoon art, framed by it. Dad loved comic strips, that’s all he ever wanted to do was be a syndicated artist, so he lived the dream.”

After serving in World War II, Charles returned home to the Twin Cities to work as an art instructor. He first became a professional cartoonist on “Li’l Folks,” a weekly panel cartoon in his hometown newspaper The St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1947 to 1950, including early versions of Charlie Brown and a dog that resembled Snoopy.

In 1950, he launched “Peanuts” as a daily comic strip in seven newspapers, including The Minneapolis Star and The Washington Post. Two years later, Monte was born in 1952, growing up playing baseball with his father and watching W.C. Fields comedy flicks together on television. He insists that his father wasn’t really famous yet.

“People ask me what it was like growing up with a famous father, but he was not famous,” Schulz said. “He didn’t become famous until I was in my mid-teens. When I was in sixth grade, one of my classmates told me that he really liked reading ‘Peanuts’ and I was shocked like, ‘Really? You know about that?’ It was just something my dad did.”

Like the rest of us, he loved the various “Peanuts” characters that his father created.

“I liked Linus because of how he could do all of his tricks with the blanket, but as I got older, my favorite character was Charlie Brown because he was the most intuitive,” Schulz said. “They make him out as the lovable loser, but if you read the early books you realize he wasn’t. … I admire him. He’s the most philosophical, he’s the most dedicated, he stands on the pitcher’s mound in the rain waiting to play, it doesn’t matter how often he loses.”

The comic strip was first adapted into TV animation for “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show” before the iconic CBS holiday special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965), featuring timeless music by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

“When I first saw it, because of the animation, the drawings are not dad’s, so I thought, ‘Oh, well, that’s not very good, they don’t even look like the characters!’ I thought it was amusing, but I didn’t really love it. The one I loved was the next one, ‘The Great Pumpkin,’ because they had the Red Baron flying around. … I also had already gotten used the idea that the animation was going to be different, it wasn’t going to look exactly like Dad’s.”

As a young adult, Monte read novels by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Ray Bradbury, before graduating to others.

“Dad saw that I had a gift for poetic language so he shifted me straight to Carl Sandburg, Joan Didion, John Steinbeck and Thomas Wolfe,” Schulz said. “I started making that shift from songwriting to poetry then to prose and wanting to write a great American novel, which I think I did with my novel ‘Crossing Eden.’ … I was really close to him, we used to talk on the phone all the time, he really liked when we could finally talk about books.”

His father died in 2000 at age 77, only five years older than Monte is now.

“Now I read [‘Peanuts’] to remind me of being young,” Schulz said. “They remind me that Dad’s gone. It’s really depressing. I’m doing a book signing at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rose on April 30 and it’s a really beautiful museum, but it also feels like the Charles M. Schulz Mausoleum. It just reminds me simply that he’s dead.”

Still, he’ll always have a lifetime of memories shared with his devoted father.

“My Dad took me out of elementary school to take me to see Game 6 of the 1962 World Series, Giants-Yankees at Candlestick [Park],” Schulz said. “I actually saw Roger Maris hit a line-drive home run over the right-field fence. The Giants won that game, but I saw Whitey Ford on the mound and Maris hit a home run. It was really great.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Monte Schulz (Part 2)

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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