This post is written in honor of National Arts and Humanities Month. We are highlighting different humanities topics that we are passionate about and hope you’ll share your passions with us too!
I was in high school when Charlie Brown made his debut in America’s daily newspapers on October 2, 1950. I had long been an avid fan of comic strips, but I was not the least bit impressed with this clueless moon-headed kid that my younger brother could have drawn. Why should anyone want to read a comic strip about a boy in elementary school who is already a loser? During my years in college, I occasionally found the Peanuts strip somewhat amusing, but it was not until I had a “Charlie Brown” experience several years later that I came to appreciate the profound genius that surfaced in Charles Schultz’s simply drawn characters.
I was spending several days with my friend Stan and his wife at their Napa Valley home in 1970. One morning as Stan and I were to drive to Sacramento on business, his wife asked that we swing by her friend Joyce’s house and drop off some placemats she had made for their afternoon bridge club meeting. So as we stopped near Santa Rosa, parking in the circular driveway of a ranch-style house splayed across a small hill, Stan insisted I go with him to see Chuck’s place inside. So I helped him deliver the placemats. Joyce greeted us at the door and invited us inside. The size of the huge foyer impressed me but not as much as the art work covering every wall—neatly framed comic strip characters traipsing across white backgrounds. Stan asked if Chuck was busy. “Are you kidding? That’s all he does is work in his studio,” she groaned, “but you’re welcome to show your guest around the house.” I insisted we had no time to spare, so Stan handed over the placemats and we left.
As we drove towards Sacramento, I commented on Joyce’s house and her collection of art. “What kind of work does Chuck do?” I asked. Amazed at my inquiry, Stan suddenly realized I had unknowingly visited the home of Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts. Although surrounded by overwhelming evidence, I was clueless. For a moment I felt that Lucy might pop out of the back seat of Stan’s car and shout, “You blockhead!”
From that “Charlie Brown” moment on I read the Peanuts strip from a more analytical perspective, observing that the artist was expressing his philosophy of life through Charlie Brown. It amazed me how Charles Schultz could capture both our hopes and insecurities inside one simple strip. How many times did Charlie Brown approach the football with renewed hope only to end up flat on his back in the final frame?
After Charles Schultz suffered a stroke in the 1990s, he questioned whether he should discontinue the strip, but a quick recovery allowed him to turn out daily strips until his death in the year 2000. Many fans observed that thoughts of mortality began showing up in Schultz’s work as his time of death drew near. In one segment Linus asks Charlie Brown, “When you’ve died do you get to come back?” Charlie answers, “If they stamp your hand.”
Schultz’s death marked the end of new, original Peanuts comic strips, but Charlie Brown lives on in reruns, even at age 60. Good grief!