Comics: Meet the Artist
With Jean Schulz
Hosted by Suzanne Tobin
Washington Post Comics Editor
Friday, Nov. 22, 2002; 1 p.m. ET
Welcome to the Washington Post Style section comics discussion, hosted by Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin. This week, Tobin is joined by Jean Schulz, widow of late "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz. Tuesday, Nov. 26, would have marked his 80th birthday.
Join Tobin and Schulz online Friday, Nov. 22 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss to discuss Charles Schulz's legacy, the new museum celebrating his life's work and the art of cartooning.
Schulz is a longtime community volunteer and philanthropist and President of the Charles M. Schulz Museum which opened in August, 2002.. She is President of Canine Companions for Independence -- a national organization which provides assistance dogs for people with disabilities other than blindness and she has produced two award winning documentaries about the organization. She holds a pilot's license with commercial and instrument ratings and served on Sonoma County Aviation Commission. She was Nevada State mixed doubles tennis champion in 1979-her other love is Flying Trapeze. With her first husband, Peter Clyde, she has two children, Brooke and Lisa. Jean and Charles Schulz married in 1973.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
washingtonpost.com: Greetings, comics fans, and welcome to "Comics: Meet the Artist." Today we are privileged to have as our guest Jean Schulz, President of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif. Thanks so much for taking the time out to join us Live Online, Jean.
Jean Schulz: Hi, Suzanne, it’s wonderful to be able to take questions from your readers. I see that there are many questions and comments from people who have already been to the museum, some of whom came on the opening days in August, and I would just like to thank all of them for their enthusiastic response and it’s my hope that Sparky’s spirit will be present in that museum always.
Washington, D.C.: No offense Mrs. Schulz, but is it possible that you can use your influence over the syndicate and/or newspapers and get them to stop running "Classic Peanuts" strips? It is time that The Post, for one, removes Peanuts to make way for some of the new cartooning talent that's on the rise, and I tend to think that continuing to run old Peanuts strips prevents this. Personally, I think your husband would feel that what the Post is doing currently also does a disservice to the cartooning community.
Jean Schulz: There’s no way that I would do anything to try to influence the syndicate to stop running “Classic Peanuts.” We love having it out there for all the people who tell us they love seeing it each day. It’s really up to the readers of the newspaper to tell the editors what comics they want to read. Newspapers typically run reader polls periodically and adjust their comics lineup depending on the results. What Sparky, my husband, thought was a shame, was that the newspapers kept shrinking the number of comics pages, and therefore the size of the actual comics, and he thought that was a real disservice to the readers. But you’re absolutely right, there are wonderful new cartoonists out there who deserve a chance on the comics pages.
Madison, Wis.: It seemed to be, Snoopy and the Peanuts Gang weren't all that much on product packaging until recently. Now they are on jelly jars, cake mix boxes, peanut butter jars, and even on a box of individually wrapped candy snacks! I like purchasing this stuff, its a little novelty. How did all of this advertisement come about and how does it work?
P.S. Outstanding preparation for the museum this past August, thank you, I had a great time.
Jean Schulz: Actually in the late 70s and early ’80s, there were a lot of food products that used Peanuts characters and I think what happened that people perceived that Peanuts wasn’t as cutting edge as The Simpson, Rugrats, Blue’s Clues and other current animated entertainment, and then what I believe happened was that the publicity surrounding the 50th anniversary of Peanuts in 2000 and his subsequent illness and death sort of brought Peanuts back to people’s attention. So I think that’s why.
College Park, Md.: I heard that many famous cartoonists sent drawings to Sparky when he announced his retirement. Will the Schulz museum display those cartoons? Will there be other cartoonists' work on exhibit at the museum?
Jean Schulz: Our entire first year is a rotating exhibit of those tribute cartoons. We'll change it in December and then again sometime in the spring. They're marvelous. Some visitors are in there laughing and some are in there crying. And there definitely will be other cartoonists' work on display at the museum. We should have a schedule on our Web site when we can develop one.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Mrs. Schulz! I was in San Francisco last month and made the short trek to Santa Rosa just to see the Schulz museum. It's a beautiful tribute to a great man. I particularly liked the recreation of your husband's studio. Seeing all those personal momentos made me feel as if I now know him better. How many people have visited the museum since it opened in August? Are you getting the attendance that you anticipated?
