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Good ol' 'Charlie Brown' Schulz

January 23, 2011 12:35 am

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Cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of 'Peanuts', holds a drawing of comic strip character Snoopy.

ASHLAND

--Charles Monroe Schulz was 20th-century America's favorite and most highly respected cartoonist. His comic strip, "Peanuts," once appeared daily in more than 2,000 newspapers in the United States and abroad. Even today, 10 years after his death, classic "Peanuts" reprints continue to hold their own space in many major newspapers.

Thousands of toys and gift items continue to bear the likenesses of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy, and their friends; a stage musical based on the strip has become one of the most frequently performed shows in American theatrical history; and several award-winning animated television specials continue to amuse us every holiday season.

While Schulz himself was sometimes bewildered by the enormous popularity and influence of his creation, he held to a principle of integrity that allowed him to remain comfortable with the merchandising of "Peanuts."

Beginning with the first strip published on Oct. 2, 1950, until the last published on Feb. 13, 2000 (the day after his death), Schulz wrote, penciled, inked, and lettered by hand every single one of the daily and Sunday strips to leave his studio--17,897 in all for an almost 50-year run. No other cartoonist has matched this achievement.

I had the pleasure of knowing Schulz, who insisted that his friends call him "Sparky," and visited with him in order to talk about comic art and my research into comics history.

Over the years I collected various essays and articles he had published about his career, his profession, and his creation of the "Peanuts" characters, and research into his archives preserved at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center at Santa Rosa uncovered several unpublished essays. With the cooperation of the family and estate, I edited and assembled these pieces into a volume that has been published as "My Life With Charlie Brown."

What these essays demonstrate is that Schulz was a writer of considerable skill who knew how to express his ideas very effectively in prose as well as cartoon images. Although he never considered himself an intellectual, and was often puzzled by my discussion of existentialism in his strip, he greatly respected higher education and was widely read in the great ideas and literature of the world.

Because of his keen insights into the nature of things, as well as his graphic genius, Schulz left a lasting artistic legacy to the world. While cultural mavens have seldom granted the lowly comic strip any aesthetic value, he moved his feature in an artistic direction that was minimalist in style but richly suggestive in content.

Charlie Brown and his friends were occupied with what has possessed and continues to obsess all of us--the relationship of the self to society, the need to establish an identity, anxiety over our neurotic behavior, and a desire to gain control over our own destinies.

We admire Charlie because of his resilience, his ability to confront and humanize the impersonal forces around him, and his unwavering faith in his ability to improve himself and his options in life. Maybe this time he can kick that football held by Lucy.

In his insecurities and defeats, his affirmations and small victories, Charlie is someone with whom we can identify. Through him we can all experience a revival of the spirit and a healing of the psyche. This has been Schulz's amazing gift to us through his small drawings appearing in the pages of the comic section of the newspaper. He used to laugh when I told him his work was art, but "Peanuts" was the kind of art that endures because it continues to speak to our lives.

M. Thomas Inge is professor of humanities at Randolph-Macon College, where he teaches American humor, Southern literature, and comic art. He edited "My Life With Charlie Brown" by Charles M. Schulz, published by the University Press of Mississippi.





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