What better way to start your morning than waking up to the scent of a freshly brewed coffee and a freshly printed newspaper? And, if you were a kid, that newspaper would expressly be for the purposes of purveying your favorite comic strip, whether it be Garfield, Calvin & Hobbs, or Pearls Before Swine. The syndicated comic strip was several kids' entryway into the wonderful world of comics and cartooning. And, from the later 1950s to the 90s, one would be hard-pressed to find someone more influential in that world—at least for comic strips—than Charles Monroe Schulz, the creator of Peanuts.
For decades, Peanuts has provided its readers with a more-than-idyllic experience for a comic strip, showing quick-witted and deadpan humor, as well as more than its fair share of award-winning cartoon specials and movies. Though it has been nearly 20 years since Schulz' passing, now's a good time as ever to run down a few of the lesser-known facts about the man behind the pen.
8 His Childhood Nickname was Sparky
This may be one of the more well-known facts considering that some of his works are signed "Sparky," but not everyone may know the exact reason why. When Charles Schulz was born in a small town in Minnesota, almost in premonition of his future career, his uncle nicknamed him "Sparky" after the famous cartoon horse Spark Plug from Billy DeBeck's Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. Barney Google, during its time, was also a major comic strip who saw similar proliferation as Peanuts, as it had its own movies, cartoons, and even the hit record, "Come On, Spark Plug!"
7 He Was A Child Hood Prodigy, But Fizzled Out In High School
Any Peanuts fan can tell you that the idiosyncratic tone of Charlie Brown is one of failure and self-deprecation. While Charles Schulz didn't necessarily live a poor and difficult life, it was one filled with its fair share of failure. One such fall was set up early in childhood when a young Schulz was found to be so smart that he was allowed to skip a few grades during school, so much so that he became the smallest kid in high school.
However, brilliance has its limits, as he began to lag behind during his high school years as the stress and pressure got to him, and he would soon fail several of his subjects, leading to him actually being held back considerably. Such school woes can be heard in several Peanuts storylines such as Charlie Brown's dilemma to write a paper over winter break that everyone else is miraculously able to write within a day.
6 He Was a Staff Sergeant During World War II
Little did fans know that the man who invented the football gag had a license to kill. Yes, during a tumultuous time in world history, Charles Schulz was drafted to fight in WWII, where he was soon assigned to lead a machine gun troupe. From there, Charlie Brown antics would ensue, as Schulz would fail at the two opportunities that he had to shoot.
One was when his platoon found an enemy soldier hiding in a hole. As he swung his gun, Schulz would soon find that he actually forgot to load his gun. In the other instance, he was requested to shoot down an enemy building but actually felt too bad to do so because a dog was passing by. The enemy soldier would actually surrender, and the building was found to be empty, but just know that the creator of Peanuts is exactly who you think he would be.
5 Charlie Brown Was One Of His Students
When Schulz returned home after completing his service, he would soon put his artistic skills to use, working on lettering for a Catholic comic magazine and as an art teacher at Art Instruction, Inc. It was during this time that Schulz just tried to stay afloat, as he tried to get his comic writing career going full time. While many of his submissions failed to see syndication, it wasn't until he met a specially named student in one of his classes that Schulz saw a pivot in his career.
That student's name was Charlie Brown, who Schulz graciously asked to use his name and would later become haunted by the fact for the rest of his life, even infamously during a job interview. Schulz is famous for creating characters from just liking a name alone, such as Peppermint Patty or Carlos Peterson, but Charlie Brown was special; and, if you didn't catch it, was totally real.
4 He Hated The Name 'Peanuts'
As far as an artist comprising their art goes, this one's pretty tame. Schulz' original name for his beloved comic strip was "Li'l Folks," which was, unfortunately, being used by another strip. Not seeing a need to consult it with Schulz himself, his syndicate unilaterally changed his strip's name to Peanuts as it went to print. There you have it. Like Bleach, there's no big meaning behind the name besides random, corporate oversight, and Charles Schulz infamously hated it.
3 He Studied A Lot To Write The Strip
Comic writing is not as brain-rotting as many elementary school teachers may lead us to believe. Many of them are filled with thoughtful and studied cultural context, even in something as minuscule as the panels of a comic strip. Many people already know that Schulz makes strong references to the pianist Ludwig van Beethoven and the ace WWI pilot the Red Baron. Schroeder infamously skipped school one day in remembrance of Beethoven's birthday as a national holiday, and Snoopy's dog fights (pun intended) with the Red Baron are treated as important pieces of animation.
Little did fans know that these references didn't come out of a superficial vacuum. Schulz has stated that he would have felt guilty about referencing these characters without research and had entire bookshelves in his studio dedicated to studying Beethoven, the Red Baron, and other Peanuts references.
2 He Was Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor ...Among Other Things
This should go without saying, but Charles Schulz is a beloved figure in American pop culture. So much so that, upon his death, it was petitioned among the U.S. government to posthumously award him the Congressional Gold Medal. His home town, just in time for 2015's The Peanuts Movie, even inaugurated their native son his very own holiday, October 20th, "Charles M. Schulz Day."
Other accolades include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, several Annie, Peabody, and Lifetime Achievement awards, and even an entire museum, the Charles M. Schulz Museum. Perhaps best of all, his old high school, whose yearbook rejected his drawings during his time there, built a five-foot statue of Snoopy in his honor.
1 He Drew With Shaky Hands In The 80s
Charles Schulz is a man with several troubles, but none as identifiable as his struggle with Essential Tremor during the later years of his career. While drawing, he'd often find it difficult to maintain steady lines as his hands would consistently shake, showing early signs of his debilitating health. While physical and health issues have restricted and even ended the careers of some comic artists, Schulz persisted and worked at improving his hand and process. So much so that the comic historians are even able to date a Peanuts strip based on the fineness of the linework, as strips from the 80s and onward would see a gradual improvement in the fineness of the lines. For a tiny comic strip, there was a huge labor of love behind Peanuts.