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Interview With Charles Schulz

MJ: Mr. Charles Schulz, thank you for joining us today, and for inviting us up.

CS: My pleasure. I'm glad your here.

MJ: Could you tell us something about your career work with the "Peanuts" strip, and how you got started with that?

CS: I always liked cartoons, and ever since I was a little kid I was a

great follower of all the different comics in the newspapers and I knew

that if you worked hard, possibly you could get to draw your own comic

strip, so this is the one thing that I wanted to do all of my life, and I

used to be able to draw Mickey Mouse and Popeye and those great characters

when I was a little kid, and I would send in my drawings and get them

rejected from the magazines and the newspapers and things like that, but it

wasn't until I was in my early 20's that I began, I could feel getting

closer all of the time and getting better where I knew that perhaps one day

this would happen. So, it was one of these things that took a long while.

It took a lot of thinking and preparing and sending in different ideas and

then over a period of a few years I discovered that editors seemed to like

the cartoons that I drew about children the best, and I developed the

formula of having these children say things which seem to be a little bit

adult, although they aren't as adult as people seem to think. These are

not little kids saying grownup things. I think that if you really pay

attention you will discover that children say things which are adult in

nature. So, this is the way it happened and I suppose... Oh, I think I

really didn't get started 'til I was about 26 or 27 years old, but it's

what I always wanted to do and I got to do it so I feel very fortunate.

 

MJ: Can you tell us about the characters?

CS: Oh, I think the characters speak for themselves I mean, that's a lot

like asking a poet to explain his poem; the poem should explain itself. Now

the characters... I suppose Charlie Brown would obviously be the main

character. He's the one around which all of the other characters revolve

and this is the way it is with everything. There's always one main

character. I think each of the characters could easily carry a comic strip

by himself or herself, but I think that's a bad idea, too, so I think you

have to have enough characters so that you don't become boring. I always

have a great fear of being boring, but I have enough characters so it's

like having a theater repertory company, and I can go from one character to

another and make sure that I don't use the same ones over and over and

over. Charlie Brown is a nice kid. I've always said that I think I would

like to have had Charlie Brown as a neighbor when I was small because I

think he and I would like the same things and we would have played ball

together and enjoyed each other a lot. I had a dog when I was about 13 who

was a lot like Snoopy at least in appearance, but he was kind of a wild dog

and he had quite a vocabulary. I counted up once about 50 different words

that he understood, so in a way he was a little bit the inspiration for

Snoopy. The other characters are just parts of myself. I think it would be

impossible to create characters and give them personalities unless they

were a little bit of myself.

 

MJ: Do we see a bit of... quite a bit of you in the Charlie Brown

character or is it more spread around all of the characters?

CS: I think people would like to believe that I am Charlie Brown but that

would be foolish. I don't think it would be possible to create a character

and not put a bit of yourself in that character, but I do think that if

you... if you read the comic strip everyday, or if you read all of the

books and you read what the characters do and say, you would find pretty

much what I am like because everything that I think about, everything that

I do goes into the strip itself.

 

MJ: Now, where did you come up with the name Snoopy?

CS: The first name that I thought of for the dog was supposed to have been

Sniffy and I remember going uptown from where I was working at the time,

and I was going past a bookstore and they had a lot of magazines on a rack

and I saw a comic magazine there about a little dog named Sniffy and I

thought, "Oh, there goes the name of my dog," but then I recalled as I was

walking back after this little walk that my mother had always said, "If we

ever have another dog I think we should name him Snoopy," and I thought,

"Well, that's even a better name." Now, oddly enough and I'll bet you

didn't know that, did you know that when Walt Disney was making Snow White

and the Seven Dwarfs they had to think of names for those seven characters

and Snoopy was one of the names that they thought of but was rejected. So

I've always been grateful that they never used it.

 

MJ: When you were a youngster you said you wanted to do this someday. Did

you have people around you saying, "You can't do that for a living?"

CS: Fortunately, I had a mother and father who did never... did not ever

say that. They didn't understand, of course, what it was I wanted to do.

My dad loved reading the comics, but they had no way of really helping me.

My dad paid for the correspondence course which I took and he was always

worried that I was going to be able to find out how to do this and never

get a job doing it, but they never discouraged me. They never said, "Well,

why don't you go off and try to be an attorney or a barber," like he was,

or something like that. So, I've always been grateful for the fact that

they never discouraged me from trying to do what I wanted to do, although

there must have been a lot of people who thought I would never make it,

so... but you can't pay any attention to that. You have to do what you

want to do and don't listen to anybody.

 

MJ: Some of the characters in the strip are... are experiences or do they

reflect maybe things that you had going on in your childhood, or friends

that you may have had, any of that in there?

