I cannot begin to express my feeling of loss at the death of Charles Schulz. I was wandering the streets of Seattle late Saturday night when I saw the headline on the very top of the Sunday paper announcing his death. I did a double take because this was the very day that the last original Peanuts strip was printed. I thought the timing was eerie. The last few months have been filled with tributes to Charles Schulz since he announced he would retire. Since he did his strips weeks ahead of time, many cartoonists were able to pay tribute to him in the comic pages. There was a CBS special on him the day before he died along with a tribute on Nightline. Eerie.
I cannot recall which I saw first, seeing Peanuts on TV or reading the strip in the newspaper. I know that by the time I was 6, I was fully aware of the magic that is Peanuts. I had the little 60 cent paperbacks and would take out some of the more expensive collections from the school library. It is the main reason why I aspired to be a cartoonist. I read and enjoyed other comic strips but my first love was Peanuts. Peanuts was deceptively simple, enjoyable on many levels. It had some slapstick that kids enjoyed with many cultural references adults could appreciate. My favorite characters changed over the years. I loved Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and Peppermint Patty from day one. It took me years to appreciate Lucy and Linus although I always loved the song that was named for them. I never liked Schreoder much, however he was always an essential catalyst to some of Schulz most unique gags.
Many people have criticized Schulz for rehashing the same gags over the years, even going as far as to accuse him of using assistants to churn out hackwork. Although Schulz reached a peak back in the late 60’s and early 70’s , he had not reached his nadir until the early 80’s. This was the point when Schulz linework had become shaky and his use of Snoopy to embrace trends was laughable in a sad way (Flash Beagle anyone?) This was when I had stopped reading it regularly. Many really funny strips had exceeded Peanuts at this point. Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, and The Far Side were at their peak and interestingly are all gone from the comic pages.
It is worth noting that none of these strips lasted more than 15 years. Peanuts had not reached its peak until 20 years after its inception. It took Schulz nearly ten years before he hit his stride. Calvin and Hobbes ceased to exist after 10 years. It was 8 years before Snoopy would walk on his hind legs. It was 9 years before the introduction of Sally and the Great Pumpkin. It took 12 years before the most famous image of Peanuts (Snoopy on his doghouse) appeared. Snoopy as the Red Baron appeared three years later. Peppermint Patty did not appear until the strip was 16 years old. This actually would be the first time that Schulz introduced a character that was independent from Charlie Brown’s circle of friends. And finally it would take a full 37 years before Schulz broke the rigid format of 4 panels of the same size that he had done from the very first daily strip. This allowed for a new approach for Schulz to explore his characters and got him out of his rut. Peanuts was less funny but Schulz never stopped challenging himself with new art techniques and finding new ways to develop old characters.
Charles Schulz had worked on the strip by himself from day one. He worked well ahead of his deadline. When he would be ill, this allowed him to recover and catch up without resorting to reprints or assistants (This was during the shaky line period). When he announced his retirement, it occurred to me and my aunt that he must be dying. He had worked through other illnesses, so his colon cancer must have been terminal for him to quit the very lifeline of his existence. I think he let go of his life when he knew the final strip would be published. I like to think he saw an early edition, smiled and passed away content with his contribution to popular culture.
Schulz was a humble man. A Christian who was not strident. He knew his limitations and developed his deceptively simple style over the course of a dozen years. His creations became world icons will live on for eternity. I am glad that no one will take over the strip. Things need a conclusion. Everything has a natural lifespan. I am tired of seeing the same old comics being drawn by third generation hacks. How long do TV shows last? How long do rock bands stay together? 50 years? No way. Let some new people get into the comic pages. Do not be afraid of something different. This may be the daily newspaper’s best chance at attracting new readers. Pipe Dreams would liven up the page.
Thank You Charles Schulz.