Charles M. Schulz

Summary

Charles Monroe Schulz (November 26, 1922 Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA – February 12, 2000 Santa Rosa, California) was an American cartoonist best known as the creator of the newspaper strip comic strip Peanuts. Schulz drew Tenav between 1950 and 1999. He drew all 17,897 strips alone, without assistants, and continued to draw the series almost until his death. Tenavat was for a long time the most read newspaper comic in the world and Schulz the most successful cartoonist of his time. In addition to Tenavis, Schulz drew a number of other short-lived series in the 1940s and 1950s.

Childhood and adolescence

Charles M. Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, on 26 November 1922. His father, Carl Schulz (1897-1966), was born in Germany but had lived in the United States since childhood to an immigrant family who worked as a barber and, from 1918, ran his own barbershop for most of his life. Charles Schulz”s mother Dena Halverson (1893-1943) was of Norwegian descent. The Halverson family had lived in the United States one generation longer than the Schulzes and farmed in the Midwest. After the First World War, his father Carl Schulz, like many other American Germans, sought to erase his German background completely, although he did not acquire US citizenship until 1935. Because Charles Schulz spent much of his childhood in his mother”s family, he considered himself to be of Norwegian rather than German ancestry. Schulz was the only child of his parents. He later said that he admired his father and his high work ethic.

Schulz was reportedly nicknamed “Sparky” after a horse named Spark Plug, which appeared in the popular Kalle Kehveli (Barney Google) cartoon. According to a story that ran in the family, the nickname was given to him by one of his uncles just a few days after his birth. For the rest of his life, Schulz was known to friends and family as Sparky. It was also the name under which he signed his first comic book, Li”l Folks.

Except for a few brief interludes, Schulz”s father”s barbershop operated for almost half a century in downtown Saint Paul at the corner of Selby Avenue and Snelling Avenue. The Schulz family lived in various locations in the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. From 1929 to 1931, the family lived in the small town of Needles in eastern California, where Carl Schulz ran a barbershop with his brother-in-law. Charles Schulz did not like Needles, but years later he used the name in a cartoon in which he placed Ressu”s brother Rempu (Spike) there. During the 1930s depression, the Schulz family”s livelihood was secure because Carl Schulz”s barber shop remained profitable and he, as owner, received the bulk of the profits.

Schulz was a gifted pupil, and in primary school he was twice promoted to the upper classes. As a result, he was the youngest and smallest boy in his class when he entered junior high school. This made him suffer from loneliness, insecurity and low self-esteem during his school years – the same feelings he later used in his comic strip, especially in his protagonist Jaska Jokuse. He also drew many ideas for his series from his youthful experiences. For example, he said that as a child he was on a baseball team that once lost a game by a score of 40-0.

War-time

After finishing high school in 1940, Schulz stayed with his parents. He worked as a shop assistant and other odd jobs in Saint Paul until he was called up for the army at the age of 20. By then, the United States had already joined the Second World War. Schulz spent his first months in training at nearby Fort Snelling, from where he was transferred in March 1943 to Camp Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Schulz”s mother died of cervical cancer at the age of 50, a few days before her son left Saint Paul.

At the Campbell training camp, Schulz was promoted to sergeant major and made an instructor for new recruits, so he was not sent to Europe with the rest of his peer group at the beginning of 1944, but a year later. Commissioned as a machine gun squad leader, he arrived in France in the spring of 1945 with the 20th US Armoured Division. His unit was moved to the front line only in the final weeks of the war as the Americans advanced into Bavaria, where there was little German resistance. Schulz was not involved in any actual combat during the war, except for a brief shootout with two German soldiers who surrendered almost immediately. However, he was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge at the end of the war, a decoration of which he was very proud for the rest of his life. He said that his confidence was first boosted during his time in the army. Schulz returned home in November 1945, but was officially discharged in January 1946.

