Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1922, artist Charles Monroe Schulz lived an extraordinary life thanks to his comic strip, Peanuts, which made its first appearance in 1950. Indeed, Schulz’s legacy is formidable – he is thought of as one of history’s most influential cartoonists. Contemporary illustrators such as Calvin and Hobbes-man Bill Watterson, Jim Garfield Davis and Simpsons creator Matt Groening all cite the pen behind Peanuts as an influence. And, as we shall see, his life was intertwined with those of his famous characters, such as Charlie Brown and Snoopy, until the cartoonist drew his last breath in 2000.
19. Schulz thought nuts to the name Peanuts
Before his characters made it big in Peanuts, Schulz was producing newspaper comic strips under the title Lil’ Folks. But, after three years of struggling to land a permanent slot in his local St. Paul Pioneer Press paper, he sold the comics to United Feature Syndicate in 1950. The editorial and comic strip syndication service promptly renamed the series Peanuts. However, Schulz wasn’t happy with the change, telling Time magazine in 1965, “I wanted a strip with dignity and significance. Peanuts made it sound too insignificant.”
18. He out-stripped the competition
If you thought your work rate was impressive, take a look at Schulz’s legacy. Indeed, by the time he retired, the legendary cartoonist had hand-drawn a whopping 17,897 Peanuts strips. He would initially draw them in black ink, then use a color chart to painstakingly label his desired print colors for each cartoon. In all, he created 15,391 daily strips, with the other 2,506 running in Sunday titles.
17. When they stopped the line, he bought up all the nibs in order to continue it
To create his Peanuts panels, Schulz would use two ink pens – one especially for line drawing, and one for lettering. A creature of habit, the Esterbrook 914 Radio Pen was his choice of tool for the former. So imagine his horror in the 1950s when he discovered that the manufacturer was about to discontinue the line. In order to continue using his favorite pen, Schulz bought up the entire inventory of replacement nibs for the 914.
16. Schulz would regularly work for Peanuts
While Schulz wasn’t beholden to the traditional office routine, he still kept regular working hours, starting at 9:00 a.m. and finishing at 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. His average output was seven strips each week, and he submitted his artwork two months ahead of them appearing in print. In fact, Schulz had eventually fine-tuned the process so well that he could create a Peanuts daily strip in as little as ten minutes.
15. He secured blanket coverage
Believe it or not, before Linus’ ubiquitous blue comforter appeared in Peanuts, the concept of “security blankets” was virtually unknown. But while Schulz may have popularized the emotional-support item, he denied coining the term himself. Indeed, in response to a request from the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1980s, Schulz wrote, “Although I am sure I was the first to bring attention to the fact that children used blankets for security… I think that it was the readers who eventually coined the phrase ‘security blanket.’”
14. Schulz beat his final deadline
Charles M. Schulz passed away at home in California aged 77 on February 12, 2000 – a Saturday night. And just hours later, his final Sunday strip hit the presses. Schulz’s friend Lynn Johnston, creator of the For Better or For Worse comic strip, later noted the valedictory nature of his passing in print. She told the Associated Press it was “as if he had written it that way.” Indeed, that last cartoon included a personal farewell note from Schulz, which read, “Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy… how can I ever forget them…”
13. You’re a good worker, Charlie Brown
In its entire five-decade run, Peanuts only took a single break – at the time of Schulz’s 75th birthday. And this was only after his syndication agency insisted that the septuagenarian cartoonist take five weeks off. Otherwise, Schulz worked almost his entire life, never taking more than ten days off at a time. In fact, the trooper even carried on creating comic strips while recovering from quadruple-bypass heart surgery in 1981.
12. He had to fight for Christmas to be special
A Charlie Brown Christmas from 1965 still draws in millions of viewers every year. But during the creation of the TV special, Schulz met with resistance at every turn. Even executive producer Lee Mendelson and director Bill Melendez voiced their doubts. “We thought that it was maybe just too slow and we had failed poor Charlie Brown,” Mendelson told USA Today in 2015. Meanwhile, bosses at the commissioning network, CBS, thought it would flop. In fact, it did exactly the opposite and became the first of more than 40 Peanuts TV specials.
11. Schulz wasn’t afraid to kill off a character
In 1954, brash new character Good Ol’ Charlotte Braun made her debut among the Peanuts gang – much to the annoyance of readers. Following complaints, Schulz dropped her from the strip after only ten appearances. But before he did, the cartoonist made a brutally funny response to one reader’s letter of complaint. Schulz replied, “I am taking your suggestion regarding Charlotte Braun and will eventually discard her… Remember, however, that you and your friends will have the death of an innocent child on your conscience. Are you prepared to accept such responsibility?”
