You’re A Good Man
Charles M. Schulz
An exclusive interview with Jeannie Schulz on her husband’s ‘Peanuts’ comic-strip legacy
By Dale King
“The only thing I ever wanted to be was a cartoonist. That’s my life. Drawing. I would draw comic strips even if I weren’t getting paid for it. I’m obsessed with thinking of funny things.” – Charles M. Schulz
Charlie Brown was only a round-headed comic strip kid drawn by a little-known artist when he and his friends stepped into the “funny papers” Oct. 2, 1950. Charlie, with buddies Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, dog Snoopy and other Peanuts folk, would spend the next half-century changing the world, its culture and way of thinking as the pen-and-ink progeny of artist Charles M. Schulz.
This summer, the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood (Florida) gives visitors a chance to view more than 70 original Schulz-drawn strips when it hosts “Charles M. Schulz: Pop Culture in Peanuts,” the largest display of original works exhibited outside of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.
“No one else will ever draw Peanuts,” says Jeannie Schulz, widow of the famed comic strip guru who died in 2000. In his will, Schulz prohibited anyone from creating new panels. Strips currently being published “are reruns” of classic Peanuts tales, she says. But a big screen Charlie Brown film is definitely in the offing for 2015. Schulz’s heirs and 20th Century Fox Animation, along with Fox’s Blue Sky Studios division, are developing a feature film starring the legendary comic strip characters, says the late artist’s son Craig Schulz, president of Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates.
So who, exactly, was this gentle cartoonist from Minnesota who created such a worldwide phenomenon? “He was a very curious man, a great observer,” says Jeannie. “His creativity had its own twist. He saw a side of things that most of us can’t see.”
Schulz used his personal experiences and reflections to give his strips a whimsical, contemporary flair. Such as Snoopy surfing in a 1966 cartoon and fearing that if he were to fall off the board, he’d have to “dog-paddle.” Jeannie says her cartoonist husband – nicknamed “Sparky” – heard one of his then-teenage children use the phrase, “Grody to the max.” The pop culture term for something awful soon found its way into a Peanuts tale.
The cartoon genius was vitally aware of the world and its cultural evolution and used it as grist for his comics. When women’s lib was in vogue, he drew Lucy building a snowman, which she was quick to call a “snow person.” The characters soon developed such vivid personalities and traits that “they wrote the story.” While Sparky’s lifestyle tended toward the quiet, he did occasionally cut loose, Jeannie remembers. “When he played golf, he would tease the other players unmercifully. He was always funny; he always had an interesting take on things. He could not play an instrument, but he loved music. And he loved hockey, too.” So much so that a rink in St. Paul, Minn., bears his name. It used a portion of money raised through an auction “to create a downtown park with permanent Peanuts statues.”
Coincidentally, Jeannie and Sparky met at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in 1973 where each of their 12-year-old daughters was on a precision skating team. They married soon after and shared 27 years together.
“I always say he was the best husband I could have asked for,” says Jeannie. “He was adoring, but focused on his own work, which for me was perfect because I’m a busy person. He didn’t want me to be over his shoulder in his studio, though he fully appreciated the interest.”
Thirteen years later, she still tends her late husband’s museum as president of its board of directors. She also works tirelessly to make sure his legacy is preserved. “At the museum, we want people to appreciate what goes into a comic strip. We want them to understand how Sparky was able to tell the story of the human condition through his characters for 50 years.”
The exhibit at the Art & Culture Center continues through Sunday, Sept. 1. For information, call (954) 921-3274 or visit ArtAndCultureCenter.org.