A former Peanuts editor says farewell to Comics G.O.A.T.
My first real job was as a cartoon archivist at United Media, the owner of United Feature Syndicate. This might have been the best first job ever — I was 24 and making my age in salary, and all I had to edit was comic strips. A cake job. I was in love and I loved New York, walking up five flights to our tiny apartment and taking the E to 42nd and then the S to work in the landmark MetLife building above Grand Central Station.
My first assignment was to organize 45 years worth of “Peanuts” in time for the celebration United Media was throwing for its brightest star. The company supplied me with a key to a private storeroom — a boon to a serial napper — and I got to work.
The last archivist had left a mess. A lot of the company had been downsized in a McKinsey-directed fiasco, and this particular schmuck walked around with a “Fire Me” sign taped to his back until the company took him up on his offer. The Peanuts strips were in crazy piles and jammed into folders.
At the time I didn’t know or think much about Peanuts. I sorted by date, retaped the shredded strips, and didn’t stop to read a lot. Then I spotted a color guide for a Sunday Peanuts dated 9-18-94. A color guide is a photocopy of the Sunday strip, with numbers written on it to indicate what color goes where. But this guide was completely colored in–unnecessarily so–and a cloud’s color was even more specific: Schulz had written “just a hint of color not solid.” It broke my heart that he still cared so much.
With the other cartoonists, it was a constant battle to force them to meet deadlines, but Schulz always had his material in at least three months ahead of schedule. He even had his staff email the strips so he wouldn’t waste any time.
That 9-18-94 Sunday strip was majestic. It was all about Spike, Snoopy’s brother, who finally confesses why he lives alone in the desert. He was out walking with some people, and a rabbit ran by. “‘Get him!’ shouted the people!” Spike said. “Even though I didn’t want to, I darted after the rabbit! I wouldn’t have known what to do even if I had caught him. Then it happened! The rabbit ran into the road, and was hit by a car!” So Spike lived alone, ridden with a guilt that Raskolnikov would have understood. I became a Peanuts devotee.
Here are some of Charles Schulz’s greatest moments.
The first strip
A classic debut, October 2, 1950. Patty (not Peppermint Patty) and Shermy (both long forgotten characters) sit on the curb and watch Charlie Brown trot by. “Good ol’ Charlie Brown,” the little boy says. “How I hate him!”
Charlie Brown tries to explain love to Peppermint Patty. “Well, years ago, my father owned a black, 1934, two-door sedan,” he explains. “There was this real cute girl, see . . She used to go for rides with him in his car, and whenever he called for her, he would always hold open the car door for her … After she got in and he had closed the door, he’d walk around the back of the car to the driver’s side. But before he could get there, she would reach over and press the button down, locking him out … Then she’d just sit there and wrinkle her nose and grin at him … That’s what I think love is.”
Has there ever been such a soliloquy like this?
On doomed love
Peppermint Patty has always loved Charlie Brown. Then she sees the Little Red-Haired Girl at summer camp. She shares her sorrow with a friend: “I looked at that Little Red-Haired Girl, Linus, and I started to cry and I couldn’t stop . . . She’s so pretty .. She just sort of sparkles .. I’ll never sparkle .. I’m a mud fence.” A mud fence.
Charlie Brown’s father is a barber, and he loves it when Charlie visits him at work. He tells everyone that Charlie Brown is his boy.
Peppermint Patty wants to compete in an ice-skating show. But her mother has died and Patty can’t sew her own costume. Marcie’s mother makes Patty a beautiful dress.
Peppermint Patty is having trouble at school. Her father comforts her and calls her a “rare gem.”
Charlie Brown and Snoopy are playing. Charlie Brown is the cowboy and Snoopy is the lost calf. Snoopy moos and Charlie Brown looks for him, until Linus invites him to a monster movie. Charlie Brown comes home hours later, wondering if he’s forgotten something, and suddenly Snoopy jumps on the bed and moos.
In one of the first strips (10-21-50), Charlie Brown is selling flowers. Patty and Shermy stop to buy one, and Patty sighs in anticipation. Instead, Shermy gives the flower to Snoopy.
I once spent an entire week reading every strip in house because another cartoonist, a New York hack who should be ashamed of himself (you know who you are, creep), hurt Schulz’s feelings. This cartoonist had done a crude, stupid Peanuts parody for the Village Voice that portrayed Charlie Brown and Lucy as s & m devotees. It was a perfect rendering of the strip, but its meanness bothered Schulz and I was to look through his strips to see if the hack had copied a frame or two from Schulz. He hadn’t, but I remember feeling as protective of Schulz as I would have if my family had been slandered.
I kept in close touch with Charles Schulz after I left United Media. I would send him notes and books, and he would always answer immediately, sending me autographed books and he signed his letters Sparky, his family nickname. He was a gracious and lovely person, always insecure, deeply sensitive, like the father we all wished we’d had. I’ll miss him forever.