Charles Schulz’ long-running Peanuts comic strip is one of the most popular and beloved of any series in the comic medium, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Superman, Spider-Man and others. So when BOOM! Studios launched a new Peanuts comic book with new stories earlier this month it accumulated its fair share of buzz. After Schulz’ death in 2000 most people assumed that no one would follow in his footsteps and create original Peanuts comics themselves; in fact, according to the official website Peanuts.com the cartoonist’s family doesn’t want any “new strips” drawn or published, something some reports say is even in Schulz’ will. So how could BOOM! get the rights for new original comic stories from the rights-holders, which included the family-owned Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates? Well, it depends on your definition of comics according to BOOM!’s founder and Chief Executive Officer Ross Ritchie.
“Peanuts Worldwide and Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates signed a deal with BOOM! Studios via our KaBOOM! all-ages imprint to publish new original comic books based on Peanuts, but not new original comic strips,” Richie explains to Newsarama. “While comic books and comic strips share a lot of the same original lineage, they are two separate art forms with different aesthetics."
Although most casual comics fans might consider comic strips and comics books one and the same, the view of BOOM! And Schulz’ heirs is that they are two separate mediums not dissimilar to the divide between television and movies.
“From my personal perspective, here’s how I would define comic strips vs. comic books,” says Paige Braddock, Creative Director of Charles M. Schulz Associates and a cartoonist herself with the long-running Jane’s World strip and the graphic novel series The Martian Confederacy. “Comic strips are in a linear format, with a few exceptions, resulting in a standalone gag. Comic books are sequential images rendering a longer narrative.”
But just as the line between what’s “television” and what’s “movies” are blurring, the lines between comic strips and comic books are as well with a number of classic comic strips being formatted in comic books. In fact, the first actual comic book when it appeared in 1933 was merely a magazine printing previously published newspaper strips. While the distinction may seem hazy, it’s one Schulz’ heirs and Schulz’ himself has believed in for some time.
“The notion of Peanuts continuing in comic form is not something new,” says Alexis E. Farjardo, Project Manager at Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates. “The precedent was set by Schulz in the late 1950’s when he supervised an ongoing series of Peanuts comic book through Dell. Scripts were pitched to him for approval by his staff (Jim Sasseville and Dale Hale among others) who would then spin out long form stories that wouldn’t work in four panels. This is the tradition we’re stepping into, our hope is to use some of these stories as springboards along with the 17,000 strips Schulz did in his lifetime, to continue the storyline he already created. The ultimate goal is to keep the voice of the characters as close to Schulz’s original vision as possible and introduce a younger audience to his work, pointing them back to the strip itself, where we all fell in love with Peanuts to begin with.”
Comics historian Michael Vassallo wrote an extensive article about Peanuts history in comic books for Comic Buyer’s Guide on Schulz’ 75th birthday, and when Newsarama reached him for this article he said he had high hopes for the new stories.
“I always enjoyed [the previous Peanuts comic books] a great deal and look forward to the new material coming,” Vassallo explains. “I always considered them akin to the Peanuts TV specials where the characters were in different settings and situations not seen in the original strips themselves.”
The new Peanuts comic book series, produced under BOOM!’s all-ages imprint KABOOM!, will feature both reprinted material from Schulz’ comic strip and comic book work as well as new stories from Shane Houghton, Vicki Scott, Matt Whitlock and even Braddock herself. As both a cartoonist and Creative Director in this enterprise, Braddock has a unique vantage point; when you add in the fact that she worked side-by-side with Schulz for a time and they discussed this sort of enterprise, it adds even more information.
“The only clear direction after his retirement was that no one else would ever draw or write the comic strip that appears in newspapers,” Braddock relayed to Newsarama. “Schulz himself told me that he felt the licensing program needed to continue because a lot of people depended on that for their livelihood. He always seemed to have a sense of loyalty and responsibility to those individuals who had helped make Peanuts so famous in the licensing world.
Part of Braddock’s job is to manage how and where Peanuts will be licensed, be it comic books or coffee mugs. And concrete steps are taken to ensure it’s in line with Schulz’ vision and the original Peanuts strips he created.
“Over the past 12 years we have had very strict rules about who can create art for Peanuts. Whenever possible we lift Schulz drawn images from the comic strip. Unfortunately, with the demands of advertising and other mediums it isn’t always possible to do this.”
Braddock recalls an instance early on in her tenure working for Schulz that demonstrated just where the rules could bend and where they couldn’t.
“I remember when I first started working at the studio,” Braddock recalls. “My expectation was that I would do a lot of production and color work, but I didn’t really expect to be drawing the characters. I was wrong, my first week Schulz asked me to draw an image of Snoopy for a vintage lunchbox design. A few weeks later, I was tasked with doing a book cover and I used a Schulz drawn image of Snoopy skating for the main cover image. Schulz had drawn Snoopy skating with his arms behind his back and that part of the drawing looked a little odd, but I wasn’t about to correct it. When I showed Schulz the image he asked me to fix Snoopy’s paws behind his back. What I realized in that exercise is that what he might ink for the purposes of a comic strip does not work when blown up and reproduced on thousands of products. Not everything he drew in the strip could be repurposed on product without a small amount of adaptation.”
As one of the overseers of the new Peanuts comic book and one of the cartoonists involved with creating the new original material, Braddock assures readers that this new material is firmly inside Schulz’ comic strip continuity and his vision for his creations.
“We definitely use the 50 years of comic strips as art reference, source material and jumping off points for the BOOM comics. In terms of keeping the stories and characters “on model,” the comic strip library is our Bible,” Braddock tells us. “We here at the studio respect and understand the difference between the comic strip and all other works. We realize when we do these comic book stories that we are standing on the shoulders of a giant, and feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do so.”
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