Peanuts is one of the most iconic comic strip brands in the world. No matter where you grew up, most people would easily recognize some of its extensive cast of characters, including Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, and many more. Appearing on toys, clothing, and a staple of holiday television, Peanuts is one of the most important franchises in our pop culture. Throughout the decades, kids and adults alike have smiled at the antics of Charlie Brown and his beloved beagle. Despite the humor and gaiety of Peanuts, the origins of the strip come from the tumultuous experiences of its creator, Charles Schulz. Battling depression and loneliness, Schulz transformed the negativity in his life into something that could bring joy to the masses.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 16, 1922, Schulz was an introvert as a child. The young boy’s timidity, compounded with the freezing temperatures of the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, gave Schulz a deeply isolated childhood. Schulz further struggled to find friends in school as, being incredibly bright for his age, he was skipped ahead two grades and could never find companionship with the older kids in his class. As an adult, Schulz looked back at his childhood and saw it as preparation for his career as a cartoonist. In interviews and talks on the humor in his strip, Schulz said that the best comedians are those that came from troubled environments.
Throughout the loneliness of his childhood, Schulz found solace in comic strips. The young boy, with the encouragement of his father, read all the strips in the four newspapers of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. It didn’t take long for Schulz to decide to pursue a career as a cartoonist and he honed his artistic skills in high school. Schulz took jobs as an art teacher and letterer for a Catholic publishing company after coming home from World War II. Eventually, Schulz secured a job with the Minneapolis Tribune to draw a comic strip entitled Li’l Folks, the precursor to Peanuts.
After several years, Schulz was able to get Li’l Folks syndicated nationally. Publishing giant United Features Syndicate made the cartoonist change the strip’s name to Peanuts as Li’l Folks was too similar to the title of other strips. While making it to the big leagues, Peanuts was not without controversy, particularly for 50s audiences. The strip dealt with many taboo topics, such as depression, and was the first to give audiences the inner thoughts of an animal. While disliked by many, Peanuts became a household name within a decade of its first run and Schulz himself recognized as one of America’s leading cartoonists.
In crafting his characters, Schulz was inspired by his own personality. The frequent worrier Charlie Brown represents Schulz’s anxieties while Linus is the personification of the artist’s religious center. Schulz also created characters to represent the changing landscape of America. In 1966, inspired by the feminist movement, Schulz introduced the sports-loving tomboy Peppermint Patty. Two years later, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Schulz introduced Franklin, Charlie Brown’s friend and the first African American character in the strip.
The last original Peanuts strip was published on February 13, 2000, a day after the death of its beloved creator. Although Peanuts came from a place of sadness and loneliness in Schulz’s mind, the persistence and resiliency of its young characters gives hope to generations.