1994, the legendary creator of 'Peanuts', Charles M. Schulz,
spoke to his fellow National Cartoonist Society members. The
following is a transcript of his talk.
Beattie, NCS president: I'd like to welcome all of you to the first
of two wonderful seminars this morning. It's my hope that the
seminars become a regular feature of this convention. I know
that we all come here to socialize, but we are all resources
for one another, and I think we ought to start taking advantage
I can think
of no person more qualified to be the leadoff speaker for this
seminar program than Charles Schulz. He is the
winner of two Reuben awards, he has won numerous Peabody and
Emmy awards, and he is the most widely syndicated cartoonist
ever, with more than 2,300 newspapers. He has had more than 1,400
books published, selling more than 300 million copies in 26 languages
-- it's just an extraordinary legacy.
This all began
about a few months ago when he was going to meet with me and
[my wife] Karen at his Santa Rosa studio. I had expected to meet
Charles Schulz for about 15 minutes; I had expected
that we would have a couple of grip-and-grin photos taken, and
then we would be shuffled out the door. Instead, he spent the
whole day with us. During the course of that day I began to get
to know Sparky, and what impressed me about him was, after all
of his accomplishments, he is still a cartoonist who is doing
his daily cartoon. He goes into work every day like us beginners,
and what really impressed me about him was the passion and dedication
he has for his work, and the enthusiasm he has for his work.
This is something some of us, I think, lose at times. We all
want to become rich and successful, and sometimes we lose sight
of the fact that what it is all really about is cartoon art.
In short, I
came away that day with Sparky an inspired cartoonist -- I really
mean that. That's why I want to have him start the seminar program
today, and I'm hoping that maybe a little of the inspiration
he gave to me will rub off on you.
month, [my wife] Jeannie and I took a trip, and I played in the
Dinah Shore golf tournament, and about the second or third evening
they had a buffet dinner. We brought our food into a room and
sat down at a round table and we introduced ourselves around.
. . . At one point, an elderly woman sitting on my left said,
"Charles Schulz' that's kind of a nice name, isn't it?"
And I said, "I never really thought about it." And
she said, "Isn't that the name of the fellow who's the cartoonist?"
Then she said, "He's dead, isn't he?"
the problem, three nights ago, some of the people from United
Media dropped by Santa Rosa, and we all went out to dinner. Afterwards,
we were passing out through the entrance, and the man at the
counter stopped me and said, "There's something I want to
tell you. There were two or three ladies in there the other night
who got into a big argument. One of them said you were dead,
the other said, No, he's not!' " . . . Well, even though
I've been drawing for almost 45 years, I'm still here!
Back when I
used to work at a [cartoon] correspondence school, Art Instruction,
Inc. [in Minneapolis], it was a wonderful place to get started
because the atmosphere was not unlike that of a newspaper office.
All the instructors were very bright people; they were all ambitious,
each of them had his or her desire, whether it was to be a fashion
artist, or a cartoonist, or a painter. . . . There was Walt Wilwerding,
the portrait painter; Frank Wing, the oldtime cartoonist, sat
right in front of me, and he was the one who taught me if you're
going to draw something, draw it from life first , because you
can't cartoon something until you know how to draw it accurately
first. Anyway, he did a lot for me. Once I got started on the
[Peanuts] strip I liked working there, because I could go downstairs
to the stockroom, and I could find nice pieces of cardboard and
wrapping paper, and they gave me a room to work in after I quit
the job as an instructor. . . . I used to go down, get the cardboard,
fold my strips in half, and then I'd wrap them up and take them
to a little subsidiary postal office and I did this for several
weeks. One morning, I went in there, and [the postal worker]
looked at me, and the package, and he said, "You come in
here every week, and this says United Feature Syndicate'what
is that?" I said it was a newspaper syndicate, and they
distribute and sell comic strips. "Like Dick Tracy?"
he asked. And I said, "Well, yeah, something like Dick
Tracy." And he said, where's your Cadillac?" I
said I didn't drive a Cadillac, and he asked what was it I did
draw. "It's that little strip that runs in the evening paper
about this kid and his dog" -- I never use the name Peanuts,
because I hate it -- and he said, "Oh, I'll try to read
it." So the week went by, I drew another batch of strips
and I took them down and handed them in to be mailed out, and
he looked at me and said, "Oh, I read your strip last night
-- I didn't think much of it."