CS: I do recall, and I think this is probably the basis for the whole

strip, this could be the theme for the whole strip, and that would be that

it's difficult to be a child. It's difficult to grow up and it's difficult

if you grow up in a neighborhood which may be difficult in itself. I think

there's a real struggle that goes on out there on the playground and as we

become adults we drift away from it and we learn to protect ourselves, but

there are always the mean kids on the playground, there are always the

bullies around, there's always those terrible feelings of insecurity and

the fears that we have that adults, somehow, unfortunately forget about, so

in a way, you might say that this is the basis for the whole theme, that it

is difficult to be a little kid. It's a constant struggle. So maybe

that's really what it's all about.

 

MJ: How do you stay in touch with, you know, what kids are feeling, 'cause

obviously you do have it in the script so often. How do you not forget

about that?

CS: That probably is the most difficult part, the older you get. I think

if you insulate yourself from other people this could become a real

problem. Now, I own not far from here, just a couple blocks, what is

regarded as the world's most beautiful ice arena and I'm there every

morning where I have breakfast and I see the children skate and I talk to

the mothers and the fathers in the building, and I'm always having this

association with other people and I go over there and I have lunch at noon

and talk with other people. I don't do this deliberately in order to keep

up on things but I find that it is important, of course I do read a lot and

try to keep up with what is going on without becoming overly indulgent on

these things, but the older you get I think the more risk there is of

becoming a boring older person who just lives in the past. I can't live in

the past although I think a lot of us do think about the past, those of us

who are cartoonists, and we draw upon things that happen to us and then we

have the knack of kind of turning these things around and making them a

little bit funny.

 

MJ: American culture has changed so much over the past, however many

years. Has the strip and has Charlie Brown and the characters.. have they

changed with the times or are they timeless?

CS: I like to think that they are timeless. I suppose the humor might

even be a little more gentle than it was way back when I first began. I

imagine this has to do with my own aging. I think younger people deal in

humor which is a little more harsh than what older people do, so if the

strip has become more mild I would say it's because of that, that I am a

little more mild in my outlook of things than I was when I was small. I am

a little bit disturbed of course the way I think, in our culture, that

movies, television shows and everything, are becoming more and more

outrageous and in some cases absolutely vulgar. It's become almost

intolerable. I think we've... I think this sort of writing has been

released from the box and I don't think it can ever be put back in again

and it's not going to get better, it's probably going to get worse all the

time and it's creeping little by little into comic strips whereas it never

used to be. Comic strips, when I was small were probably the most highly

censored form of entertainment that there was, but even comic strips are

becoming a little bit tainted now, I think.

 

MJ: Is it easier to be vulgar?

CS: Oh, definitely. It's much easier to be vulgar. I have been visited by

people from what we call the underground comics which can be as vulgar as

you can get, you know, and I told one of the young men one day, I said,

"You know, what you do you think is so... is so wonderful and so original,"

but I said, "It's very easy and you all... you all do the same things, you

all all do the same vulgar things, but I defy you to do what I have done

for 45 years and have never done anything that is remotely vulgar or

anything like that, and I just... "I don't think you guys can do it. "

 

MJ: What do you think the responsibility is that you have to your

audience?

CS: Oh, I suppose there is a responsibility but I never think about that

outside of just trying to do something that's decent and uplifting, but I

don't think that in any form of creativity you can really worry about your

audience. I think that this is fatal. It would be impossible to sit down

and decide you're going to make them a nice painting and you're going to

paint this painting and say to yourself, "I'm going to paint this because

this is going to bring joy to people," or something like that. I think

almost all forms of creativity are done by the person who's doing the

creating himself or herself. You do it for yourself. I draw cartoons for

myself the same way as someone else might play the piano. They do it for

themselves, or the painter who's doing watercolors is doing it for himself

or herself, and you don't do it for other people, you do it to please

yourself and if you are fortunate, others like it. If they don't, there's

really nothing much you can do about it anyway.

 

MJ: Would you tell us about the process of drawing a strip on a daily

basis? What is that like?

