Museum exhibit celebrates cartoonists who inspired Charles Schulz
“Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz worked long and hard for his success. Above all, he loved the medium and immersed himself in the world of cartooning.
“The only thing I ever wanted to be was a cartoonist,” he once said.
Nicknamed “Sparky” in early childhood, after the listless horse Spark Plug in the “Barney Google” comic strip, Schulz grew to study the masters of his art form. The reason his uncle gave him that particular moniker is lost to time.
“Charles Schulz was only days or weeks old when he got that nickname,” said Benjamin Clark, curator of the Charles M. Schulz Museum. “Spark Plug was a wildly popular character at the time.”
The current exhibit at the museum in Santa Rosa, “Spark Plug to Snoopy: 100 Years of Schulz,” is the opening salvo in a series of events leading up to the centennial the cartoonist’s birth on Nov. 26.
“This exhibit will run until mid-September, so people will already be in celebratory mood,” Clark said.
Born in 1922 in Minneapolis, Schulz moved to Sonoma County in 1958 and died in 2000 in Santa Rosa, after writing and drawing the “Peanuts” comic strip for nearly 50 years.
“Peanuts” made its first appearance on Oct. 2, 1950. At its height, the “Peanuts” strip ran in as many as 2,800 newspapers, and reprints still run in many papers, including The Press Democrat.
“We’re looking at his childhood and early career,” Clark said. “And we’re looking at cartoonists who were active in 1920s and ’30s.”
The exhibit pays tribute to the cartoonists who influenced Schulz. A second exhibition exploring Schulz’s impact on the cartooning world, and the artists he inspired, will open in late September.
“It’s all part and parcel of telling his story,” Clark said. “We’re including 20 other artists in this exhibit and a similar number of their works. There also are other historical objects and artifacts.”
Among the cartoonists honored are George Herriman, creator of “Krazy Kat,” whose cat and much smaller mouse had a visual impact similar to Schulz’s later duo of Snoopy the beagle and Woodstock the tiny yellow bird.
“We have original Krazy Kat art that Schulz owned,” Clark said. “Many of the strips by other artists and are with ’Peanuts’ panels that show their influence.”
One famous example is Schulz’s Veterans Day tribute featuring Willie and Joe, the two grizzled infantrymen characters created by Bill Mauldin during World War II. It features Snoopy in army combat gear.
“He loved Bill Maudlin’s work in Stars and Stripes (the military newspaper) during the war,” Clark said. “Later on, they became good friends.”
Another cartoonist Schulz followed was the sometimes-caustic satirist Al Capp, creator of “Li’l Abner.”
“Charles Schulz liked Al Capp’s work in his youth. They met and knew each other, but they were two different people,” Clark said.
From aspiring cartoonist to breakthrough innovator to acknowledged master, Schulz had a long journey that started early.
It was an exhibit of cartoonists’ work that profoundly influenced Schulz as a boy. When he was 11, he attended an exhibit of original comic strip art the public library in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he grew up.
“That’s the moment when he realized he wanted to become a cartoonist,” Clark said.
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.