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album will dazzle fans of Charles M. Schulz and his art, providing
an unprecedented look at the work of the most brilliant and beloved
cartoonist of the twentieth century. Here is the whole gangCharlie
Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty, Schroeder, Pig-Pen,
and all the others from the original Peanuts strips.
I was reminded
of that incident because a couple of weeks ago I usually work
until about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. I just can't stand sitting
there any longer; I always like to drop into a bookstore and
see what new things they have. As I was pulling out of the driveway
I was thinking that this was a good batch of strips that I drew.
And I can honestly say that I still get just the same thrill
at the end of the week when I have drawn that thing from Monday
through Saturday, and I feel that I've thought of some pretty
good ideas, and they've been drawn the best that I can draw them,
and it's a nice feeling to know that they're going to be mailed
out and that I have done it again. Because back in Minneapolis,
when I went to that little post office, I had the same feeling
that I had done a good batch of strips, to wrap them up and mail
them in and know that I had something the best that I could do.
So the feeling
is still there, and I guess it's going to be 45 years next years
(Schulz passed away in 2001), and I can absolutely guarantee
you that despite what some columnist for the Chicago Tribune
wrote a few years ago, that it's time for me to retire, that
the strip is no good any more, that the strip has lost all its
meaning and everything, I work harder now--I truly do--I am more
particular about everything I draw then I ever have been, I almost
never send in anything that I'm not totally pleased about. And
I still am searching for that wonderful penline that comes down
when you are drawing Linus standing there, and you start with
the pen up near the back of his neck and you bring it down and
bring it out, and the pen point fans a little bit, and you come
down here and draw the lines this way for the marks on his sweater,
and all of that . . . This is what it's all about to get feelings
of depth and roundness, and the pen line is best pen line you
can make. That's what it's all about.
somebody who is trying to be a cartoonist, or thinks he is a
cartoonist, and has not discovered the joy of making these perfect
pen lines, I think he is robbing himself or herself of what it
is all about. Because this is what it is! The times you make
these wonderful pen lines, and make them come alive. I tell people
when they ask me that the most important thing about a comic
strip is that it must be fun to look at. If you are drawing something
day after day after day, no matter how funny the dialogue might
be, it still must be fun to look at. If the reader picks it up,
the reader may know absolutely nothing about drawing, but the
drawing must be fun to look at. I think that's very important.
I used to gather now and then with some people from around St.
Paul/Minneapolis and talk about cartooning, and every time I
would read essays by other people who were more or less trying
to get started, I used to see the phrase, "This crazy business
about slinging ink." This is not a crazy business about
slinging ink. This is a deadly serious business.
A Golden Celebration
A Golden Celebration is a remarkable collection of strips spanning
that time period. Readers get to see the first appearance of
Linus, Marcy, Pigpen, and Woodstock, and even the momentous first
time Lucy holds a football for Charlie Brown to kick. Schulz
comments on the cartoons and his inspirations via notes in the
margin, ranging from boyhood stories about his father (a barber,
just like Charlie Brown's) to an account of the time the narcolepsy
experts at Stanford University expressed concerns over Peppermint
Patty's constant sleeping in class. A must-have book for any
had a wonderful relationship with my editors, starting with Jim
Freeman, working on up, and now I have the best editor that I've
ever had, Sarah Gillespie. I've always had a good relationship
with the men who were the sales managers and the salesmen, and
the men who were the presidents of the syndicate, starting with
Larry Rutman, who treated me like a son. Now, I think it's important
for all of us and all of you to establish these relationships.
