Readers and viewers could identify many vital experiences, whether related to his childhood or inspired from his children or his life as an adult, that were highly influential in the life of Schulz and his work. However, the one experience that I think is highly significant is when he drafted into the US army in 1943 at the age of 20 to serve in World War II. As he recalled “the three years I spent in the army taught me all I need to know about loneliness and a sympathy of loneliness that all of us experience was dropped heavily upon poor Charlie Brown”. As he also mentioned “I place the source of my problems on those three years in the army… I worry about all there is in life to worry about and because I worry, Charlie Brown has to worry…I suppose our anxiety increases as we become responsible for more people”. His experiences in life while being a soldier traumatized him forever and produced some of the strips in Peanuts. Nevertheless, those were covered up by little cartoon characters using dialogues that were capable of condensing and exaggerating those experiences.
His experience in Army during World War II led him to express and depict the confusion of American society regarding the war in Vietnam (1955-1975). Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace chasing the Red Baron became the instrument for expressing not only the ambiguity of the Vietnam War, but also the confusion, the politics, the strategies, the social stratification, racism and mainly the sympathy towards what appeared to be expendanble soldiers. The big impact that the comic strip of Peanuts had on the soldiers at that time could be mirrored into the words of a Vietnam veteran, Pleas Davis, who wrote “Those [strips] were [some of] the things, believe it or not, we cared most about” because “you could lock yourself into what was [going on in Vietnam] and it could be pretty black.” Snoopy was, as a matter of fact, their connection to their homeland, the feeling of safety and life itself.
The Art of Peanuts
An essential element of a cartoonist, according to Schulz, was to be able to observe and map what it is about the environment, its people, places, weather, or things, that can be caricaturized. He wanted to make sure that his characters would not be done over the top, since they had to be recognisable and distinguishable from the readers, but still relatable to them.
In terms of the story line, Schulz created Peanuts to be episodic. He wanted to avoid continuing stories so that anybody could pick up a copy of his strips and still enjoy them without needing to read all the previous ones. In addition, he made sure that the lettering in the final panels was smaller because he wanted to avoid attracting the attention of the reader to the end of the story instead of the beginning.
Schulz encountered some artistic difficulties caused by the fact that his artwork was reproduced through newspapers. The first challenge was that pen and ink lost its quality when reproduced mechanically. The second challenge was the fact that he was given a small section of the page where he was forced to develop his strip. Because his treatement of this tiny strip was so successful, it became a trend. Unfortuantely, Schulz considered that this trend was dangerous and negative because the stories lost quality and legibility. Not only that, but their brevity did not give enough time for his characters to gradually develop their stories, which is the reason why the main action took place in the middle of the panel and evolved rapidly.
Schulz also paid a lot of attention to character developement. He was very determined to keep a balance between his male and female characters. Although he was more familiar with the suffering and growing up of boys, he also tried to understand girls and their tribulations by doing research. For instance, for the ear piercing he consulted doctors to find out about the infections or any relating themes around it, and yet in some instances he depicted the girls in a very stereotypical way. However, Peppermint Patty was a character who many times overcame the female stereotype either with her dressing code or her behaviour and the fact that she had her own baseball team.
The life of the characters in Peanuts was meant to be sad in a way. As mentioned before, Schulz was trying to charicaturazed many things, including happiness, and happiness is the charicature of sandess. That is why we find comfort in laughing at an unfortuante event. With this in mind, Schulz had to catch himself from falling into temptation as in many cases he thought about allowing Charlie Brown to hit the ball, Schroeder to be Lucy’s boyfriend or give a happy ending to the strip.
Schulz has been criticised for using psychological bulling into Peanuts although he detested bulling and he was very cautious with this phenomenon. He was also criticised for using religious references. His respond was that he treated them with respect and love since there were too many “howevers to be discussed” and it was better if such themes took place in face to face discussions. Moreover, at the time in 1968, he was criticised for introducing the first African-American character, Franklin, into his comic strip. The particular character started to appear at a time when the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. took place and it was also the deadliest year of the Vietnam War during which the African-American soldiers although counting 11% of the total combat forces, they accounted for 16% of the casualties.
A personal conclusion
Although Schulz mentioned that he could not define from where his ideas for Peanuts’ stories came from, I believe that his comic strip was a way to keep a diary of his life and maybe to some extent of our life too. It documented the main elements of human existence such as cruelty, despair, pain of loss, happiness, sadness, self-consciousness and self-discovering and communicated them to us through the security and ambiguity that cartoon characters could provide. But I believe Schulz took us a step further. The hug impact that his comic strip had and still has to the readers might reveal that all the cartoon characters that he created are universal, they are parts of our own self, including myself. We all carry inside a Charlie Brown, a Lucy, a Peppermint Patty, a Linus, a Pig-Pen, a Snoopy, a Franklin, a Schroeder, and every single one of the other characters as well.
References and Further Reading
Ball, Blake Scott. 2016. ‘“Snoopy Is the Hero in Vietnam:” Ambivalence, Empathy, and Peanuts’ Vietnam War’. The Sixties 9 (1): 54–78.
Lind, Stephen J. 2008. ‘Reading Peanuts: The Secular and the Sacred’. ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies 4, 2. Accessed 18/02/2018.
Schulz, Charles. 1975. Peanuts Jubilee: My Life and Art With Charlie Brown and Others. New York: Henry Holt & Co.
Caswell, Lucy Shelton. 2000. Peanuts: The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library, September 18, 2000 – January 19, 2001. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press.
Schulz, Jean. 2001. Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz. Edited by Chip Kidd. 1st edition. New York: Pantheon.
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