Charles Schulz was an extraordinary artist, who affected generations.
|The Art of Charles Schulz
Homage is Paid to the Beloved Creator of “Peanuts”
By Carla Brooke
Charles Monroe Schulz was an extraordinary artist, who affected generations of readers.
In 1922 a baby boy was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the boy grew up to revolutionize comic strips and win the hearts of generations of children and adults, who related to the endearing situations of his comics. Charles Schulz, the creator of the “Peanuts,” gang, won them with his skill with the pen, his wit and wisdom.
Schulz had said, “It seems beyond the comprehension of people that someone can be born to draw comic strips, but I think I was.” “My ambition from earliest memory was to produce a daily comic strip.” Schulz began as a young boy to enjoy reading and drawing his own comics, and completing a correspondence course.
Schulz was a shy, timid only child of devoted parents who never got further than the third grade. But they provided him with a happy childhood, which he always looked back on as an ideal dignified but ordinary life. Schulz’s recurring themes connected with the “Peanuts” audience. The artist was the first to integrate everyday family life and real feelings of Western history and culture into a few frames that made each of his audience look inside themselves.
Schulz was an outstanding student, who skipped grades twice, but developed into a lonely insecure teenager with few friends. Chronic rejection, unrequited love, and depression seemed to plague him throughout his life. No amount of success or fame could conquer this depression. These feelings were explored through “Peanuts” and as a gifted artist who endowed each of the gang with an individual characterization Schulz made a profound influence on the way his readers saw themselves and the world around them.
The “Peanuts” characters brought special humor and insight to life. The strip was one of the first to include more than two or three characters. “Peanuts” fans have often explored the major “Peanuts” characters. Fans will recognize Charlie Brown by his zigzag trimmed sweater and love him for his friendly, polite and considerate ways, but also know that Charlie will never win a ball game or the love of the little red-haired girl. But for all his losing ways he will never give up his quest to triumph over adversity. Lucy Van Pelt was not hard to find. She was a pretty loud and bossy young lady whose smiles or motives were rarely pure. The only soft spots she had were for Schroeder, who preferred Beethoven. Lucy loved compliments if they went her way and if she paid one; you had better look out! Linus, Lucy’s younger brother inspired the term “security blanket” when he struck his classic pose. As the intellectual of the gang he continually flabbergasted friends with his philosophical revelations and solutions to problems. Linus put life into perspective all the while sucking his thumb. Talented Schroeder idolized Beethoven and brought classical music to the strip. He was usually reserved and unruffled unless his baby grand piano was threatened. Peppermint Patty, the bold and brash tomboy, was always a winner on the baseball diamond, but carried a D-minus in the classroom. Yet what she had lacked in book smarts, she made up in common sense and sincerity. Marcie was her perfect foil. Charlie Brown was over joyed when his sister Sally was born and continually tried to understand her easy, uninhibited precocious ways. She had a schoolgirl crush on Linus and had Charlie Brown wrapped around her finger. She also had naturally curly blonde hair. Franklin, the center fielder on Peppermint Patty’s baseball team, was thoughtful and could quote the Old Testament equally well as Linus. When Franklin appeared in the late 60s, his darker skin had some readers searching for a political statement, where none was ever made. Snoopy, the extrovert beagle with superior intelligence and a great imagination created many personalities such as Joe Cool and that World War I Flying Ace, we still occasionally hear memorialized on oldies radio stations. Although he never spoke a word, he conveyed all in facial expressions and his thought balloons -- small Woodstock was usually game for whatever Snoopy had in mind. He was a bit insecure at Thanksgiving and around large moving objects and suffered as the butt of Snoopy’s jokes but remained the beagle’s closest friend.
One of the most interesting characters, who never appeared in the strip, was the Little Red-Haired Girl, for whom Charlie Brown pined. She was seen on screen in 1977 in It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown. Schulz had no control over the movie and if it were up to him she would never be shown and would be best worshipped from afar.
During an interview for TV’s “60 Minutes” in 1999 Schulz said, “All of my fears, my anxieties, my joys, and almost, even all of my experiences go into that strip.” Schulz described Charlie Brown’s love for the Little Red-Haired Girl in the 1997 book Charlie Brown: Not Your Average Blockhead; “A hopeless romantic at heart, Charlie Brown …is often startled by something his mind has just conjured up – he is reminded of a lost love or a relationship that just cannot get off the ground. Charlie Brown could be called the Knight of Unrequited Love, as he pines for the Little Red-Haired Girl day after day. As he tries to get her to notice him, he ends up embarrassing himself by getting sent to the eye doctor for winking at cute girls or getting his mittens frozen to a tree. Although Peppermint Patty and Marcie harbor not-so-secret crushes on their friend, Charlie Brown has trouble responding to the attention these gals give him. He claims to know less about love the older he gets and claims that Snoopy knows more about it than he does. Whether he is waiting under his mailbox or inside it – valentines never seem to come to his address. Instead of thinking that he is the only person in the world who never gets love letters, he deems himself as the leader of the millions just like him.”
In an authorized biography of Schultz, reporter and columnist Rheta Johnson, claims that the Little Red-Haired Girl is based on an actual person, who’s maiden name was Donna Mae Johnson, now Donna Wold, whose hair was red when she met Schulz in 1947. He was an art instructor seven years older and she was in the accounting department. They exchanged notes and courted, but when she turned him down for someone else, Schulz said, “I can think of no more emotionally damaging loss than to be turned down by someone whom you love very much … it is a blow to everything that you are.”
Following service during WWII Schulz pursued a career as a cartoonist and achieved modest success in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and in 1950 Schulz contracted with United Press Syndicate, debuting in 7 newspapers. By 1953 “Peanuts” appeared in over 50 daily papers. The Sunday page debuted in 1952 with 10 newspapers. By the mid-1960s the strip became the best known in the world.
Schulz’ approach changed the comic art form. Comics went from a more illustrative style, dense with drawing to the innovative approach of Schulz, devoid of shading; modeling and background details as he drew simplified figures in sparse backgrounds.
Although his fortune mushroomed during the 80s and 90s Schulz continued to draw in his Santa Rosa, California studio. He took professional pride in the achievements of the “Peanuts” strip but the respect and love showered on him always amazed the artist.
Schulz’s health problems began in 1999. While being treated for a stroke, doctors diagnosed him with colon cancer, the disease that took his mother in 1943 when she was 48 and he was 20. At age 77 Schulz was forced to retire in order to fight the disease.
After nearly 50 years of drawing “Peanuts” Schulz died February 12, 2000 just hours before the final “Peanuts” strip would appear in Sunday newspapers around the world. In all Schulz produced 17,897 “Peanuts” strips. Schulz’s death and the end of his strip were virtually simultaneous, as it seems the art and life of Charles M. Schulz were inseparable.
On May 27, 2000, members of the National Cartoonist’s Society were asked to include an element of Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” in their strips and their response was overwhelming.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center of Santa Rosa, California opened its doors in August of 2002, preserving and displaying the work of this innovative artist. The center has a large collection of personal memorabilia, which Schulz collected during his life such as items from his studio, his army sketchbook and his pre-Peanuts comics. Other collections include photographs and the many licensed peanuts products from around the world that helped make this gang so familiar. Visitors to the center come away with an increased awareness and appreciation of Charles M. Schulz and his multi-faceted career.
The museum and research center is open Labor Day through Memorial Day:
Weekdays (closed Tuesday) 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Memorial Day through Labor Day:
Weekdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The center is closed on the following holidays:
New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day
The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center is located at 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa, California 95403.