But it's not a business of slinging ink. It's a deadly serious
business. And someplace up there [corporate upstairs, metaphorically]
there are some people that you will never know existed. They
don't care anything about you--so watch yourself. They don't
even read the comics. They could not possibly care less what
happens to you. Sarah Gillespie cares what happens to you, [and
some others do]; I don't know who these people are "up there,"
but I'm sure that every newspaper and every organization has
this group of mystery people up there. They are like the people
who own a ball club, like the man who owns a theater -- he doesn't
really care about the actors. He likes the bottom line and all
that. Those are the people to watch out for. The older you get,
well, it took me 40 years to discover that.
I think one
of the most dangerous things, as you draw day after day after
day and as long as I'm standing here, it's about time; I might
as well slip this in; Don't let them kid you that this is a business
that has so much stress that you have to have time off. I was
talking to a friend the other day, and I said, "You know,
cartoonists have nothing to complain about. This is what we've
wanted to do all of our lives, and we finally have a chance to
do it, we can live anyplace we want to, we can work any hours
we want to, and they send us money." And why anyone doesn't
want to join the National Cartoonists Society is baffling. Someone
says he's not a joiner? I'm not a joiner either, I don't belong
to anything, but I think we all have an obligation. You know
the person you have an obligation to? It's the salesman driving
around in his Dodge trying to sell your strip all the time. For
five years, trying to get some editor, who finally says, "OK,
you've been after me for five years, I'll finally give it a try."
You better make sure that everything you send in is the best
you can send in, because you owe it to that salesman who is out
there trying to sell your strip.
One of the
most dangerous elements in creativity is something that took
me a long time to discover, and that is the slumps that occur
in your creativity. This doesn't mean your ability to think of
ideas. I probably never go more than one day without really coming
up with something, and I've learned to live with it; I go home
kind of disgusted thinking, "I never should have come down
here today." I'll sit around with my little attorney's pad,
trying to think up things, and I can't, and I actually fall asleep
trying to think of something. . . . But the dangerous thing,
and I have seen it on the comic pages, is when you lose the ability
to judge what you have done, if you have drawn something that
is not only a lousy gag or a lousy idea, it's not funny at all
-- it is not a humorous idea and you lose the ability to judge
that. I never give my work to somebody else and say, "What
do you think about that?" I just don't trust anybody. If
I think it's funny, or if I think it's silly, I send it in anyway
because I'm just trying to please myself. I never try to please
a certain audience. I think that's disastrous. There's no way
in the world you can anticipate what your reader is going to
like or dislike. But it is possible, and I think you have to
be aware of this, you can think of something, send it in and
I've seen it time and time again, even if I love [the feature],
I know: there's a "slump gag." It's not funny at all.
. . . The cartoonist is grinding these things out, he thinks
something's funny, and he doesn't know it's not funny at all.
M. Schulz: Conversations
book features 16 interviews with Schulz -- from a 1957 article
in the Saturday Evening Post to a late-career piece in the Comics
Journal. Fascinating insights into a fascinating cartoonist
a few things down through the years. One of the things that annoy
me is cartoonists who draw characters who overreact to a punchline.
I'm a great believer in the mild in cartooning. I'm a great believer
in mild caricatures, and if you look back at all the superstars
down through the years, none of them used what we could call
extreme caricature. If you think of some of my all-time favorites--Roy
Crane: nobody in the world was ever better than Roy Crane! Percy
Crosby used the most wonderful pen lines you've ever seen in
your life, and if you're a young person and you haven't studied
Percy Crosby, you'd better get down and find some books and see
how Percy Crosby drew. Al Capp, of course, and all the wonderful
characters he created. They were all drawn in kind of a mild
form of caricature: if the reader can't tell where the eyes are
and where the nose begins, and where the mouth is, you're in
real trouble because that character, with that type of cartooning,
can never show any emotion. So you've got to show them where
the eyes are, where the mouth and the nose are. You can get away
with a greeting-card kind of cartooning . . . but you're not
in greeting card cartooning. You're in cartooning, drawing people
with some kind of emotion. And this is why I believe in the mild
form of cartooning. Show them where the mouth is; show them where
the eyes are and the nose is. But, if the cartoon character says
something, don't have the character emote with a great, big expression
over some very mild statement. It's better to just leave out
the character completely if you're not sure how that person would
react, and just go to a close-up of somebody's face or something.
