"Good Ol' Charles Schulz"
Everybody loves Peanuts. No question about that.
Indeed, why have millions of readers, young and old, connected with Charles "Sparky" Schulz's creations for year after year, decade after decade?
The answer to such a question is undoubtedly complex. I felt as if I found a clue though while watching PBS's new American Masters documentary "Good Ol' Charles Schulz." There was a moment midway through when it all became suddenly clear; it is during an interview with managing comics editor Sarah Gillespie, who recounts an incident when Sparky got bent out of shape after one of her editors had changed a bit of punctuation in one of his strips.
Perhaps within this seemingly innocuous moment lies the secret to what makes Peanuts a classic: the simple fact that Schulz always fought to retain the integrity of his characters. He managed to do so through nearly eighteen thousand comic strips (17,897 to be exact), countless animated TV specials and a massive licensing and merchandising program.
As cartoonist Jules Feiffer explains in the documentary, Schulz never hired assistants to do his lettering or inking, as is normal practice for many newspaper comic artists. From every word his characters spoke down to every mark made on the paper, Peanuts was Charles Schulz's baby. Those four panelled pieces of paper were Sparky's passion, and he was as committed to those as Rembrandt was to his canvas.
The success of Peanuts is a testament to one man's uncompromising creative vision. In a day and age when artists attempt to please the whims of TV networks, newspaper syndicates, ad agencies and corporations, in fact everybody but themselves, Schulz's work reminds us that pursuing one's own creative instincts is often the wisest path.
Maybe we connect with the Peanuts characters because Schulz encouraged us to by never betraying the character's personalities or the world that they lived in. The cartoon universe that Charlie Brown and gang inhabit is unique because it was created and molded by one individual, a true American master. His name was Charles Schulz.