By: Dave Astor
SUNDAYS WILL NEVER BE THE SAME
Fans Mourn The Passing Of Charles Schulz
Charles ‘Sparky’ Schulz died Feb. 12, but he got to see his last Sunday
strip as it appeared in the Feb. 13 Atlanta Journal-Constitution .
One of his staffers, former J-C graphics editor Paige Braddock, showed
him the preprinted comics section Feb. 9. As Schulz looked at the
panels – including Snoopy pulling Linus by his security blanket and
Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown – he told Braddock in
his modest but proud way: ‘I drew some funny things.’
The Santa Rosa, Calif.-based creator also had a funny (as in eerie)
sense of timing: He died in his sleep less than three hours before the
date of his last original Sunday ‘Peanuts.’ Indeed, it was already past
midnight in New York, home of United Feature Syndicate.
‘It’s just the ultimate twist to the story,’ says Amy Lago, United’s
executive editor of comic art. ‘Sparky would appreciate that more than
anyone else. He loved a good story.’
The ‘Peanuts’ story began on Oct. 2, 1950, when United launched the
strip in only seven newspapers. But Schulz’s creation eventually became
the most widely syndicated comic in history, with 2,600-plus newspaper
clients and an estimated 355 million readers in 75 countries. Even
after the last original daily strip appeared Jan. 3, more than 90% of
clients opted to use reruns – which will continue for the foreseeable
While the reruns are helping many readers adjust to the end of
‘Peanuts,’ the youngest of Schulz’s five children says the cartoonist
had a hard time adjusting to life away from his drawing board. ‘He
could do other things, but there was nothing that instilled that same
passion to get up in the morning,’ Jill Transki tells E&P Online.
Schulz, 77, was forced to retire because of serious health problems. He
succumbed to colon cancer, according to his death certificate, but some
media reports said a heart attack might have killed him. In the weeks
before his death, the cartoonist felt better some days than others, and
even managed to ice skate a little with one of his grandchildren on
Transki says her father took solace from the massive, glowing media
coverage sparked by his retirement and the thousands of get-well cards
that overflowed his office.
Obviously, millions of people loved the extraordinarily
multidimensional ‘Peanuts.’ It was simply drawn but psychologically
complex, funny but melancholy, secular yet religious, and grounded in
reality while capable of soaring flights of Snoopyesque fancy.
Schulz was complex, too: soft-spoken and humble, yet very confident in
his work. ‘Deep down, he definitely knew how good he was,’ says
Transki, adding that her father was especially proud that his fame
resulted from hard work.
Indeed, Schulz thought up, drew, lettered, and inked every ‘Peanuts’
strip – more than 17,000 – over nearly a half century. Once in a very
great while he used an idea inspired by his children, such as when
Transki wondered if people clasping their hands upside down got the
opposite of what they prayed for.
Schulz was also reliable and meticulous. ‘Working with Sparky was
absolutely the best because he was such a consummate professional,’
says Lago. ‘He was always on time or early, and he never had a
misspelling the first three or four years I worked for United.’
Over the years, Schulz was also heavily involved with more than 50
‘Peanuts’ TV specials, 1,400 ‘Peanuts’ books, scads of licensed
products, and other spinoffs that helped make him a millionaire many
times over. Licensing will continue.
And Schulz spent countless hours helping and encouraging younger
cartoonists – talking with them over the phone, inviting them to Santa
Rosa, and writing scores of forewords for their comic collections.
‘Stone Soup’ creator Jan Eliot of Universal Press Syndicate recalls
that Schulz gave her advice when her comic’s client list plateaued at
one point. ‘He told me that ‘Peanuts’ was only in about 45 papers for
five years, and he was going crazy,’ Eliot says. ‘The thing that made
the difference, finally, was when he had Snoopy stand up and have
thoughts. He encouraged me to try to think of the unique thing I could
‘Luann’ creator Greg Evans, now with United, recalls nervously meeting
Schulz for the first time at the 1985 Newspaper Features Council
conference in San Francisco. Schulz made Evans feel comfortable by
inviting him to lunch.
‘Curtis’ creator Ray Billingsley of King Features Syndicate frequently
talked and consulted with Schulz. ‘I looked up to him a lot,’ he
explains. ‘It was almost like a father-son relationship.’
Lynn Johnston, creator of United’s ‘For Better or For Worse,’ was also
close to Schulz. Indeed, she penned a tribute to him in the Oct. 30,
1999 E&P issue which named Schulz – along with William Randolph
Hearst, Walter Lippmann, Joseph Pulitzer, Ernie Pyle, and others – one
of the 25 most influential newspaper people of the 20th century.
Johnston wrote that ‘Peanuts’ had ‘an honesty that healed even when it
While Schulz was highly supportive of other cartoonists, he also had a
competitive side. When an April 1999 E&P survey found that ‘Peanuts’
and ‘Garfield’ had virtually the same number of newspapers, Schulz
insisted his comic had more. Yet the ‘Peanuts’ creator would have loved
being a cartoonist even if his strip had been a modest success,
according to his daughter.
