Very few people recognize Charles Schultz by his photo, but millions identify with his name as soon as they hear it. As a young boy, he was known as Sparky after a comic-strip horse named Sparkplug.
This young man struggled every day throughout his school years. In fact, he failed every subject in the 8th grade. In high school he flunked Latin, Algebra, and English, and he flunked Physics with the lowest sore in his school’s history.
He did very poorly in sports, few people talked to him at all, and he was known by students and faculty alike as a loser by every possible measure. Although most who knew him saw no value, he believed he was blessed with a natural talent: his ability to draw. While very proud of his drawings, no one else shared his view. In fact, his high school yearbook rejected a series of cartoons he submitted in his senior year.
His only art training evolved from a correspondence course he completed after graduating from high school. He always dreamed of being a cartoonist at Walt Disney Studios and wrote them a letter in hopes of achieving that goal. Disney requested a sample of his work. He spent days creating a portfolio, forwarded it to Disney and soon received a heart-breaking form letter turning him down.
Little did he know at the time but this dire disappointment became the turning point in his life. He was again reminded that he was a loser. As a result, he decided to draw his autobiography in cartoons focusing on a chronic underachiever. He created a little boy whose kite would never fly and whose destiny and total blind trust in his friends prevented him from ever being able to kick a football. However, the entire world would come to know and love this little guy whose name was Charlie Brown.
Sparky’s real name was Charles Schultz and his “Peanuts” cartoon strip began in 1948 and went on to be one of the most popular cartoon strips in history. When it ended 52 years later in 2000, it was running in 2,600 newspapers in 21 languages with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries. He even earned his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He drew every single strip by hand which earned him, together with merchandise, TV specials, and theater and stage musicals, more than $1 billion.
Remember his loyal beagle Snoopy, Woodstock, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, Franklin, Sally Brown, Schroeder, Pigpen, Frieda, and the Great Pumpkin? Schultz originally called his strip about Charlie Brown and his Friends “Li’l Folks.” However, he quickly discovered that this title was far too close to the names of two other popular comics of the time: Li’l Abner and a strip titled Little Folks. To avoid confusion and possible legal action, Schultz settled on the name Peanuts, after the peanut gallery featured on the Howdy Doody Show.
Robert J. Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, has described Peanuts as “the most shining example of the American success story in the comic strip field,” ironically based on the theme of “the great American un-success story,” since the main character, Charlie Brown, is meek, nervous and lacks self-confidence, being unable to fly a kite, win a baseball game, or kick an football. The strip is considered to be one of the most popular and influential in the history of the medium, making it “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being.” In book form, the complete 18,250 cartoon strips would compromise 5,000 pages.
The final daily original Peanuts comic strip was published on January 3, 2000. Original Sunday strips continued for a few weeks, with the last one published, coincidentally, the day after Schultz’s death on February 12th.
Remember Sparky … a total loser in the eyes of the world? Yet, consider the joy he brought into the lives of millions around the world because he refused to give up. Add to that accomplishment his own personal success in so many ways. There may be a little of “Sparky” in you or maybe someone you work with … maybe a friend, neighbor or family member. If so, share the importance and power of never giving up!