Charles Monroe Schulz was born on November 26, 1922 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His uncle, possibly in an act of prescience, gave him the nickname “Sparky,” after Barney Google’s Horse Spark Plug.
Charles grew up loving to draw. Once, he drew a picture of his dog Spike, who relished eating nails and tacks, and sent it in to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. They published the prodigy’s cartoon verbatim!
As a teenager, he offered drawings to the high school yearbook staff. They turned him down.
After a stint on the military, Schulz took a job as an art instructor at Art Instruction Schools, headquartered in his home town. Never heard of them? Picture a magazine ad of a cute figure with the exhortation “Draw me!” He also took on a side job doing lettering for a Catholic periodical.
But in 1947, he persuaded The St. Paul Pioneer Press to carry a comic called Lil’ Folks. The strip included a kid named Charlie brown and an unnamed, but quite intelligent, dog. The next year, he sold some single-panel toons to The Saturday Evening Post. In 1950, he approached United Features with his best Lil’ Folks strips. With considerably more savvy than his school’s yearbook staff, they agreed to syndicate them under the name Peanuts. The rest was history.
I seriously doubt that any Boomer is unfamiliar with Peanuts. I suspect that a majority of the world’s population knows who Snoopy is. That’s a pretty impressive statement for a mere comic strip. But Peanuts was much, much more than that.
For instance, how many comic strips became a holiday TV tradition? It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas debuted in 1965, and continues to provide our grandkids with memories of their own. Halloween means it’s time for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which first appeared the next year.
And how many strips inspired a pair of Broadway shows? Or a #2 hit song? Or video games?
And I wish I had a dime for every t-shirt, lunch box, or any other merchandise that featured any of the familiar members of the gang.
But none of it would have come about without the gentle intellectual mind of genius Schulz.
You knew this strip was aimed at kids, naturally, but only adults would appreciate the irony of Lucy spurning selling lemonade in favor of doling out psychiatric help for five cents. And a beagle who is smarter than his master was groundbreaking stuff, later used to great effect by Mr. Peabody in Bullwinkle.
Indeed, it seems a slight on the part of your humble columnist to confine the enormity of Peanuts to a single entry.
Lucy personified the various obstacles one faces in life. Whether it was yanking the football away from Charlie Brown, or berating her brother Linus, or just being her normal crabby self, she was always in character. Her unrequited love for Beethoven fan Schroeder may have contributed to her perennial bad mood, who knows.
Pig Pen could get filthy walking down the sidewalk. Peppermint Patty had a soft spot in her heart for Charlie Brown, and tried hard to bring him up to speed as to what was happening in the real world. Little sister Sally had her own view of things, and showed more savvy than her older brother.
Charlie Brown, who put the phrase “good grief!” into our vocabularies, just couldn’t catch a break. His baseball team had Lucy in the outfield, who once dropped a fly ball because “The moons of Jupiter got in my eyes.” Any pitch resulted in a line drive that would send him flying, only to land in a disrobed state. He had his own case of unrequited love, this for a mysterious red-headed girl. But every now and then, Schulz would let things pan out well for him.
Then there was Snoopy.
Perhaps the most famous comic strip character in history, Snoopy was not your average beagle.
Born on the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, he kept family ties with his brother Spike. Snoopy, who never bothered to learn his master’s name, had many alter egos. There was Joe Cool, college student. There was the WWI aviator. There was the Beagle Scout, who led his troop of birds. There was also Snoopy the helicopter, his ears providing lift for the pilot, Woodstock. There were many other personages, too, too many to list here.
We Boomer kids took it for granted that Peanuts would always be around. Schulz himself took but a single five-week vacation in 1997. But sadly, on February 12, 2000, the day after the genius went to sleep in death, the final original Peanuts strip was published.
But the prolific Mr. Schulz generated so much material that its reruns continue to entertain us, as well as new generations, and seem just as timely now as they did when they first appeared. The look of the strip settled on its final form by the late 50’s, so it’s anybody’s guess as to when each day’s offering may have originally appeared. Many strips wither and die when they revert to reruns, but Peanuts continues to fly high in syndication numbers.
That’s good in many ways. For instance, you don’t have to explain Snoopy to your grandkids. They are already quite familiar with him.