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Creator / Charles M. Schulz

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"Schulz is a rare breed of cartoonist. Even though he comes from this very mainstream place, every cartoonist loves him, underground or overground. He’s the Beatles of comics, absolutely.”
Eric Reynolds, Fantagraphics (publisher of The Complete Peanuts)

Charles Monroe "Sparky" Schulz (November 26, 1922 – February 12, 2000) was an American cartoonist, best known for being the creator of the long-running comic strip Peanuts.

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota as the only child of German-American barber Carl Schulz and his Norwegian-American wife Dena Halverson, he was given the nickname "Sparky" by his uncle (after the horse "Spark Plug" from his favorite comic strip, Barney Google). A bright student with obvious artistic talent, young Sparky skipped a couple of grades in elementary school, but as he became the youngest and smallest in his class, he suffered a rough adolescence. An ill-fated move by his family from Minnesota to the desert town of Needles, California also caused some disruption to his childhood.

After the family resumed their life in Minnesota, teenaged Schulz became a fan of the work of comic strip creators like George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Percy Crosby (Skippy), and Roy Crane (Wash Tubbs & Captain Easy) while he started working on his own cartooning. After a stint in the U.S. Army during World War II, he worked at Art Instruction Schools in Minneapolis (the outfit behind the "Draw Me" ads that were ubiquitous in magazines and newspapers for decades) and created what would become the prototype for Peanuts, a weekly panel called Li'l Folks, in 1947. After signing with the United Feature Syndicate, Schulz refined the strip into Peanuts, first published on October 2, 1950.

Peanuts became a runaway success, and would go on to be published continuously for nearly half a century, in 2,600 papers in 75 countries and in 21 languages.

Schulz, who moved from Minnesota to Northern California in 1958, oversaw the evolution of Peanuts from a daily comic strip into a full-blown franchise, with animated television specials and movies and countless bits of merchandise. While Peanuts makes up the bulk of his life's work, he also did some book illustrations, some teenager-themed cartoons for Youth—a magazine published by The Church of God,note  of which Schulz was a longtime member—and another syndicated strip called It's Only a Game (a weekly panel of sports-related cartoons).

As the 20th century ended, Schulz's health rapidly deteriorated, and he announced his retirement on December 14, 1999. Eight weeks later, on February 12, 2000, he died from colon cancer at age 77. The last Peanuts strip was published the following day.

Good luck finding any present-day cartoonist who hasn't cited Schulz as an influence. Jim Davis, Bill Watterson, and Matt Groening in particular owe much of their styles to Schulz's work. His influence goes beyond cartooning too. Wes Anderson is a big fan (Rushmore is loaded with Peanuts allusions).

The Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California, located adjacent to his studio and an ice arena that the hockey-loving Schulz built for the community, displays a rotating collection of original strips and a permanent exhibit of items relating to his life (including a re-creation of his art studio, complete with several packed bookcases full of reference material, favorite novels, and vinyl records). There are dozens of books about his life and work, headed up by two full-length biographies: Good Grief (1988) by Rheta Grimsley-Johnson (an "authorized" bio that's actually quite frank about how the man who had such a big influence on American humor lived a Sad Clown life), and Schulz & Peanuts (2007) by David Michaelis (thorough, but somewhat controversial, as Schulz's family felt that it overemphasized his depression and dwelt rather sensationalistically on his failed first marriage).

Not to be confused with Charles A. Schulz, the tubist with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra since 1971.

Comic strips created by Charles M. Schulz:

  • Li'l Folks (1947-1950)
  • Peanuts (1950-2000)
  • It's Only a Game (1957-1959, collaboration with Jim Sasseville)

Peanuts-related books featuring original written material by Schulz about his life and work:

  • Peanuts Jubilee (1975)
  • Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Me (1980, an autobiography geared towards children, co-written with R. Smith Kiliper)
  • You Don't Look 35, Charlie Brown! (1985)
  • Around the World in 45 Years (1995)

Complete collections of his non-Peanuts work:

  • Li'l Beginnings (2003; Li'l Folks. Also collected in Volume 25 of the Fantagraphics Complete Peanuts set.)
  • It's Only a Game (2004)
  • Schulz's Youth (2007; his Church of God cartoons)

Schulz's works provides examples of:

  • As the Good Book Says...: While he wasn't particularly religious in his youth, after the war he became involved with a small Protestant sect called The Church of God, and developed a major interest in The Bible. Bible quotes frequently found their way into Peanuts, with A Charlie Brown Christmas famously climaxing with Linus quoting the nativity story from the Gospel of Luke. Naturally, his Church of God cartoons feature many Biblical quotes and allusions.
  • Art Evolution: Peanuts' art style underwent a huge shift during its long run, starting out very polished before getting looser as the humor became wackier. The line work and lettering also became more crooked as time went on as Schulz developed a tremor in his drawing hand and often had to hold his pens in both hands while working.
  • Author Appeal: While his personal favorite sports were golf and hockey, he was a big baseball fan, reflected in the Peanuts baseball strips. He also acknowledged that he didn't like American football as much as baseball, which is why it didn't appear much outside of the Lucy-Charlie Brown kicking strips.
  • Author Avatar: He frequently acknowledged that Charlie Brown is a fictionalized Played for Laughs version of himself as a child. His Church of God cartoons feature a tall, skinny teen boy who looks a lot like pictures of Schulz himself as a teen, and could also be seen as an older Charlie Brown.
  • Canine Companion: Schulz owned dogs most of his life, but by his account he never really connected with them until he adopted a dog named Andy in the early 90s. Around that time Snoopy became much more affectionate, often laying in Charlie Brown’s lap.
  • Does Not Like Spam: His own hatred of coconut is mentioned frequently in his work.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: Sparky's Church of God cartoons were later syndicated to other religious publications, where they were sometimes ran under the title Teen-nuts, to suggest they were directly connected to Peanuts.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: His first published artwork was a drawing of his dog Spike included in a 1937 Ripley's Believe It or Not! panel (talking about Spike's habit of eating "pins, tacks, screws and razor blades"). In 1944, while he was serving in the Army, the St. Paul Pioneer Press (future home of Li'l Folks) published an entire page of his pencil sketches of military life, noting that "the corporal has always liked to draw. He has an especial [sic] fondness for the comic strip style with pencil, pen and ink."
  • Executive Meddling: According to some of his autobiographical books made during his lifetime. The reason Hello Kitty and Sanrio characters came into existence was a result of a disagreement Sparky had with the company. They also grew tired of paying royalty fees to him. note  As a result, Sanrio decided to create their own characters. In later years, the company gained back the merchandise rights to the Snoopy/Peanuts franchise in Japan.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: He didn't like to use profanity, instead preferring to substitute an Unusual Euphemism like "good grief!" and "rats!" which became world-famous thanks to his use of them in the strip.
  • He Also Did: Schulz (a lifelong hockey enthusiast) designed the mascot for the (now defunct) California Golden Seals of the National Hockey League, which was also seemingly named after him (Sparky the Seal).
  • Sad Clown: The dark edge that could sometimes be glimpsed in Sparky's work very much stemmed from a somewhat difficult life. He was a social misfit in his youth (and that youth taking place during The Great Depression didn't help matters). His mother died when he was 20, not long after he'd been drafted into the Army. After several years of waiting stateside,note  his Army unit was suddenly deployed to Europe in the final days of World War II, and even assisted in the liberation of Dachau, the longest-lived Nazi concentration camp. After he got home he endured a Rejected Marriage Proposal. In 1966, at the height of his success, his visiting father suddenly died from a heart attack, and his studio burned down the same year. His first marriage ended bitterly after a prolonged separation. In 1981 he suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery, and his health gradually declined in the ensuing decades.
  • Workaholic: Schulz produced all his own strips without assistants, and publicly criticized younger cartoonists who took sabbaticals like Garry Trudeau and Bill Watterson.
  • Write What You Know: Many of the characters and concepts in Peanuts were based on his own life.
    • His father was a barber, just like Charlie Brown's father.
    • Snoopy's brother Spike was named after his childhood dog, and like Spike, he had briefly lived in Needles, California. The real Spike was a major inspiration for Snoopy's look and personality.
    • Shermy was named for a childhood friend, Charlie Brown, Linus, and Frieda were named for Art Instruction Schools co-workers, and there were many other examples of Tuckerization in Peanuts.

Alternative Title(s): Charles Schulz