Articles by Jonah Raskin

Jean Schulz: Talking about “Sparky,”  Lucy and Charlie Brown

by Jonah Raskin
This interview originally appeared in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Q: Did you call Charles Schulz “Sparky”?

A: Yes, that was his nickname. He was always “Sparky.”

Q: Did you read “Peanuts” before you met him?

A: I remember in college in the mid-1950s friends would use expressions from “Peanuts.” I heard about it before I actually saw it. After I graduated, I subscribed to a daily newspaper and read “Peanuts” all the time.

Q: Where did you meet “Sparky”?

A: At the ice shaking rink. I had a daughter from a previous marriage and I was dropping her off.

Q: After you were married in 1973 and he had his studio did you ever see him at work?

A: I dropped in all the time. That was okay with him. His friends would drop in too. At first that was okay, too. But it began to be more than he could handle. People dropped in all the time and it took a toll on him.

Q: What happened when you dropped in?

A: He wanted me to look at the comic strips. I’d say “Oh this is funny,” and he’s say, “That’s good. I never know if they’re funny or not.” I wanted to know how a story ended. Comic strip readers don’t seem to understand that Sparky had to plan it all out, the dailies and Saturday and Sunday, which is a thing unto itself.

Q: So he was very disciplined?

A: He was a professional storyteller. He understood the importance of the rhythm of the story, and the timing and the spacing. Of course, the end of a strip is never as tidy as the end of a novel or a movie. The strip has to go on and on and on.

Q: “Peanuts” was often parodied – in Mad magazine, for example. How did “Sparky” feel about that?

A: It pleased him that his characters were so well known that they became cultural icons and the subject of parody. People would say of a woman, “Oh, she’s a Lucy,” or of a man, “He’s a real Charlie Brown.”

Q: What would it mean to be a Lucy?

A: To have to be always right, and to be overly critical. A Lucy has a shrill voice.

Q: What about a Charlie Brown?

A: You can’t get anything right if you’re a Charlie Brown. You make the same mistake over and over again.

Q: David Michaelis, the author of a biography of the artist N.C. Wyeth, is now writing a biography of “Sparky.” He seems to be emphasizing the dark side. Is there another side to “Sparky”?

A: He loved to laugh and he had a hard time with people who didn’t have a sense of humor. He’d play golf with friends and they’d laugh and laugh and laugh. He used to say, “Humor is when bad things happen to someone else.” But his humor was never cruel or malicious.

Q: So he had as sense of joy?

A: He did. He didn’t worry about the world. I do. I feel I need to worry about recycling and all the decisions the president makes or doesn’t make. “Sparky” didn’t worry about it. He thought that things weren’t that different than they always were. There was always a crisis and there always would be. That was his attitude. 

Q: Did he ever suggest an answer to the world’s problems?

A: I know it sounds corny but the only answer for “Sparky” was love. Religious intolerance baffled him. He say, “Love is the answer but there’s no money in. It’s too simple a solution. It’ll never happen.” “Sparky” wasn’t a crusader, but he cared. He cared very deeply.