Jean Schulz: We get somewhere between 250 and 500 people a day and that's a very comfortable load on the museum.
washingtonpost.com: Charles Shulz Museum
Leesburg, Va.: Is Peanuts based on Charles Schulz's childhood?
-- From a fan, William Shoemaker, 11 years old
Jean Schulz: Absolutely. I think Sparky remembered every slight, every joy, every anything in his childhood. And, I believe, because he was so competitive that he noticed these slights more than other people might. He also was an only child and I think that makes a lot of difference in a child's life. Only children live more in their imaginations, and they also don't have that rough give-and-take you get with siblings.
Washington, D.C. by way of Detroit, Mich.: I have been a huge Peanuts fan since I can remember. I wanted to know if there were any plans for a Peanuts Marathon on television or a videotape (DVD) to celebrate the legacy of Charles Schultz.
Jean Schulz: I don't know who would put together a Peanuts marathon on television. It's so hard to get television people to do anything other than what they are already doing. What we are trying to do is put together a complete reprint of the 50 years of Peanuts comic strips. Some of them are lost, and we're trying to find out if we can find some images of those. This would be a very big undertaking and I see it in a book form, but it could be a DVD at some point. As for his legacy, I think that's what the museum serves as.
Herndon, Va.: Thank you for all of the work you have done to keep your husband's work ongoing. I have been a life long 40-year fan of Peanuts.
We are coming to the San Francisco Area and are planning a day to visit the Charles Schulz Museum. How much time would be needed to see everything and is there an opportunity to purchase an original signed comic from Charles Schulz?
Jean Schulz: I would say that you want to spend two hours in the museum. We have documentaries and cartoons going in the theater, so if you get tired of standing, you can go sit and watch them and then go back. You also need go over to the ice arena which is where Sparky had his breakfast and lunch for 25 years and just feel the atmosphere that he lived in.
As for an original strip, the museum is not selling any original comic strips, but there are reprints in the original size that are sold in the gift shop next to the ice arena.
Lyme, Conn.: In previous chats with other cartoonists, some mentioned how your husband was not only an indirect inspiration but even a direct inspiration. I was touched to learn he would take the time to read and offer suggestions and encouragements to unknown artists and writers who sent in their comics. I should think he was such a busy man that he would not time for unpublished artists. What was it about Charles Schulz that allowed him to give so much of his time to others seeking to enter his field?
Jean Schulz: Part of it is that he did remember what it was like to love cartoons and want to be a cartoonist. Moreover, I think he simply was a good Midwestern person raised in the 1920s and '30s. He didn't have a publicist around him telling him what he should do for his image. He was who he was, and to help others something you do in life. He was indeed busy but he also was a very efficient worker. He thought about the strip all the time, and was often working things out in his head. He would say, "Why do you think I don't draw any backgrounds? I don't have time."
Boca Raton, Fla.: Hello Mrs. Schulz I was just wondering which of the Peanuts characters is your favorite and which, if different, do you think reflects you the most?
Jean Schulz: Sparky never drew any character based on any one person, so I don't actually think any of them reflect me at all. But situations are reflective of actual people because that's where Sparky had to get his ideas from--the things that happened in his life every day. But I find myself drawn to Sally because when I made up the nickname for him, "Sweet Babboo," he attached it to her.
Manassas, Va.: Hello,
So nice to write to you.
Do you have any say as to which comics are published now?
Being that Charles Schulz was a veteran, I would think that every Memorial Day and Veterans Day, an appropriate comic would be run on those days featuring Snoopy. I always remember a special comic being run on those days with Snoopy talking to characters or honoring known veterans who were in his unit.
I've tried to write United Syndicate with this request but the past year, its been ignored.
Do you support a special comic run on those days or to continue the plot as usual? I support a special comic for both Memorial Day and Veterans Day. If you feel this way too, how do we get the papers to run them?
