The very first 'Peanuts' comic strip appeared on 2 October, 1950, and was created by Charles Schulz. The strip started in seven newspapers, was seen in 2000 by 1984, and continued until the creator retired in 1999. The strip even appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records as appearing in more newspapers than any other. At the peak of the strip's popularity, it had over 350 million readers in over 40 languages, and Charles Schulz was earning over $30 million US dollars a year from licensing deals.
Interestingly, Charles Schulz commented in an interview that he was never happy with the 'Peanuts' title for the strip, and would have preferred it if the strip had been simply called 'Charlie Brown and Snoopy'.
Charles Schulz was born on 26 November, 1922, and grew up in St Paul, Minnesota. Nicknamed 'Sparky', he excelled in elementary school, skipping grades here and there. Small and lonely in junior high, he buried himself in comic books, but felt that his peers and teachers undervalued him. Even as an adult, he never quite overcame the hurt of having his artwork rejected from the high school yearbook.
His mother died of colon cancer when he was 20, just as he was entering World War II as a private in the army. After the war, he married and had five children, and moved to California. Over the course of his life, he struggled with depression, anxiety, and phobias, which limited his ability to interact with the public. Still, he tried to stay involved with his fans, responding devotedly to correspondence. And he stayed in touch with his community, giving generously to charities - he even built and subsidized a local ice skating rink for children in his area.
After a stroke in 1999, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Charles Schulz died on 12 February, 2000, at the age of 77.
Characters of the Peanuts Gang
The 'Peanuts' cartoon strips and films are populated by children and some animals. While adults are occasionally mentioned (or heard squawking in the background in the films), they are never actually seen.
Charlie Brown has been the major player in the Peanuts gang since the very first strip, in which he was referred to as 'Good Ol' Charlie Brown'. Over the years, we've seen him battle his anxieties about kites, baseball games, and the little red-headed girl. He was called 'blockhead' by Lucy for the first time in 1958, and that soon became a recurring theme.
Lucy first appeared on 3 March, 1952, and has been antagonising Charlie Brown with her bossy and crabby ways ever since. She's also madly in love with Schroeder, to no avail.
Linus arrived on the strip on 19 September, 1952, as Lucy's little brother. By 1954, he was already known for his trademark security blanket.
Sally is Charlie Brown's younger sister, and is clearly the airhead of the gang. She first appeared on 23 August, 1959, as a newborn, but quickly grew to become 'one of the gang'. She is infatuated with Linus, who she calls her 'Sweet Babboo', much to his dismay.
Schroeder first appeared on 30 May, 1951, and has always been associated with his piano and his love of Beethoven. Many of the strips featuring Schroeder focus on his futile attempts at rebuffing Lucy's advances.
Peppermint Patty didn't arrive on the strip until 22 August, 1966. As quite the tomboy, she excels at baseball and other sports, but struggles in school, even with the help of her friend Marcie. She calls Charlie Brown 'Chuck', and is sweet on him in an awkward and gangly way.
Marcie first arrived on 16 June, 1968, and is Peppermint Patty's opposite - she fails miserably at sports and excels in the classroom - yet they become fast friends at summer camp. Marcie insists on always calling Peppermint Patty 'Sir', and has a secret crush on Charlie Brown.
Pig Pen came on the 'Peanuts' scene on 13 July, 1954, and is (quite simply) the messy one. However, the ideas on Pig Pen ran dry relatively quickly, and he later began to disappear from the strip.
Franklin first appeared in the strip on 31 July, 1968, and shocked some readers by having notably darker skin than the others in the Peanuts gang. He plays on Peppermint Patty's baseball team.
Rerun is Linus' and Lucy's little brother, and first appeared on 26 March, 1973.
Snoopy the beagle first appeared in the strip on 4 October, 1950, and was Charlie Brown's dog. By the mid-1960s, he was already known for stealing Linus' blanket, sleeping on top of his doghouse, and his floundering attempts as an author. Snoopy came from the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, and his siblings Spike, Belle, Olaf, and Marbles show up in occasional strips and films. Charlie Brown loves Snoopy, but sometimes wonders why he can't have a normal dog like everyone else.
Woodstock was a little yellow bird who first appeared on 4 April, 1967, and if it's possible for a pet to have a pet, Woodstock was Snoopy's pet. Woodstock never actually uses words in the strip, and instead talks in a birdspeak represented by exclamation points and other assorted punctuation marks.
Common Themes in the Cartoons
Lucy persuades Charlie Brown to punt a football she's holding, and yanks away the ball at the last second, leaving Charlie Brown to go flying when his foot doesn't connect with the ball. He falls for this one every single time, although sometimes Lucy needs to be pretty manipulative.
Charlie Brown suffers anxiety attacks on the pitchers' mound during their baseball games, which aren't helped by Lucy telling him what a blockhead he is.
Snoopy steals Linus' blanket.
Lucy tries to distract Schroeder from his Beethoven with her flirting.
Charlie Brown and Linus philosophizing about life.
Peppermint Patty repeatedly performs poorly in school, earning D- after D-, only to be consoled by Marcie.
Charlie Brown moons over the absolutely perfect (but never actually seen) 'little red-headed girl'.
Snoopy types away on his little typewriter, attempting to be the Great American Author, including many puns and clichés along the way.
Sally misinterprets what the other kids say, to comic results.
Lucy puts out a shingle and provides 'psychiatric help and counseling' for all comers, but especially for Charlie Brown.
Snoopy pretends to be a WWI fighter pilot.
The Cartoon Films
Starting in the mid-1960s, there were more than 40 made-for-television or straight-to-video cartoon films of the Peanut gang, the most famous being those centred around common holidays1. Many of the cartoon films were developed from storylines that started in the comic strips.
In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown ends up as the director of the school Christmas pageant while struggling to find the meaning of Christmas. It won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program for 1965.
In It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Linus stays up all night in the pumpkin patch waiting for the mysterious 'Great Pumpkin'. Sally, who has a crush on him, impatiently waits the vigil with him, while the other children enjoy trick-or-treating and a Halloween party.
In A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown invites all his friends over to a Thanksgiving feast, but makes the mistake of engaging Snoopy and Woodstock as the 'caterers'.
The Musical - You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
And yes, the 'Peanuts' comic strip was even developed into a Broadway musical featuring the favorites from the gang. The musical was first produced on Broadway in the 1960s, and had a revival in 1999. And the musical was then later turned into one of the made-for-television cartoon films, songs and all.
Of course, all of those licensing deals resulted in not only cute trinkets and stickers for children, but collector's items for hobbyists as well. There are 'Peanuts' clothes, jewellery, kitchen items, outdoor items, pet supplies, stationery supplies, and almost everything else you can stick a picture of a cartoon dog on, and many of these are hot items on the collector's market.