Comment: OMG! Charles M. Schulz at 100. | Comment

Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. “Sparky” Schulz would have turned 100 this Saturday. The fact that his Peanuts comic strip is still in syndication nearly 23 years after his death is testament to our affinity for the characters: from when we felt like a loser (Charlie Brown) to when we felt cranky (Lucy Van Pelt). , even philosophical (Linus Van Pelt), to the superfluous (Rerun Van Pelt), to the naive (Sally Brown), to the simply wanting to have fun (Snoopy).

How ironic then that the beloved 72-year-old strip debuted with the line “Good old Charlie Brown… how I hate him.”

The question readers ask the most about Sparky is what he was like. The answer: if you read Peanuts, you know Sparky.

amy lake

amy lake

He was the strip. Yes, his characters were often based on people he knew (there was a real Charlie Brown), but within each personality was a part of himself, even if it was a part he didn’t particularly care about… like the title, which Sparky hated. The union, of course, liked the allusions to “peanut gallery” and “kids.” To Sparky, “peanuts” sounded like something of little value… a pittance. That’s another irony: the “value” of the strip. In 2021, Sparky was ranked 3rd on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid deceased celebrities.

In addition to drawing funny pictures (as he called them), Sparky was good at educating people, creating his own tribe. And so we come to irony number 3: This man, who brought together so many disparate groups of people (cartoonists, golfers, skaters, tennis players, celebrities, religious leaders, etc.), was quite an introvert. He exhibited, despite all the colleagues, friends, and family a man could wish for (or tolerate), a more reclusive quality. His desk and drafting table were at the end of his study, as far from the door as possible. You even had to climb a step or two to get to them. His books and his stereo? They were directly in front of him.

Despite his introverted bent, Schulz was fiercely competitive. He always wanted his strip to be the best on the page every day. He wanted to win every round of golf, hockey, or tennis. And he could turn almost anything, even social interactions, into a game, though he could make up the rules as he went along. At a cartoon festival at Ohio State University, Ask Shagg cartoonist Peter Guren and I jumped in for lunch. I noticed their “Shagg” vanity plates as we approached his sports car and commented on both of them.

It turns out that Peter mentioned this outing to Sparky. So, during my next trip to see him, Sparky called Peter from his car phone (this was before cell phones were ubiquitous) and told Peter that we were now sitting in his car (a Jaguar, if I don’t know). memory fails) with their “Woodstock” vanity plates. , and that we had just returned from lunch in Bodega Bay (where “The Birds” was filmed). “I win,” Sparky stated.

People also ask how you edit someone so gifted. Given Sparky’s competitiveness, you don’t. You make sure everything is spelled correctly (my first five years as a comics editor, I didn’t find a single misspelling, not for a lack of trying). And when he finds a mistake, he checks it to make sure it wasn’t intentional. I even wanted to win by not having mistakes.

In December 1999, after being diagnosed with cancer and learning it was terminal, Sparky agreed to an interview with Al Roker of the “Today” show. Before Roker flew to California, United Feature Syndicate public relations executive Lili Root Bianchi and I met with Roker in his Manhattan office. I asked Roker a specific question: What would you do if, for example, Sparky’s nose started to runny during the interview and he didn’t notice? Roker responded without hesitation: he would stop recording and give Sparky a handkerchief. Roker didn’t want to embarrass Sparky or reveal him as anything less than the brilliant and talented man he was, facing his mortality with all the dignity he could muster.

After that interview, Sparky told me that he thought the Peanuts reruns, which were already being syndicated for the daily comics, would never work. He grew up reading the “new” newspapers, so reruns didn’t make sense to him. I replied that the union had to try; the work of many people depended on it. Irony No. 4: he Lost in predicting him. But… I win.

On Friday, February 11, 2000, I picked up the phone to call Sparky. Then I hung up the phone, resolving to call him on Monday because it would be Valentine’s Day. Early on Sunday, February 13, my boss called me to ask if he had heard that Sparky had died overnight, Saturday night on the West Coast, but probably Sunday on the East Coast. The day the last original Peanuts strip appeared in the newspapers.

Of all there is to say about Charles M. Schulz, this might epitomize him: In the mid-to-late 1990s, I found time to flip through a thick archive of old Peanuts correspondence. Among the papers was a letter from a client in Mississippi, dated in the early 1970s. The publisher asked Sparky to stop putting Franklin in the same classroom as Peppermint Patty, implying that he offended some of the others. readers (pro-segregation) of the newspaper. When I did further research for a book commemorating the strip’s 60th anniversary (in 2010), I found the same letter among Sparky’s papers. So he had received a copy.

And he ignored it.

amy lake He has been a publisher of comics and editorial cartoons for over 30 years. She is vice president of licensing and syndication for Counterpoint Media.

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