Charles Monroe Schulz (November 26, 1922 – February 12, 2000), nicknamed Sparky, was an American cartoonist, with a career that lasted well over 50 years, best known for the comic strip Peanuts, which featured the characters Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus, Woodstock and others.
Schulz was interested in art in general and as a young adult also developed a great passion for classical music. He wove this theme into his comic strips. Although the character Schroeder in Peanuts adored Beethoven, Schulz said in an interview that his own favourite classical composer was actually Brahms. Schulz was also a lover of good literature, poetry and prose, this too found its way into his comic strips.
Superficially, one might have thought he should be placed in the artist category on this site, but Schulz was no ordinary artist. His so called ‘comic strip’ was a work of philosophy made easier to digest by humour and the use of children.
Schulz deliberately created ‘wholesome characters’ – gentle kindly characters, who expressed very profound words of wisdom.
He expressed his thoughts principally via Charlie Brown, in fact many commentators have come to recognise that Charlie Brown was Charles Schultz, – an eternally hesitant, shy and self-effacing character with a great liking for dogs.
When Schulz was a young boy, he had a much loved dog called Spike and continued to love dogs through the rest of his life. Schulz had a long association with ice sports, and was the owner of the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which opened in 1969 and featured a snack bar called "The Warm Puppy".
Thus he was an artist philosopher. One way in which this is evident is in his reaction to the name which his publishers chose for his comic strip. Schulz always disliked the name, "Peanuts". In a 1987 interview, Schulz said of the name: "It's totally ridiculous, has no meaning, is simply confusing, and has no dignity -- and I think my humour has dignity."
Schulz also broke new ground with his inventiveness and is widely regarded as one of the most influential cartoonists of all time, cited as a major influence by many later cartoonists. A genius is a person in whom inspiration and wisdom predominate over reason and memory and in Schultz a sort of genius prevailed. Thus he was an artist/philosopher/genius.
His biographer Rheta Grimsley Johnson:
It would be impossible to narrow down three or two or even one direct influence on [Schulz's] personal drawing style. The uniqueness of Peanuts has set it apart for years... That one-of-kind quality permeates every aspect of the strip and very clearly extends to the drawing. It is purely his with no clear forerunners and no subsequent pretenders.
But there is something else in his character that is key. Mr Schulz was a mystic. If we look again at the definition of a mystic, mystics:
- Reject religious hierarchy and the idea that the spiritual world can only be approached via a priest or some institution.
- Are ‘lone voyagers’ – often that is their hallmark – a mystic has no need to belong to a group, nor does he/she want to be part of a group
- Strive for direct individual awareness of the spiritual world.
- Aim for lives devoid of materialism, greed, corruption etc
- Believe that it is up to the individual to achieve spiritual growth, each has their own path and their own route to spirituality, each must follow their own path. By definition, a mystic thus follows the spiritual path.
- Believe everyone and everything is equal – women, children, gay, black, white, dogs, cats etc
And this was Charles. He was in some senses a sort of prophet.
Snoopy has a very special place in Charles life. Although Charles would not have said it in this way, Snoopy represents Charles’s Higher spirit. Perhaps he would have said that Snoopy was his 'muse', but then that would be saying the same thing - our muse, our source of inspiration is our Higher spirit. Schulz chose the name "Snoopy" after remembering that his late mother Dena Schulz told the family that if they were ever to acquire a third dog, it should be called Snoopy, an affectionate term in Norwegian. (The word is "Snuppa".)
Schulz originally had Snoopy as a silent character. Then after two years of the comic strip, Snoopy suddenly became verbal and expressed his thoughts via a thought balloon in 1952. Schulz had made contact!
Schultz was possibly propelled onto this spiritual route by the death of his mother, with a further shove from unrequited love. The character of the Little Red-Haired Girl (Charlie Brown's love interest in "Peanuts") was based on a woman in Schulz's life named Donna Mae Johnson with whom he fell in love. When he proposed to her, she turned him down.
All this may sound very far fetched, Schultz is always described as a sort of all American hero, interested in golf, ice hockey, baseball and his family. But mystics can be all this and deeply spiritual too. Schulz often touched on religious themes in his work, including the classic television cartoon, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), which features the character Linus van Pelt quoting the King James Version of the Bible Luke 2:8–14 to explain "what Christmas is all about."
In personal interviews Schulz actually stated that Linus represented his spiritual side.
