You can do it, Charlie Brown

In 1950 Charles Schultz, invented the Peanuts characters – Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and company.

But Charlie Brown was not born a loser. When Charles Schultz created Peanuts he had a different idea in mind altogether for Charlie Brown. “When I first started Charlie Brown”, wrote Schultz, “I didn’t know he was going to lose all the time. When he began he was slightly flippant, a kind of bouncy character. He was able to come back with a wise saying to the other characters.”

But as the comic strip developed Schultz started to pour more of his own personality and experiences into Charlie Brown. Schultz himself was the loser and Charlie Brown simply reflected that fact.

Not that Charles Schultz started life as a loser himself. Just the opposite. At school the young Schultz  “Sparky” as he was called  was obviously blessed with outstanding talent. His teachers thought he needed more challenging work so they promoted him up two grades.

It turned out to be a big mistake!

For the rest of his school life Sparky was the youngest, smallest, shyest kid in his class. And he suffered because of it. Every lunch time he ate his peanut butter sandwiches alone. He never got invited to birthday parties. He was always picked last for the footy team.

He went through school feeling like a loser. When graduation time came he had one last hope of redemption. He loved drawing so he submitted some of his drawings for publication to the high school annual. He was promised his drawing would be included. When Sparky eagerly thumbed through his copy of the Annual though, he was bitterly disappointed. His drawings had been left out.

Disillusioned and hurt Sparky dropped out. While others went off to College he went looking for a job. He struggled to find work, so his mother suggested a correspondence course in cartooning. After all, he loved to draw. Besides, in a correspondence course he would be the only one in his class. He would still have lunch on his own but without any feelings of rejection.

After the course, a frustrating year followed as Sparky struggled to find permanent work. But he stuck to his task. Cartooning was all he really wanted to do and his persistence eventually paid off. His hometown paper, the Saturday Evening Post, picked up his cartoons. The Post started to run his cartoons regularly. After several years contributing to the Post, Sparky felt confident enough to approach the editor about a daily spot in the paper.

It could only happen to Charlie Brown – and Charles Schultz. Instead of promoting Schultz, the editor decided to let him go altogether. Sparky got the sack!

Sparky’s love life was no better. He fell in love with a redhaired girl. Life was looking up. When he proposed marriage she confessed she was in love too, with another man.

Unloved, unmarried and unemployed, Sparky was back out knocking on doors. He continued to send off ideas, suggestions, and proposals to newspapers looking for work. The overwhelming response was always the same: “Thanks but no thanks.”

But Sparky wouldn’t be put off. He wrote to United Features Syndicate in New York, the world’s leading newspaper syndicate. United Feature Syndicate received hundreds of cartoon proposals every year but only ever picked one in a thousand for publication. In 1950 it picked Charles Schultz’s strip, and Peanuts, was born.

But Peanuts was no overnight success. The comic strip struggled for years to have any real impact on readers.

Then something magical happened. Schultz started to pour more and more of himself into Charlie Brown. All the misery, all the loneliness, all the rejection was funnelled into the character.

Everything that had happened to Sparky Schultz started happening to Charlie Brown. But instead of being twisted and bitter, as you might expect, Charlie Brown emerged as a lovable person that people could easily identify with.

Like a medieval alchemist turning lead into gold, Schultz took all the base elements of his own life, the rejections, the disappointments, all the failures, the insecurities and feelings of inferiority and he started to produce characters and situations that people could relate to. He turned his own dead ends and frustrations into a humorous, up lifting comic strip that millions of people around the world enjoyed every day.

Schultz learnt the art of alchemy, turning the dross in his life into something precious. It is not an art that can be copied. It is not an art that can be taught. Each must discover their own way of doing it. But if you are one of 355 million people worldwide who read the Peanuts comic strip every day you know one thing for sure. It can be done Charlie Brown!
© “Stand on the shoulders of giants” 2007 well imagine that


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