Today I’m giving a sincere, enthusiastic shout-out to Charles Shulz, the cartoonist who created “Peanuts” – Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and all the rest.
There have been many times when I’ve seen one of his cartoons and it’s given me good things to think about, or made me laugh, or just helped me in some way. He’s loved and appreciated by so many – he’s regarded as one of the most influential cartoonists of all time. Bill Watterson, who created “Calvin and Hobbes,” said this: Peanuts pretty much defines the modern comic strip, so even now it’s hard to see it with fresh eyes. The clean, minimalist drawings, the sarcastic humor the unflinching emotional honesty, the inner thoughts of a household pet, the serious treatment of children, the wild fantasies, the merchandising on an enormous scale—in countless ways, Schulz blazed the wide trail that most every cartoonist since has tried to follow.” That’s such high praise from a “fellow cartoonist.”
Shulz grew up in Minnesota (St. Paul). His father was born in Germany and his mother had Norwegian heritage. His uncle called him “Sparky.”
He was pretty shy and timid as a teenager. His mother died in February, 1943, after a long illness. He’d been very close to her. About this time he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was a staff sergeant with the 20th Armored Division in Europe. He was a squad leader. After he was discharged in late 1945, he returned to Minneapolis.
Peanuts was first published on 02 October, 1950, in 7 newspapers. It eventually became one of the most popular comic strips of all time (as well as one of the most influential), and was published daily in 2,600 papers in 75 countries in 21 languages! I found out lots of interesting information about Charles Shulz – including the fact that he illustrated two volumes of Art Linkletter’s Kids Say the Darndest Things.
Shulz described his routine: Every morning he’d first eat a jelly donut, go through the day’s mail with his secretary, and then draw the day’s comic strip in his studio. After coming up with an idea (which he said could take a few minutes or a few hours), he began drawing. He never used assistants in producing the strip, and he refused to hire an inker or letterer – he said it would be the equivalent to a golfer hiring a man to make his putts for him.
Shulz received his star on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame” in June 1996 (it is adjacent to Walt Disney’s). Although Charlie Brown was named after a co-worker at a place where Shulz had worked, he admitted that he’d often felt shy and withdrawn in his life (like Charlie Brown).
Shulz moved to Santa Rosa, California, in 1969 and lived and worked there until his death in 2000. He’d had heart bypass surgery in 1981, and during his hospital stay, President Ronald Reagan phoned to wish him a quick recovery. In November 1999, Shulz suffered several small strokes, and later was found to have colon cancer which had metastasized. Because of the chemotherapy and the fact that he couldn’t see clearly, he announced his retirement on 14 December, 1999. This was very, very difficult for him. He said “I never dreamed that this was what would happen to me. I always had the feeling that I would probably stay with the strip until I was in my early eighties. But all of a sudden it’s gone. It’s been taken away from me. I did not take this away from me.”
Schulz was asked if, for his final Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown would finally get to kick that certain football after so many decades (one of the many recurring themes in Peanuts was Charlie Brown’s attempts to kick a football while Lucy was holding it, only to have Lucy pull it back at the last moment, causing Charlie Brown to fall on his back). His response, “Oh, no. Definitely not. I couldn’t have Charlie Brown kick that football; that would be a terrible disservice to him after nearly half a century.” Yet, in a December 1999 interview, holding back tears, he recounted the moment when he signed the panel of his final strip, saying, “All of a sudden I thought, ‘You know, that poor, poor kid, he never even got to kick the football. What a dirty trick — he never had a chance to kick the football.’”
Shulz died in his sleep at home on 02 February 2000. The last original Peanuts strip was published the very next day. As part of his will, Schulz requested that the Peanuts characters remain as authentic as possible and that no new comic strips based on them be drawn. Schulz was honored on May 27, 2000, by cartoonists of more than 100 comic strips, who paid homage to him and Peanuts by incorporating his characters into their comic strips on that date. Shulz was the Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade on 01 January, 1974. He received Scouting’s Silver Buffalo Award and the Congressional Gold Medal, along with many other awards. Peanuts characters are part of “Peanuts on Parade” on the sidewalks of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Shulz’s widow said that “Sparky was a deeply thoughtful and spiritual man. He read the Bible through three times and taught Sunday School, where he’d never tell people what to believe. God was very important to him, but in a very deep way, a very mysterious way.”