As a draughtsman before Tenav

Schulz was an avid comic book reader from childhood and became interested in drawing while still at school. His childhood favourites included Mickey Mouse, Punch and Judy, Tim Tyler”s Luck, Percy Crosby”s Skippy, the adventure series Buck Rogers and comics by Roy Crane and J.R. Williams. Later favourites included Al Capp”s Li”l Abner, Milton Caniff”s comics and George Herriman”s Krazy Kat, although Schulz said he only discovered it after the war. Schulz began learning to draw from a book on cartoons by cartoonist Clare Briggs, How to Draw Cartoons, which he received as an 11th birthday present. During his time in the army, Schulz admired Bill Mauldin”s military cartoons. He later referred to Mauldin dozens of times in Tenav.

Schulz made his first published drawing at the age of 14. It was in a syndicated edition of Ripley”s Believe It or Not! (Ripley”s Believe It or Not!) on 22 February 1937, a drawing of Schulz”s family dog, Spike, who, according to the caption, “eats needles, pins, screws and razors”. Schulz”s only real training in cartooning was a course in lettering he took between 1940 and 1941, and he later took a couple of short evening classes. In the early stages of his career, Schulz encountered adversity. In his senior year, he was invited to participate in the illustration of the yearbook of his school, Saint Paul Central High School, but none of his drawings were published. For years after school, he regularly sent his cartoons to various magazines for publication, with little success, and on several occasions offered his cartoon ideas to comic book syndicates, which refused to accept them.

After the war, Schulz managed for the first time to employ himself as a draughtsman. From 1946 to 1947, he worked as a subtitler for the speech bubbles of the strongly religious Catholic comic strip Topix, published in Saint Paul, and drew some frames for the anti-communist comic Is This Tomorrow? published by the same publishing house. Schulz, who was averse to Catholicism, accepted the job on the condition that he could draw his own comic strip for the monthly Topix. Just Keep Laughing, a series of one-panel jokes, appeared twice in the spring of 1947, in February and April, and was Schulz”s first actual published comic strip. In the summer of 1946, Schulz became an instructor at the Minneapolis-based Art Instruction, which offered fee-based drawing classes. Schulz himself had taken a lettering course at the same institution five years earlier. His job was to grade model drawings sent in by students on a scale and to prepare standard responses. The school was known throughout the country for its Draw me! (“Draw me!”) advertising competitions in newspapers and magazines to attract people with great promises to take paid correspondence courses. At Art Instruction, Schulz was mentored by cartoonist Frank Wing in the early days, although they had different views on the correct style. Other instructors at the school formed Schulz”s circle of friends over the years, and Schulz subsequently named several of Tenavie”s characters after them.

Schulz”s first long-lived comic strip was a series of jokes about children”s characters called Li”l Folks, each issue of which contained a number of separate one-panel jokes. In many respects, the series was a predecessor to Tenavis, although it appeared in a different format. The first strips appeared in June 1947 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune as Sparky”s Li”l Folks. Since the paper”s publisher was unwilling to give the series a permanent home, Schulz offered it to the rival St. Paul Pioneer Press, where it appeared weekly beginning June 22, 1947, as a filler in the women”s section. In the spring of 1948, he also had one of his cartoons published for the first time in The Saturday Evening Post. It was also a cartoon of a funny-looking child with a big head. Over the next two years he sold a total of 17 individual drawings to the Post, the last of which appeared in July 1950. In July 1948, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, part of the Scripps group, offered to distribute Li”l Folks, and Schulz had already signed the contract. However, the syndicate backed out of the contract and paid him a hundred dollars in compensation. Unfortunately, Schulz did not receive any feedback from readers during the three years of Li”l Folks” publication. Moreover, when the St. Paul Pioneer Press editorial staff reduced the space allotted to the series from three columns to two, Schulz decided to discontinue it in the fall of 1949. The last Li”l Folks strips appeared in January 1950. Schulz next offered to be a cartoonist for his church”s Church of God magazine, the Gospel Trumpet, published in Anderson, Indiana, but was not offered a job.

