Author Monte Schulz imagines a ‘Metropolis’ of love and intrigue
Imagine a mighty city ruled by a secret council whose members are unknown even to each other. Picture a distant front where war has been waged for a century. And meet an upper-class college student, mostly oblivious to all of this, who falls in love with a young woman who lives in a house full of political radicals and revolutionaries.
All of that adds up to the novel “Metropolis” by Monte Schulz.
It took Schulz, the eldest son of the late “Peanuts” cartoonist and longtime Sonoma County resident Charles Schulz, 668 pages to tell the story of “Metropolis,” which helps make it feel more like a 19th-century classic in its style than a modern thriller.
“The audience for literary novels is small,” he conceded.
But that is his passion. Schulz, 71, who splits his time between Santa Barbara and Hawaii, plans a visit April 30 to Santa Rosa for a public talk about “Metropolis,” at the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
Depending on how you calculate the amount of time he spent on the project, the book took him either 16 years or less than one year to write. In 2003, he wrote 50 pages and then walked away from the book.
“Then in 2019, I picked it up again and finished it in nine months,” Schulz said. “I had no outline. I made it all up as I went. Maybe that’s lazy, but that’s the way I did it.”
The original problem was that the hero and first-person narrator of the book, Julian Brehm, is a student of the classics, which provide clues that he and his drunken roommate Freddy, a puzzle master, use to decipher mysterious messages.
“I couldn’t figure out how Julian was able to read Greek and Roman classics in a fictional world,” Schulz said.
Ultimately, the answer was simple. He decided it didn't matter, and then he began writing at least two pages every day.
“It’s their world, not our world. I just had to make it up. Once I started writing again, it was easy,” Schulz said. “I wrote a page every morning before I ate anything. I don’t believe in writer’s block. My dad always said only amateurs get writers’ block. Professionals can’t afford it.”
The book imagines a world where the people of the city Metropolis banished everyone deemed physically, mentally or morally unfit to the distant, desolate eastern provinces a century ago.
After 40 years, when it was discovered the exiles had prospered on their own instead of perishing, the city dwellers started a six-decade war to wipe them out.
Julian’s fascination with the mysterious Nina Rinaldi, described by Schulz as a Bohemian, and her rather pesky 8-year-old sister leads the student into an uncomfortable new understanding of the unhealthy society he lives in. His search for contacts and clues leads him into the strange underground society that lies beneath the city.
Later Julian ventures into the war zone, where he learns of atrocities and faces mortal danger. Ultimately, he returns to the Metropolis, where he tangles with assassins and spies and battles to save captive provincial children from genocide.
“The books is a collage of love story, mystery, war story and a treatise on eugenics,” Schulz said. “That was the impetus for the book.”
Historically, eugenicists have attempted to alter human gene pools by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior or promoting those judged to be superior. Early advocates of eugenics in the 19th century regarded it as a way of improving groups of people. In contemporary usage, particularly since World War II and the Holocaust, the term eugenics is closely associated with racism.
“‘Metropolis’ is a warning against eugenics and against hating people you don’t like,” Schulz explained. “You have to stop seeing people you don’t like as enemies.”
Now Schulz is writing a sequel to “Metropolis,” titled “Undercity,” a collection of 28 vignettes, some of them featuring characters from the first book, excluding Julian.
“It gives you better idea of the city, because Julian really doesn’t know that much,” Schulz said.
“Metropolis” was published last year by Fantagraphics of Seattle, which specializes in publishing collections of new classic comics and has put out 26 hardcover volumes of “Peanuts” comic strips. Monte Schulz met Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth 15 years ago, after writing an essay about a controversial Charles Schulz biography for Groth’s Comics Journal magazine.