Friday, November 26, 2010

In Memoriam: Charles M. Schulz


Charles M. Schulz was more than a cartoonist, he was a humanitarian; turning his own childhood hurts into humour, he helped the generations of kids who grew up reading his Peanuts strips to know that they were not alone in their angst, utilizing the unique power of the mass media to do it.

Yet what he leaves out of is work is just as telling as what he includes; the adult presence in the strips is both minimal and incomprehensible*, and the time the gang spends in school is occasional at best and fraught with emotional peril besides. The message imparted by this is that the important lessons learned by kids are in their extra-curricular interactions with each other, be they at the baseball diamond or just in hanging out together. Whether or not I agree with this is neither here nor there, as clearly it was a reflection of the cartoonist's own experience.

Charles Schulz - Sparky, to his friends - was born on this day in 1922, and in the course of his career hand-drew every frame through fifty years' worth of strips by himself, finishing the last just prior to his death in February 2000. Owing to his considerable business savvy, he made the characters he created into television and movie stars, toys and t-shirts and everything else, as well as commercial shills - creating in them a venerable brand which has easily outlived him; thanks to them (and the revenue they still generate) he was able to turn his home in Santa Rosa, California, into the Charles Schulz Museum, which is now a place of pilgrimage for Peanuts fans the world over.

The entire run of Peanuts is being republished, two years at a time with a new book published every six months for twelve-and-a-half years, by Fantagraphics; the fourteen volumes published so far, covering the years 1950-1978 have earned pride of place in the collection of the Pop Culture Institute, and look forward to being joined by their brethren in the fullness of time.

*WAA-waa waa waa, waa-WAA waa-waa waa!

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