Jean Schulz: The syndicate offers newspaper two different versions of the strip, one reprints strips beginning with the '70s; others begin with the '80s. That has to do with the actual physical size in the newspaper. The comics are chosen by the Comics Editor at United Media. Sometimes there aren't Memorial Day or Veterans Day strips in those particular years, but we have had so many comments and requests that I have asked her to think about revising her schedule, running the few Memorial Day or Veterans Day strips each year, even though they would repeat more often.
Columbus, Ohio: Over the years I have read a lot about the life of Mr. Schulz. In fact I just visited the museum in California about a month ago. However, I have never really heard very much about Sparky's experience during WWII. I'm sure it was a horrifying ordeal but I also have to believe that it worked to shape his view of the world and of life itself. Do you have any insights into his war years (where he fought, any specific battles, what his military rank was)?
Jean Schulz: Actually, Sparky was lucky in that he did not go over to Europe until January of 1945. Nevertheless, you're right that it shaped his life. I believe in fact that that is where he gained a great sense of self-confidence. He became the leader of a light machine gun squad and I believe he was a staff sergeant. In later life, he used to say, "Here I was, a nothing kid, and I got so good that I could take my rifle and put it back together blindfolded and I became the leader of this squad. So I guess that's a pretty good accomplishment, isn't it?" It also used to frustrate him when he would begin to ask people questions about their experience in the war, typically their wives would say, "Oh, don't get Henry started on that, we don't want to hear about that." That annoyed him tremendously because he did want to hear about it. And I think he felt, as you obviously do, that this period of time is very formative in everyone's life.
Watertown, Mass.: As a lifelong admirer of "Peanuts" and the ongoing love for Mr. Schulz work continues, are their any plans to have a traveling exhibit from the museum?
Jean Schulz: As a matter of fact, there is currently a traveling exhibition. It began at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts, went to a museum in Florida, is now in Memphis and will later go to Lehigh University Museum in Pennsylvania and then Wichita.
Check our museum Web site, www.schulzmuseum.org, for details on the dates.
Sacramento, Calif.: Thank you for continuing Charles Shulz legacy! Did he know how much he was loved as well as his characters?
Jean Schulz: I believe that was what the short three months of his illness was all about. He couldn't work because his eyesight was affected, couldn't drive either for the same reason. And I think that in that period he received so many cards and calls and tributes, he was truly overwhelmed.
Boston, Mass.: I absolutely love Peanuts, especially Snoopy. You can't help but feel like a child again, everything's OK in the world and there's a sense of innocence about Peanuts. Did you or do you own a beagle dog? Do you know why Charles chose a beagle to be Snoopy?
Many of us miss Charles -- his humbleness, his sincerity. Such a talented man. I would've been honored to have met him.
Jean Schulz: Sparky's family, I believe, once owned a beagle. But Sparky would have always told you that Snoopy became a beagle because beagle is a funny word. He used to say golden retriever and dalmatian are not funny words, but beagle is a funny word.
Falls Church, VA: Have always enjoyed Peanuts.
How can I get a copy of the complete name of the characters in Peanuts along with pictures to match the names?
Jean Schulz: The best book for any fan is called "50 Years of Happiness" by Derrick Bang. It is the complete Peanuts trivia book with more about the comic strip than Sparky himself knew. You might now have to get it from our gift shop next to the Ice Arena, which is called Snoopy's Gallery and Gifts. And you can reach its Web site from our museum Web site by clicking on "gift shop."
Dallas, Tex.: How often did Charles Schulz get a letter from a fan saying that Peanuts inspired them to become a cartoonist? I work on one in my spare time and would like to some day get into syndication. And I wrote to your husband telling him he inspired me to be a cartoonist during the announcement of his retirement in December, 1999. On a humorous note, I collected a lot of the classic comic books and TV special books after his passing (I nearly went broke!).
Jean Schulz: I don't know how often, specifically, but the letters that he received from adults that said "I wrote to you when I was 11..." and described how it changed there lives, were truly the measure of what kind of a person he was. We have collected some of these letters that came in the last few years into binders so that museum visitors can sit on the couch and go through them. Of course, we've taken the personal information out.