Rise to success

In early 1950, Schulz offered the New York-based United Feature Syndicate a new series, which would consist of two strips underneath. The syndicate was interested, but it was eventually agreed that Schulz would start drawing one four-panel strip, which would continue the Li”l Folks children”s theme. As the newspapers did not seem to be interested in the new strip beforehand, the syndicate also decided that the new strip would be published in a smaller format (three columns instead of four) and would be marketed to the newspapers as a “space-saving strip”. Schulz adapted to this by reducing his drawing style to the bare minimum, as he thought that the empty space in the boxes would attract readers” attention on the crammed comic pages. Schulz later speculated that this solution, dictated initially by a lack of space, was central to the development of his distinctive drawing style.

Schulz signed a five-year contract with United Features in June 1950, which would pay him $500 a month from the second month. The name Li”l Folk was originally intended, but the idea was abandoned because it was too similar to the name of another trademarked cartoon. Instead, the syndicate”s management chose the name Peanuts, which Schulz reluctantly agreed to, even though he considered the name to be bad and undermined the dignity of the series. Tenavat began appearing on 2 October 1950, initially in seven newspapers across the United States. The series was not an immediate success, but its popularity grew steadily. Schulz applied for membership of the prestigious National Cartoonists Society for the first time in 1950, but his application was rejected because he could not find the required two referees. The only backer had been rival young cartoonist Mort Walker. The following year, Schulz”s membership was approved.

After getting married, Schulz and his family moved from Saint Paul to Colorado Springs, Colorado in May 1951. Schulz was not happy, however, and they moved back to Minneapolis in March 1952. The growing success of the Tenavs soon made Schulz financially independent. By 1956 he was earning $4 000 a month, the equivalent of the annual income of the average American family at the time, and was able to move his family into a fine house in the prestigious Tangletown neighbourhood of south Minneapolis. On his return from Colorado Springs, Schulz also continued to work at Art Instruction, where he was relieved of his previous duties, appointed to the company”s advisory board and offered a private studio to draw his comics. This arrangement continued until 1958, when Schulz left his home region for good and moved to California for good. The Schulz family settled in California in the small town of Sebastopol in Sonoma County.

Schulz”s other series and collaboration with other artists

In 1957, Schulz began drawing It”s Only a Game, a series of one-screen jokes about sports and games that appeared four days a week. However, because Schulz didn”t have enough time to draw a second series, he asked Jim Sasseville, his colleague at Art Instruction, to help him. Sasseville inked and typeset the strips Schulz sketched, but they were published only under Schulz”s name. At the same time, Sasseville was also drawing, as Schulz”s “ghost artist”, longer Tenavat stories for comic books published by Dell Comics. It”s Only a Game was never a success and only appeared in about 30 magazines at best, so at the end of 1958 Schulz decided to discontinue the series without consulting Sasseville. The last of the 63 strips appeared in January 1959. Schulz”s decision led to a complete break in relations between him and Sasseville, as a result of which Sasseville also stopped ghost-publishing Tenavis in Dell comic magazines. He was succeeded in this role in the following years by two other old colleagues of Schulz”s, Dale Hale and Tony Pocrnich, until the publication of Tenavat magazines with separate stories was discontinued in 1964.

Between 1958 and 1964, Schulz drew a bi-weekly single-screen strip featuring teenage characters for his church”s Church of God youth magazine, Youth. Four collections of these strips were published. Schulz also illustrated the books Kids Say the Darndest Things! (1957) and Kids Still Say the Darndest Things! (1962), children”s President Lyndon B. Johnson (1964) and Kenneth F. Hall”s Two-by-Fours (1965).

Awards and honours

Schulz received the prestigious Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in 1956 and again in 1965, thanks to Tenavis. He was the first to receive it twice. In 1958, Yale University declared him Humorist of the Year. In 1965, Schulz was also offered the rare honour of appearing on the cover of Time magazine, but instead drew a picture of his cartoon characters on the cover. Schulz”s first Tenavat animation, A Charlie Brown Christmas, also made in 1965 and written by Schulz and directed by Bill Meléndez, won a Peabody Award and a Primetime Emmy Award for Best Children”s Program. Schulz was a little annoyed about the Best Children”s Programme award, as he felt that Tenavat was aimed at adults and not children. Tenavat animated films were then regularly produced for television and Schulz was largely responsible for writing them himself. Five of the animated films were awarded an Emmy. Schulz received a personal Emmy Award in 1974 for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and was nominated six other times.

