“Peanuts” Comic Strip makes its way to big screen from humble beginnings
Photo courtesy of FOX.COM
by EVELYN WONG
With the release of “The Peanuts Movie” as a 3D computer-animated film Nov. 6, many viewers may be reminded of Charles Schulz’s beloved cartoon characters as they first appeared in American newspapers.
From a young age, Schulz’s lifelong ambition was to produce a daily comic strip; he recognized his talents at age of 15, when his drawing of his family dog, Spike, was published in the nationally-syndicated Ripley’s Believe it or Not newspaper feature. Schulz had honed his skills in lettering for a Roman Catholic magazine, “Timeless Topix,” from 1946 to 1947, according to schulzmuseum.org.
From there, he was able to garner the support of an artistic community, who influenced many of his later works; among them was an individual named Charlie Brown whom he had befriended during his time teaching at the Art Instruction School in Minneapolis. He also had a relationship with a red-haired woman named Donna Johnson, who later broke his heart. Johnson became his inspiration for a character named The Little Red-Haired Girl, Charlie Brown’s unrequited love, according to “Charles M. Schulz, ‘Peanuts’ Creator, Dies at 77,” an article by Sarah Boxer on nytimes.com.
Schulz eventually sold various single comic panels to the Saturday Evening Post. The forerunners of the Peanuts characters were first published in 1947 as a weekly comic in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a feature called “Li’l Folks” that featured Charlie Brown and Shermy. According to history.com, the character Snoopy (also a character in “Li’l Folks”) was inspired by a drawing Schulz had published as a teenager in 1937 of his own dog, Spike.
In 1950, Schulz sold “Li’l Folks” to the United Feature Syndicate, a comic strip newspaper syndication service based in the United States. According to “Five Things You Didn’t Know About Charlie Brown,” an article on huffingtonpost.com, though Schulz had planned for the name of the comic to be either “Li’l Folks” or “Good Old Charlie Brown,” the editor of the syndicate changed it to “Peanuts.”
Published on Oct. 2, 1950, the first “Peanuts” strip was four panels long and showed Charlie Brown walking with two other kids, Shermy and Patty. Though Snoopy was an early character, he did not appear in the first comic strip published, according to history1900s.about.com.
The rest of the Peanuts gang did not appear until later issues: Schroeder in May of 1951, Lucy in March of 1952, Linus in September, 1952, Pigpen in July, 1954, Sally in August, 1959, “Peppermint” Patty in August, 1966; Woodstock in April, 1967, Marcie in June, 1968; and Franklin in July, 1968; according to history1900s.about.com.
Though the strip was not an instant hit, a book of “Peanuts” reprints helped Schulz gain a larger audience. The strip was syndicated to over 2,600 newspapers internationally and gained over 350 million readers in 75 countries by 1958, according to history.com.
“Peanuts” was first animated by Bill Melendez in 1959 for “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show,” sponsored by Ford Motors, according to schulzmuseum.org. Forming Bill Melendez Productions, Melendez directed all of the “Peanuts” television specials and full-length movies, and he voiced the characters Snoopy and Woodstock in the animation.
According to schulzmuseum.org, the documentary “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” was produced by Lee Mendelson in 1963 and included animations by Melendez. Medelson’s company, Lee Mendelson Productions, also produced feature films such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) and “He’s a Bully, Charlie Brown” (2006).
In December, 1999, Schulz was diagnosed with colon cancer, announcing that he would soon retire. His last “Peanuts” daily strip was published Jan. 3, 2000, and his final Sunday strip was released by the press Feb. 13, 2000, a day after he died of complications from his disease.
According to history.com, throughout his career, Schulz produced 17,897 “Peanuts” strips: 15,391 daily strips and 2,506 Sunday strips. After his death, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal; in 2002, the Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Center, dedicated to Peanuts-related artwork, letters and photographs, was opened in Santa Rosa.
Continuing to be a favorite of many readers and an inspiration to artists worldwide, the Peanuts gang has brought laughter and happiness to its audience of all ages, with Snoopy leaving an everlasting paw print in American culture to this day.