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Top Dog: Charles M. Schulz

Charles Schulz's ubiquitous beagle, is the world's preeminent pooch
Neil A. Grauer
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

(continued from page 2)

After completing the course, Schulz tried peddling single-panel gag cartoons to magazines, without success. His attempts at becoming a cartoonist were interrupted when he was drafted in 1943. Schulz spent three years in the Army, learning "all I needed to know about loneliness," he wrote decades later. He was shipped to Europe and became a staff sergeant and leader of a machine-gun squad, but saw little combat.

Back in the States by war's end, he considered taking a job lettering tombstones, but instead accepted a position at the Art Instruction Schools, his artistic alma mater, critiquing drawings mailed in by other would-be cartoonists. He also cracked the national magazine market, selling his first cartoon to The Saturday Evening Post in 1948--a cute drawing of a tiny boy, teetering on the edge of an easy chair so he can prop his feet up on an ottoman.  

At the Art Instruction Schools, Schulz made close friends who unwittingly would have a profound impact on his later career--including one buddy who was named Charlie Brown; another named Linus Maurer; and red-headed Donna Johnson--who rejected Schulz's marriage proposal and became the model for "the little red-haired girl" for whom Charlie Brown pines. In fact, many of the characters who later showed up in "Peanuts" were named for real people. Schulz recalled that when the real Charlie Brown saw the round-headed kid who bore his name, he professed disappointment, saying, "I thought I was going to look more like Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon."  

Urged by Frank Wing, a colleague at the school, to "draw more of those little kids," Schulz managed to sell a weekly one-panel feature that he called "L'il Folks" to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In 1950, he sent a collection of these cartoons to United Feature Syndicate in New York, which responded positively. Schulz transformed the single-panel idea into a comic strip, which United Feature bought and renamed "Peanuts," much to Schulz's dismay.  

"It was undignified, inappropriate and confusing... no one ever referred to young children as 'peanuts,'" he would grouse (forgetting, perhaps, that in 1948, the first major TV show designed for children, "Puppet Playhouse"--which later became "Howdy Doody"--put its pint-sized audience in a stand of seats called "The Peanut Gallery").  

"Peanuts" made its debut on October 2, 1950--and Snoopy showed up two days later. A little puppy, he was carrying a flower and happened by a window box of flowers being watered by Patty, who mistakenly watered Snoopy and his flower, too.  

It was a surprisingly tepid introduction for one of the most wildly imaginative characters in the comics. Initially, Snoopy was exactly what he appeared to be: a cute little dog that the kids treat like a person. They set up tiny stands to sell lemonade or flowers; Snoopy has a stand to sell bones. They present Snoopy with a birthday cake; instead of a candle, it is adorned with a wiener.  

Gradually, Snoopy lost his realistically depicted appearance. He changed so much that Schulz had to recopyright him. "I never dreamed that he would become the character that he is now," Schulz wrote in Peanuts: A Golden Celebration. "Every time I draw Snoopy, he probably changes a little bit, and when I look back on some of the early drawings, I am appalled that I drew him then as I did.  

"Snoopy was the slowest to develop, and it was his eventually walking around on two feet that turned him into a lead character," Schulz wrote. "It has certainly been difficult to keep him from taking over the feature."   Snoopy began that evolution in 1958, when he first got up on his hind legs and began to dance--then to play the violin in accompaniment to Schroeder's piano; then to voice his opinions in thought balloons. (He has never actually said anything other than "Woof!" or "Arf!") 

Lives there a dog devotee who hasn't proudly proclaimed his or her furry friend "almost human"?


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