In 1967, on the initiative of Governor Ronald Reagan, the California State Assembly declared May 24 as Charles M. Schulz Day. During the 1969 Apollo 10 mission, the command module was named Charlie Brown and the lunar module Snoopy after Schulz”s characters, and NASA used Snoopy as the official mascot for the astronaut safety program.

Schulz was also awarded the National Cartoonist Society”s Elzie Segar Lifetime Achievement Award in 1980, the Commander”s Medal of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1990 and the Commander”s Medal of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1992.

In 1996, Schulz received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It is located just one step away from Walt Disney”s star. In 2015, a star was unveiled for Ressu next to Schulz”s star.

At the top of your career

The popularity of the Tenavis led to the launch of a number of ancillary products. In particular, the use of characters in advertisements became a real money-maker for Schulz and the United Features syndicate from the early 1960s onwards. Between 1960 and 1965 alone, Schulz earned over a million dollars from the sale of the Tenavat licence. A couple of years later he was already earning a million a year, and the pace only accelerated after that. Accusations from colleagues and readers of greed and of corrupting the innocence of the series by over-commercialising it haunted Schulz for the rest of his life. Schulz responded by asserting that he was motivated primarily by the desire to draw comics, which had been his dream job since childhood, rather than by money. In the 1980s, Schulz rose to become one of the highest earners in the US entertainment industry, with a peak annual income of $62 million in 1989. Thereafter, Schulz earned between $30 million and $40 million every year until his death.

For years Schulz tried to reply to all the letters he received, but by the late 1960s the number of letters he received had grown so large that he was forced to give up. Schulz”s house and the adjoining study were destroyed by fire in 1966. In the same year, his father died while visiting his son in California.

In 1969, Schulz built his own ice arena in Santa Rosa, California, the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which attracts attention with its Tyrolean-style architecture. The project was managed by his then wife Joyce Schulz. The Warm Puppy café at the arena has been Schulz”s “regular” from then on. The Redwood Empire Ice Arena hosted sporting events and figure skating performances sponsored by Schulz. In 1972, the Schulz family moved from Sebastopol to a farm in Healdsburg, but after his first marriage broke up that summer, Schulz moved on to Santa Rosa, where he had built himself a new studio near his rink. After remarrying the following year, he remained in Santa Rosa. With the approval of the City of Santa Rosa, Schulz”s studio was renamed One Snoopy Place.

In 1971, to increase his voice in Tenavian licensing, Schulz founded the Charles M. Schulz Creative Development Corporation (now Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates). A few years later, Schulz engaged in a long arm-wrestling match with the United Features syndicate to gain exclusive rights to Tenavis content and the final say in the approval of all licenses. Since the revenues from Tenavia and its spin-offs already accounted for more than half of the United Media Group”s profits, the syndicate gave in to Schulz”s terms in 1980. It was also agreed that in the event of Schulz”s death or retirement, no one else would be hired to draw Tenavia after him.

Over time, a whole generation of American cartoonists signed up to admire and learn from Schulz. Many sought him out for advice or encouragement. Schulz felt that American cartooning was getting worse, but he praised some of the younger artists. He became friends with the Canadian cartoonist Lynn Johnston, among others, and wrote a respectful foreword to Bill Watterson”s first collection of Lazlo and Levi. In 1999, Schulz drew a tribute picture of Jalo the dog from Patrick McDonnell”s Kamut comic strip in one of the Tenavat strips.

