The Peanuts Comic Strip
Why is the comic strip named Peanuts?
Originally, Charles Schulz named his strip Li’l Folks, but when it became syndicated in 1950 by United Feature Syndicate, there was concern about possible copyright infringement with a cartoon called Little Folks by Tack Knight that had been published in the 1930s. Schulz suggested Charlie Brown or Good Ol’ Charlie Brown, but the syndicate decided upon Peanuts. The name Peanuts was likely chosen because it was a well-known term for children at the time, popularized by the television program The Howdy Doody Show, which debuted in 1947 and featured audience section for children called the “Peanut Gallery.”
“I don’t like the name of my strip at all. I wanted to call it Good Old Charlie Brown, but the person at the syndicate who selected Peanuts just picked it at random from a list of possible titles he jotted down. He hadn’t even looked at the strip when he named it. The syndicate compromised on Sunday, though. Once I rebelled and sent it in without any title. We finally agreed to put Peanuts at the top and include Charlie Brown and His Gang in the sub-title on Sunday.”
– Charles M. Schulz, 1969
Peanuts debuted in seven newspapers on October 2, 1950: The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Allentown Call-Chronicle, The Bethlehem Globe-Times, The Denver Post, and The Seattle Times. Shortly after Schulz’s passing in 2000, Peanuts was reported to be printed in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries in 21 languages.
The Peanuts strips were drawn on Strathmore 3-ply paper with India ink. For lettering, Schulz used a Speedball C-5 pen and for drawing the strip he used an Esterbrook 914 radio pen. When Schulz learned that the company that manufactured the nibs for this pen was going out of business, he purchased their entire inventory of nibs.
Schulz kept fairly regular office hours, Monday-Friday, working from about 9am-4pm. On average, he drew about seven strips per week, generally keeping six to eight weeks ahead of the publication schedule. He worked out his ideas on lined paper with sketches and notes; when he was satisfied with the idea, he would create the finished strip. Schulz said he could draw a daily strip anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, but that the Sunday strips always took longer.
Charles M. Schulz created a total of 17,897 Peanuts strips of which there are 15,391 daily strips and 2,506 Sunday strips. All Peanuts strips were originally created with black ink on white paper, whether they were dailies or Sundays. To indicate his color choices on the Sunday strips, Schulz would have a copy of the strip produced at a local print shop, then, using a color chart, he would select colors for each portion and send the syndicate a colored version along with corresponding color number IDs.
In addition to being printed in numerous newspapers as reprints today, most of the Peanuts strips can be viewed online at Go Comics. High-resolution reprints of Peanuts strips can be ordered through the gocomics.com web site.
Strip reprint books can be found at new and used bookstores or local libraries. Peanuts is currently being collected in its entirety and published as The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books. When complete, this set of 25 books will reproduce every strip in chronological order; each book contains two years of strips; two books will be released each year for 12 1/2 years (the first book was released in 2004).
Peanuts Animation and Musical Productions
When was the first Peanuts animation created?
Peanuts was first animated by Bill Melendez in 1959 for the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show sponsored by Ford Motors. Melendez eventually formed his own company, Bill Melendez Productions, animating and directing all of the Peanuts television specials and full-length movies until his death in 2008. Melendez also provided the “voice” of Snoopy and Woodstock in Peanuts animation.
The next instance of Peanuts animation was created for a documentary produced in 1963 by Lee Mendelson. The documentary, called A Boy Named Charlie Brown, never aired on television but included some animation by Melendez interspersed throughout the show. This documentary is now available on DVD only in the Schulz Museum Store. Lee Mendelson Productions produced all of the Peanuts animated television specials and feature films beginning with A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) through He’s a Bully, Charlie Brown (2006). Mendelson has also written several books about the making of the early animated specials and has been featured in numerous documentary interviews speaking about the history of Peanuts animation.
