For nearly 50 years, Americans opened their daily newspaper to read the latest adventure of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, etc., in the “Peanuts” cartoon. On February 13, 2000, Charles Schultz, the series creator passed away peacefully during his sleep from complications of colon cancer. Schultz “once described his life as being ‘one of rejection.'” (Charles M. Schultz Museum)
“The poetry of Schulz’s life began two days after he was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 26, 1922, when an uncle nicknamed him ‘Sparky’ after the horse Spark Plug from the Barney Google comic strip. Sparky’s father, Carl, was of German heritage and his mother, Dena, came from a large Norwegian family; the family made their home in St. Paul, where Carl worked as a barber. Throughout his youth, father and son shared a Sunday morning ritual reading the funnies; Sparky was fascinated with strips like Skippy, Mickey Mouse, and Popeye. In his deepest desires, he always knew he wanted to be a cartoonist, and seeing the 1937 publication of his drawing of Spike, the family dog, in the nationally-syndicated Ripley’s Believe it or Not newspaper feature was a proud moment in the young teen’s life. He took his artistic studies to a new level when, as a senior in high school and with the encouragement of his mother, he completed a correspondence cartoon course with the Federal School of Applied Cartooning (now Art Instruction Schools).
“As Schulz continued to study and hone his artistic style from the late 1920s through the 1940s, the genre of comic art experienced a great shift. The full-page comics of the 1920s and 30s afforded artists the space to reflect the Art Deco details and sensibilities of the day, including the highly-stylized illustrations of Dick Tracy and Little Nemo in Slumberland. Newspaper editors in the late 1940s and 50s, however, promoted a post-War minimalist model, pushing their cartoonists to shrink strip size, minimize pen strokes, and sharpen their humor with daily gags and cerebral humor for an ever-increasingly educated audience. Schulz’s dry, intellectual, and self-effacing humor was a natural fit for the evolving cultural standards of the mid-20th century comics.” (Charles M. Schultz Museum)
According to Rheta Grimsley Johnson (Memories, “Perspective: Good Grief,” December 1989/January 1990), Schultz was well read, religious, and was one to find humor in everything in a serious, melancholy manner. He was one to stick to a regiment, keeping a regular routine for drawing and creating each day. He was commonly 8 to 10 weeks ahead in his cartoons for the United Feature Syndicate deadline on the Sunday strip and customarily six weeks ahead on the daily strip.
He was adamant about factual accuracy and on using correct spellings. He double checked references to music, law, sports, medicine, etc. He regularly added sensitive topics to his cartoons. He touched on religion, old age, war, psychiatry, but never on politics. He loved hockey and classical music and golf, but despised barbershop quartets and people who asked him to autograph stuffed animals. Schultz perfected the idea of “rejection” and “failure” with Charlie Brown being quintessential loser.
Do you have a favorite cartoon strip? Do you miss reading newspapers and finding a gem of a cartoon strip to share with your family? Leave a comment below.