The cartoonists of America begun penning their goodbye comic strips for Charles Schulz weeks in advance, intending them to run the same week as the last "Peanuts" Sunday comic. Unfortunately, Schulz died that very weekend, rendering most of those comic strips especially poignant. What began as a humorous but touching farewell to "Sparky" as he began his retirement turned into a goodbye to a friend already gone.
The same happened here at Fanzing. Bill Wiist, Kurt Belcher and I were collaborating on a few DC-meets-Peanuts bits intending them to run in the February issue (back when we thought there'd BE a February issue released in February) when news came of Schulz's death.
Living in his hometown of St. Paul, MN, has made the news even more omnipresent. After all, the amusement park at the center of our Mall of America is named Camp Snoopy. Now, Snoopy's giant dog dish in the park is filled with flowers, and everyone's talking about the absence of Charles Schulz.
As you may have noticed from past memorials in Fanzing's pages, I don't tend to wax melodramatic about an artist's death and what a loss it is to the nation and the industry. Cases where a great entertainer is lost in his prime, with so much more to give, are actually quite rare. Jim Henson is about the only one I can think of, really. Maybe it's just me, but when I heard of Schulz's death, my first thought wasn't, "Oh no, no more Snoopy for me to read." If Matthew Perry died, my first thought hopefully wouldn't be, "Great. Now what am I supposed to do on Thursday night?"
The tragedy is not one of future accomplishments lost, but the loss for Schulz, the man. He sounds like a very decent person, and I wish he could have had a decade to rest in a lawn chair, drink lemonade with his family and read fan mail.
Charles Schulz's contribution to popular culture, the comics page and TV animation had already been cemented decades ago. At a time when most comics were simply lame laughs or adventure serials, Schulz introduced this strip about a bleak little lonely boy named Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown knew he was capable of great things, but other people held him back. If he tried to kick a football, his friend would make promises, shout encouragements, build up his self-esteem and then yank away the football just to watch him go flying and delight in his misfortune. His love of kite-flying was ruined by the Kite-Eating Tree. On the baseball field, he was all business, hoping that his team would achieve victory but his teammates weren't focused. Lucy'd shout crabby insults, Pigpen would get lost in a cloud of dirt, Freida would be busy primping some naturally curly hair, catcher Schroeder would be distracted by some Beethoven trivia and Linus would be debating him with a Biblical quote. Not that Charlie Brown was a great player. He'd drop the crucial fly ball, and his fastballs got batted back at him so fast that he'd be knocked out of his clothes.
Everyone else seemed to have a much better life. Everyone got tons of valentines, except for him. The manager of the baseball team that always beat his team was a tomboy who was so strong-willed that her friend Marcie called her "sir."
Even Charlie Brown's dog seemed to live a life full of adventure and excitement when compared to him, and Snoopy always excelled at the very endeavors Charlie Brown failed at. But whatever the dog's fantasy life was, in reality Snoopy was a bit of an embarrassment to Charlie Brown especially since the neighbor's cat, World War Two, would frighten and intimidate Snoopy!
This is not to say that Charlie Brown was an eternal loser just that his victories were few and often anti-climactic in comparison to the struggles it took to achieve them. When he finally won something for the first time in his life, it's a coupon for a free haircut and not only is his dad a barber, but he doesn't really have a lot of hair!
That was the world of "Peanuts" and in its heyday, when it was going up against "Beetle Bailey" and "Dagwood", there just wasn't anything like it on the comics page! "Peanuts" became a phenomenon. The phrase "security blanket," created by Schulz, became part of the lexicon. Peanuts' first TV special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" changed TV animation as well, as new techniques were devised for character animation, real children were used for voices, the format was shortened to a half hour and Schulz stuck to his guns and insisted that the scene where Linus relates the Biblical story of Christmas stayed in. (That special drew an astounding share in the Nielsens, won awards and became a holiday staple ever since.) In 1969, the Apollo astronauts named the two sections of Apollo 10 "Snoopy" and "Charlie Brown". In fact, the lunar module "Snoopy" is still in heliocentric orbit. If anything happens to the human race, there may still be a chunk of metal called "Snoopy" out there in space! (How's THAT for a memorial?)
All of us are granted only a smattering of decades to make our mark on this planet, hopefully for the better, and Charles Schulz succeeded. It may be a cliche, but I would rather celebrate such a life than mourn his death.
What has been most lost by Schulz's sudden passing is the opportunity for him to enjoy his retirement with his family and friends. Our condolences go to them.
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 2000 by Michael Hutchison.
Artwork is © 2000 by Bill Wiist and Kurt Belcher.
Fanzing is not associated with DC Comics.
All DC Comics characters, trademarks and images (where used) are DC Comics, Inc.
DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.
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