Charles M. Schulz

“Exercise is a dirty word. Every time I hear it I wash my mouth out with chocolate.”

-Charles M. Schulz

Charles Monroe Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 26, 1922, and grew up in Saint Paul. He was a cartoonist and creator of the comic strip Peanuts. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential cartoonists in history. He has been cited by many cartoonists as a major influence, including Jim Davis, Murray Ball, Bill Watterson, Matt Groening, and Dav Pilkey.

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.

Bill Watterson[1]

Charles was the only child and was of German and Norwegian descent. His uncle called him “Sparky” after the horse Spark Plug in Billy DeBeck’s comic strip, Barney Google, which Schulz enjoyed reading. 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. Drawing made him happy even as a child.

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).

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.

His Mother died at age 50 in 1943 and within days Charles boarded a train to begin his army career in Camp Campbell, Kentucky. There he was a staff sergeant (and Light Machine Gun Squad Leader) while part of the 20th Armored Infantry Division[2]. The group was involved in the liberation of Germany’s Dachau concentration camp. When he returned from World War II in 1945 and moved in with his father in an apartment above his barbershop.

He found employment at his alma mater, Art Instruction, sold intermittent one-panel cartoons to The Saturday Evening Post, and enjoyed a three-year run of his weekly panel comic, Li’l Folks, in the local St. Paul Pioneer Press. The first Peanuts strip appeared on October 2, 1950, in seven newspapers nationwide. Although being a professional cartoonist was Schulz’s lifelong dream, at 27 years old, he never could have foreseen the longevity and global impact of his seemingly-simple four-panel creation.

Charles M. Schulz Influences

The Charles M. Schulz Museum counts Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates) and Bill Mauldin as key influences on Schulz’s work. In his own strip, Schulz regularly described Snoopy’s annual Veterans Day visits with Mauldin, including mention of Mauldin’s World War II cartoons. Schulz also credited George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Roy Crane (Wash Tubbs), Elzie C. Segar (Thimble Theatre), and Percy Crosby (Skippy) as influences. In a 1994 address to fellow cartoonists, Schulz discussed several of them. According to the museum, Schulz watched the movie Citizen Kane 40 times. The character Lucy van Pelt also expresses a fondness for the film, and in one strip
she cruelly spoils the ending for her younger brother.

It would be impossible to narrow down three or two or even one direct influence on [Schulz’s] personal drawing style. The uniqueness of “Peanuts” has set it apart for years … That one-of-a-kind quality permeates every aspect of the strip and very clearly extends to the drawing. It is purely his with no clear forerunners and no subsequent pretenders.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson – Schultz biographer

His humor was observational, wry, sarcastic, nostalgic, bittersweet, silly, and melancholy, with occasional flights of fancy and suspension of reality thrown in from time to time. Everyone knows the Peanuts characters, if not from the strips then the TV specials that we all know and love. When Schulz announced his retirement in December 1999, the Peanuts comic strip was syndicated in over 2,600 newspapers worldwide, with book collections translated into over 25 languages.

Charles M. Schultz Legacy

When the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, opened in 1992, the amusement park in the center had a Peanuts theme until 2006,
when the mall lost the rights to use the characters.

In 2000, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors renamed the county airport as the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport in the cartoonist’s honor. The airport’s logo features Snoopy in goggles and a scarf, taking to the skies on top of his red doghouse.

The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa opened on August 17, 2002, two blocks away from his former studio, celebrating his life’s work and the art of cartooning. A bronze statue of Charlie Brown and Snoopy stands in Depot Park in downtown Santa Rosa.

He has been awarded the highest honors from his fellow cartoonists, received Emmy Awards for his animated specials, been recognized and lauded by the U.S. and foreign governments, had NASA spacecraft[3] named after his characters, and inspired a concert performance at Carnegie Hall. And still today, the Peanuts Gang continues to entertain and inspire the young and the young at heart.

I think when people asked him, ‘Did you ever think your characters would become part of the culture,’ it puzzled him a bit too and he didn’t have a very good answer for it. Of course you’re surprised because you didn’t intend to write a novel that would describe the world, but I think his answer was something like ‘I just tried to put everything I had into the comic strip and do the best I could every day.

Jean Schultz – Charles’ wife

Per The New York Times, Peanuts was read by fans in 75 countries every single day and was published in 2,600 papers. Schulz and his work were directly connected, and there was no separating them. Schulz died in his sleep of colorectal cancer at his home in Santa Rosa, California, at the age of 77 on February 12, 2000. The last original Peanuts strip was published the following day.

He had predicted that the strip would outlive him because the strips were usually drawn weeks before their publication. Schulz was buried at Pleasant Hills Cemetery in Sebastopol, California. 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 strips that day. This would have been his 100th birthday today, so I thought it was a fitting day to honor him in my blog!

Charles M. Schultz Syndication

While United Features retained ownership of the strip, Schulz requested the syndicator allow no other artist to draw Peanuts. United Features honored his wishes, instead syndicating reruns. Because Schulz considered other media separate from the strip, new television specials and comic books with the Peanuts characters have been made since his death.



Footnotes
  1. William Boyd Watterson II (born July 5, 1958) is a retired American cartoonist and the author of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, which was syndicated from 1985 to 1995. Watterson stopped drawing Calvin and Hobbes at the end of 1995, with a short statement to newspaper editors and his readers that he felt he had achieved all he could in the medium. Watterson is known for his negative views on comic syndication and licensing, his efforts to expand and elevate the newspaper comic as an art form, and his move back into private life after he stopped drawing Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. The suburban Midwestern United States setting of Ohio was part of the inspiration for Calvin and Hobbes. [Back]
  2. The 20th Armored Division departed Boston on February 6 and arrived at Le Havre, France, on February 19, 1945. On arrival, it was sent to Buchy for a month’s assembly, preparation, and additional training. It then moved through Belgium to Langendernbach, Germany, on April 10. After considering breaking up the new division to provide replacements for the veteran armored divisions under his 12th U.S. Army Group, General Omar N. Bradley sent the unit to Marktbreit, where the Division was attached to the III Corps; on April 20. It was detached and reassigned three days later to the XV Corps, Seventh Army, at Würzburg, Germany. The condition of the Division when it arrived overseas was affected by a recent change in its primary mission. Until October 1944, the 20th Armored Division’s mission was to train soldiers and qualify them for overseas shipment as combat replacements for armored units. To perform this mission, the Division included in its strength a huge number of intelligent and highly trained men, including students from several of the Army’s advanced college training programs. [Back]
  3. A proponent of crewed spaceflight, Schulz was honored with naming the Apollo 10 command module “Charlie Brown” and Lunar Module “Snoopy”, launched on May 18, 1969. The Silver Snoopy award is a special honor awarded to NASA employees and contractors for outstanding achievements related to human flight safety or mission success. The award certificate states that it appreciates “professionalism, dedication, and outstanding support that greatly enhanced space flight safety and mission success”. [Back]

Further Reading

Sources

Wikipedia
Charles M. Schulz Museum
Grunge


Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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