Schulz was brought up in the Lutheran faith and was active in the Church of God as a young adult. This grounding in the Bible and the New Testament stories stayed with him throughout his life, but as he got older he started to develop his own understanding of the Bible, its symbolism and its deeper meaning:
After his mother died Charles was very lonely. He was invited to church by a pastor who had prepared his mother's service from the Church of God. So Charles went to church, joined the youth group and for a good 4–5 years he went to Bible study and went to church 3 times a week (2 Bible studies, 1 service). He said he had read the Bible through three times and taught Sunday school. He was always looking for what those passages REALLY might have meant.
In a 2013 question and answer session, Schulz's wife said the following about his religious views:
I think that he was a deeply thoughtful and spiritual man. Sparky was not the sort of person who would say "oh that's God's will" or "God will take care of it." I think to him that was an easy statement, and he thought that God was much more complicated.
It appears in fact that as he got older, Charles viewed the Church's depiction of God as a fatherly figure who looked after you as misleading at best, unhelpful at worst.
This was hinted at in numerous of his subtler Charlie Brown centred strips. He also started to understand the concept of the Great Work and destiny, although from what one can gather, never quite grasped what his destiny was - or perhaps he was joking eh?
From the late 1980s, Schulz said in interviews that some people had described him as a "secular humanist":
I do not go to church anymore... I guess you might say I've come around to secular humanism, an obligation I believe all humans have to others and the world we live in.
In the end therefore we can conclude that Charles Schultz was a mystic artist philosopher genius!
When he taught Sunday school, he would never tell people what to believe. God was very important to him, but in a very deep way, in a very mysterious way.
It was only in the 1950s, when Schultz was in his early thirties that his comic strip career took off. Schulz approached the United Feature Syndicate with the one-panel series Li'l Folks, and the syndicate became interested. However, by that time Schulz had also developed a comic strip, using normally four panels rather than one, and reportedly to Schulz's delight, the syndicate preferred this version. Peanuts made its first appearance on October 2, 1950, in seven newspapers. The weekly Sunday-page debuted on January 6, 1952. After a somewhat slow beginning, Peanuts eventually became one of the most popular comic strips of all time, as well as one of the most influential. Schulz also had a short-lived sports-oriented comic strip called It's Only a Game (1957–1959), but he abandoned it due to the demands of the successful Peanuts. From 1956 to 1965 he contributed a single-panel strip ("Young Pillars") featuring teenagers to Youth, a publication associated with the Church of God.
At its height, Peanuts was published daily in 2,600 papers in 75 countries, in 21 languages. Over the nearly 50 years that Peanuts was published, Schulz drew nearly 18,000 strips. The strips themselves, plus merchandise and product endorsements, produced revenues of more than $1 billion per year, with Schulz earning an estimated $30 million to $40 million annually. During the life of the strip, Schulz took only one vacation, a five-week break in late 1997 to celebrate his 75th birthday; reruns of the strip ran during his vacation, the only time reruns occurred while Schulz was alive.
Schulz said that his routine every morning consisted of first eating a jelly donut, and then going through the day's mail with his secretary before sitting down to write and draw the day's strip at his studio. After coming up with an idea (which he said could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours), he began drawing it, which took about an hour for dailies and three hours for Sunday strips. Unlike many other successful cartoonists, Schulz never used assistants in producing the strip; he refused to hire an inker or letterer, saying that "it would be equivalent to a golfer hiring a man to make his putts for him."
The first book collection of Peanuts strips was published in July 1952 by Rinehart & Company. Many more books followed, and these collections greatly contributed to the increasing popularity of the strip.
In 2004, Fantagraphics began their Complete Peanuts series.
Peanuts also proved popular in other media; the first animated TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, aired in December 1965 and won an Emmy award. Numerous TV specials were to follow, the latest being Happiness Is A Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown in 2011. Until his death, Schulz wrote or co-wrote the TV specials and carefully oversaw production of them.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Schulz grew up in Saint Paul. He was the only child of Carl Schulz, who was born in Germany, and Dena Halverson, who was Norwegian.
Schulz loved drawing and was little interested in school and all its book learning. Schulz attended Richards Gordon Elementary School in Saint Paul, where he skipped two half-grades. He was a shy, timid teenager, the youngest in his class and little appreciated by his teachers. One well-known episode in his high school life was the rejection of his drawings by his high school yearbook.
In February 1943, when Charles was 20, Schulz's mother Dena died after a long illness. At the time of her death, he had only recently been made aware that she suffered from cancer.
Schulz was very close to his mother and her death had a terrible impact on him. Around the same time, Schulz was drafted into the United States Army. He served as a staff sergeant with the 20th Armored Division in Europe, as a squad leader on a .50 caliber machine gun team. Schulz said that he only ever had one opportunity to fire his machine gun “but forgot to load it”. Fortunately, he said, the German soldier he could have fired at, willingly surrendered. Americans are apt to want to play up military involvement and fighting heroes, but Schultz was a non-fighting hero – a peacemaker “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall see the kingdom of God”
After being discharged in late 1945, Schulz returned to Minneapolis. In July 1946, he took a job at Art Instruction, Inc., and it is there that he met ‘the little red haired girl’ who was to become central to his theme of unrequited love.
