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Schulz museum marks 70th anniversary of ‘Peanuts’

Highlights from the ongoing online celebration of the 70th anniversary of “Peanuts”

Each event costs $15, and advance registration is required. For a full schedule, updates and registration information visit schulzmuseum.org.

LIVE ONLINE: “Celebrating 70 Years of “Peanuts’” with Jean Schulz and Stephan Pastis. 5–6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3. Celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Peanuts comic strip with a live conversation between Charles Schulz's widow, Jean Schulz, and cartoonist Stephan Pastis, creator of “Pearls Before Swine” and “Timmy Failure.” Schulz and Pastis will share favorite stories and look back on Charles Schulz's legacy and impact—personal and professional—while reflecting on what makes Peanuts so resonant 70 years after its first appearance.

LIVE ONLINE: “70 Years with the Peanuts Gang.” 2-3 pm. Oct. 17. Take a unique and rarely seen look at Charles Schulz's 70-year legacy with the new release, The Peanuts Book: A Visual History of the Iconic Comic Strip. Join author Simon Beecroft in conversation with Benjamin L. Clark (curator, Charles M. Schulz Museum), Sarah Breaux (archivist at the museum), and Alexis E. Fajardo (editorial director, Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates) as they chart the rich history of the world's most favorite comic strip. Learn about the evolution of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the Peanuts Gang, and rediscover the enduring and nostalgic charm of Peanuts 70 years later.

LIVE ONLINE: 25 Years of “MUTTS” — Patrick McDonnell in Conversation with Tom Gammill. 4-5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7. Join Patrick McDonnell, creator of the “MUTTS” comic strip, to celebrate the publication of “The Art of Nothing: 25 Years of MUTTS” and his newest MUTTS treasury, “Hot Dogs, Hot Cats.” McDonnell will talk about his work, characters, and influences in conversation with Tom Gammill, producer and writer for “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld.”

Recognize these phrases? “Curse you, Red Baron!,” “It was a dark and stormy night,” “Good grief,” “You blockhead!” and of course, “Auugh!”

Those additions to the popular lexicon — and familiar characters like the beleaguered Charlie Brown, bossy Lucy and loyal but sometimes lazy Snoopy — are the legacy of Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip “Peanuts,” which made its debut 70 years ago Friday, on Oct. 2, 1950.

Reprints still run in more than 2,000 newspapers around the globe, now 20 years after Schulz’s death. His far-reaching work has been translated into 25 languages and published in 75 countries. Over the second half of the 20th century, “Peanuts” portrayed the everyday life of children and sometimes reflected much larger events, from the Vietnam War to the feminist movement. It’s obvious the comic strip has left an indelible mark on popular language and culture.

“When ‘Peanuts’ began in 1950, Schulz was under no illusions. ... Comic strips were generally regarded as a very low rung on the entertainment ladder,” said Simon Beecroft, a British pop culture scholar and author of “The Peanuts Book: A Visual History of the Iconic Comic Strip,” published late last month.

“Over the course of his phenomenal 50-year career, Schulz showed what comics were capable of as an art form,” Beecroft said. “‘Peanuts’ could be wildly funny and deeply thought-provoking, often in the space of one short strip. His worldview is fundamentally humane and non-stereotyped in terms of gender, class and race. He led the way in so many ways.”

Beecroft is just one of a long list authors, scholars and “Peanuts” devotees from near and far scheduled to participate in online special events scheduled by the Charles M. Schulz Museum through the end of the year to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the comic strip. Others lined up to take part include Stephan Pastis, Santa Rosan and creator the daily comic strip “Pearls Before Swine;” “Mutts” cartoonist Patrick McDonnell and Schulz’s widow, Jean Schulz.

A hit with all ages

Schulz, who was born in Minneapolis and grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, moved to Sonoma County in 1958. Though he wasn’t a native, locals considered him one of our own. When Schulz died in 2000 in Santa Rosa, he had been writing and drawing the “Peanuts” comic strip for nearly 50 years.

“We know that images like hang-dog Charlie Brown, loud Lucy and Snoopy, with his endless flights of fancy, have had a huge impact on pop culture,” Jean Schulz said.

Scholars often point to Schulz’s introduction of his groundbreaking Black character, Franklin, in 1968 or the feminist independence of crabby “fussbudget” Lucy as evidence of the strip’s ongoing relevance to the real world.

Recognizing Lucy’s lasting significance, the Heong Gallery at Downing College at the University of Cambridge in England plans a exhibition in November 2021 titled “Lucy Van Pelt: Director of Everything,” with help from the Schulz museum in Santa Rosa.

“Charles Schulz did not invent the daily cartoon strip, but ‘Peanuts’ revolutionized it. It presented the inner lives of children in all its complexities, without making childhood or childishness the butt of the joke,” said Prerona Prasad, curator of The Heong Gallery.

“‘Peanuts’ never invited us to laugh at children for being children, and that is why I think it was such a hit with all ages,” she added. “Everyone could identify with the characters. Everyone was or knew someone from the ‘Peanuts’ gang.”

