There are a few things that I really regret in my life. My performance in college, failing Chemistry in high school, a few relationships that I royally screwed up (and the ones I never let happen).
Among those is that I never wrote to Charles Schulz.
This past month, BOOM! Studios (through their children’s line, KaBOOM!) began a new Peanuts comic book series, which follows last year’s graphic novel, Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown. For a long time fan, it is a treat to see Charlie Brown and the gang make the leap from the newspaper to the four color world. The books are a combination of newly colored Sunday strips by Schulz and new short stories by the team at Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates. As the strip neared its conclusion in 2000, Schulz made it clear that, unlike many other newspaper strips, Peanuts would end with him. It would never be drawn for a newspaper by anyone else. And while it is wonderful that his wishes have been upheld, it is nice to see Peanuts back on the page.
The stories even benefit from the new format, which allows for art and layout that would be impossible to replicate in the newspaper. The team of writers and artists from Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, which includes friends of the blog Alexis Fajardo and Paige Braddock, honor Schulz, showing his characters the love and care that they deserve because the creative team is composed of big fans. These books allow for a new generation to enjoy the wit and humor that has long been associated with Peanuts: Charlie Brown’s lovable losing streaks, Snoopy’s wild imagination, Linus and his codependant relationship with his blanket, and Lucy’s endearing selfishness; a world of children looking at adult issues in their own charming and innocent way.
But as I read these new stories, I find myself looking back to when I first became a fan. The joy of opening the newspaper, reading the newest strip and how that shaped my life.
My love of newspaper comic strips is the only thing that trumps my passion for comic books. It started in the 3rd grade with book fairs and the collections they offered for strips like Calvin & Hobbes and Garfield. It is because of these book fairs that I completed my Calvin & Hobbes collection before I hit puberty. But above all the other series stood Peanuts and Charles Schulz. He was my gateway drug into the wonderful world of newspaper comics. When I made up my mind that I wanted to be a cartoonist, it was because of Schulz. He became one of my first teacher when I got Funny Pictures: Cartooning with Charles Schulz for Christmas, a book that I filled in a week and still own to this day. I saved money to buy the Peanuts specials on VHS. I devoured You Don’t Look 40, Charlie Brown, which gave the history of Schulz and the strip. Before and after school, I watched The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show on Nickelodeon. To this day, my favorite Christmas song is the instrumental version of “Christmas Time is Here.”
In 1997, Peanuts took its one and only hiatus. I was so impressed by this, 47 years of uninterrupted work, that I bragged to my friends about it. My hero accomplished this, what has yours done? (It should be noted that this was in the sixth grade and my friends couldn’t care less).
My mom, well aware of my love of comic strips, encouraged me to write a letter to Schulz. It was a perfect time, with the strip in reruns, to let Schulz know how much of a fan I was. I never did.
Schulz died a few year later, the night before his final Sunday strip ran. There is something poignantly beautiful in the fact that he never got to see the world without a new comic in the newspaper. But the end of Peanuts was hardly the last time Schulz impacted my life.
I graduated from Sonoma State University. It was because of my friend Kristen that I learned about the school and through visiting it, fell in love with it. Only after I started attending did I realize where I was. Without even noticing, I had ended up at my Mecha.
I could not tell you how many hours I spent at the on-campus coffee shop, Charlie Brown’s Cafe. Sometimes, I would only go to look at the strips hanging on the wall, looking for inspiration for my own comic for the Sonoma State STAR. I finished my Senior Thesis at the Charles and Jean Schulz Information Center. I became involved in theater and improv comedy at SSU and my first theater production was Dog Sees God, Bert V. Royal’s unauthorized, twisted love letter to Schulz and Peanuts. I studied my lines over lunch at the Warm Puppy Cafe and when the show finally went up, in front of friends and family, I did the Snoopy dance on stage.
Even as this blog developed, Schulz was present. He is painted on the side of the Press Democrat and every day I walked into my internship, I saw him. On my first of several visits to the Charles M. Schulz Museum, I got to see the recreation of Schulz’s studio, his awards, original strips and his fabled triplicate picture, in which he was assigned by his teacher to draw as many items in groups of threes (his first taste of being a cartoonist). The wallpaper on my cellphone is the wonderful Charlie Brown and Lucy mosaic of thousands of strips. It was at the museum that I first met Alexis Fajardo, creator of Kid Beowulf and a continual supporter of Four Colors. Through Lex (as well as the wonderful Kathy Bottarini), I met Paige Braddock, creator of Jane’s World and Creative Director of Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates. These people have been great friends of mine and I have always seen the genuine and caring spirit of Charles Schulz in these individuals.
My wish for the new Peanuts comic books is that they can mean to someone what the Peanuts comic strip meant to me and millions others. It definitely has the potential. The team has the talent, the heart and the spirit to carry on Schulz’s legacy. And maybe one day, the right kid will find the books and have their world completely changed. I only hope that kid isn’t a blockhead and let’s Paige, Lex and the rest of their team know this, like I should have done with Charles Schulz.
Happiness may be a warm puppy, but it’s only worth something when the puppy knows what he means to you. This is 15 years late, but Charles Schulz, you are my hero. The optimism in my humor and writing, any skill I have a cartoonist, I owe to you. You are the kind of person that a 10 year old kid can look up to, whether that’s in 1997 or 2012. Thanks Sparky for being you and shaping my life well after you were gone. We all hope to have that kind of impact on the world.
All images are copyright of Charles Schulz and/or United Features Syndicate