Charlie Brown’s timeless appeal: The secret behind the Peanuts franchise

Published: Sunday, Dec. 4 2011 8:00 p.m. MST

"At some point," he said, "the question occurred to me, 'We see Charlie Brown's team lose all the time; how many games did they really lose? How many home runs did Chuck actually give up?' I chalked these up to 'questions that could never be answered' but then I realized that, with the 'Complete Peanuts' books being published, it wasn't too hard to just read through the strips and catalog them. So that's what I did."

While reviewing the 655 baseball-themed Peanuts strips published between 1951-70, Granillo deduced wins and losses whenever possible. Last year he blogged the documentable results for that 20-year stretch of Charlie Brown's pitching career: 9 wins, 85 losses and 22 times knocked to the ground by a line drive.

As thorough as Granillo's knowledge of the Peanuts comic strips may, it still probably can't hold a candle to the institutional knowledge of Lucy Shelton Caswell. Before retiring on Jan. 1, Caswell was curator of Ohio State University's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum — the world's largest academic research facility for comic strips and cartoon art. She is also on the Board of Directors of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif.

"Schulz came along at a watershed in the history of the American comic strip," Caswell said. "World War II was over; television was coming along. He understood that he could communicate complicated ideas to grown-ups, to people of all ages, with sort of a minimalist artistic approach … and then had a style and an ability to write in a concise way that really popped for the time."

Caswell openly concedes her familiarity with Schulz's comic strips runs much deeper than her knowledge of the Peanuts televised specials. Still, she knows enough about Peanuts as a whole to pinpoint a very specific reason why the franchise has remained intact and viable for so long — even after a 77-year-old Schulz died in 2000 from complications related to colon cancer.

"He kept a very close reign on his properties," Caswell said. "I think that's one reason that the licensing has been so successful — he understood and demanded and was given the right to monitor the products in a way that some other cartoonists weren't. … Schulz was able to protect his property, and therefore the animated specials were done with his blessing and guidance."

Peanuts facts

$90: Schulz's October 1950 income for his first month of Peanuts syndication.

18,000: Approximate number of Peanuts comic strips Schulz drew over 49 years.

10: percent of Peanuts strips that feature baseball in some way.

2,600: number of newspapers that carried Peanuts at its subscription peak, in 1999.

2000: year in which Schulz died due to complications from colon cancer. He was 77 years old.

Sources: Charles M. Schulz Museum; Larry Granillo

EMAIL: jaskar@desnews.com

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