Thank you for loving his characters and keeping them alive.
Fairfax, Va.: Mrs. Schulz, I had the good fortune of seeing a marvelous production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" in Hilton Head the summer after Mr. Schulz's death. The opening had an honored elderly actor strolling through, then sketching in the air as the drawing materialized on a big screen "sketchpad" -- very poignant, and the audience was very appreciative of the show given its timing. Do you have a favorite recording of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown?" Those songs are unbeatable!
Jean Schulz: I don't know the different recordings of the show. I'm sorry.
South San Francisco, Calif.: Hi Jeannie,
I enjoyed coming to the museum during the grand opening by making it a two-day event for myself -- one day with my parents and the next day with my friends. We loved playing the trivia games, the viewing of the wonderful exhibits and murals, and the tasting of two types of root beer at the tasting booth. I'm wondering if new charter members of the museum can still get a copy of the first issue of the newsletter. I signed up for the membership last August shortly before the grand opening of the museum. I guess procrastinators like me got only Volumes 2 and 3. Thanks.
Jean Schulz: You'd have to contact the museum. I know they ran out of the newsletters, but maybe someone has some of them stashed away.
Carbondale, Ill.: Are the statues in St Paul, Minn. going to continue through the remaining characters?
Jean Schulz: For those of you who don't know, the city of St. Paul, where Sparky grew up, was planning a tribute to him on the strip's 50th anniversary in 2000 that involved 100 statues of Snoopy placed all over the city and decorated by local artists, which were then auctioned off with the money going to permanent bronze statues of Peanuts characters in a park in downtown St. Paul. (Some money also went to cartooning scholarships.) It was so popular that they decided to follow it in 2001 with Charlie Brown and in 2002 with Lucy. Now, again, it's up to their city to decide if they want to do it again. They've taken polls and there seems to be a majority of the people involved who would like to do it again in 2003. As far as I know they haven't decided which character to feature. When I'm asked if I think it should continue, my answer is that "It's the people's decision, but to me it isn't hurting anybody." The people who decide to sponsor or buy a statue do it of their own free will, and it's not taking anything from anything else as far as I can see.
Alexandria, Va.: Dear Mrs. Schulz,
I realize that this is not a question, but I wanted to say thank you. I greatly appreciate the fact that Peanuts continues to run. Every day your husband and his work brings a smile to my face and to my heart. Thank you.
Jean Schulz: Sparky used to say if what I do makes people happy, I will consider my life a success. So thank you for you kind words.
It makes me remember when were in St. Paul looking at the statues that were discussed in the previous question, we were sort of stumbling along and the drivers were very kind about stopping their cars when we would cross the street preoccupied with the next statue. And they had smiles on their faces too.
Memphis, Tenn.: Hi, Kevin Williams - (VP) Mid-South Cartoonists Association. Went to the "Carry a Beagle" show here in Memphis on the 16th, and noticed in Sparky's original art that there are very few mistakes that he corrected. When I watch video, he confidently puts the art on paper without a problem. I know he always stated he was made to draw funny. How did he really feel about his art style, technique, and abilities? Was he as confident as he seemed?
Jean Schulz: I think after 25 years he considered himself a professional. He knew what he was doing. He understood the essence of humor. He understood storytelling and that a cartoon is really telling a story. And he had his drawing down to a simplicity and a "muscle memory" that knew how to do it. However, drawing while it may have been physically easy, was mentally demanding and he said that when he was drawing the character he was feeling that character and he was feeling the emotion when he drew the eye closed or slanted or the mouth raised. He was feeling those emotions. So in many ways, drawing was emotionally draining, rather than physically draining.
Odessa, Tex.: What was it like to know that he integrated his family life into the strip, IE, "am I buttering too loud for you?" From when the family was being loud at the dinner table and she asked that when he got upset.
