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Jean Schulz: Why 'Peanuts' has staying power

Jean Schulz, the widow of “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz, works to preserve the legacy of her husband, whom she calls “Sparky.”She married Schulz in 1973; his second marriage. The couple was together until his death in 2000.

Jean Schulz serves as the board president of the Charles M. Schultz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., with a mission to preserve, display and interpret her husband’s art. Her blog is www.schulzmuseum.org/jeanschulz.

Q: How do you describe your husband to others?

A: He was a very curious man. He was a very hard worker and, obviously, he was extremely creative. His creativity had its own twist. He saw a side of things that most of us can’t see. If you read his comic strips, they are not the obvious jokes. There is always a twist at the end that makes it “Peanuts.”

Q: What was your relationship like?

A. I always say he was the best husband I could have asked for. He was adoring, but focused on his own work, which for me was perfect because I’m a busy person. I didn’t want him to butt into my life just as he didn’t want me to be over his shoulder in his studio, though he appreciated the interest. He had been drawing the strip for 23 years when we met. He knew what was funny. He knew what he could draw. He knew how to take an idea in his head and make it a comic strip.

Q. What specifically are you doing to preserve your husband’s legacy?

A. At the Schulz Museum, we want people to appreciate what goes into a comic strip. Typically, readers spend about four seconds, and think, “That’s funny!” We want people to understand how he was able to tell the story of the human condition through his characters for 50 years. It is appreciation and in guarding his legacy, we want to be sure we tell the story with authenticity.

Q. Why do you believe “Peanuts” became such a popular comic strip?

A. In the 50s, it was popular on college campuses. Young people grab onto new ideas and they are always questioning the culture. The comic strip questioned the thesis that little kids were always happy. But here we have a bunch of kids running around without parents. They are saying wise things. The young people fell in love with it. It matched their feelings that they were questioning everything. In the 60s, it was so creative with the Red Baron – a dog pretends he is flying an airplane from the top of a doghouse. It let people’s imaginations flower. They love imaginative literature, look at “Harry Potter.” It strikes out against tradition.

Q. Will “Peanuts” and the Charlie Brown characters still be favorites 30 or 50 years from now?

A. Yes and yes. I don’t know about 100 years – the world is changing so much. But I have a feeling, in our culture, in our western culture, the things that he discusses – the emotions and the values – are not going to change that much. People come to the comic strip at different stages of their life. They may overlook it when they are younger and wrapped up in other parts of the culture, but in their 30s and 40s, they are going to go back to a more traditional set of values as they raise a family. The strip deals with those. People will come back to it. I believe it has “staying power.”

Q. What issues would Schulz be exploring through “Peanuts” if he were still alive and doing the comic strip now?

A. He would have Woodstock tweeting. I could see a dozen jokes with that. He used to rail against the television news so now I think he would be making jokes about shows like “The Bachelor,” – and other crazy TV reality shows. He would still be dealing with the classics – Schroder and Beethoven, and baseball and hockey. He would have fun with technology, too. Can’t you just see Snoopy and Woodstock in a fight because one was “unfriending” the other?

Q. Who was your favorite “Peanuts” character? Were you the inspiration for any strips?

A. I don’t really have a favorite. I used to call Sparky my “sweet babboo,” and pretty soon, I noticed it in the comic strip. Sally calls Linus her “sweet babboo,” but she is not necessarily my favorite. I like them all for the humor they bring.

Q. Do you envision the family ever asking anyone to take up “Peanuts?”

A. No. It won’t be drawn by anyone else. No one else could draw “Peanuts.”

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