Final stages and death

From 1977 onwards, Schulz began to suffer from mild tremor in his working hands and was diagnosed with essential tremor. In the summer of 1981, he was diagnosed with a severe arterial thrombosis, for which he underwent a severe bypass operation in the autumn of the same year. The tremor gradually increased thereafter. Over the years, this became increasingly evident in his drawing, as the previously famous straight line began to falter. Some interpreted the wavering line as a stylistic trait, but Schulz said it was an unintended consequence of the tremor. In November-December 1997, for the only time in his career, Schulz took a break from drawing Tenavis. The break, which officially lasted five weeks, coincided with Schulz”s 75th birthday, and during this period, magazines published reprints of old strips.

Mr Schulz suffered a heart attack due to an abdominal aortic blockage during the working day on 16 November 1999. When the blockage was removed in hospital, he was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. Doctors predicted he had a year or two to live and only a 20% chance of recovery, even with heavy cancer treatments. Schulz was therefore forced to reluctantly give up his job as a draughtsman, and on 14 December he made the news public in an open letter. The weekday strips of Tenavis drawn by Schulz before his illness continued to appear until 1 January 2000, with Sunday strips running until February. Schulz died in the evening of 12 February at the age of 77 in his own bed at home. The last Tenavat Sunday strip, which also contained Schulz”s farewell message to readers, appeared as planned on 13 February, coincidentally in the same morning paper as the news of his death. In the final strip, Ressu writes Schulz”s farewell letter to readers. Schulz was buried in the Sonoma County Cemetery in Sebastopol. The headstone reads “Charles M. Schulz. Sergeant, United States Army, World War II”.

Over the 50 years, including the farewell strip, a total of 17 897 Tenavat strips appeared, each of which Schulz drew himself without using assistants. At the time of Schulz”s death, the series appeared in some 2 600 magazines in 75 countries and 21 languages. At its peak, the series had 350 million daily readers around the world. Tenavat was in the Guinness Book of World Records from 1984 as the most widely circulated newspaper comic in the world in terms of number of copies.

According to the Finnish comic strip consultant Juhani Tolvase, Schulz would have given his last interview to him in October 1999, at that time still unaware of his illness. However, Schulz still gave a short television interview to Al Roker of The Today Show in December 1999, in which he explained the reasons for his retirement.

Post-mortem confessions

After Schulz announced his retirement, he was showered with tributes from colleagues and officials, and these continued after his death. Numerous distinguished cartoonists declared that Schulz had had a great influence on their own work. On 2 February 2000, California Senator Dianne Feinstein and on 10 February 2000, House of Representatives member Mike Thompson proposed to the US Congress that the Congressional Gold Medal be awarded to Schulz. Mr Thompson”s initiative was passed by the House of Representatives three days after Mr Schulz”s death and confirmed by President Bill Clinton in June. The posthumous award was presented to Schulz”s widow Jean Schulz the following year.

Many American cartoonists published commemorative strips dedicated to Schulz and Tenavi in reaction to Schulz”s retirement announcement from November 1999. By mutual agreement, the strip published on 27 May 2000 was dedicated to Schulz by about 100 American syndicated cartoonists. On the same day, the National Cartoonists Society presented the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award, which had been given to Schulz the previous year, to Jean Schulz. One month after Schulz”s death, the Sonoma County Airport was renamed the “Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport”. The airport also uses an official logo with a picture of Ressu as a World War I pilot hero.

Legacy

The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Centre, which opened its doors in 2002, was established to showcase Schulz”s life”s work and preserve the original Tenavat strips. It is located in Santa Rosa next to Schulz”s studio and the Redwood Empire Ice Arena.

Schulz is the highest-earning cartoonist to date and the only American cartoonist to have had an exhibition of his work at the Louvre in Paris. This exhibition took place in 1990. Schulz has been at the top of Forbes magazine”s list of the “highest earning dead public figures” year after year. In 2016, he ranked second with an annual income of $48 million. In the entire lifetime of Tenavie, he is estimated to have earned more than $1 billion.

Schulz and his family hoped that no one else would take over Tenav after him. So far, the wish has been honoured in the newspaper strip, but instead new Tenavat stories have been published in separate comic magazines in the US. In addition, people chosen by Schulz have been allowed to draw characters for licensed products and advertising. Several magazines around the world continue to publish Schulz”s old Tenavat strips as reprints.