Packed with meaning

What has made the quiet, understated, simply drawn comic such an enduring influence on us all? Part of it has to do with Schulz’s understanding of others, according to Blake Scott Ball, an assistant professor of history at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Charles Schulz was a master of empathy. Hundreds of millions of people around the world over the last 70 years have stumbled across a ‘Peanuts’ comic strip in their daily life and felt as though Schulz had written it directly to them,” said Ball, who has studied the parallels between the comic and American culture, including the environmental and feminist movements and the Vietnam War.

Charles Schulz’s work not only has staying power but incredible impact, said Brian Fies, a Santa Rosa writer and cartoonist and author of the graphic memoir “A Fire Story” about the 2017 wildfires.

“There’s not another comic strip, and very few creative works in general, that have penetrated the culture as thoroughly as ‘Peanuts,’ through books, TV, movies, theater, merchandising,” Fies said. “Even people who’ve never read a newspaper comic know what a ‘security blanket’ or a ‘Charlie Brown Christmas tree’ is.“

Highlights from the ongoing online celebration of the 70th anniversary of “Peanuts”

Each event costs $15, and advance registration is required. For a full schedule, updates and registration information visit schulzmuseum.org.

LIVE ONLINE: “Celebrating 70 Years of “Peanuts’” with Jean Schulz and Stephan Pastis. 5–6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3. Celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Peanuts comic strip with a live conversation between Charles Schulz's widow, Jean Schulz, and cartoonist Stephan Pastis, creator of “Pearls Before Swine” and “Timmy Failure.” Schulz and Pastis will share favorite stories and look back on Charles Schulz's legacy and impact—personal and professional—while reflecting on what makes Peanuts so resonant 70 years after its first appearance.

LIVE ONLINE: “70 Years with the Peanuts Gang.” 2-3 pm. Oct. 17. Take a unique and rarely seen look at Charles Schulz's 70-year legacy with the new release, The Peanuts Book: A Visual History of the Iconic Comic Strip. Join author Simon Beecroft in conversation with Benjamin L. Clark (curator, Charles M. Schulz Museum), Sarah Breaux (archivist at the museum), and Alexis E. Fajardo (editorial director, Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates) as they chart the rich history of the world's most favorite comic strip. Learn about the evolution of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the Peanuts Gang, and rediscover the enduring and nostalgic charm of Peanuts 70 years later.

LIVE ONLINE: 25 Years of “MUTTS” — Patrick McDonnell in Conversation with Tom Gammill. 4-5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7. Join Patrick McDonnell, creator of the “MUTTS” comic strip, to celebrate the publication of “The Art of Nothing: 25 Years of MUTTS” and his newest MUTTS treasury, “Hot Dogs, Hot Cats.” McDonnell will talk about his work, characters, and influences in conversation with Tom Gammill, producer and writer for “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld.”

Schulz’s light, deceptively simple-looking drawing style dramatically changed cartooning and the comic strip as they had previously existed for decades.

“To understand what a revolution ‘Peanuts’ was, you have to look at a newspaper comics page from 1950,” Fies said. “Most of the strips looked very dense, even the funny ones, with a lot of black ink, cross-hatching and overstuffed word balloons. And in the middle of this page of gray sludge floated ‘Peanuts’ — light, elegant, economical.”

Schulz’s influence has only expanded since the creation of “Peanuts,” Fies said.

“There’s a generation of young cartoonists born after Schulz’s death who may say they never read ‘Peanuts,’ but its influence still shows in their work,” Fies said. “It’s in their stylistic choices, the pacing of their comic panels, their dry wit and the very idea of using a comic strip as a medium to express your own deepest dreams and fears. He’s still there, even if they don’t know it. I think he will be for generations to come.”

Despite its almost minimalist style, the strip was packed with meaning, said Alexis Fajardo, editorial director at Creative Associates, the Santa Rosa studio Schulz founded and which continues to oversee the licensing of his work and characters for a variety of media and products.

“His writing was super sharp,” Fajardo said. “His was an everyman approach. Never talked down to his readers and he didn’t talk over their heads. With ‘Peanuts,’ you can pick up any of the paperback collections as a point of entry and feel great rapport with strong characters.”

The impact has been global. “For Japan, it has always been an exciting thing to try to understand American culture through Schulz’s work,” Fajardo said.

Benjamin Clark, curator at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, said inquiries about Schulz’s work and its place in American popular culture come in constantly from all over the globe, even from as far away as Australia.

As for the cartoon art world, Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, sees the impression of “Peanuts” everywhere.

“I don’t think there are many artists working today who weren’t influenced by Schulz,” he said. “He opened up a new world with his collection of characters and their philosophy, introspection and soul searching.”

The “Peanuts” characters could sound impressively sophisticated and yet retain some of the innocence of childhood. Linus, for example, could quote the classics but still waited in vain every Halloween for The Great Pumpkin to appear.

Neither slavishly topical nor shallow, the work still resonates today, Farago said.

“My grandparents enjoyed ‘Peanuts.’ My parents read it. I grew up on ’Peanuts,’” he said. “My 6-year-old son reads it.’’

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.

Dan Taylor

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.

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