Good Grief! I Can't Be 60. That's 360 Dog Years ... the Lovable Gang of Kids and Dog Came from the Imagination of a Man Who Adored Children

By Gertler, Nat; Johnson, Amy Schulz | American Heritage, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Good Grief! I Can't Be 60. That's 360 Dog Years ... the Lovable Gang of Kids and Dog Came from the Imagination of a Man Who Adored Children


Gertler, Nat, Johnson, Amy Schulz, American Heritage


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ON OCTOBER 2, 1950, MY FATHER SIGNED WITH UNITED FEATURE SYNDICATE, BELIEVING THAT HIS JOB WAS TO HELP EDITORS SELL NEWSPAPERS. HE STARTED IN SEVEN PAPERS. FIFTY YEARS LATER, WITH THE STRIP APPEARING IN A RECORD 2,600 NEWSPAPERS, DAD STILL WENT TO WORK MOTIVATED BY THAT SAME BELIEF.

AS I GREW UP, I REGARDED MY FATHER NOT AS SNOOPY'S DAD BUT MINE. I WASN'T QUITE CONVINCED HE HAD A REAL JOB: HE DIDN'T GO OFF TO WORK LIKE OTHER DADS, BUT WORKED IN A STUDIO ON OUR PROPERTY IN SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA. HE NEVER WORKED PAST 5 P.M., NOR ON WEEKENDS. HIS CHILDREN WOULD THINK NOTHING OF WALKING INTO THE STUDIO, RIGHT PAST THE SECRETARY, AND INTO HIS OFFICE. I CAN PICTURE HIM LOOKING UP AND IMMEDIATELY PUTTING DOWN HIS PEN TO TALK TO ME. HE NEVER ONCE ASKED ME TO WAIT WHILE HE FINISHED A DRAWING OR SOME LETTERING. WHENEVER MY BROTHERS ASKED HIM TO PLAY BASEBALL--EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY--HE HAPPILY COMPLIED. AS MUCH AS HE LOVED THE STRIP, HE LOVED HIS CHILDREN EVEN MORE.

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LIFE GIVES BIRTH TO PURE ART, AND A TRUE ARTIST PAYS ATTENTION TO THE DETAILS AROUND HIM--NOT JUST THE DETAILS IN HIS LIFE, BUT IN ALL LIFE. MY DAD'S GIFT FOR OBSERVATION WAS PROVEN BY THE FACT THAT HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD WOULD WAKE UP EVERY MORNING AND TURN THE NEWSPAPER PAGE TO HIS STRIP--NEARLY 18,000 STRIPS IN ALL-BECAUSE THEY HAD GROWN TO LOVE THE CHARACTERS AS REAL PEOPLE.--AMY SCHULZ JOHNSON

SPARKY

TO THE PEOPLE WHO READ PEANUTS, HIS NAME WAS SIMPLY "SCHULZ," WRITTEN IN A QUICK, CLEAR HAND ALONG THE EDGE OF ONE OF THE PANEL BORDERS. BUT TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY HE WAS ALWAYS "SPARKY," TAKEN FROM THE NICKNAME OF THE CARTOON HORSE SPARK PLUG, BELOW IN A 1922 CELL FROM THE THEN-POPULAR COMIC STRIP BARNEY GOOGLE, PUBLISHED THE YEAR THAT CHARLES MONROE SCHULZ WAS BORN.

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AS A SHY ONLY CHILD, SCHULZ PORED OVER THE COMICS PAGES WITH HIS FATHER AND LEARNED TO COPY THE CHARACTERS. HIS CLASSMATES WOULD HAVE HIM DRAW POPEYE OR OTHER CHARACTERS ON THEIR NOTEBOOKS. HE FIRST LANDED IN THE FUNNY PAGES WHEN HE WAS 14 WITH A DRAWING OF THE FAMILY DOG SPIKE, BELOW LEFT, WHICH APPEARED IN THE RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT! FEATURE.

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SCHULZ WAS DRAFTED INTO THE ARMY DURING WORLD WAR II, SERVING MOST OF HIS THREE-YEAR STINT LEADING A MACHINE GUN SQUAD IN EUROPE. AFTER HIS DISCHARGE, HE TURNED TO SMALL ART JOBS, ALMOST ACCEPTING ONE LETTERING TOMBSTONES. FORTUNATELY, HIS ART CAREER GREW: HE GRADUATED FROM LETTERING DIALOGUE FOR THE CATHOLIC COMIC BOOK TIMELESS TOPIX TO ORIGINATING HIS OWN SINGLE-PANEL GAG CARTOONS FOR LOCAL NEWSPAPERS.

IN 1947 HE HIT THE BIG TIME, LANDING HIS FIRST CARTOON IN THE SATURDAY EVENING POST. IN THE 17 CARTOONS HE DREW FOR THE POST, IT WAS CLEAR THAT HE HAD HIS OWN DISTINCTIVE STYLE, AS WELL AS HIS OWN THEMES. IN 1950, AS A SINGLE MAN IN HIS LATE 20S, HE LAUNCHED PEANUTS.

PEANUTS IN STRIPS

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FOR YEARS PRIOR TO THE DEBUT OF PEANUTS, SCHULZ HAD BEEN DRAWING SINGLE-PANEL CARTOONS, INCLUDING LI'L FOLKS (AN EXAMPLE OF WHICH APPEARS ABOVE RIGHT), A FEATURE APPEARING IN MINNESOTA NEWSPAPERS. BOTH LI'L FOLKS AND PEANUTS WERE ABOUT CHILDREN--AND NO ADULTS WERE EVER SEEN--BUT THAT'S WHERE THE COMPARISONS END. LI'L FOLKS FEATURED NO RECURRING CHARACTERS. WHILE "CHARLIE BROWN" (A NAME SCHULZ BORROWED FROM A CO-WORKER) APPEARED FOUR TIMES, IT WAS FOR A DIFFERENT CHARACTER EACH TIME.

SCHULZ'S GOAL WAS TO SELL LI'L FOLKS INTO A NATIONAL MARKET. WHILE UNITED FEATURE SYNDICATE LIKED SCHULZ'S WORK, THE COMPANY WAS RELUCTANT TO DISTRIBUTE SINGLE-PANEL GAGS. THE SYNDICATE WANTED STRIPS THAT WOULD FEATURE CONTINUING CHARACTERS. BY THE TIME THAT SCHULZ REJIGGERED THE SINGLE-PANEL WORK INTO A STRIP AND CHANGED THE TITLE (A LEGAL DEPARTMENT REQUIREMENT), THERE WAS LITTLE LEFT OF LI'L FOLKS. …

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