On February 12, 2000, cartoonist and Peanuts creator Charles Schulz died. He has come to be known as one of the most influential cartoonists of all time, with many famous cartoonists since then citing him as a major influence on their work.
Born in 1922 in Minnesota, Schulz had an interest early on in life in sketching and comics. His family owned a very unusual dog named Spike who was known to eat weird inanimate objects like tacks and pins. Using his strange family pet as inspiration, Schulz often drew cartoons of the dog, and submitted one to Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, which they subsequently published. The drawing was captioned, “A hunting dog that eats pins, tacks and razor blades is owned by C. F. Schulz, St. Paul, Minn.” and “Drawn by ‘Sparky.’” ‘Sparky’ was a nickname given to Schulz by his uncle as a child. It was derived from Billy DeBeck‘s comic strip, Barney Google, in which there was a horse named ‘Spark Plug.’
Schulz was drafted during World War II, but during his service time, he never once shot his gun. When he returned from the war, he began cartooning regularly, and started a one-panel joke strip called L’il Folks. The series ran for three years in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and it was here that he first introduced a character named Charlie Brown, and a dog that closely resembled Snoopy. Charlie Brown was a somewhat autobiographical character for Schulz. In school, he was the youngest in his class, and thus very shy. He sold one of one-panel cartoons to the Saturday Evening Post in 1948, which was the first of 17 cartoons the publication would print of his. Schulz first attempted to syndicate his cartoon through the Newspaper Enterprise Association in 1948 as well, but was not successful.
By 1950, Schulz had developed his cartoon into a four-panel strip and approached the United Feature Syndicate. They were interested, and after renaming the strip Peanuts to avoid confusion with other strips with names similar to L’il Folks, the new strip made its first appearance in seven newspapers on October 2, 1950. Peanuts slowly turned in to one of the most popular comic strips of all time, and at the height of its fame, it was published in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, in 21 different languages. Schulz drew the comics for over 50 years, producing around 18,000 strips. He only took one vacation from drawing the strip for five weeks during his 75th birthday. During this time, reruns of his strip ran. It is estimated that Schulz earned around $40 million per year, accounting for the strips themselves, product endorsements, and other revenues.
He announced his retirement in late 1999, after finding out that his diagnosed colon cancer had metastasized. He died on February 12, 2000, after complications arose from his cancer. The last original Peanuts strip was published the day after his death, proving the late cartoonist’s prediction that the cartoon would outlive him. As well as being one of the most successful comic strips of all time, Peanuts was adapted for television and the stage, and his work inspired many great cartoonists who came after him. Calvin and Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson, said of Schulz’s creation, “Peanuts pretty much defines the modern comic strip, so even now it’s hard to see it with fresh eyes. The clean, minimalist drawings, the sarcastic humor, the unflinching emotional honesty, the inner thoughts of a household pet, the serious treatment of children, the wild fantasies, the merchandising on an enormous scale — in countless ways, Schulz blazed the wide trail that most every cartoonist since has tried to follow.”