|Tracy, me and her Snoopy|
So to that end, since today is Tracy’s birthday, I’m going to talk about Peanuts.
In the 1980s, Schulz complained of a shaking in his hand that sometimes got so bad “I have to hold my wrist to draw”, which was diagnosed as an essential tremor. In November 1999, he suffered several small strokes and it was later discovered he had colon cancer that had metastasized and as he could neither read or see clearly and was undergoing chemotherapy, he announced his retirement on December 14th 1999. When asked if, in the final strip, Charlie Brown would finally get to kick the football, he said “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.” However, in a later interview, he is quoted as saying “'You know, that poor, poor kid, he never even got to kick the football. What a dirty trick…”
Charles M Schulz died in his sleep on February 12th 2000 and his last Peanuts strip was published the next day. As part of his will, he requested that no new comic strips based on the characters be drawn. On May 27th 2000, more than 100 cartoonists paid homage to him and Peanuts by incorporating his characters into their comic strips on that date.
Although he created other strips, Schulz will be forever known for Peanuts, a name bestowed by Universal Feature Syndicate that he always disliked (in a 1987 interview, he said it was “totally ridiculous, has no meaning…or dignity”) so whenever the strips were collected, the books either had “Charlie Brown” or “Snoopy” in the title.
|The first strip|
Over the 50 year run, most of the characters’ ages don’t change any more than four years (Charlie Brown started as a four-year old and aged over the next two decades to settle as an eight-year-old for the remainder of the strip) and when characters are born (such as Sally), they age only until they’re small children. Having said that, the characters aren’t defined by their ages and often discuss literature, art and music, faith, loneliness and depression, as if they were adults.
Of course, the characters are key to the strips success, with Lucy’s forthrightness, Patty’s self-confidence and Snoopy’s joie-de-vivre contrasting well with Charlie Brown’s melancholy. In fact, for me, it’s that mixture of pure fun and occasional poignancy that keeps drawing me back to the strip.
Charlie Brown is the key character (apparently developed from some of the painful experiences of Schulz’s formative years), drawn to melancholy but also full of admirable persistence (he wants to win a baseball game, he wants to fly a kite, he wants to kick Lucy’s football and he will keep trying until he succeeds). He also has an unrequited crush on the “little red-headed girl”, which is just marvellous to read (and she herself was only seen once, in 1998, as a silhouette).
|Snoopy as Joe Cool, with an equally cool Woodstock|
At no point does an adult enter the world - the reader is made aware that they’re about, from parents to teachers, but only ever sees the children. In the TV special, grown-ups are seen but all talk in a trombone-like special effect.
No definite location is ever given (though Linus is once shown hugging a sign that says “Pinetree Corners Population 3,260”), but several addresses seem to suggest it’s set in Minneapolis, where Schulz was born and grew up.
Shulz decided to produce all aspects of the strip himself, which lent it a unified tone, though the early artwork is different - cleaner and sleeker - than the more popularly known strips from the 60s through to the 80s. He employed a minimalistic style, generally without too much background and his sometimes frazzled lines forced “its readers to focus on subtle nuances” (according to art critic John Carlin).
The strip remained massively popular during the 1980s and 1990s (though rivalled by Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes respectively) and is reputed to have earned Schulz in excess of $1bn. Peanuts is regarded as one of the most influential comics strips of all time, with Schulz receiving the National Cartoonist Society Humor Comic Strip Award, the Reuben Award twice (the first cartoonist to receive the honour twice), the Elzie Segar Award and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award. The TV specials won two Peabody Awards and four Emmys and Schulz has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as a place in the William Randolph Hearst Cartoon Hall of Fame. Peanuts was featured on the cover of Time Magazine on April 9, 1965, with the accompanying article praising the strip as being “the leader of a refreshing new breed that takes an unprecedented interest in the basics of life.” In addition, the Apollo 10 lunar module was nicknamed “Snoopy” and the command module “Charlie Brown” and Snoopy is the personal safety mascot for NASA astronauts (NASA issues a Silver Snoopy award to employees that promote flight safety).
The final daily comic strip was published on January 3, 2000 and on February 13, 2000, the day following Schulz's death, the last ever strip was published. It shows Charlie Brown answering the phone to someone presumably asking for Snoopy. “No,” says Charlie Brown, “I think he’s writing.” Snoopy is shown sitting at his typewriter, which contains a note from Schulz that reads:
I have been fortunate to draw Charlie Brown and his friends for almost fifty years. It has been the fulfillment of my childhood ambition.
Unfortunately, I am no longer able to maintain the schedule demanded by a daily comic strip. My family does not wish "Peanuts" to be continued by anyone else, therefore I am announcing my retirement.
I have been grateful over the years for the loyalty of our editors and the wonderful support and love expressed to me by fans of the comic strip.
Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy... how can I ever forget them...
— Charles M. Schulz
Fittingly, Charlie Brown was the only character to appear in both the first strip and the last.
Happy birthday, TJ!