A total of 45 Peanuts animated television specials, a Saturday morning television show (1983-1985) and an eight-part television mini-series on American history (1988) have been produced over the past five decades. Four full-length Peanuts motion pictures have been released in theatres: A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Snoopy Come Home (1972), Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977), and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) (1980).
I had to animate Sparky’s [Charles Schulz’s] characters in such a way that you wouldn’t see the turns. I found ways of animating this and hiding the fact that [the] scope of the movement was very limited. … Snoopy saved me because Snoopy is more like a real animated character. He can do anything—move and dance—and he’s very easy to animate, whereas the kids are nearly impossible! I’ve always had to think quickly and learn how to cope with the limitations of the design.
– Bill Melendez, 2005
The last animated special, Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, was released to DVD on March 29, 2011, and its first airing on television was on November 24, 2011. This special was animated by Wild Brain Entertainment and was directed by Andy Beall and Frank Molieri.
The songs Linus and Lucy and Christmas Time is Here are probably the two most well-known songs composed for Peanuts specials. Jazz musician Vince Guaraldi composed Linus and Lucy for a documentary on Charles Schulz which never aired, called A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1963). Lee Mendelson, the producer of the 1963 documentary and most other Peanuts specials and films, wrote the lyrics to the song Christmas Time is Here, and Guaraldi composed the tune. Guaraldi went on to compose music for 15 Peanuts specials and films until his untimely death in 1976.
In addition to Guaraldi’s many Peanuts compositions through 1976’s It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown, the renowned Sherman Brothers wrote the original music for the full-length feature film Snoopy, Come Home in 1972. Richard and Robert Sherman’s legacy includes composing much of the celebrated music from the Disney films of the 1960s and 1970s. Ed Bogas began composing music for Peanuts animation in 1978 with What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown and contributed to much of the original Peanuts music through the 1980s. Bogas partnered with either Judy Munsen or Desiree Goyette on many of the animated Peanuts television specials and films in the early 1980s, with Munsen receiving full credit for supplying music for several of the specials through 1992’s It’s Spring Training, Charlie Brown.
The eight-part animated mini-series This is America, Charlie Brown (1988) included many well-known composers in the credits: Ed Bogas, George Winston, Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, The Winans, David Benoit, and Dave Grusin. With the release of It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown in the fall of 1992, David Benoit was again enlisted, arranging and performing the music of Vince Guaraldi in several of the television specials produced in the 1990s.
The music for Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown (2011) was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, co-founder of the band Devo. Mothersbaugh has a long history of scoring television and film productions including many of the films of noted director Wes Anderson, who cites Peanuts animator and director Bill Melendez as an influence on his films—bringing the legacy of original Peanuts compositions full circle!
A summary of Peanuts music would not be complete without mentioning that Ludwig van Beethoven’s compositions can be heard in many of the Peanuts specials, due to Schroeder’s passion for this brilliant composer and pianist. One of the most memorable instances in A Charlie Brown Christmas is when Schroeder soulfully plays Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor for solo piano—commonly known as “Für Elise.”
Sheet music for many of the compositions heard in Peanuts specials and films can be purchased at music stores, bookstores, and online retailers.
There are only two official Peanuts musicals: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Snoopy!!! The Musical. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is the most well-known and considered to be one of the most performed musicals in the United States since its debut in 1967.
Peanuts Worldwide, LLC, which owns and manages the rights to Peanuts, does not at this time license the rights to A Charlie Brown Christmas for live performances due to various legal restrictions.
What are some of the significant Peanuts licensing milestones?
- The first licensed Peanuts products were paperback books published by Rinehart & Co. in 1952.
- The first Peanuts toys were manufactured by the Hungerford Doll Corporation in 1958 and included Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, and Schroeder with his piano.
- Hallmark first began producing Peanuts greeting cards and booklets in 1960 and has continued to create Peanuts-themed cards and other items for over 50 years.
- Happiness is a Warm Puppy was published in 1962 by Determined Productions, Inc., landing on the New York Times best-seller list for 45 weeks.