Greg Evans says Schulz enjoyed talking about the ‘nitty-gritty’ of
comics (such as how to structure a gag) with other cartoonists. One
venue for this was Schulz’s private plane, which the ‘Peanuts’ creator
used to ferry fellow artists to National Cartoonists Society (NCS)
The NCS still plans to give Schulz a lifetime achievement award when it
meets in New York May 27. And many cartoonists that day will pay
tribute to Schulz in their comics. ‘It was going to be a secret to
surprise Sparky, but we can announce it now,’ says NCS President Daryl
Cagle, whose Web site (http://www.cagle.com) has many ‘Peanuts’ tribute
Cagle adds that cartoonists will be asked to donate their May 27 comics
to the ‘Peanuts’ museum planned for Santa Rosa. That city was also
where a memorial service for Schulz was held Feb. 21 – five days after
Schulz’s family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be
sent in memory of the cartoonist to the National D-Day Memorial
Foundation, P.O. Box 77, Bedford, VA 24523. Schulz chaired the
foundation’s fund-raising campaign, and also helped bring in more than
$45,000 for the memorial’s $250,000 Bill Mauldin World War II Cartoon
Art Gallery Endowment (named after the famed editorial cartoonist).
But what many will remember most about ‘Peanuts’ is its distinctive
characters: the hapless but resilient Charlie Brown, the acerbic Lucy,
the philosophical Linus, the spirited Snoopy. ‘They have these really
strong personalities,’ says ‘Mother Goose & Grimm’ creator Mike Peters
of Tribune Media Services. ‘There’s no other strip where you can go
down the line and describe each character in one or two words. They
were that strong.’
And Schulz? ‘Now that he’s gone,’ says Peters, ‘you realize, boy, we
had a giant in our midst.
DRAWING CONCLUSIONS ABOUT SCHULZ
Fellow Cartoonists Pay Tribute To An Icon
Ray Billingsley, creator, ‘Curtis,’ King Features Syndicate: ‘In a way
he hasn’t died. His inspiration and creativity will be with us forever.
He’s an immortal.’
Jan Eliot, creator, ‘Stone Soup,’ Universal Press Syndicate: ‘Charles
Schulz was a genius of a cartoonist. … He was one of the first to put
so much of himself, and so much of his own feelings, into a strip.’
Greg Evans, creator, ‘Luann,’ United Feature Syndicate: ‘I’m going to
miss the strip. It was so inspiring to all of us. I always wished I
could do something as pure and perfect as ‘Peanuts’ was.’
Patrick McDonnell, creator, ‘Mutts,’ King Features Syndicate: ‘He was
not only the greatest cartoonist who ever lived but probably the
greatest man I ever met.’
Mike Peters, creator, ‘Mother Goose & Grimm,’ Tribune Media Services:
‘He wasn’t a star, he was a supernova. This guy is going to leave a
huge black hole on the comics page.’
WHAT A TIME(LINE) IT WAS
A Schulz And ‘Peanuts’ Chronology
1922: Charles Schulz is born in Minneapolis on Nov. 26. Quickly
nicknamed ‘Sparky’ by an uncle fond of Sparkplug the horse in the
‘Barney Google’ comic.
1943-45: Serves in the U.S. Army as an infantryman, staff sergeant, and
leader of a machine-gun squad.
1948-49: Does cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post and St. Paul
(Minn.) Pioneer Press .
1949: Marries Joyce Halverson (they divorce in 1972).
1950: Signs with United Feature Syndicate, which launches ‘Peanuts’ in
seven newspapers on Oct. 2.
1952: First ‘Peanuts’ book.
1955: Receives first Reuben Award from National Cartoonists Society as
top cartoonist of the year (second comes in 1964).
1958: Snoopy stands on two legs for the first time.
1960: First ‘Peanuts’ greeting cards.
1961: First ‘Peanuts’ calendar.
1965: Time magazine does a ‘Peanuts’ cover story. First animated
special, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ airs on CBS.
1969: The Apollo 10 command module is named Charlie Brown and the lunar
module is named Snoopy.
1973: Schulz marries Jean Forsyth.
1984: ‘Peanuts’ sells its 2,000th newspaper client.
1987: Schulz inducted into the Cartoonists Hall of Fame.
1989: Only authorized biography of Schulz is written by columnist Rheta
Grimsley Johnson, now with King Features Syndicate.
1990: Schulz receives the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French
Ministry of Culture, and sees his cartoons exhibited at the Louvre in
1993: Charlie Brown hits a game-winning home run for the first time
(but still fails at most other things).
1995: United launches ‘Peanuts’ Web site.
1996: Schulz gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, next to Walt
1997: ‘Peanuts Gallery,’ a musical piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning
composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, premieres at Carnegie Hall in New York.
