But Charles Schulz’s Peanuts was not only a cartoon series featuring a group of children and a dog but a depiction of life in both its most heartwarming and bittersweet moments.
Peanuts was a phenomenon, with the 17,897 strips of its run from October 2, 1950, to February 13, 2000 — a day after Schulz’s death — making it “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being”, as per American academician Robert Thomson. It was also a story that resonated well across the globe, appearing in 2,600 newspapers in 21 languages across 75 countries in its heyday.
Peanuts can still be read in several places, including India (though these are actually reprints), and has inspired animated versions, amusement parks, parodies and spin-off merchandise, apart from the fame of its principal characters — Charlie Brown and his beagle, Snoopy.
But while we can go on about shy and nervous Charlie Brown, Snoopy, bossy Lucy van Pelt, Linus and his blanket, the Great Pumpkin, Peppermint Patty and other characters, equally deserving of attention is its industrious but shy creator, whose 95th birth anniversary is on Sunday, and his inspirations.
Charles Monroe Schulz (19222000) was not only the son of a barber like Charlie Brown, but there were many other incidents and persons from his life mirrored in Peanuts. Charlie Brown for one was named after a drawing school colleague and many other of Schulz’s friends inspired the character’s own friends in name or deeds.
Born in Minneapolis (Minnesota) on November 26, 1922, Schulz was gifted at drawing right from an early age and determined to make it his profession. “The only thing I ever wanted to be was a cartoonist. That’s my life. Drawing,” he said later.
But it was not always that easy — while at high school (where he was as shy and meek as Charlie Brown), his drawings for the yearbook were rejected.
After a brief spell in the US Army during World War II, he returned to Minneapolis and plunged into his dream field. His first regular series was a weekly one-panel “Li’l Folks”, which ran locally from June 1947 to January 1950.
This was a forerunner to “Peanuts” for Schulz here first used the name Charlie Brown and had a dog looking like Snoopy. He tried to have it syndicated but the deal fell through.
However, Schulz saw his new four-panel strip which the United Feature Syndicate accepted, though naming it Peanuts instead of his own preference for “Li’l Folks”, beginning just a few months later. The first instalment appeared on October 2, 1950 and went on to become history.