Like Charlie Brown, Schulz admitted in interviews that he'd often felt shy and withdrawn in his life.
Schulz's inspiration for Charlie Brown's unrequited love to the Little Red-Haired Girl was Donna Mae Johnson, an Art Instruction Inc. accountant with whom he fell in love. When Schulz finally proposed to her in June 1950, shortly after he'd made his first contract with his syndicate, she turned him down and married another man.
In 1951, Schulz moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. In April the same year, Schulz married Joyce Halverson. His son, Monte, was born in February the following year, with their three further children being born later, in Minnesota. Schulz and his family returned to Minneapolis and stayed until 1958. They then moved to Sebastopol, California, where Schulz built his first studio (until then, he'd worked at home or in a small rented office room).
Schulz's father died while visiting him in 1966.
The same year his Sebastopol studio burned down.
By 1969, Schulz had moved to Santa Rosa, California, where he lived and worked until his death.
By Thanksgiving 1970, it was clear that Schulz's first marriage was in trouble.
In an interview with Charlie Rose in May 1997, Schulz observed:
"I suppose there’s a melancholy feeling in a lot of cartoonists, because cartooning, like all other humour, comes from bad things happening."
Schulz was having an affair with a 25-year-old woman named Tracey Claudius. The Schulzes divorced in 1972, and in September of the following year he married Jean Forsyth Clyde, whom he had first met when she brought her daughter to his hockey rink. They remained married for 27 years, until Schulz's death in 2000.
In July 1981, Schulz underwent heart bypass surgery.
In the 1980s Schulz complained that "sometimes my hand shakes so much I have to hold my wrist to draw."
This led to the erroneous assumption that Schulz had Parkinson's Disease.
However, Schulz had ‘essential tremor’, a condition probably brought on by the pharmaceuticals he was prescribed for his heart condition. Despite this, Schulz insisted on writing and drawing the strip by himself.
In November 1999 Schulz suffered several small strokes along with a blocked aorta and later it was discovered that he had colon cancer that had metastasized. Because of the chemotherapy and the fact he could not read or see clearly, he announced his retirement on December 14, 1999, aged 77.
Schulz was quoted as saying:
"I never dreamed that this was what would happen to me. I always had the feeling that I would probably stay with the strip until I was in my early eighties. But all of a sudden it's gone. It's been taken away from me. I did not take this away from me."
Schulz died in his sleep at home on February 12, 2000 at around 9:45 pm, from complications arising from his colon cancer.
Schulz was posthumously honored on May 27, 2000, by cartoonists of more than 100 comic strips, who paid homage to him and Peanuts by incorporating his characters into their comic strips on that date.
The symbolism of the football
One of the many recurring themes in Peanuts was Charlie Brown's attempts to kick a football while Lucy was holding it; Lucy always pulled it back at the last moment, causing Charlie Brown to fall on his back.
Lucy represents the feminine to Charlie’s masculine and there is just the hint that although Schulz drew, wrote and expressed mystic themes throughout his life, he never achieved that final push – that soaring to the sky that the football represents.
Schulz was asked if, for his final Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown would finally get to kick that certain football after so many decades. His response:
"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."
Yet, in a December 1999 interview, holding back tears, he recounted the moment when he signed the panel of his final strip, saying,
“All of a sudden I thought, 'You know, that poor, poor kid, he never even got to kick the football. What a dirty trick — he never had a chance to kick the football!'”
But then hermits never do.
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Schulz, Charles - Adversity
- Schulz, Charles - And Nature
- Schulz, Charles - Card games
- Schulz, Charles - Cartooning is preaching
- Schulz, Charles - Change
- Schulz, Charles - Depression
- Schulz, Charles - Janus
- Schulz, Charles - On church services
- Schulz, Charles - On education
- Schulz, Charles - On fate
- Schulz, Charles - On happiness and sadness
- Schulz, Charles - On inspiration
- Schulz, Charles - On loneliness
- Schulz, Charles - On love
- Schulz, Charles - On love and chocolate
- Schulz, Charles - On school prayer
- Schulz, Charles - On the apocalypse
- Schulz, Charles - Sleeping
- Schulz, Charles - Snoopy
- Schulz, Charles - Sometimes I lie awake at night
- Schulz, Charles - The Church is a refuge for flaws in our make-up
- Schulz, Charles - The little red haired girl
- Schulz, Charles - The need to squash the ego