As October moves along, somewhere in the back of the minds of countless fans stands Linus van Pelt, patiently waiting in a pumpkin patch for the arrival of The Great Pumpkin. But as the month moves along, the heirs to the story legacy of Linus, Lucy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang are hoping to draw readers further into the world of "Peanuts."
2010 marks the 60th Anniversary of Charles "Sparky" Shulz's iconic strip, and the cartoonist's family members have been embarking on a promotional blitz to keep "Peanuts" alive and well in the 21st Century. All month long, through Halloween, fans can participate in a prize-driven, interactive social media game at GreatPumpkinCountdown.com. Meanwhile, Schulz's wife Jean has been on a tour discussing the history and future of "Peanuts" on national TV with an October 1 stop off at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. where a picture of the cartoonist by photographer Yousuf Karsh was installed.
Surrounding all that promotional activity, recent moves have seen the serialization of "Peanuts" move from its longtime home of newspaper strip syndicate United Feature Syndicate to Universal Uclick amongst other publishing plans. To learn more about all the recent changes and promotions, CBR News spoke with Jean Schulz about the whirlwind of events surrounding the comics and the Schulz Museum, the life of the characters in the minds of a modern audience and her view of her late husband's legacy, ten years after his passing.
CBR News: It seems like not only are you guys doing a lot with "Peanuts" for the 60th Anniversary, but I get the feeling that you personally are trying to take a bigger public role in promoting the events and specials.
Jean Schulz: You know, I think that I've taken that position because of the museum, because it is my role to let people know what the museum is doing. And that's everything - it's where the comic strip is going, what's happening...everything. So I'm all about promoting the whole thing, and I think that all of these things really have to do with Sparky's legacy. That's my job.
There are a wide range of events taking place in October. Have things like The Great Pumpkin Countdown and promotional contests taken a front seat for the time being?
I think with the Great Pumpkin Countdown, it's about people having fun. That is awareness. It's reminding people what the fun of all the things in "Peanuts" are, and in October it's the Great Pumpkin. The rest of it, like the books, are to satisfy people's interest in "Peanuts." People desire to know more information and get not just the daily comic strip but the daily strip along with some additional background, tidbits and everything else.
What's it been like to have a portrait of Charles in the National Portrait Gallery? That seems a very high honor.
It is very exciting. We were down there in April for a Christo retrospective in the American Art part of the museum, and it and the Portrait Gallery share the old Patent Office. It's a beautiful space. It's a great honor and, I think, a well-deserved honor. I think that Sparky is someone who is a true cultural icon in America and deserves to be there.
When "Peanuts" launched 60 years ago, comic strips were very much thought of as a transient medium. You had them in the paper for the day, and you read them, but that was all she wrote. Today, the way people look at the art of comic strips has changed, and "Peanuts" has been a big part of that. What do you make of the desire for so many to come back to the older strips and rediscover Sparky's work over the years?
What I tell people is that when the comic strip was appearing everyday, we took it for granted. If we read it today, we thought it was funny. If we knew Sparky, we said, "Gosh, that's funny. I loved it." And he got letters and whatever else. But in the ten years since his death, we've gone back and looked at the strips in greater depth. And of course, at the museum we organize the strips thematically, so when you look at that and see how a scene has changed over 50 years, it's quite dramatic. I say I'm "condemned" to keep learning more about the comic strip because I didn't take it seriously enough when Sparky was alive. That's sort of a joke, but it's true. You can go back over them again and again and look at them in different thematic settings.
I was just on "The Today Show," and they asked me, "You were married for 27 years - how has the comic strip changed?" Well, what does he really want to know? Does he want to know how it changed since we were married? Does he want to know how it changed since the beginning? We don't have time to explore all that. We know it changed from the beginning. We know that Snoopy was the biggest change, from a "dog-dog" to an abstract character who can represent anyone in his dream life. But Charlie Brown changed. Lucy changed. People criticized Sparky [in the later years], saying, "the strip has lost its bite." Well, yes it did. It was bitier in the '70s, and Lucy was bitier specifically. But if you keep doing the same things over and over again, Sparky would say "What's the use in that?" If the characters don't change in some ways and you're just doing the same strip over and over again, you're just doing Sluggo and Nancy. You're not doing "Peanuts." Sparky's life changed. He became a grandfather. He became more reflective. Lucy still had her crabbiness, but it was expressed in a different way -Â not quite so loud-mouthed. All those things are part of the way the strip changed, and it changed because he changed. He was a growing person.
We're doing something that we just installed, which is what I call the heart and soul of the museum. It's an exhibition whose official title isn't actually "Hits and Misses" but that's the idea -Â it's "Experiments in 'Peanuts.'" It shows people very clearly experiments that he tried. Among those are his lettering, where he'd do various things in the letters to signal a joke or a feeling, but then he discovered that he didn't need to do that. People understood the jokes without having to signal it. Then there's a part on people in the comic strip. There's a whole Sunday series where he had Lucy at a golf tournament, and he had skirts and legs showing physically how small she was. But again, he took all that out and simplified the strip. He tried a cat for maybe two weeks, but he said, "Can't have a cat in the strip, because it makes Snoopy a dog."