Charles Schulz was a cartoonist best known as the creator of Peanuts, the syndicated comic strip that featured the characters Snoopy and Charlie Brown and expanded into a franchise that included TV shows, movies, and toys. By the time of Schulz’s death, Peanuts was reaching readers in twenty-one languages across some 2,600 newspapers in seventy-five countries. Altogether, Schulz produced more than 18,000 strips over nearly fifty years.
Born on November 26, 1922, in Minneapolis, Charles Monroe Schulz was the only child of German immigrant Carl Schulz and Dena Halverson Schulz. Apart from two years spent in Needles, California, Charles grew up in the Twin Cities. Having read the Sunday funnies every week with his father from an early age, Charles became enchanted by the art of cartooning.
In 1937, the young aspiring cartoonist published a sketch of the Schulz family dog, Spike, in Robert Ripley’s popular Believe It or Not! newspaper feature. In 1940, at the end of his senior year at St. Paul’s Central High School, Schulz enrolled in a correspondence course at the Federal School of Applied Cartooning (later renamed the Art Instruction Schools) in Minneapolis. While working odd jobs, he drew sketches and submitted them for publication.
Schulz gave up drawing when he was drafted into the US Army in the fall of 1942. He was trained to operate a machine gun at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, where he rose to the rank of staff sergeant before being deployed to Europe in February 1945. World War II ended months later, and Schulz received the Combat Infantryman Badge for fighting in active combat against the Nazis before being discharged on January 6, 1946.
Upon returning to St. Paul in 1946, Schulz was hired to do lettering for Timeless Topix, a Catholic comic magazine. From 1947 to the early 1950s, he was an instructor at the Art Instruction Schools. In early 1947, Schulz finally had his debut of a weekly panel, titled Li’l Folks, in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Published under the byline of “Sparky” (the artist’s nickname as a child) the cartoon introduced early versions of the characters of Charlie Brown, a long-suffering everyman type, and his pet dog, Snoopy. The first fifteen strips of Li’l Folks ran in the Saturday Evening Post between 1948 and 1950.
In 1950, Li’l Folks was bought by United Feature Syndicate and retitled Peanuts. The first Peanuts strip debuted on October 2, 1950, in seven newspapers nationwide, including the Minneapolis Tribune. It featured a group of three-to-five-year-old characters, inspired by Schulz’s own childhood in the Twin Cities. As cultural historian M. Thomas Inge puts it, the main character, Charlie Brown, comes out of a narrative tradition that celebrates inadequate heroes, such as those in James Thurber’s cartoons; Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character; and Buster Keaton’s screen persona. The character of Snoopy, a beagle hound based on Schulz’s childhood family pet, is often portrayed as harboring frustrated dreams of grandeur, and wiser than the children. Other characters include Sally, Charlie Brown’s little sister; his surly and contrary friend Lucy; her younger brother, Linus; and his friend Schroeder.
Collections of Peanuts were published in book form starting in 1952. The first television special using Peanuts characters, A Charlie Brown Christmas, appeared in 1965, with many television specials following. In addition, the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown has been produced numerous times since its premiere in 1967. The popularity of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the other characters resulted in the international marketing of products featuring Peanuts characters as early as 1950.
Schulz retired from drawing in January 2000, shortly before his death. Since then, Peanuts has returned to syndication, starting with strips originally drawn in 1974. Among his accomplishments are four full-length films, forty books, and thirty TV specials. As of 2020, the Peanuts comic strip has appeared in more than 30,000 newspapers in forty languages in seventy-five countries, reaching 350 million readers daily.
Throughout his career, Schulz won many accolades, including a number of Peabody and Emmy Awards. He received Honorary LHDs from Anderson College in Indiana and St. Mary’s College in California, as well as a Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. In late September of 2015, on the sixty-fifth anniversary of Peanuts’ October 1950 debut, Schulz was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
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