Charles Monroe Schulz (November 26, 1922 – February 12, 2000) was a 20th-century American cartoonist best known worldwide for his Peanuts comic strip. He wrote and drew every Peanuts strip from its inception to its end.
Early life and career
Charles M. Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Saint Paul. He was the only child of Carl Schulz, who was German, and Dena, who was of Norwegian extraction. His uncle nicknamed him "Sparky" after the horse Spark Plug in the Barney Google comic strip.
Schulz attended St. Paul's Richard Gordon Elementary School, where he skipped two half-grades. He became a shy and isolated teenager, perhaps as a result of being the youngest in his class at Central High School.
After his mother died in February 1943, he was drafted into the United States Army and was sent to Camp Campbell in Kentucky. He was shipped to Europe two years later to fight in World War II as an infantry squad leader with the U.S. 20th Armored Division.
After leaving the army in 1945, he returned to Minneapolis where he took a job as an art teacher at Art Instruction, Inc., from which he had taken correspondence courses before he was drafted. Schulz, before having his comics published, began doing lettering work for a Catholic comic magazine titled Timeless Topix. He would rush back and forth from dropping off his lettering work and teaching at Art Instruction Schools, Inc.
Schulz's drawings were first published by Robert Ripley in his Ripley's Believe It or Not!. His first regular cartoons, Li'l Folks, were published from 1947 to 1949 . by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; he first used the name Charlie Brown for a character there, although he applied the name in four gags to different boys. The series also had a dog that looked much like Snoopy. In 1948, Schulz sold a cartoon to the Saturday Evening Post; seventeen single-panel cartoons by Schulz would be published there. In 1948, Schulz tried to have Li'l Folks syndicated through the Newspaper Enterprise Association. Schulz would have been an independent contractor for the syndicate, unheard of in the 1940s, but the deal fell through. Li'l Folks was dropped in 1949.
The next year, Schulz approached the United Feature Syndicate with his best strips from Li'l Folks, and Peanuts made its first appearance on October 2, 1950. The strip became one of the most popular comic strips of all time. He also had a short-lived sports-oriented comic strip called It's Only a Game (1957–1959), but abandoned it due to the demands of the successful Peanuts. From 1956 to 1965 he also contributed a single-panel strip (Young Pillars) featuring teenagers to Youth, a publication associated with the Church of God. (These religious strips would be collected in 2007 as Schulz's Youth.)
Charlie Brown, the principal character for Peanuts, was named after a co-worker at the Art Instruction Schools; he drew much of his inspiration, however, from his own life. Like Charlie Brown, Schulz's father was a barber and his mother a housewife. Schulz had a dog when he was a boy. Unlike Snoopy, it was a pointer. Eventually, it was revealed that Snoopy had a desert-dwelling brother named Spike. Spike's residence, outside of Needles, California, was likely influenced by the few years (1928–1930) that the Schulz family lived there; they had moved to Needles to join other family members who had relocated from Minnesota to tend to an ill cousin. Schulz was also shy and withdrawn. Schulz's "Little Red-Haired Girl" was Donna Johnson, an Art Instruction Schools accountant with whom he had a relationship. She rejected his marriage proposal, but remained a friend for the rest of his life.
Schulz moved briefly to Colorado Springs, Colorado. He painted a wall in that home for his daughter Meredith, featuring Patty, Charlie Brown and Snoopy. The wall was removed in 2001 and donated to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California. The restored artwork by Schulz is printed in the paperback edition of Chip Kidd's book Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz.
Schulz's family returned to Minneapolis and stayed until 1958. They then moved to Sebastopol, California, where Schulz built his first studio. It was there that Schulz was interviewed for the unaired television documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Some of the footage was eventually used in a later documentary titled Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz. The original documentary is available on DVD from The Charles M. Schulz Museum.
Schulz's father died while visiting him in 1966, the same year his Sebastopol studio burned down. By 1969, Schulz had moved to Santa Rosa, California, where he lived and worked for more than thirty years.
Schulz had a long association with ice sports, as both figure skating and ice hockey featured prominently in his cartoons. In Santa Rosa, he was the owner of the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which opened in 1969. Schulz's daughter Amy served as a model for the skating in the 1980 television special She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown. Schulz was also very active in Senior Ice Hockey tournaments; in 1975, he formed Snoopy's Senior World Hockey Tournament at his Redwood Empire Ice Arena, and in 1981, Schulz was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to the sport of hockey in the United States. In 1998, he hosted the first ever Over 75 Hockey Tournament (although goalies could be younger - 60). In 2001, Saint Paul renamed The Highland Park Ice Arena the "Charles Schulz Arena" in his honor.
Schulz touched on religious themes in his work, including the classic television cartoon, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), which features the character Linus van Pelt quoting the King James Version of the Bible (Luke 2:8–14) to explain "what Christmas is all about." In personal interviews Schulz mentioned that Linus represented his spiritual side.