10. He drew on experience from the mail
Fearful that he didn’t have what it takes to attend art college, in the 1940s, Schulz opted to learn to draw via the mail. Indeed, his father paid $169 – a sizable sum for the time – for his son to enroll in a remote course with Minneapolis’ Art Instruction Schools. He became the correspondence-learning company’s most famous graduate, and even spent some time working for it as a tutor. Nevertheless, Schulz never endorsed any single system for learning the ropes of drawing, including his alma mater.
9. Schulz loved to spill ink on the rink
Besides art, Schulz also had two other great loves – ice hockey and figure skating. Snoopy played hockey regularly in Peanuts, and after moving away from Minnesota, Schulz decided to build his own rink in California to keep up with the sport. His fondness for figure skating, meanwhile, found its way into roughly 70 different strips, and two of Schulz’s children became professional skaters. It comes as little surprise then, that the cartoonist was inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame for each sport.
8. Lost love looms large over the strip
Remember the Little Red-Haired Girl character? She only made a single physical appearance in the Peanuts strip, but Charlie Brown always seemed to be pining for her. As it turns out, this was very close to an unhappy experience from Schulz’s own life. Just before Peanuts launched fully in 1950, he proposed to his then-girlfriend, redheaded Donna Mae Johnson, but she turned him down. Despite marrying twice, Schulz never quite got over Johnson – hence her appearance in his famous strip.
7. Good-time Charlie was a real inspiration
While other Peanuts characters may not have been based so directly on real-life people as the Little Red-Haired Girl, nonetheless, Schulz would use their names for inspiration. Charlie Brown, for instance, was the name of a colleague at the mail-in art school where Schulz learned, and later taught, drawing. And another fellow alumnus, Linus Maurer, was the basis for the blanket-clutching Peanuts character.
6. How the leading man never got his kicks
Anyone who has ever read more than a few Peanuts strips will be familiar with the Charlie Brown football gag. As he runs up to kick the ball, Lucy pulls it away – every single time. In fact, in 50 years, Charlie Brown never once got to kick a football. And it proved to be a tearful moment of realization for Schulz when he signed off the very last strip. He admitted, “All of a sudden I thought, ‘You know, that poor, poor kid, he never even got to kick the football. What a dirty trick – he never had a chance to kick the football!’”
5. Why Sparky? Barney Google the answer
Schulz’s nickname – Sparky – followed him throughout his adult life and after his death. Indeed, the artist’s widow, Jean Schulz, was still referring to him as Sparky as recently as 2015. Ironically enough, the nickname originated in a cartoon strip which first appeared in 1919 and is still going strong. The Barney Google series featured a horse called Spark Plug. Seemingly, Schulz’s uncle decided it would be a fitting nickname for his nephew as the horse was famed for never looking back. And considering the single-minded Schulz later said he was “born to draw comic strips,” the uncle may have been right.
4. Schroeder was not the only massive fan of Ludwig Van
You will undoubtedly remember Peanuts‘s pianist Schroeder as being obsessed with Ludwig Van Beethoven, but it turns out he wasn’t the only one. In the strip, if Schroeder wasn’t listening to the composer’s music, he was playing it. However, this fixation wasn’t born out of nothing – Schulz himself was a huge fan. In fact, just as Schroeder often acknowledged Beethoven’s birthday, so too did Schulz. One time in the 1960s, the cartoonist honored the composer with a party to celebrate the anniversary of his birth.
3. Schulz cheered on women athletes
Readers of Peanuts will be well versed with Schulz’s support for equal rights in sport. Indeed, no less than 86 different strips featured the topic. In one from 1979, Peppermint Patty is seen saying, “I can see the day coming when women will have the same opportunities in sports as men!” In real life, Schulz was good friends with tennis legend Billie Jean King, and even joined the board of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
2. When Charlie Brown was down
Charlie Brown and crew may have been pleasantly wry in later years, but some early Peanuts strips are rather more somber. In the very first strip from 1950, Charlie Brown has no speaking lines at all. Instead, another boy introduces him as “Good Ol’ Charlie Brown” – and when he’s out of earshot, the first character groans, “How I hate him!” Indeed, pretty much all those early stories are concerned with the various ways the universe is working against the loser Charlie Brown.
1. Snoopy nearly got Sniffy
While Schulz himself owned many mutts over the course of his life, he credited his childhood favorite, Spike, as the inspiration for Snoopy. However, the cartoonist originally intended to call Charlie Brown’s white beagle something else entirely – neither Spike nor Snoopy. In fact, Schulz wanted to call him Sniffy. Then the artist discovered that another cartoon had got there first. Instead, Schulz opted for Snoopy, since his mother had once suggested it as a name should the Schulz family ever get another dog.