CS: The hardest part of course is to come to the studio at the beginning

of a week when you have no ideas and you finished your last week's work

last Friday and now it's Monday morning and you have to start all over

again. If you're lucky maybe you'd thought of something over the weekend,

but if you haven't you have to get rid of the morning's mail and see what

was in the newspaper that day, and then you just take a blank sheet of

paper and you just start trying to think of things. You think of Charlie

Brown being on the pitcher's mound or you think of Charlie Brown going out

to feed his dog or you think of Linus and his blanket or all of the

different things that you've done, and out of that you try to come up with

something new and before you know it, it's time to go out to lunch and you

haven't thought of a thing, so it's been a morning wasted, but sometimes

you think of something that's good and that idea takes you on to something

else and so you reach over and you take your nice big sheet of paper and

you start drawing it, and usually I put in all of the lettering first to

get that out of the way because you have to be able to space where the

letters go and then the characters go and all of that, and I don't always

finish up that strip at that time. I will set it aside because I know then

how long it will take me to finish it and then I take my pad of paper and I

try to think of something else and if I can think of another idea then I

will do the same, and set that aside, and maybe when I have three of them

aside then I will know that maybe I can finish those, and if I can draw

three of those daily comic strips in one day, then I'm quite content, it's

been a good day. The Sunday page which is much larger, they're big things,

usually takes most of the day so if it's a good week, sometimes you can

finish up one week's strips by maybe Wednesday and then start over again

and try to catch up so that you gain a week and then you're always trying

to gain another week, but I have a lot of interruptions and things that get

in the way and then of course there's always just the problem of not being

able to think of something even though you may have a whole day to yourself

without any planned interruptions. If you can't think of anything then it's

going to be a day wasted.

 

MJ: How far ahead have you worked ahead, for instance today? How far into

the future?

CS: Right now I would only have about two weeks that I wouldn't have to do

anything. That would on the daily strips, my Sunday pages I've caught up a

little bit the last few weeks so I wouldn't have to draw another Sunday

page for about a month, but I'm never behind. I'm always at least on the

schedule, but generally two or three weeks ahead, but there isn't such a

thing really as a vacation. It's like putting... it's like saving up money

but not putting it in the bank, there's no interest on it, so if you want

to take a week off then you have to double up and get a week ahead, but you

always think it had better be something pretty important because you don't

want to waste that good week that you've worked so hard to gain. It never

ends.

 

MJ: You've made a decision that's, I believe, a bit unusual in the

cartooning world, that once you pass away nobody will continue drawing the

strips. Can you talk about that and why... how you came to that?

CS: I didn't come to that decision. That was the decision that was made

by my children. It's very flattering and it's nice to know that they think

enough about their dad and about what I have done that they don't want to

see this comic strip ruined by someone else trying to carry it on, and so,

in our last contract negotiation several years ago they told the attorneys,

they said, "We don't want anyone else drawing Dad's strip," so when I die

the strip will end and I think that's the way it should be. Everything has

to end sometime and I've seen it happen too often that comic strips have

been carried on by others and it's a very individual medium. I can think of

very few that have been carried on well by someone else because you are

putting your whole being into this and I doubt very much if it can be done

well by someone else.

 

MJ: I've seen so many different items that have the various characters

and so forth. What kind of things in addition to the strip have you been

involved with or have maybe licensed to, and so forth?

CS: Well, I suppose our most successful relationship has been with the

Hallmark greeting cards. I was told recently that Hallmark has sold over a

billion of our Peanuts cards. It's been the biggest item that they've ever

had, and now of course we have the Metropolitan Insurance Company, using

the characters to promote Metropolitan, and then of course all of our

television shows have been pretty much a success. A man named Lee

Mendelson came up with the idea of doing that and there was a fine woman

named Connie Bouche who was the founder of a company called the Determined

Productions and it was her idea to put out these yearly date books. We

were the first ones ever to do that. Now, everybody has them. So, those

have been very successful relationships. We've always been fortunate, I

think, to be associated with good companies and that's been quite

gratifying.

 

MJ: How are your children if ... are they involved in any way in the work,

in the company?

CS: No, my children have nothing to do with it. None of them can draw.

All of my children are quite witty and when we are together we do laugh a

lot. They are all very athletic. I have one son who's a good hockey

player, another son who is an airplane pilot and is also very, very good at

taking part in motocross races, he's good at that, and I have another

daughter who is probably the nation's foremost expert on the raising and

training of mules which is rather strange, but she's good at that and then

of course my youngest daughter is an expert on, with in-line skates and is

now promoting in-line skating shows. She used to be with the Ice Follies

as a professional skater, so we're all quite athletic and we all do

different things but like I said, they are all kind of funny and witty and

we laugh a lot when we are together, but not one of them can draw.

 

MJ: There's a story that you tell that I've never forgotten about the

young lady who you proposed to. Would you tell us that story?

CS: I worked at the correspondence course in Minneapolis called Art

Instruction Schools and our department was I think on the third floor and

she worked for the accounting department. She was a little red-haired girl,

and she worked as one of the bookkeepers and we met when I was the coach of

the girls softball team and I think she played second base and I liked her

a lot, right from the start, and we used to go out now and then but she had

another boyfriend, too, and I always said that I would never get involved

in a romance where I was competing with someone else. Anyway, I went to

New York in the spring of 1950 and I had met with the people at United

Feature Syndicate and I signed a contract to start drawing the Peanuts

strip and came back and proposed to her but she married the other fellow,

which is a bitter blow, you know, to be turned down. It's worse than

losing a tennis match or a golf match or anything like that because it's

the whole you that has been rejected.

