Schulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse
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Charles Schulz
Peanuts •  03/08/1973

Schulz's Contribution to Comic Art

Some cartoon historians break comic art into pre-Peanuts and post-Peanuts eras. What made Charles Schulz's comic strip so groundbreaking?

Some credit Schulz as one of the founders of a trend toward a new "intellectual" strip in the early 1950s. In 1966 Albin Michel described the intellectual strips as having "a non-realistic art style with little background ... [and] a strong preference for ... parable and 'philosophical' reflection." Others believe that Peanuts revived the humor strip genre after the long ascendency of the adventure continuity strips that had been a comic page staple during the 1930s and 1940s.

Schulz's art, so spare and minimalist, offered a distinct break from the past. Before Peanuts, even most comic strip characters were drawn in a representational manner. Schulz's characters with their big heads and tiny bodies set a new standard of comic art. His artistic style, seemingly so simplistic, was actually quite difficult to emulate as many artists learned when they attempted to imitate his style.

Schulz is also credited with pioneering the concept of a large cast of characters with well-developed personalities, which represented a distinct break from the situational strips (where the humor sprang more from a situation than the characters) that had come before. "I have always believed," Schulz wrote in 1975, "that you not only cast a strip to enable characters to do things you want them to, but that the characters themselves, by their very nature and personality, should provide you with ideas. ... The more distinct the personalities are, the better the feature will be. Readers can then respond to the characters as though they were real."

Schulz himself believed he made a major contribution to the art form when he introduced the "slight incident":

"I can remember creating it sitting at the desk, where what would happen in the three panels that I was drawing at that time was a very brief and slight incident. No one had ever done that before in comic strips. Comic strips were the school of 'Well, what are we going to do today?' type - much too drawn out and with a little joke at the end that really was not worth the whole page that it was devoted to. So I changed all that, and I think very few people realize now, as they look back at my work and compare it, how new what I was doing at that time was. I think I introduced a whole brand-new approach to comic strip humor."