Schulz set pace for cartooning

February 21, 2000|By Mike Lane

NOT SINCE the passing of Pogo's Walt Kelly have we mourned the loss of another genius cartoonist as we do Charles Schulz.

But it would be redundant in the extreme to recount here what all the characters meant to us, for it's been done well by others over the past few weeks.

But what of the man and his profession?

The newspaper comics recently celebrated their 100th anniversary; Mr. Schulz drew "Peanuts" for half that period.

Mr. Schulz wrote and drew every line and letter in his panels. Henry Shikuma did Kelly's lettering in "Pogo" from 1958 until the end. Jeff MacNelly has found a way to do his lettering in "Shoe" by computer. Gary Trudeau does a "Doonesbury" rough, and two guys in the Midwest do the final art. Many strips, including "Tank McNamara," are drawn by one person, written by another.

Mr. Schulz decided that the Peanuts gang would go with him. Dik Browne left "Hagar the Horrible" and "Hi and Lois" to his two sons, who carry on as before. Sadly, "Pogo" was revived after Kelly's death; the art was great but it lacked Kelly's heart. The new strip quietly disappeared.

Mr. Schulz left us tangible objects to treasure his gifted strip: lunch boxes, sheets, pillowcases, dolls, etc. Bill Watterson decided that he would not sully his masterpiece "Calvin and Hobbes" with such commercial drivel -- so all we have are a few dog-eared books.

Mr. Schulz drew Peanuts for nearly 50 years. "Bloom County" ended after ten. Gary Larsen rested "The Far Side" after 19. (Mort Walker's "Beetle Bailey" and Mel Lazarus' "Momma," are, however, in Mr. Schulz's league here.)

Mr. Schulz's gang has been on television and stage going on 40 years. Al Capp's "L'il Abner" had a brief theatrical run -- and how many people really knew that "Annie" was an old comic strip?

All of the above comparisons serve only to show that the rest of us are merely human and frail when stood up next to Mr. Schulz's remarkable record: more than 18,000 strips; 2,600 newspapers worldwide, with 355 million readers in 75 countries and 21 languages; 1,400 books with sales of more than 300 million; 600 licensed products and a Broadway musical.

But that's not why we loved Charles Schulz. We loved him because he kept his childhood nickname, Sparky, because Charlie Brown was a real-life pal of his (a fellow cartoonist), and because the "little red-haired girl" was a real person who had once spurned his affections.

And while Charlie Brown had his daily travails and disappointments, Sparky Schulz was there for us every day, as faithful as Snoopy.

Mike Lane is an editorial cartoonist for The Sun.

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