 

MJ: Does she make an appearance in the strip?

CS: No. No. I've never shown her. I got the idea of course from that

whole episode, but I think all of us can relate somehow to unrequited love.

We have all fallen in love with somebody across a crowded a room and never

met the person and I think it's something that all of us can relate to, so

I use this theme quite often in the strip. Lucy likes Schroeder, and he

can't stand her. I think Peppermint Patty probably likes Charlie Brown but

she's not sure why. Charlie Brown likes the little red-haired girl and

Snoopy's' fallen in love with a few other dogs now and then, but I think

the last dog that he fell in love with ran away with a golden retriever so

that broke his heart, too, so, it's given me the opportunity for a lot of

ideas.

 

MJ: You talked about your children a moment ago. Was there a moment when

each of them realized that their father, you know, was the guy who created

all these characters and Snoopy and so forth?

CS: I was surprised to learn that they didn't realize that. I think my

son Monty who is now about 43 said that when he was small he noticed a

friend of his was reading a Peanut's book, and he was surprised to discover

that this kid liked it. And it never occurred to him that this was what

his dad was doing, or that other people... they knew that I was drawing

but that other people liked these things. It's all kind of lost to me

through a haze, I can't remember what it was but I know that they weren't

really aware of the... that it was so famous around the world. It didn't

mean that much to them, but they did like the cartoons themselves and I've

always been pleased and flattered that when they do see one that they like

they frequently will ask me for the original drawing and if you were to go

into any one of their homes you would see my drawings on their walls with

some of their favorites, so what more could a father ask than that?

 

MJ: You've experienced such tremendous, you know, success and wealth and

so forth. How did you deal with that over the years? Did you find

yourself ever changing as a person or, any thoughts on that?

CS: I'd like to think that I haven't changed because I don't think about

it. The wealth doesn't mean anything, although it's nice to be able to go

to a book store and buy any kind of book that you see. But the fame...

again, I don't think about. A lot of nice things have happened to me. The

only thing that I don't like is autographing. I just can't stand

autographing. I despise it. I think it's the worst thing that's ever been

invented and every time you see a picture of somebody, some kind celebrity

or a baseball player or something, they always have to show him

autographing things. Why people want these autographs is totally beyond

me. I think that there's nothing more useless, more intrusive and people

who have that as a hobby. I say, "Why don't you go out and collect rocks

or something where you won't be such a nuisance, why do you have to bother

people with... "Will you sign this golf ball for me, will you sign this

piece of cloth, will you sign this, sign this," everyday, all... it just

comes in all of the time. I just can't stand it.

 

MJ: Does it bother you because they may sell it later maybe...

CS: Well, I don't even think about that, but I know that happens. I... it

bothers me because it's such a nuisance, and it's just such a useless

thing. Why do you want somebody to sign something? I think the dumbest

thing is when I will send out a... maybe an original drawing. You know, I

make all the cartoons, down at the bottom I sign my name. So then, maybe

they will buy that at an auction, then they take the thing to me and they

say, "Will you autograph it?" and I say, "I've already signed it." No,

but they want, "Will you put, 'To Fred, with Best Wishes' on it." And I

say, "If you bought one of Picasso's paintings you would never ask Pablo

Picasso to write, "Best wishes" on it, you know, he's already signed his

name on it. So anyways, that's how I feel about autographing. I can't

stand it.

 

MJ: Do you have any advice for aspiring people who are in your position

who would like to you know, have a comic strip someday or draw like that?

CS: I think one of the most important things would be to get all of the

art training that you can. If you can go to an art school if there's one in

the city where you live, definitely, excuse me, go to art school, take

figure drawing, learn how to letter well, and if you can't do that at least

take a correspondence course and then of course I think you should have a

good background in history and literature. I think those would be the two

things that you should study the most actively. Literature of all forms

from all cultures I think would be very important, but then a reasonable

knowledge of history I think is important, too, and then stay alive to

what's going on around you, but also work hard on your drawing, learn how

to draw everything realistically. In other words, I don't think you can

draw a good cartoon shoe until you can draw a real shoe. You can't cartoon

the human figure really well unless you can draw it reasonably well. This

doesn't mean you have to be a fine artist because they are two separate

mediums, but I think all of the training you can get is extremely important

and then to be able to judge your own work. I am appalled at the lack of

ability that so many people have of judging their own work. They should

know that what they're doing isn't good enough. I don't know... they

should be able to find out just where they have to improve and what can be

done. But, it is appalling, the lack of ability to judge their own work

that I see.

 

MJ: Charles Schulz, thank you so much for joining us today.

CS: My pleasure, I appreciate your coming .

 

 

 

 






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