There is something so incredibly charming about the comics page of the newspaper. Here, in the middle of politics, tragedy, and change, are rows and rows of little boxes, each telling their very own story. Growing up I loved turning to this page and following the lives of the characters in Stone Soup, Luann, Zits, Mutts, and more. Until 2000 I enjoyed a fresh laugh and words of wisdom from a dog, a round headed kid, and others with Peanuts (my mom’s favorite strip), which had been going strong since 1950. Charles M. Schulz’s passing in 2000 was a blow to the comic community and anyone else who had been touched by his work through his strips and the variety of television specials. Thankfully his work has lived on with the 2015 film, and the new Apple+ TV show, but there is really no better place to appreciate and learn about the man behind the comic than the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.
It seems Schulz was destined to be in the comics. Just two days after he was born his uncle gave him the nickname “Sparky” after the horse Spark Plug in the comic strip Barney Google. Citing comic strips has one of his main sources of entertainment growing up, he expressed wanting to be a cartoonist early, and even applied to work at Disney. His talent was apparent at an early age, as he was published at just 14 in Ripley’s Believe it or Not, which was an illustration of his dog, Spike (a name he would later re-use for one of Snoopy’s brothers) and his ability to eat bizarre items. Later he continued to cultivate his artist skills through the Federal School of Applied Cartooning’s correspondence course.
After serving in the army during World War II, Schulz taught art, while also having his first weekly panel comic, Li’l Folks, beginning in 1947, which ran in his local paper and occasionally in the Saturday Evening Post. While it never really took off, he honed his skills, and on October 2, 1950, Peanuts debuted and eventually would go on to be read in over 2,600 newspapers. Just five years into Peanuts, Schulz received the Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year award from the prestigious National Cartoonist Society.
The museum features rotating exhibits, and is home to thousands of works of art by Schulz, from original strips to murals he painted in his homes for his children, which were painstakingly removed and transported to the museum, as well as a recreation of his office. This year marks what would have been Schulz’s 100th birthday, and an area currently showcases various original cartoons that influenced Schulz growing up. There are also several large scale works of art that pay homage to Schulz, including a mural of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. This mural is made up tiles featuring various Peanuts strips, each in their entirety, to make up the large image. It’s nothing short of impressive.
Just across the street from the museum is the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, also called Snoopy’s Home Ice, which was built and run by Schulz. It also features the Warm Puppy Cafe, where Schulz would eat breakfast and lunch during work days. His favorite table remains reserved in his honor. After touring the museum, we stopped at the Warm Puppy for lunch and then continued to Snoopy’s Gallery and Gift Shop which hosts the history of the ice rink, a skate shop, fantastic carpet tufted murals, as well as a range of Peanuts items to purchase.
This was actually my second visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum. My mom is obsessed with Peanuts, and we made a pilgrimage in 2002 when the museum opened. I was thrilled to return to see what had changed and what had stayed the same. If you’re interested in Peanuts or a better understanding the thought process behind what it takes to develop a daily comic strip, I highly recommend visiting.