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Remembering Bob Metz

Robert Roy Metz
March 23, 1929 – Dec. 13, 2015

I’ve been mourning the passing last month of Bob Metz, who was an important part of Sparky’s life and my life from our meeting in the mid 1970s until Sparky’s death.

Bob was a newspaper man in the most professional sense of the word. That, and his love of history and biography, meant that he and Sparky meshed well. But Bob was more than just a good friend, he literally saved Peanuts from what might have been the comic strip ‘s demise.

After 25 years of drawing Peanuts, Sparky told United Feature Syndicate President Bill Payette (probably through Sparky’s business manager) that he wanted to negotiate an addendum to his contract. The original contract was a boilerplate contract that the Syndicate offered in 1950.

Sparky’s point was that he had brought E. W. Scripps, parent company of United Feature Syndicate, more revenue than had ever been anticipated in 1950 and he had created virtually no problems with client newspapers. Sparky therefore wanted some consideration from the Syndicate, mostly in the form of Sparky’s right to control the presentation of the art on licensed products and a different split on licensing revenues.

Snoopy-&-Friends-500

Belle-500

These are examples of art that would not be approved today.

Sparky could see that without this control any sort of Peanuts art work would find itself onto products and out into the world. He also wanted it stipulated in the contract that no one would draw the comic strip when he was no longer drawing it.

Bill Payette, being a corporate man, was determined that the Syndicate would not relinquish any of its rights.

That is when these comic strips came into being (images from Alter Ego Magazine, 2006, volume 3, no. 59)

Plastino1

© Peanuts Worldwide

Plastino2

© Peanuts Worldwide

Plastino3

© Peanuts Worldwide

Bill Payette had hired Al Plastino, who sometimes filled in for some of their other artists, to draw up several weeks of Peanuts comics in case Sparky stubbornly stuck to his guns.

Fortunately, Bill Payette retired before the negotiations were very far along, and Bob Metz replaced him in a merger of Newspaper Enterprise Association and United Feature Syndicate.

Bob defused the situation in negotiations with the Scripps board of directors. I shudder to think what would have happened if Sparky had been pushed against the wall. I remember Bob saying, “We weren’t going to lose Peanuts on my watch.”

The irony of this is that new contracts being written by Andrews McMeel (for example Doonesbury) allowed the artist to hold his or her own copyright.

Bob Metz thought he had destroyed all the Plastino strips, but some surfaced about 10 years ago and were floating around the internet, leading to my research and the explanatory letter below from Bob and the story in Alter Ego Magazine (2008, volume 3, no. 76). Bob sent me this letter dated March 16, 2007 to correct the story about the Al Plastino strips.

Dear Jeannie:
Thanks for sending along the Alter Ego magazine story on Al Plastino and his long career as a cartoonist, which included a lot of work for United Feature Syndicate. Most of his UFS work was “ghosting” strips created by others after they died or became disabled. Unfortunately, AI’s recollection of his involvement with Peanuts is at variance from the facts.

In the summer of 1977, I took responsibility for negotiating a new contract between UFS and Sparky [Charles Schulz] to replace the original 1950 agreement. The years-long discussions were deadlocked and increasingly contentious. Bill Payette, my predecessor as UFS president, was determined to maintain the syndicate’s historic right to control the copyrights and trademarks to Peanuts, arguably the most valuable asset of the company. Sparky was equally determined to gain broad approval rights on the licensing use of his creation.

As I familiarized myself with the history of the negotiations, I was amazed to find that Payette had employed Plastino to produce a considerable number of Peanuts daily strips and Sunday pages. Payette told me he was prepared to have Plastino produce the feature if Sparky did not agree to the syndicate’s terms. My amazement was based on the conviction that Peanuts was so much the product of one man’s unique mind and skills that no other person could “copy” it. Without Sparky, Peanuts would not survive.

Ultimately, I was able to reach agreement with Sparky and his legal and business representatives on a new agreement, which remained in effect throughout his life and essentially, I believe, still governs the relationship between his heirs and the syndicate today. It is true that Sparky never saw the Plastino efforts, which I had ordered destroyed. Later he learned they had once existed and we occasionally joked about them.

Al’s recollection that he had drawn these strips to be used if needed at the time of Sparky’s heart bypass surgery in 1981 is incorrect. Unlike a good many cartoonists, Sparky consistently was weeks ahead on both his daily and Sunday releases. He still had a backlog of completed releases when he returned to the drawing board after the successful surgery. If his convalescence had taken longer, the syndicate would have provided reruns of past releases. Under the new contract by then in effect, only Sparky could write and draw the feature.

Six years after Sparky’s death, reruns of Peanuts still appear in hundreds of publications around the world, a tribute to his genius. He drew everyone of them.

Sincerely,
Robert Roy Metz

Sparky had many years of a wonderful friendship with Bob.

playing-pool
Playing pool at our house.

We had a trip to Europe in 1980 with Bob and Susan Metz and two couples from Santa Rosa. We visited London; Cap d’Antibes for a wedding; then Basel, visiting skater, Mr Frick and his wife Yvonne; then down the Rhine to Amsterdam, among other places. Both Bob and Sparky were fascinated by the history ‎of the many US Army crossings of the Rhine.

Those were wonderful and special years with United Media and I have missed seeing Bob and Susan after that.

Reflecting on his passing last month, I realized that Bob Metz came into Sparky’s life at just the right time, or who knows what might have happened.

Metz-640

Bob Metz waving at the start of our Rhine trip. Nancy Diez is in front of her husband, Raul, followed by Sparky and Bob Richardson.

–Jean Schulz

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