But I hate this business of overreacting to something like that.
the other day that on a Sunday page, it's not a bad idea to draw
the next-to-the-last panel first. It's terrible when you draw
a whole Sunday page and find out it's not going to work. I read
that Ernie Bushmiller used to do that. It's something that I
discovered on my own. Now, as your strip develops, I think you
will find, too, that all comic strips have a single character
around which all the others revolve. Mort Walker has done this
with Beetle, Walt Kelly did it with Pogo; and usually
the main character is a person with kind of a mild personality.
He has some quirks and all that, but it's the character the strip
revolves around that's so important. You can go back to Al Capp
and Li'l Abner, and the wonderful characters that revolved
around Li'l Abner. And I think this is very serious as
the years go by, it's very important to build up a cast of characters
so you can have a change of pace. I think a change of pace is
really important. I think it's important, if you're doing a ridiculous
strip, to throw in some serious material now and then. . . .
Fortunately, I can do a lot of the corny things with Snoopy,
like when he writes, he thinks his writing is great, but it's
terrible! But you couldn't get away with that if somebody else
was doing the writing. So I think that is very important.
all different; we come from different backgrounds, obviously.
We all have different ambitions. I read a lot, and I pick up
bits of information here and there, and these are things that
sometimes provide wonderful ideas. . . . Did you know that if
you go in a pitch-dark room you should try this sometime!and
chomp down on a wintergreen Lifesaver, it makes sparks? Judy
Sladky, the world-famous skater who does work as Snoopy, was
out for Christmas and told me this; I said, "That's crazy!
That doesn't work!" So I go into a dark room, chewing on
wintergreen Lifesavers, and I couldn't make them spark. And it's
hard on the teeth. So I drew a series where Snoopy, the world-famous
guide, was taking Peppermint Patty and Marcie on a walk through
the woods and they get lost, and it's dark and they have no flashlight,
so they promptly found their way back home by chewing wintergreen
Lifesavers. They followed the sparks as they went through the
The first thing
I do when I draw a Sunday page is I take out a Peanuts calendar
and I find out when the page is going to appear. Once last year,
lo and behold, I looked at it and it says June 6. I had forgotten
all about D-day the previous year. So it was a total accident
that I happened to discover that that Sunday was going to come
out on June 6. So I drew one huge panel, which I never used to
do. Snoopy is landing at Omaha Beach, and he's lying in the water,
just his head and the helmet amid all the things Rommel had put
down there to keep the soldiers from landing, and down below
I just wrote, "June 6, 1944--To Remember." And I got
such a wonderful response from men all over the world. . . .
Now, I realize that this year is the fiftieth anniversary. I
beat myself by one year! Now, I can't let these men down. I've
been thinking for a whole year about what I'm going to do for
D-day, the actual landing. They're going to be having these celebrations
in France, 70-year-old men are going to jump out of airplanes
again. And somewhere I read how many people know this? This a
good trivia question -- does anyone know when Erwin Rommel's
wife's birthday was? It's not that hard a question, if you think
about it. Erwin Rommel's wife had her birthday on June 6! Now
Rommel knew this, of course, and several weeks before, he had
planned to go ahead and go home for her birthday. He had already
bought her a pair of blue suede shoes in Paris, and he figured
the Allies were not quite ready to land, according to their studies.
