Charles Schulz

This art-related series was created to enlighten, and enable parents of elementary age children to build the foundation of art literacy needed for success once their students enter a middle school art program.  First we presented the seven elements of art, then we began a new series entitled “Meet the Masters”. 

The “master” we will learn about this month is a master in the sense that he was a groundbreaker in his field, and possessed great integrity regarding his craft.  This month’s master is Charles Schulz, the creator of the beloved comic series “Peanuts”.

 

This superstar cartoonist was born in 1922, the son of a barber in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Charles’ father, Carl, was an avid comic fan and subscribed to 4 different newspapers just to follow the “funny pages”.  Charles, also called “Sparky” (after the race horse in the “Barney Google” comic strip) soon fell in love with the funny papers as well.  His preoccupation with the comic strips led him to visit the newspaper each week just to watch the newspapers roll off the presses.

 

Sparky soon discovered he could draw the cartoons he loved most.  During the many cold winter Minnesota evenings, Sparky would sketch his favorite cartoons on a chalkboard his parents bought him to practice on.  As he grew older they replaced the chalkboard with a sketchpad. From then on, Sparky carried his pencil and sketchpad with him everywhere.  

Always a painfully shy child, Sparky tried to keep his sketches private.  His Kindergarten art teacher was the first non-family member to recognize his talent.  Sparky was elated when she once predicted, “Charles, you’re going to be an artist someday!”  News of his talent spread quickly at school and Sparky was soon adorning his school mates binders with images of Popeye, Mickey Mouse and other popular characters of the day.  His confidence soared and so did his grades.  He did so well he skipped two grades; but his next set of schoolmates weren’t as easy to impress.  He was bullied and his self concept plummeted; he was forced to repeat the eighth grade.  When Schulz was 15 he regained a fair bit of confidence when “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” published his first drawing, a picture of Sparky’s dog, Spike; who was known to eat anything and everything from tacks to razor blades.  But his elation soon ebbed when the editor of his high school year book neglected to use any of Charles cartoons in that year’s edition after promising to use many of his pieces.

After high school, Sparky became determined to be a published cartoonist.  While he eagerly waited for acceptance letters from publishers, he worked as an art assistant at a local art college, correcting student’s homework. While at the art school, he made a friend, Charlie Brown, who would become the name of the lead personality in his gang of Peanuts characters.

Success finally came when a St. Paul newspaper agreed to publish his then named comic strip, “Lil Folks” once a week.  He became more determined than ever when they fired him after he asked they publish his strip daily.  He pulled together a collection of his very best comic examples and mailed them to a New York syndicate.  Although it took them six weeks to view his work, they loved it!  They began publishing his work under the name “Peanuts” although Charles never liked that name.

His gang of Peanuts characters became a daily touchstone for fans worldwide.  Children and grownups alike love the Peanuts gang; so much so that in 1969, the Astronauts of Apollo 10 honored Sparky by naming their command module “Charlie Brown” and their lunar module “Snoopy”!  The strip had such a wide variety of characters that everyone could relate to one of them.  Some people related to the melancholy Charlie Brown, others, the exuberant Snoopy; and others felt drawn to the ironic intellectualism of  Linus juxtaposed against his ever-present security blanket.  People of every culture delighted in the directness of Lucy and laughed at Peppermint Patty’s bewildering ways. Although most of his characters were invented, a few were styled after real people; such as “Pig Pen” a former school mate, and “the little Red Haired girl” a girlfriend from Schultz’ boyhood.  

His comic strip was eventually read by 355 million readers, of 2600 daily news papers, in 75 countries and 21 languages.

Schulz died in his sleep at home on February 12, 2000 from colon cancer.  The last original Peanuts strip was published the very next day, on Sunday, February 13.

 Young aspiring cartoon artists can be encouraged to know that the most successful cartoonists almost always have as many failures as successes to their credit. Determination and persistence are frequently the key to many successful people in general.

Fun resources:

*At “My Kids Adventures.com” your student can learn how to plan and create their own comic strip.  This site even has blogging suggestions on how to publish your own cartoon strips!  http://www.mykidsadventures.com/create-comic-strip-kids/

* Join cartoonist Dave McDonald as he shares a fun way to create your own comic characters by starting with simple shapes!  Just search for “Kids make comics #1 Simple Shapes Make Super Characters” on YouTube.com to start your character-making adventures with Mr. Dave!

* MakeBeliefsComix.com is easy enough for children to use, but there are enough options for adults to get a message across, too.  Users can choose from 25 characters to fill a two-, three-, or four-paneled comic strip.

* At Marvelkids.com  you can create a comic book up to 22 pages long, using a Photoshop-esque tool dock that moves around the page. Your character choices include the stars of the Super Hero Squad Show, including The Hulk, Falcon, and Wolverine.