Comic Strip Retires

When Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts reached the end of its weekday run on January 3, 2000, the event marked the end of the career of one of the greatest comic-strip artists of the second half of the twentieth century.

Summary of Event

The comic strip Peanuts made its newspaper debut in 1950. At a time when newspaper comics were increasingly becoming team efforts and often were losing all connection to their original creators, Charles M. Schulz drew and wrote every line of Peanuts for the fifty years it appeared, a total of more than seventeen thousand daily and Sunday comic strips. Peanuts—a title the strip’s original syndicators foisted on Schulz and that he loathed as meaningless—first appeared in only seven papers, including the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and Schulz’s hometown Minneapolis Star-Tribune. By the time Schulz retired, Peanuts was appearing in more than twenty-five hundred newspapers. Comic strips;Peanuts
Peanuts (Schulz)
[kw]Peanuts Comic Strip Retires (Jan. 3, 2000)
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[g]United States;Jan. 3, 2000: Peanuts Comic Strip Retires[10580]
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Schulz, Charles M.

When he began drawing Peanuts, Schulz’s distinctive style was influenced by the single-panel gag and montage comics he had been creating for magazines. The rigid four-panel format he adhered to in Peanuts for most of the strip’s run and his deceptively simple style of drawing, with little detail, would be imitated over and over, although seldom with Schulz’s flair. One of the commercial advantages of Schulz’s style was that Peanuts could be shrunk to take up less space on the page than could detail-heavy adventure strips such as Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon and Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, an important selling point when the strip was initially sold to newspapers. The four-panel format was also versatile in that it could be published as a single vertical or horizontal strip or in a two-by-two grid.

Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, whose comic strip Peanuts made its newspaper debut in 1950 and retired fifty years later, shows a sketch of his famous character Snoopy in his office in Santa Rosa, California, in 1997.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Adults were rigorously excluded from physically appearing in the strip; the cast was composed entirely of children and animals, and the perspective was one that looked on the children as a peer rather than looking down on them from an adult point of view. The classic cast of Peanuts characters—including the hapless Charlie Brown and his dog, Snoopy, and the crabby Lucy van Pelt and her brother Linus—was established at the beginning or in the first few years of the strip’s run. Over time, Charlie Brown, originally a wisecracking prankster, became a stoic Everyman, suffering the numerous defeats the universe—or his fellow characters—inflicted on him with endurance, persistence, and even wit. Snoopy, originally a standard dog, developed a rich fantasy life that included imagining himself, sitting atop his doghouse, as a World War I flying ace piloting his Sopwith Camel. It was typical of the strip’s pessimism that even in his imagination Snoopy was usually shot down by the never-seen Red Baron. Schulz continued to introduce new characters throughout the strip’s run, including the tomboy Peppermint Patty and Snoopy’s friend Woodstock, a bird.

Schulz also introduced a number of situations and images in Peanuts that became iconic. Two of the most famous are those of Charlie Brown lining up to kick a football held by Lucy, who invariably pulls it away at the last minute, and Linus with his “security blanket.” That phrase passed from Peanuts into the English language—an accomplishment in which Schulz took great pride.

The Peanuts characters, particularly Charlie Brown and Snoopy, became pop culture icons, and the strip became a marketing juggernaut. It was reprinted in numerous formats and became the basis for a Broadway musical (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, first produced in 1971) as well as numerous television specials, the most famous the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown Christmas, A (television program) which made its debut in 1965 and became an annual staple of the Christmas season. Peanuts characters appeared as dolls and on napkins, sweatshirts, greeting cards, posters, coffee mugs, and myriad other items. Perhaps the high point for the Peanuts characters occurred when the Apollo 10 mission to the moon dubbed its command module “Charlie Brown” and the lunar landing module “Snoopy.”

Schulz and his syndicate further capitalized on the success of the Peanuts characters by licensing them to appear in advertising and promotional materials for products, beginning with a camera handbook for Kodak in 1955 and eventually including Dolly Madison snack cakes and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Peanuts was a pioneer in the kind of product licensing that would increasingly dominate popular culture in the late twentieth century, and Schulz became a very rich man, earning thirty to forty million dollars a year, much of which he gave away.

