SANTA ROSA, Calif.--It's hard to believe, but Saturday is the 60th anniversary of "Peanuts," Charles M. Schulz's wonderful comic strip. That means characters like Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang are now entering their seventh decade.
To celebrate, and as part of his ongoing Road Trip at Home series, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman took a visit to this wine country city to visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, the official home to much of the archive and artifacts that make up the "Peanuts" universe.
The museum features a series of rotating exhibits, including those that celebrate some of the experiments that Schulz tried--and rejected--in his strips, as well as a group of terrific sculptures, and other memorabilia.
This is "Mr. Joe Debonair" by artists Gail Robertson and Barbara Rossini, installed next door to the museum at "Snoopy's Home Ice," the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which was built by Schulz in 1969 and is still owned and operated by his family.
Schulz himself died in February 2000, just months before groundbreaking took place for the museum. The museum officially opened its doors in 2002.
One small exhibit at the museum is called "Charlie Brown and the EPA," and includes many of the strips that made up a series in which the beloved character got in trouble with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for taking a bite out of the kite-eating tree, as seen in this strip.
According to the museum, "roughly 10,000 drawings are needed to produce a half hour of animation, yet acetate cels from some of the earlier animated specials are quite rare. Some of the artwork was lost because cels were actually 'washed' or erased and used again and again. Cels are also, by virtue of their chemical compositions, difficult to preserve.
"After searching for cels from the classic 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' in 2005, museum staff believed that only one or two cels had survived the intervening 40 years. Then in the summer of 2008, a friend of [Charles M.] Schulz's son, Craig, made a generous donation to the museum of several animation cels from 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' and 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.' As a young teenager, this generous donor was in the right place at the right time and saved the animation cels from oblivion. Schulz, cleaning up after a fire in his studio, was ready to toss them in the trash until the teenager...stepped forward to save them."
This is "Mona Lucy," which is hanging on the wall in the gift shop next to the museum. A sign hanging with the painting does not identify the artist, but it does say that it was painted to celebrate Charles M. Schulz's 67th birthday, in 1989. "It is believed that her smile represents the pleasure and joy her creator has brought to millions of people since 1950," the sign reads. "Another theory is that she is merely reflecting on a time when she pulled a pigskin away from one of her contemporaries."
A new exhibit that will be installed in the museum through February 21, 2011, is called "Searching out new territory: Experiments in Peanuts." According to the museum, "Experimentation is a part of any artist's work, and Charles Schulz was no exception. He experimented in areas as diverse as lettering and backgrounds, but the area of greatest exploration was with the development of his characters."
In this Sunday strip, we see something that was almost never seen in "Peanuts," actual adults. Though we only see their legs, it is almost jarring to see them at all, given how the only characters included in nearly all of the 17,897 strips in the series are children and animals.
Schulz tried out the experiment over four Sundays in May 1954 and later decided it was a mistake.
"Peanuts" fans will recall that characters often mused over ideas while standing at a stone wall. But in the early days of the strip, Schulz had them sitting on a curb instead. As a sign in the museum reads, quoting Schulz from 1975's "Peanuts Jubilee," "'I was always overly cautious with my own children, worrying constantly of their becoming injured, or worse, in some mishap. When I began to draw the kids in the strip talking to each other, the obvious pose was to show them sitting on the curb...[however] I was always sensitive about showing them...[there] where they could easily get run over.'...The [strip] in this case [is an example] of [one] of the poses Schulz experimented with before he came up with the idea of the kids standing at the wall, which he introduced in 1956."
Most people think of Charlie Brown as insecure and not well liked. But in the early years, as shown by this strip and others in the collection, the character actually began as somewhat arrogant and full of himself.
Braun was so unpopular that many readers wrote to Schulz to express their displeasure with her. Schulz took those letters seriously and decided to get rid of the character, as expressed in this letter of response to a fan, in which he says he's giving Braun "the ax."
Schulz and artist Christo collaborated on a bit of mutual admiration. In the strip, Snoopy is reading about Christo, who was known for wrapping things like bridges and buildings, and wondering what the artist's next project would be.