Thus was Charles M. Schulz's "Peanuts" born. Who could have predicted from such a modest beginning that this deceptively simple cartoon would prove so popular -- at its peak, "Peanuts" appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries -- and so influential for a new generation of cartoonists? Not to mention enduring. "Peanuts" ran nearly every day for 50 years, until Schulz's retirement and death in 2000.
In 2002, a museum dedicated to Schulz and his artwork opened in his longtime home of Santa Rosa, Calif. The same year, editor and designer Chip Kidd brought out "Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz" (Pantheon, in hardcover and paperback editions), which presented hundreds of strips, many photographed from their creator's own scrapbooks, along with Schulz's rarely seen pre-"Peanuts" cartoons and photographs of vintage "Peanuts" memorabilia. David Michaelis, biographer of painter N.C. Wyeth, is at work on an authorized Schulz biography for HarperCollins. And next month, Fantagraphics -- a publisher known for edgy graphic novels and alternative "comix" -- launches "The Complete Peanuts," a 25- volume, 12-year project that will bring every single daily and Sunday "Peanuts" strip back into print, between hard covers. (The first volume will cost $28.95.) It's the sort of reverential treatment ordinarily reserved for great artists, but to the single- moniker cartoonist Seth, who is designing the series, Schulz has a definite claim to greatness.
Perhaps it's that very combination of universality and artistic integrity that makes "Peanuts" unique in the annals of comic-strip art. Kidd certainly thinks so. "The curious thing about Schulz is that he's the great uniter in the comics world. Pretty much everybody, no matter who they are, can agree that Schulz was really a genius of the form -- whether you're a hipper-than-thou art cartoonist or a Superman artist or what have you." Kidd pauses and laughs. "When I was in meetings pitching our book to the sales force, I said, here's the one cartoonist that is hugely loved by Dan Clowes and Chris Ware" -- two cutting-edge cartoonists -- "and my mother. That's very rare in our culture."
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