He felt there was time go home. So he went home for her birthday,
and they landed while he was gone! It was a tremendous stroke
of luck for the invaders. Now, that's a pretty good idea, but
how do we make it work? I could have Snoopy think about it, but
he can't talk to anybody, even though he knows it. I thought
maybe he could be sitting in a pub with Peppermint Patty, but
how could he tell her that Rommel's not going to be there? This
is a secret. Well, I could have him talk to Marcie, but I wanted
to save Marcie in case, after he lands, he could meet her as
the little French girl. He always goes over to her house to quaff
root beers and it turns out he's not in a little French cafe,
he's in Marcie's kitchen drinking root beer, much to the annoyance
of her mother, because here's this dog in her kitchen. . . .
So that didn't work either. I kept thinking about this week after
week, until one day all of a sudden it hit me--why not have Linus
give a report, so we start off with Linus standing in school,
saying, "This is a report on D-day," and he talks about
the invading forces being prepared to move, but nobody knows
when, except one unknown GI. Snoopy's sitting in this pub, and
all of a sudden he gets the note: Rommel's not going to be there;
he's gone home because of Mrs. Rommel's birthday. And Linus says,
"This unknown hero rushes off, calls General Eisenhower,
and says that tomorrow's the day you have to invade because Rommel
won't be there.' " But how are we going to do that, because
Snoopy still can't talk.
Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz
edition explores Charles M. Schultz's wartime experiences, creation
of the Peanuts characters, his strong yet idiosyncratic
moral and ethical code, and the true story behind the elusive
Little Red-Haired Girl. Reprint
So I think
about it, and finally I get the idea that Linus says, "When
he ran off to call General Eisenhower, he spoke in code."
The last panel shows one of those old English phone booths, all
painted red, and I couldn't find out what the telephone looked
like inside the phone booth, so I just drew the phone booth,
kind of blacked in the windows; and we see the last panel, just
a phone booth, and the word balloon that says, "Woof!"
that up with five dailies where he actually lands at Omaha Beach.
"Here's the world-famous GI crashing through the surf, charging
up Omaha Beach," and for the first time in my career, I
used Craftint Doubletone [shading paper], and I called Sarah
Gillespie to warn her that I'm not going to do this all the time.
I just wanted it for scenes like that which would give it a real
special World War II quality. So he's splashing up through the
surf in one long panel, and there's a small panel at the end
where Marcie's on phone, and she says, "Hey, Charles, your
dog is over here, and he's running back and forth in my wading
pool." Again, I needed an angle, and so each time I show
Snoopy in his imagination doing something, then it's explained
by somebody in the other panel about what we're seeing.
I think comic
strips should live a life of their own. Don't get involved too
much with television. You have to show characters watching it,
because it's part of our lives. But whatever you do, don't use
expressions that have become famous on television. You are out
there to create your own language and your own expressions. You
are creating in a medium just as good as anything they do on
television. We can do things that live actors can never do. A
live actor could never pull a football away and show Charlie
Brown up in the air and landing flat on his back. These are things
they could never do.
We have to
stay within our medium, so I say don't rely too much on watching
television, and trying to make comments on things you see on
the screen there. There are wonderful things in Bartlett's Quotations,
little bits of poetry and such. I always liked the one from either
Tolstoy or Scott Fitzgerald -- I don't know who it was -- "In
the real dark night of the soul, it is always three o'clock in
the morning." That's a real cartoon idea for your characters.
Which again brings us back to the point you have to have characters
that can do lines like this. If they are overly caricatured,
they cannot talk like this. . . I don't know how many ideas I've
done with poor Charlie Brown lying in bed. "Sometimes I
lie awake at night in bed and I ask, Is it all worth it?' "
And then a voice says, "Who are you talking to?" And
another voice says, "You mean: to whom are you talking?"
And Charlie Brown says, "No wonder I lie awake at night."
I lie awake at night and I ask, Why am I here?' " and a
voice says, "Where are you?" "Here," Charlie
Brown says. "Where's here?" says the voice. "Wave
your hand so I can see you." Charlie Brown says, "The
nights are getting longer." "Sometimes I lie awake
at night and I ask, Why me?' And the voice says, "Nothing
personal your name just happened to come up."
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