- Macy’s has included a Peanuts character balloon in all Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades since the debut of a Snoopy balloon in 1968.
- Charles Schulz used MetLife as his personal insurer from at least 1967, but Peanuts wasn’t associated with the company until Snoopy became the MetLife Spokes-Beagle in 1985 with the launch of the “Get Met. It Pays.” advertising campaign. The MetLife Blimp Program debuted in 1987 and currently has three ships named after Snoopy: Snoopy One, Snoopy Two and Snoopy J.
See more about the history of the partnership between Peanuts and MetLife.
- Camp Snoopy opened at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California in 1983, launching the first of many Camp Snoopy theme parks across the country. In 1992, the Mall of America opened its own Camp Snoopy, making it the largest indoor theme park in the nation (the Mall of America theme park is no longer associated with Camp Snoopy).
Did Charlie Brown always wear his iconic zigzag shirt?
“I think anybody who is writing finds he puts a little bit of himself in all of the characters, at least in this kind of a strip. It’s the only way that you can survive when you have to do something every day. You have to put yourself, all of your thoughts, all of your observations and everything you know into the strip.”
– Charles M. Schulz, 1984
Charlie Brown appeared in the first Peanuts comic strip on October 2, 1950, but his first appearance in the famous zigzag shirt didn’t occur until the strip published on December 21, 1950.
In the Peanuts comic strip, Snoopy has five named siblings: Spike, Belle, Marbles, “Ugly” Olaf, and Andy. However, in the June 18, 1989 strip, Snoopy states that “there were eight of us in the litter.” In the animated special, Snoopy’s Reunion (1991), Snoopy’s other two siblings are mentioned by name; they are Molly and Rover.
Although Snoopy’s possessions are periodically described in Peanuts (including records, books, a Van Gogh painting, and a pool table), the interior of Snoopy’s doghouse is never actually shown in the comic strip. The only time the viewer sees inside Snoopy’s doghouse is in the 1981 animated special, It’s Magic, Charlie Brown.
“Snoopy’s appearance and personality have changed probably more than those of any of the other characters. As my drawing style loosened, Snoopy was able to do more things, and when I finally developed the formula of using his imagination to dream of being many heroic figures, the strip took on a completely new dimension.”
– Charles M. Schulz, 1975
Charles Schulz had many dogs in his life, from his childhood dogs Snooky and Spike to the dogs his family had after he was married with children. Spike was cited as the biggest influence on the creation of Snoopy. Other dogs in the Schulz family included Major, Lucy, Carmel, Dropshot, and Andy. Schulz said that his favorite dog was Andy, a mixed-breed dog that was rescued by Jean Schulz from a fox terrier rescue group in 1988.
“I usually say that they [adults] do not appear because the daily strip is only an inch and a half high, and they wouldn’t have room to stand up. Actually, they have been left out because they would intrude in a world where they could only be uncomfortable. Adults are not needed in the Peanuts strip. In earlier days I experimented with off-stage voices, but soon abandoned this as it was not only impractical but actually clumsy. Instead, I have developed a cast of off-stage adults who are talked about but never seen or heard.”
– Charles M. Schulz, 1975
This Peanuts strip was originally published on May 30, 1954.
This Peanuts strip was originally published on August 14, 1960
Although Linus has much deeper philosophical visions in mind while cloud gazing, it is Charlie Brown who responds with his everyman response of seeing a “ducky and a horsie” in the Peanuts strip originally published on August, 14, 1960.
Peanuts strip originally published on March 10, 1997
That character is named “Crybaby” Boobie. She was introduced into the Peanuts strip in 1978 and is usually shown throwing her head back, crying about some injustice she has observed on the tennis court. Although she is most often shown wearing a polka dot dress and without the viewer seeing her face, the strips in the days leading up to this one indicate it is indeed “Crybaby” Boobie who Snoopy may have kicked at the end of another contentious tennis game.