Did you pick up Peanuts 1 yesterday? If you love all ages books, you should have. The first issue of this ongoing KABOOM! monthly features new stories by Vicki Scott, Paige Braddock, Shane Houghton and Matt Whitlock--and original Charles Schulz stories of course. In fact, Braddock wears many hats on this project. First off, she is the creative director of Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates. Secondly Braddock (also creator of the ensemble comedy comic strip, Jane's World) inks the stories, as well provides colors on the cover. Anytime an all ages title like this new release from the KABOOM! gang (in partnership with Peanuts Worldwide) comes out, I want to shout it from the rooftops. On a personal level, I am overjoyed to interview Braddock in this brief email interview, as I have been a fan of her work since her days many, many years ago--on staff as an illustrator at my local newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As much as I wanted to interview her some about Jane's World and The Martian Confederacy (her collaboration with Jason McNamera), I opted to make the focus of today's interview on Peanuts. My thanks to Braddock for her time.
Tim O'Shea: Were you involved in selecting the other writers of the stories, such as Shane Houghton and Vicki Scott?
Paige Braddock: Shane Houghton was selected by Boom, but I was familiar with his other work on Reed Gunther. Shane also did some test pages for Boom and we reviewed those at the studio. I met Vicki Scott during the Happiness is a Warm Blanket graphic novel project. It’s a funny story actually... I had met her husband, Bob, who was at the time an animator at Pixar. I knew his work and contacted him about working on the graphic novel. He was pretty busy so he suggested that maybe his wife could help out. I was thinking to myself, his wife?! Then of course his wife, Vicki, turned out to be this incredibly talented artist. Since that first project, she and I have collaborated on a couple of children’s books based on the Peanuts characters. Vicki also turned out to be quite gifted at writing and capturing the “voice and tone” of these characters.
O'Shea: What is the key to capturing the spirit of the classic Peanuts tales without blatantly trying to copy the late Charles Schulz?
Braddock: I think we are still working very hard to figure that out. Part of the equation is taking stories from the comic strip and adapting them by creating more cinematic scenes and character images from maybe a different viewpoint. Keeping true to the stories while creating art scenes and staging that you might not encounter in the comic strip. We’re also doing some short original stories which we review by committee here at the studio to make sure we stay on model. Lex Fajardo is the project manager for these books. He and our art director, Iain Morris, contribute in keeping us on track. Once we’ve run a story and thumbnails through our proofing process here we send them to Boom for their editorial review. This series really is a group effort. We also include some “pure Schulz” work in each issue. There are at least 3 Sunday comics that run in each monthly book. We figure most kids don’t read newspapers so at least this will give them a chance to encounter Schulz, unfiltered by other writers and artists.
O'Shea: I always thought the coloring on Peanuts Sunday strips were distinctly unique, are there certain colors that you avoid when telling a Peanuts tale?
Braddock: If you look at collections, like the 25th anniversary Peanuts book, the Sunday color is really vibrant and sort of unpredictable. I think Schulz wasn’t afraid to use bright colors or to use them in an unconventional way. Like, a pink sky, for example. Erin Samuels, who worked with Schulz has done the color Sunday work for at least the last 15 years. I think she’s done a good job of following his lead. For the comic books, we’ve had a lot of discussion about color. Just simply as a result of size and print quality we can do more with color for the comic books than we can do in newsprint, which tops out at 150 dpi. The majority view is that we’d like to push the envelope a little in terms of color and application (textures, fades, ect.) but we don’t want to use too many gimmicks that would distract viewers from Schulz’s simple character design. It’s going to be a balancing act for sure. When I first started working here at the studio I did some one-on-one Sunday color work with Sparky (Schulz). I was the first one to really use the computer to enhance the color on the strip. Sparky definitely was open to experimentation. He wanted to try things that I would have thought were too “out there,” but he clearly liked trying new things.
O'Shea: What makes the Peanuts universe (and its characters) so timeless?
Braddock: The short answer I think is “universal themes.” Schulz tapped into some collective experience that enables Peanuts characters to resonate just as much with a school teacher in Iowa as a business man in Japan. That’s a pretty amazing feat. I personally think it’s not just the universal themes, but the depth in which he deals with them. Schulz managed to achieve a certain level of depth within the discourse in the comic strip, without it seeming forced or trite. Peanuts seems real. I think it seems so real because Schulz put so much of his personal feelings, insecurities and doubts into each character. It seems real because it is real, if that makes sense. That sort of authenticity takes personal bravery and I think his vast readership obviously appreciated that authentic, voice.
O'Shea: How hard was it to work on the Peanuts story in between the other projects you are working on?
Braddock: It’s actually been a lot of fun. For me, this job started out as an art job. I was hired by Schulz to do illustration work. The job got sort of side tracked after Schulz retired, and I was asked to do a lot more “direction” and less hands-on artwork. So I’m really glad to be finally back to doing what I was hired to do. After 12 years at the studio, I’m a lot better at drawing the characters than I was when I started.
O'Shea: Anything we should discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
Braddock: There hasn’t been a Peanuts comic book series since Dell published comics back in the 1960s. As a fan of both comic books and Peanuts, I’m glad that comic shops will once again have Peanuts on their shelves. As a comic reader, I think Peanuts will be a breath of fresh air in terms of material that’s suitable for all ages. Some of the super hero stuff has gotten so dark and violent that speaking as a comic book fan, I’m glad there will be a “happy” alternative on the shelf.