Charlie Brown and Company and the Career of Charles Schulz

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Charles Schulz probably created the most beloved and successful  cartoon strip in history.

Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit explores Schulz’s personal history and his role as the sole inspiration and artistic talent behind Peanuts and its beloved cast of characters.

It can be seen through Feb. 18 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Schulz revolutionized the comic strip and profoundly affected cartoon history with his dedication to the art, wit, and wisdom of Peanuts. For nearly 50 years he researched, wrote, designed, and drew each strip that appeared in daily and Sunday newspapers.

The exhibit provides guests with an in-depth look into the life and early career of Schulz and   the development and evolution of iconic characters including, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and Linus; and the various holiday-themed strips—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day—during which these characters became known so well.

Also, recreated for the first time on tour, the exhibit includes a replica of Schulz’s Santa Rosa, Calif. studio, as well as a series of interactive experiences for kids and adults to express their own Schulz-like creativity.

Snoopy wwi ace lb.jpg
Snoopy as the World War I flying ace.

The Peanuts strip had humble beginnings, appearing in only seven newspapers in 1950, but the strip’s influence and popularity spread rapidly and widely. At the time of Schulz’s retirement, Peanuts was published in more than 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries and had more than 355 million readers.

Through original cartoons, as well as reproductions and related Peanuts ephemera, learn little-known facts about Schulz through early photos, the history of the Peanuts strip and, recreated for the first time on tour, a replica of Schulz’s studio at One Snoopy Place. The mock studio includes rare artifacts from Schulz’s personal life and work—Peanuts memorabilia, paintings, books and sporting equipment—on loan from the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif. Also displayed in this area, guests will see the exhibit’s 10 original Peanuts strips that were created, designed and written by Schulz.

Through both early and later Peanuts strips, visitors see how the gang “grew up” throughout the years. Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Sally, Rerun, and Snoopy were introduced to readers as babies, but their physical appearances and behaviors became more mature and “adult” as the strip progressed. Other popular characters—like Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, Marcie and Woodstock—also evolved. Looking at the 1950s version of Schulz’s drawings, guests may not recognize “Good Ol’ Charlie Brown,” but through the years, the characters changed in both appearance and personality, becoming the more familiar characters most know today.

Kids and families  exercise their own Schultz-like creativity with interactive Peanuts-related activities throughout the exhibit.

Inside Snoopy’s Doghouse. Schulz never revealed the inside of Snoopy’s doghouse, but based on certain clues, readers know Snoopy (who was no ordinary dog!) was an eccentric character with many interests. He owned a phonograph, clock radio, television set, ping pong table, philodendron plant and even a Van Gogh painting. In the exhibit, guests enter Snoopy’s doghouse and the imagination of the famed beagle, encountering a slew of fun, hands-on activities. Dress as one of Snoopy’s well-known personalities, like Joe Cool or the Flying Ace; take Snoopy’s novel’s perpetual opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night …,” and add personalized prose; trigger famous sounds from Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, like Snoopy’s laugh or Charlie Brown’s “Good Grief!”; and more.

Schroeder’s Piano. Step up to an oversized grand piano and walk along the keys to tap out a tune. (Beethoven, anyone?) Follow Snoopy’s footprints on the dance floor and boogie underneath a sparkly disco ball.

Color the Gang with Digital Crayon. Take Peanuts to the digital age in this fun, high-tech interactive. Use the touch screen to choose colors then take a digital “crayon” and fill in an image of the Peanuts gang projected on a giant screen.

Take "Peanuts" to the digital age and color the gang with a "crayon."Take "Peanuts" to the digital age and color the gang with a "crayon."

The Peanut Gallery. Enter this educational space and experiment with drawing and animating. Watch a group of still images come to life through a giant zoetrope demonstrated by MSI educators, then put your own creativity to the test. Draw simple scenes in 16 frames and discover how singular static images together create the illusion of movement and animation, or sketch a Peanuts character using step-by-step templates and take it home.

Costume a Character. Play dress up with your favorite Peanuts characters. Choose from a variety of seasonal clothing and accessories and “dress” character cut-outs hanging on a magnetic wall.

Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit is presented by Walgreens. This exhibit is organized by the Charles M. Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa, Calif

About Charles Schulz

Born in Minneapolis, Minn. on Nov. 26, 1922, Charles M. Schulz was the only child of Dena and Carl Schulz. From birth, comics played an important role in Schulz’s life. At just two days old, an uncle nicknamed him “Sparky” after the horse Spark Plug from the Barney Google comic strip, and throughout his youth, he and his father shared a Sunday morning ritual reading the funnies. Schulz always knew he wanted to be a cartoonist and was very proud when Ripley’s newspaper feature, Believe It or Not, published his drawing of the family dog in 1937.

Schulz put his artistic ambitions on hold during World War II while serving as a machine-gun squad leader, though he regularly sketched episodes of daily army life in his sketchbook. Following his discharge in 1945, Schulz returned to St. Paul to pursue a cartooning career.

Charles Schulz in 1993Between 1947 and 1950, he drew a weekly comic panel for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and also sold seventeen comic gags to The Saturday Evening Post. After many rejection slips, Schulz finally realized his dream of creating a nationally-syndicated daily comic strip when Peanuts debuted in seven newspapers on Oct. 2, 1950. By 1965, Schulz was honored twice with the Reuben Award by the National Cartoonists Society for his talents, and Peanuts was an international success.

By the time Schulz announced his retirement in December 1999, Peanuts had been published in more than 2,600 newspapers worldwide. He died shortly thereafter on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2000, just hours before the final Peanuts Sunday strip appeared in newspapers.

In August 2002, the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, Calif. opened in his honor with the mission of preserving, displaying and interpreting the art of the legendary cartoonist. 

Fun Facts about the Creation of "Peanuts"

In 1934, the Schulz family was given a black and white dog they named Spike. The terrier impressed the family with his wild ways and intelligence—he could understand about 50 words. Spike would later become the inspiration for Snoopy. (Spike also became the namesake for Snoopy’s brother!)

Sports were an important part of Schulz’s boyhood. The neighborhood baseball game that Schulz’s team lost 40–0 may have been an inspiration for the disastrous sports losses suffered by the Peanuts gang.

Working for the Art Instruction Schools after his stint in the Army, Schulz found inspiration in coworkers Charlie Brown, Linus Mauer and Frieda Rich, whose names would later figure prominently in his comic strip. He also met and began dating Donna Johnson, who would be immortalized in Peanuts as the “Little Red-Haired Girl.”

Schulz would carefully and accurately transcribe classical musical excerpts into Peanuts alongside the musical prodigy Schroeder, famous for playing his piano.

One of the initial themes Schulz set out to explore in Peanuts was the cruelty that exists among children. Lucy was an example of that, and her most heartless behavior was usually directed toward Charlie Brown or Linus.

Schulz got the idea for Pigpen from a friend in Colorado who sometimes referred to his children by unusual names, one of them being Pigpen.

Sally was the first character to have her birth recorded in Peanuts; she entered the strip in 1959 as Charlie Brown’s little sister.

Franklin was introduced to Peanuts in a multi-day series that ran from July 29 to Aug. 2, 1968. After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a Los Angeles school teacher wrote to Schulz to ask him to include an African-American child in his comic strip. In reply, Schulz said that he did not want to appear condescending in any way, but letters from other African-Americans in support of the addition alleviated his concerns.

Rerun, little brother of Lucy and Linus, was introduced in 1972. Schulz, for a time, was sorry he added Rerun to the cast, saying: “All I could think of doing with him was placing him on the back of his mother’s bicycle.”

Unrequited love became a central theme of Peanuts. Sally worships Linus, Peppermint Patty and Marcie adore Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown pines for the Little Red-Haired Girl, and Lucy loves Schroeder. In no case are feelings reciprocated. Schulz once remarked: “I seem to be fascinated by unrequited love, if not obsessed by it… I suppose it’s because we can all identity with it.”

Schulz introduced Snoopy’s siblings as time went on. Five are named in the comic strip: Spike, Belle, Marbles, Olaf and Andy. With these new characters, a new location was also introduced to the strip: the desert around Needles, Calif. This was actually Schulz’s boyhood home for about a year in the 1930s.

Visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum for more information.

 

Visit your local library for these resources:

Schulz and Peanuts: a biography
David Michaelis, (2007).
As Michaelis reveals in this exhaustively researched biography, Schulz’s shy, self-effacing exterior hid a complicated, troubled figure who was dogged by overwhelming feelings of inadequacy even as his work appeared in thousands of newspapers worldwide, spawned television and Broadway spin-offs, and generated over $1 billion annually. It’s customary for creators to form art from adversity, but Michaelis shows how unhappy incidents from Schulz’s childhood would resurface in his strips with a chilling specificity a half-century later; as he once explained, “You’re drawing mainly memories.” Excerpt of review by Gordon Flagg first published August, 2007(Booklist).

Charles M. Schulz: Conversations
M. Thomas Inge, editor, (2000).
Those seeking additional insight into Schulz and his work can turn to the 16 interviews collected in this volume, which range from a 1957 Saturday Evening Post feature portraying Schulz as an unsophisticated, Middle-American everyman to the collection’s highpoint, a lengthy late-career dialogue with the Comics Journal, a publication known for applying critical rigor to the lowly comics medium. Christian Herald and Psychology Today interviews focus on aspects of Schulz’s work that were of particular interest to their readers, and a Los Angeles Times sports pages piece examines Charlie Brown’s losing record on the ball field. Schulz’s comments touch upon everything from his drawing technique and work habits to theological ruminations. Excerpt of review by Gordon Flagg first published October 1, 200 (Booklist).

Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Me
Charles M. Schulz, (1980)
The creator of the phenomenally successful "Peanuts" comic strip talks about his life and work.

My Life With Charlie Brown
by Charles M. Schulz, M. Thomas Inge, editor, (2010).
While best known as the creator of Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz (1922-2000) was also a thoughtful and precise prose writer who knew how to explain his craft in clear and engaging ways. My Life with Charlie Brown brings together his major prose writings, many published here for the first time. Schulz's autobiographical articles, book introductions, magazine pieces, lectures, and commentary elucidate his life and his art, and clarify themes of modern life, philosophy, and religion that are interwoven into his beloved, groundbreaking comic strip.

Around the World in 45 Years
Charles M Schulz, 1994.
special anniversary edition takes readers on a memorable journey through all the peaks and pitfalls endured by the Peanuts gang over the past four-and-a-half decades.

Go Fly a Kite, Charlie Brown
Charles M Schulz, (1959).

Peanuts: A Golden Celebration: The Art and the Story of the World's Best-Loved Comic Strip
Charles M Schulz, David Larkin, editor, (1999).
One hundred ninety-two pages of two-color strips & 64 pages of four-color Sunday strips (more than 1,000 strips in all) & photographs are rounded out by Schulz's own comments (offering rare insight into the mind behind the mayhem). 

50 Years of Happiness: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz
Derrick Bang,  (1999)
Santa Rosa, California: Charles M. Schulz Museum.

Charles M. Schulz: Li'l Beginnings
Bang, Derrick, editor, (2003) .
Charles M. Schulz Museum.

Good Grief: the story of Charles M. Schulz
Rheta Grimsley Johnson, (1989).

Peanuts: the art of Charles M. Schulz
Chip Kidd, editor, (2001)

The Gospel according to Peanuts
Robert L. Short, (1964).

 

Images:

Exhibition, Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit,
Museum of Science and Industry.

Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace on his doghouse Sopwith Camel.

Charles M. Schulz in 1993.
Cropped from the image shown in the Flickr link to show Schulz.

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