The popularity of Peanuts extended far beyond the United States; the strips were translated and published in dozens of languages. In addition, Peanuts attracted interest from intellectuals in Europe, including the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco. In 1990, an exhibition of Schulz’s work titled Snoopy in Fashion opened at the Louvre in Paris, making Schulz the first comic-strip artist to be so honored.

As Schulz suffered from deteriorating health through the 1990’s, he was forced to make changes in Peanuts. Although he continued to introduce new characters and situations, he increasingly shifted from his usual four-panel format to three- or even one-panel layouts, minimizing the effort of drawing backgrounds and characters. Schulz’s worsening health eventually forced his retirement. Hospitalized for a stroke in November, 1999, he was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. His vision lost clearness, and he lost some mental acuity. Chemotherapy for his condition nauseated him, and his prognosis was poor. He announced his retirement on December 14, 1999, and the last daily Peanuts strip appeared on January 3, 2000. Schulz died on February 12, 2000, the day before his final Sunday Peanuts strip appeared. That strip included a tribute from Schulz to his characters.

On May 27, 2000, the same day Schulz was posthumously honored with the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Cartoonists Society, a tribute to Schulz and Peanuts appeared on newspaper comics pages, as nearly one hundred syndicated cartoonists incorporated references to Peanuts into their own strips. The tribute was organized by Mike Luckovich, an editorial cartoonist for the Atlanta Constitution. Among the many participating cartoonists were Darby Conley (Get Fuzzy), Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks), and Lynn Johnston (For Better or for Worse).


The end of Schulz’s original strips was not the end of Peanuts on the comics pages. The strip’s syndicator, the United Feature Syndicate, did not pass the strip on to another creator—the idea of Peanuts being written and drawn by someone other than Schulz would have shocked fans—but it kept old strips appearing in newspapers under the label Classic Peanuts. In addition, the Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphics announced an ambitious project to reprint the entire newspaper run of Peanuts in twenty-five volumes.

The end of Peanuts was a milestone in the decline of the newspaper comic strip as a cultural and artistic medium in the twentieth century. Although some of the creators who emerged in the 1980’s and 1990’s, such as Bill Watterson Watterson, Bill (Calvin and Hobbes) and Gary Larson Larson, Gary (The Far Side), were Schulz’s peers as artists and writers, none were willing to devote themselves to the medium for decade after decade as Schulz had. The fact that even reruns of Peanuts were more popular than many new strips demonstrated that Schulz could not be replaced on the comics page. Comic strips;Peanuts
Peanuts (Schulz)

Further Reading

  • Michaelis, David. Schulz and “Peanuts”: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. First full-length biography of the creator of Peanuts discusses Schulz’s artistic development and how the comic strip’s story lines were influenced by his upbringing and his life experiences.
  • Schulz, Charles M. The Complete Peanuts, 1950-1952. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2004. First volume in a planned series reprinting the entire run of Peanuts includes a biographical essay by David Michaelis and a lengthy and revealing interview with Schulz from 1987.
  • _______. Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz. Edited by Chip Kidd. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003. Presents discussion of Schulz’s artistic development throughout his career, accompanied by Schulz’s thoughts on his characters and style. Includes reproductions of Peanuts art and Peanuts-related items including dolls, comic books, and advertisments.
  • _______. Peanuts 2000. New York: Ballantine, 2000. Collection of the last year of Peanuts includes the final strips.
  • Short, Robert L. The Gospel According to Peanuts. 1965. Reprint. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000. Presents an interpretation of Peanuts characters and situations in terms of Christian themes and allegories.
  • Warnock, Brett, and Robert Goodin, eds. Top Shelf Asks the Big Questions. Marietta, Ga.: Top Shelf Productions, 2003. Anthology of graphic stories includes a lengthy section of written and drawn tributes to Schulz and Peanuts from art cartoonists including Tony Millionaire, Chris Ware, and Seth. Many of these tributes originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman.

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