Jean Schulz: Sparky would tell you that in order to do a comic strip every day for 50 years you have to put in everything that you do or observe or experience. But I think what the difference with Sparkhy's comic strips was, was the way his mind turned that "buttering" experience into a funny little scene that everyone could relate to. Sparky would always say when people would talk about the content of the strip, and say "I loved this one or that one," or "Where did you get this idea?" he was always wanted to remind people that cartooning is drawing funny pictures and that if the pictures aren't funny and the composition of each panel and the sequence of the panels isn't pleasing and appealing, your comic strip is not going to be as successful. "Don't overlook the good drawing," he would say. He loved drawing. In the museum, our education director has done a marvelous job of taking Sparky's quotes about drawing, for example, how he loved to draw the pen strokes of the rain coming down, and Jason has put together a little exercise where visitors who want to draw can practice drawing their own rain. That's just one example of the many statements that Sparky made about drawing that we use in the Education Room, but that probably should be everywhere else in the museum because they're so integral to the ultimate success of the comic strip.
Crofton, Md.: Not a question, just a comment: I've been a daily reader of Peanuts since I first learned to read. (In fact, Peanuts helped me learn to read in the first place; and I remember for example that I first learned about and then read "Oliver Twist" as a young boy because of a comment made by Linus in one strip!) I just wanted to say that I deeply regret never having had the opportunity to meet your husband and thank him for what his work has meant to me all these years; so I would like to thank you in his honor. When I read of his death, I wept as though I were that little boy again.
washingtonpost.com: Wanted to chime in here. "Peanuts" is actually responsible for me seeing "Citizen Kane" as a child, too. There was a strip in which another character (probably Lucy) said "Rosebud was his sled." I couldn't rest till I knew what the entire story was. -- Producer Liz
Jean Schulz: I think that one of the things that Sparky did that was different from comics strips of his time--he began in the '50s--putting names of real people, real books and real music notes in his strip--and he felt that by doing that he was speaking to people's intelligence as opposed to the lowest common denominator. And besides those were things he was interested in. At that time, he had probably just reread Oliver Twist. And, as I said before, he had to put every experience that he had into the strip.
Edison, N.J.: My name is Jill and I'm 32 years old. I always had wanted to write Mr. Schulz a letter telling him about the positive impact he had on my life from childhood on. Can I send that letter to you now, as a tribute of sorts? Where would I send it?
Jean Schulz: Please write us a letter and we'll put it in our tribute book in the museum. And the address is: 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa, CA 95403.
Washington, D.C.: Regarding "Classic Peanuts": The strips that have run recently seem to be all from the 80s and 90s. Is there any plan to go back to the older material that made "Peanuts" so beloved by me and others of my generation? Thank you.
Jean Schulz: The problem of going back to the '50s and '60s is the size that the strips were drawn in.
So newspapers wouldn't be able to adapt to that. And they would distort the drawing.
Suzanne Tobin: The newspaper industry in recent years came up with a standard column measure and format to make it easier for advertisers to size their ads to fit all papers nationally. That's why there's a discrepancy between the sizes from the older strips.
Alexandria, Va.: Mrs. Schulz --
While, understandably, no one will "succeed" your husband in producing new Peanuts strips, there seem to be new television shows and video games using the characters. Who writes the dialogue for these, and how is it monitored to make sure the characters remain true to their original intent?
Jean Schulz: Mostly for the television shows we find the dialogue in the strips and simply put the strips together. There may be some minor transition dialogue and the family okays this. The video game--I only know of one--about Linus's blanket was monitored by both family members and the new art staff we have here at Creative Associates. It's a challenge.
Jean Schulz: Well, time's up and I want to thank everyone for their questions. We hope the museum will be here for another 50 years, so come visit. If you can't come in person, at least visit our Web site to see what's going on. That's www.schulzmuseum.org. Santa Rosa and Sonoma County are warm and welcoming communities and we're just an hour north of San Francisco. Hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving!
Suzanne Tobin: Thanks so much, Jean, for all your insights into the work of a true American icon. I'm sure our readers will take you up on your offer to come visit if they're ever near San Francisco. Join us again in two weeks, when Woody Wilson of "Judge Parker and Rex Morgan, M.D." will be our guest Live Online.
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