Several biographies of Schulz have been published, the most extensive being David Michaelis” Schulz and Peanuts from 2007. In particular, Michaelis” interpretations of Schulz”s personality and emotional life were controversial. Schulz”s relatives sharply criticised the work, which, in their view, wrongly portrayed Schulz as a fundamentally melancholic, anxious and bitter man.

Schulz”s 1970s home, where he also died, was destroyed in October 2017 by a wildfire in California.

Family

Schulz was married twice. His first wife was Joyce Schulz (née Halverson, 1926-2022), who, like his mother, was of Norwegian descent. They married in 1951, and Schulz adopted Joyce”s daughter Meredith (b. 1950) from her first marriage, and they had four children together: Monte (b. 1952), Craig (b. 1953), Amy (b. 1956) and Jill (b. 1958). Schulz”s first marriage broke up in a quarrel and ended in divorce in 1972. Shortly afterwards, he met British-born Elizabeth Jean (Jeannie) Clyde (née Forsythe, b. 1939), who quickly left her husband, and they married after the Schulz divorce took effect in the autumn of 1973. Schulz”s second marriage was more serene than the first and lasted until his death. At the time of her death, Schulz had a total of 18 grandchildren. His widow, Jean Schulz, currently chairs the Board of Trustees of the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

Religious views

Schulz is remembered for his regular treatment of the Bible and the Gospels in his cartoons. Schulz and Tenav were therefore respected by many Christians of all persuasions. The image of the Christian message of the series and its artist was reinforced by the book The Gospel of Tenavi, published by the Reverend Robert L. Short in 1964, and by the climactic scene in Jaska Jokunen”s Christmas, in which Eppu explains the meaning of Christmas by quoting the Bible. According to Schulz, Tenavie was in no way intended to proclaim any interpretation of religion or his own “gospel”. In Short”s opinion, Schulz was actually more liberal in his religious views than he let on in public.

Schulz”s childhood home was not particularly religious, but after his mother died, he and his father began attending Church of God services. In the years after the war, Schulz developed a strong Christian conviction and became very active in his church. He was baptised in 1948. Schulz was particularly active in the Church of God in the 1950s, holding various positions of trust and donating large sums of money to the church. He was also a teacher in his church”s Sunday school and a lay preacher at Sunday services. In 1963, Anderson College, sponsored by the Church of God, conferred an honorary doctorate on Schulz.

After moving to California, however, Schulz distanced himself from the Church of God community and stopped attending church altogether, concluding that the ceremonies were not important to his faith. Later, Schulz”s view of churches became negative and he began to see the rise of evangelical Christianity in the United States as a threat to free thought. Although he still considered himself a Christian, his previously unconditional religious views became much looser during the 1960s and 1970s. He also opposed the identification of Christianity with American national identity. In a 1987 interview, Schulz characterized his faith by saying that he was becoming a secular humanist, although he said he did not know what secular humanism was. However, he continued to reflect on his beliefs and also to deal with them in his comics until his later years.

Change

Schulz was an absolutist all his life. There was no reading or culture in his childhood home. Schulz discovered classical music and classical literature in the years after the Second World War, and they became an important part of his life. However, he denied that he was in any way the intellectual he was sometimes labelled in the press. He also denied that he had any ”philosophy”. Schulz also believed that comics – including his own – were not real art.

In Tenav, Schulz often referred to topical or politically controversial issues, but always avoided making actual statements. According to his story, he was brought up as a republican at home, but he was later not a politically oriented person and did not appreciate political cartoons.

Schulz was interested in several sports, especially ice hockey and skating. In 1975, he founded the Snoopy”s Senior Hockey Tournament for over 40-year-olds at his Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which is still held annually. In 1981, he was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for the promotion of hockey. Schulz also played tennis and golf, sponsoring the Snoopy Cup for women over 35 in the 1980s and the Woodstock Open Golf Tournament, a charity golf tournament for married couples. He hit his first hole-in-one at the age of 72.

References

Sources

  1. Charles M. Schulz
  2. Charles M. Schulz