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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 4)

When Schulz announced that ill health compelled him to set aside his pens and brushes after personally writing, drawing, inking and lettering an astounding 18,250-plus strips, the universal reaction was dismay--and admiration.   President Clinton declared that Schulz had shown "that a comic strip can transcend its small space on the page. It can uplift, it can challenge, it can educate its readers even as it entertains us." Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced legislation to have Schulz awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.  

The New York Times, which has never run a regular comic strip, editorialized that Schulz's work had been "an ongoing parable of contemporary American existence," adding that "the generation who grew up reading 'Peanuts' may feel like crying." In The Washington Post, which, in 1950, had been among the first seven papers to run "Peanuts," legendary 90-year-old editorial cartoonist Herblock drew himself being flipped over backwards like Linus as Snoopy snatched away the comic strip, much as he would steal Linus's blanket.

Garry Trudeau of "Doonesbury" called "Peanuts" the "first (and still the best) postmodern comic strip," with "graphically austere but beautifully nuanced" drawing and "complicated, neurotic characters speaking smart, haiku-perfect dialogue." Without "Peanuts," Trudeau wrote, there would have been no "Doonesbury," "Calvin and Hobbes," "Feiffer," "B.C." or "Bloom County." For cartoonists, "Peanuts" has been the "gold standard for work that is both illuminating and aesthetically sublime."  

Schulz's cartooning colleagues were hit hard by his retirement--and stunned by his death. He was revered in the profession not only for his extraordinary skill and longevity, but for his remarkable generosity. He was a mentor and friend to many young artists, actively encouraging their ambitions, selflessly supporting their efforts. When he retired, a number of them paid him the ultimate compliment: they put references to "Peanuts" in their own strips. An even greater, industry-wide tribute was planned as a surprise for Schulz, with many more cartoonists--who work weeks or months in advance--agreeing to devote their Sunday, May 27, strips to a "Peanuts" theme.  

A genuine genius and true gentleman, Schulz once said that drawing "Peanuts" was "my excuse for existence." By announcing his retirement when he did, he was given a privilege few are granted: to read his own professional "obituaries" and, it is hoped, to be touched by them. By eerily, almost poetically, dying as his last strip was rolling off the presses, he put an eloquent exclamation point (cartoonists' favorite piece of punctuation) on the greatest career in the history of the comics.  

As The Washington Post observed in an editorial after Schulz's retirement, recycled "Peanuts" strips will continue to appear "perhaps long enough to capture some of the children of yet another century." And as Schulz observed more than a decade ago, Snoopy is "immortal."  

Neil A. Grauer is a Baltimore-based writer, caricaturist and author of Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber.

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