1999: Schulz is diagnosed with colon cancer and suffers strokes in
November. Announces his retirement in December.
2000: Last original daily ‘Peanuts’ runs Jan. 3. Schulz dies Feb. 12 in
Santa Rosa, Calif. Last original Sunday strip runs the next day. The
U.S. House of Representatives adopts a Feb. 15 resolution to award
Schulz a Congressional Gold Medal.
Sources: E&P, United Media, National Cartoonists Society, Who’s Who in
THE LAST NEWSPAPER INTERVIEW?
It Appears In Ventura County (Calif.) Star
The accessible Charles Schulz gave countless newspaper interviews over
the years. Perhaps the last one was conducted Feb. 9 by the Ventura
County (Calif.) Star .
Star writer David Montero got Schulz’s home phone number from his
girlfriend’s cousin’s husband, who had worked with the ‘Peanuts’
creator. After calling Schulz’s office to make sure the ailing
cartoonist wasn’t feeling too sick to talk, Montero dialed Schulz’s
‘I was nervous,’ says Montero, 31. ‘I grew up reading the strip. I even
had a ‘Peanuts’ lunchbox. I had this image of him built up from my
childhood. What if he turned out to be a jerk? But he was as gracious
as I possibly could have imagined.’
The 45-minute interview started with Schulz asking where Montero was.
He answered ‘Ventura,’ but Schulz was actually seeking more specific
information. So Montero said he was sitting at his computer ready to
type some notes.
‘He said he likes to get a visual idea of what a person on the other
end of the line is doing,’ recalls Montero.
The Star writer says Schulz, who suffered several strokes in recent
months, stumbled over some words but gave very cogent, thought-out
During the interview, Schulz discussed matters ranging from the way his
World War II experiences built up his self-confidence to the 1970s
‘Peanuts’ reruns now appearing in papers (he thought his work from 1988
on was better).
What did Montero’s editor think of all this? Tim Gallagher says he was
proud of Montero’s enterprise and the way he had numerous questions
ready for Schulz. ‘It’s a good lesson,’ notes Gallagher. ‘If you do get
lucky, you better be prepared.’
Montero’s story ran Feb. 13. Originally, it was going to coincide with
the last original Sunday ‘Peanuts.’ As it turned out, it also coincided
with the day the Star covered Schulz’s death.
‘ONE OF A KIND … ONE OF THE CROWD’
E&P’s Syndication Writer Remembers Schulz
Since joining Editor & Publisher magazine in 1983, I talked to
Charles Schulz about 50 times by phone or in person. He was amazingly
accessible and down-to-earth for someone of his stature. And still
enthusiastic about ‘Peanuts’ decades after he created the comic.
He would tell me, joyfully rather than boastfully, to look at a great
strip he did about D-Day or some other subject. I also recall how much
pleasure Schulz took in his art. Indeed, a big reason why he let
Charlie Brown hit a home run in 1993 was so he could draw the character
doing a magnificent celebratory somersault.
Mixed in with the enthusiasm and gentleness was a man of very strong
opinions. I remember Schulz criticizing some creators for using off-
color humor or, in the case of some superstar cartoonists, for farming
out much of their comic duties to other writers and artists. He also
tweaked newspaper editors for running comics too small or not
appreciating the craft enough. And Schulz was miffed when people who
considered themselves comics fans didn’t know much about great strips
of the past.
I don’t think Schulz criticized any of these people to their faces. He
was honest, but also kind.
Perhaps my strongest memory of Schulz dates back to the 1988 National
Cartoonists Society meeting in San Francisco. A bus that would
transport attendees to the next event was a long time in coming, and
some opted to take taxis. Schulz patiently waited for the bus – not
only one of a kind, but one of the crowd.
– Dave Astor
SINGLE ‘GODDESS’ SEEKING A MAN
Columnist Places Huge Personal In L.A. Times
‘The Advice Goddess’ gave herself some advice: Find a man through the
Los Angeles Times.
But not via an itty-bitty personal. Instead, Amy Alkon purchased a
$2,375 display ad that was published Feb. 13.
‘Since I work at home, the only men I meet on the job are the guys
delivering Federal Express packages and reading my gas meter,’ quipped
the columnist (http://www.advicegoddess.com), whose feature runs in
more than 70 papers. The Santa Monica, Calif., resident also writes
‘Ask Amy Alkon’ for the New York Daily News .
So far, her pre-Valentine’s Day ad has elicited more than 100
responses. Any prospects? ‘A couple,’ she replied, while lamenting that
too many stockbroker-types contacted her.
The ad – which showed Alkon kissing a frog – read, in part: ‘Successful
syndicated writergirl; large hooters, I.Q. … seeks tall, evolved man
of character… .’
Dave Astor is an associate editor of Editor & Publisher
magazine who writes that publication’s weekly ‘Syndicate/News
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher