Twitter is dying. ‘Peanuts’ is going strong 23 years after Schulz’s death

“Peanuts” cartoonist Charles M. “Sparky” Schulz would have been 100 on Saturday. While Twitter appears to be founded after only 16 years and Facebook, founded 18 years ago, recently announced a 13% cut to its workforce, the “Peanuts” comic strip is still in syndication nearly 23 years after Schulz’s death. This longevity is a testament to our affinity to the characters: from when we feel like a loser (Charlie Brown), to crabby (Lucy Van Pelt), to philosophical (Linus Van Pelt), to superfluous (Rerun Van Pelt), to naive (Sally Brown), to just want to have fun (Snoopy).

How ironic it is then that the beloved 72-year-old strip debuted with the line “Good ol’ Charlie Brown … how I hate him.”

What was Sparky like? The answer: If you read “Peanuts,” you know.

He was the strip. Yes, his characters were often based upon people he knew (there was a real Charlie Brown), but within each personality was a piece of himself, even if it was a piece he didn’t particularly care for — such as the title, which Sparky hated. The syndicate, of course, liked the allusions to “peanut gallery” and “kids.” To Sparky, “peanuts” sounded like something of little worth. The pittance. That’s another irony: the strip’s “worth.” In 2021, Sparky ranked third on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid deceased celebrities.

Besides drawing funny pictures (as he called them), Sparky was good at cultivating people, creating his own tribe. And so we come to irony No. 3: This man, who drew so many disparate groups of people together, was rather introverted. He exhibited, despite all the colleagues, friends and family a man could want (or abide), a loner quality. His desk and drawing table stood at the end of his studio, as far as possible from the door. You even had to climb a step or two to get to them. His books and his stereo though? They were directly across from him.

Despite his introverted bent, Schulz was fiercely competitive. He always wanted his strip to be the best one on the page every day. At a cartoon festival at Ohio State University, “Ask Shagg” cartoonist Peter Guren and I skipped off to have lunch. I noticed his “Shagg” vanity plates as we approached his sports car and commented on both.

Turns out Peter mentioned this outing to Sparky. So during my next trip to see him, Sparky called Peter from his car phone (this was before cellphones were ubiquitous), and told Peter we were now sitting in his car (a Jaguar, if memory serves) with his “Woodstock” vanity plates , and that we’d just returned from lunch in Bodega Bay (where “The Birds” was filmed). “I win,” Sparky asserted.

People also ask how you edit someone so gifted. Given Sparky’s competitiveness, you don’t. You make sure everything is spelled correctly (in my first five years as a comics editor, I didn’t find a single misspelling, not for lack of trying), and when you do find a mistake, you check to make sure it wasn’t t intentional. He even wanted to win by being errorless.

Leave a Comment