Charles Schulz is an iconic legend in the world of cartoons, books, movies, and collectibles. A legend that will live on what seems like forever in American culture, and culture around the globe.
Schulz was born in Minnesota on November 26, 1922. It’s hard to believe that we are nearing in on 100 years of the creator of “Peanuts.”
Schulz carried the lifelong nickname of Sparky, given to him by a relative after a horse called Sparky in an early comic strip, Barney Google.
Hard to believe this, but Schulz was never a fan of the name “Peanuts,” which was chosen by the syndicate because his original title “Li’l Folks,” was too similar to another strip’s name. A new exhibit is celebrating his life of 100 years, and they make it very clear that through strips, memorabilia, and commentary Schulz’s creation of “Peanuts” was a juggernaut in its day, and still today.
Lucy Shelton Caswell is the curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, the world’s largest such museum.
“The idea that you could take a week to talk about this, and it didn’t have to be a gag in the sense of somebody hitting somebody else over the head with a bottle or whatever,” Caswell said. “This was really revolutionary.”
Schulz who retired in 1999 following being diagnosed with cancer, saw his creation run in more than 2,600 newspapers, was translated into 21 languages in 75 countries and had an estimated daily readership of 355 million. Schulz personally created and drew 17,897 “Peanuts” strips, even after a tremor affected his hand. Simply unbelievable, isn’t it?
The strip for a frequently performed play, “You’re a good Man, Charlie Brown,” as well as “Snoopu: The Musical.” and dozens of TV specials and shows, and many book collections. The man was simply a legendary figure, and should be regarded as such.
Bill Watterson, creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” described in a 2007 Wall Street Journal review of a Schultz biography the difficulty of looking at “Peanuts” with fresh eyes because of how revolutionary it was at the time.
Benjamin Clark, curator of the Schulz museum, describes that innovation as Schulz’s use of a spare line that maintains its expressiveness.
Schulz “understood technically in drawing that he could strip away what was unnecessary and still pack an emotional punch with the simplest-appearing lines,” Clark said. “But that simplicity is deceptive. There’s so much in these.”
The exhibit on display in Columbus displays strips featuring 12 “devices” that Schulz thought set Peanuts apart. It includes episodes involving the Kite-eating tree, Snoopy’s doghouse, Lucy in her psychiatry booth, Linus’ obsessions with The Great Pumpkin, the Beethoven-playing Schroeder, and more.
The exhibit entitled “Celebrating Sparky” also focuses on Schulz’s promotion of women’s right through strips about Title IX, the groundbreaking law requiring parity in women’s sports, and his introduction of character of color, Franklin, spurred by a reader’s urging following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The amazing display also includes memorabilia, from branded Pez dispensers to paper towels, all part of the massive “Peanuts” licensing world. Some fellow cartoonists disliked the way Schuls commercialized the strip.
He dismissed the criticism, arguing that comic strips had always been commercial, starting with their invention as a way to sell newspapers, Caswell said.
While 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is one of the most famous cartoon TV specials of all time, the characters have also returned in dozens of animated shows and films, most recently in original shows and specials on Apple TV.
Those Apple programs introduced new viewers to the truth of what Schulz drew, his wife, Jean Schulz, told The Associated Press last year. She described that truth this way:
“A family of characters who live in a neighborhood, get along with each other, have fun with each other, have arguments sometimes with each other, but end up always in a good frame hugging each other or resolving their arguments,” she said.
There are some surprises as well at the exhibit. It’s well known that Schulz loved hockey and ice staking, but did you know that he’s a member of both the U.S. Figure Skating and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fames? There’s multiple strips of Snoopy playing hockey and the Zambonis driven by Woodstock, the little yellow bird fans adore.
“This was a person of genius who had a very clear, creative focus to his life, and enjoyed making people laugh,” she said.
“Celebrating Sparky: Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts” at the Billy Ireland museum runs through November and was mounted in partnership with the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum has two exhibits commemorating Schulz’s birth: “Spark Plug to Snoopy: 100 Years of Schulz,” which explores comic strips and artists who influenced Schultz (running through Sept. 18); and “The Spark of Schulz: A Centennial Celebration,” exploring cartoonists and artists influenced by Schulz (from Sept. 25, 2022, through March 12, 2023).
Thanks to our friends at CBN News and the Associated Press for contributing to this article.