Nov 18, 2010

Top Ten Most Influential Comics Writers #7: Charles Schulz

Welcome to the first installment of our countdown of the top 10 most influential writers of all time! Click here for the archive!

Today's influential writer is Charles "Sparky" Schulz!

Why Is He #7?

Sometimes influence is so incredibly strong that you can't really imagine that things were ever any other way without the effects of said influence. The influence of Charles Schulz and PEANUTS, a strip about a bunch of kids, on the comic book industry is one such example.

Constrained for his daily strips to four panels per day, Schulz turned PEANUTS into a modern and visual haiku, where not everything was about a punchline, but rather about quiet and insightful observations on human nature.

Schulz's characters had an emotional complexity to them that, while not completely unheard of at the time, certainly wasn't as prevalent as it was until he popularized it. He took the stories away from the archetypes so famous back then and gave them to the underdogs, be it the lovable loser Charlie Brown:

Or the intelligent and insightful Linus Van Pelt, his grumpy older sister Lucy, the not-very-bright Peppermint Patty, or whoever else felt like the world didn't favor them. And people can relate, because the strip lasted for fifty years.

There was also a psychological complexity as it pertained to the characters' interpersonal dynamics. Lucy is usually mean to Linus, but in what is an inexplicable show of their brotherly/sisterly bond, this happens:

And it feels real because, psychologically speaking, it's something that a lot of siblings can relate to.

Schulz should also be given credit for the crossover appeal of comics. Because, specifically, of Snoopy, Charlie Brown's faithful beagle, PEANUTS became a merchandising phenomenon, with TV shows,a broadway musical, and even a themed restaurant in Hong Kong, among other such products. Not to say that Snoopy himself was just a cash cow (or... dog). Snoopy had just as much complexity as the rest of the characters, and he was the vehicle for which Schulz exercised the readers' imagination. Snoopy had adventures without leaving his kennel, such as when he was a World War II flying ace, off to defend the country's skies against the Red Baron:

You know you're influential when you get made into a stamp.

For putting characters first, for making comics more than just a punchline, for his effects on the crossover appeal of comics, and for psychological complexity in such a simple package, Charles Schulz is number 7.

Where Can I See His Influence?

In TOP SHELF ASKS THE BIG QUESTIONS, you'll find testimonials from such artists as Chris Ware, Bill Griffith, Tony Millionaire, Dylan Horrocks, and Seth paying tribute to PEANUTS.

Focusing on the underdog was so new, and to this day, some professionals and fans alike will call someone like Spider-Man "a costumed Charlie Brown," because he too can be classified as "a lovable loser." And certainly, anyone who tried combining a superficially humorous strip with insights and observations on the real world was influenced by PEANUTS. Although I can name more, the most obvious example is, of course, Bill Watterson's CALVIN AND HOBBES.

But on the whole, PEANUTS was so pervasive that its influence can be felt anywhere.

What Works of His Should I Read?

PEANUTS is Schulz's only significant work, and it's enough. You can get a daily dose on, and you can also get the COMPLETE PEANUTS, being put out by Fantagraphics:

Who's next on the list? Come back tomorrow for the sixth most influential comics writer of all time, same Cube time, same Cube channel!

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