Schulz, reared in the Lutheran faith, had been active in the Church of God as a young adult and then later taught Sunday school at a United Methodist Church. However, he remained a member of the Church of God until his death.
In an interview in late 1999, however, Schulz stated that his philosophical views had evolved over the years: "The term that best describes me now is 'secular humanist'".
In the 1960s, Robert L. Short interpreted certain themes and conversations in Peanuts as being consistent with parts of Christian theology, and used them as illustrations during his lectures about the gospel, and as source material for several books, as he explained in his bestselling paperback book, The Gospel According to Peanuts.
Peanuts ran for nearly fifty years without interruption and appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers in seventy-five countries. In November 1999 Schulz suffered a stroke, and later it was discovered that he had colon cancer that had metastasized to his stomach. As a result of the chemotherapy and the fact that he could not read or see clearly, he announced his retirement on December 14, 1999. After he drew his last strip, he looked up and said, "I just realized... that poor little boy is never going to kick that football!"
This was difficult for Schulz, and he was quoted as saying "I never dreamed that this would happen to me. I always had the feeling that I would stay with the strip until I was in my early eighties, or something like that. But all of sudden it's gone. I did not take it away. This has been taken away from me."
Schulz died in Santa Rosa of a heart attack at 9:45 p.m. on February 12, 2000, at age of 78. He was interred in Pleasant Hills Cemetery in Sebastopol.
The last original strip ran the day after his death. In it, a statement was included from Schulz that his family wished for the strip to end when he was no longer able to produce it. Schulz had previously predicted that the strip would outlive him, with his reason being that comic strips are usually drawn weeks before their publication. As part of his will, Schulz had requested that the Peanuts characters remain as authentic as possible and that no new comic strips based on them be drawn. United Features has legal ownership of the strip, but his wishes have been honored, although reruns of the strip are still being syndicated to newspapers. New television specials have also been produced since Schulz's death, but the stories are based on previous strips.
Schulz had been asked if, for his final Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown would finally get to kick that football after so many decades. His response: "Oh, no! Definitely not! I couldn't have Charlie Brown kick that football; that would be a terrible disservice to him after nearly half a century."
On May 27, 2000 Schulz was honored by the cartoonists of forty-two different comic strips who paid homage to him and Peanuts, by them including a Peanuts tributes in their strips.
Schulz received the National Cartoonist Society Humor Comic Strip Award for Peanuts in 1962 . He received the Society's Elzie Segar Award in 1980, its Reuben Award for 1955 and 1964, and its Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. Schulz, a hockey fan, was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1981 for outstanding contributions to the sport of hockey in the United States, and was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993. On June 28, 1996, Schulz was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, adjacent to Walt Disney's. A replica of this star appears outside his former studio in Santa Rosa. Schulz received the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest adult award given by the Boy Scouts of America, for his service to American youth.
On June 7, 2001 the United States Congress posthumously awarded Schulz the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor the US legislature can award. Schulz's widow, Jean, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband.
In 2000, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors renamed its airport the Charles M. Schulz - Sonoma County Airport in his honor. The airport's amusing logo features Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace, 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. It celebrates his life's work and art of cartooning. A bronze statue of Charlie Brown and Snoopy stands in Depot Park in downtown Santa Rosa.
"Peanuts on Parade" was St. Paul, Minnesota’s tribute to its favorite native cartoonist. It began in 2000 with the placing of 101 five-foot tall statues of Snoopy throughout the city of Saint Paul. Every summer for the next four years statues of different Peanuts characters were placed on the sidewalks. In 2001 there was "Charlie Brown Around Town", 2002 brought "Looking for Lucy", then in 2003along came "Linus Blankets Saint Paul", ending in 2004 with Snoopy lying on his doghouse. The statues were auctioned off at the end of each summer, so some remain around the city but others have been relocated. Permanent, bronze statues of the Peanuts characters are also found in Landmark Plaza in downtown St. Paul.
For the past five years, Forbes Magazine has rated Schulz the second "highest paid deceased person" in the United States (after Elvis Presley), with his estate continuing to garner income totaling more than $32 million since his passing. According to the book Where Are They Buried? (as well as other sources), Charles M. Schulz's income during his lifetime totaled more than $1.1 billion.
Schulz counted George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Roy Crane (Wash Tubbs), Elzie C. Segar (Thimble Theater) and Percy Crosby (Skippy) among his influences. In Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz, Rheta Grimsley Johnson wrote:
“ 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-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."
According to Schulz (through a series of interviews conducted by biographer Rheta Grimsley Johnson), there are twelve "devices", or subjects, which are responsible for making Peanuts as popular and as versatile a comic strip as it has been:
- The Kite-Eating Tree
- Schroeder's music
- Linus's blanket
- Lucy's psychiatry booth
- Snoopy's doghouse
- The Red Baron
- The baseball games
- The football place-kicking gags
- The Great Pumpkin
- The Little Red-Haired Girl