New exhibition shows Peanuts creator Charles M Schulz’s take on grown-ups

Adults by Schulz at the museum dedicated to the cartoonist in California offers possible glimpse of Charlie Brown’s later life

For 50 years they never grew up, a gang of kids and a loyal beagle named Snoopy inhabiting Peanuts by Charles M Schulz, one of the world’s best-loved cartoon strips.

Now, more two decades after Schulz’s death, the first public exhibition of adult artworks known as the Hagemayer strips has followers wondering if Schulz did, after all, envision adulthood for at least some of his beloved characters.

All seven of the strips, in familiar four-panel format and drawn in pencil on blank Peanuts templates from the mid-1950s, appear in Adults by Schulz, an exhibition at the Charles M Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California, later this month.

The curators say the strips, three of which were acquired from a private collector last year and will be on show for the first time, are “a rare opportunity to see characters differing from the beloved Peanuts Gang”.

But some similarities are clear. Irascible, overbearing and loud, the storeroom manager Ms Hamhock could easily be Charlie Brown’s nemesis, Lucy van Pelt, grown up.

And it is not difficult to see Elmer Hagemayer, a meek and compliant worker whose cheerfulness and optimism provides the blunting edge to Ms Hamhock’s gruffness, as a grown-up Charlie Brown.

Comic strips drawn by Charles M Schulz in the 1950s.
Comic strips drawn by Charles M Schulz in the 1950s. Photograph: Courtesy of the Charles M Schulz Museum and Research Center

Attitudes and circumstances of the era are reflected in some of the strips. In one panel, Elmer Hagemayer tells a colleague: “I just can’t get used to having a woman for a boss.” In another, Hagemayer mistakenly uses Ms Hamhock’s prized ground coffee, a luxury in the postwar era, as a fragrant compound for sweeping the floor.

In contrast to the Peanuts cartoons populated by children and animals, which ran for 17,897 strips from October 1950 until Schulz’s death in February 2000, Hagemayer featured only adults.

One of a number of ideas that never reached fruition, it was offered to and rejected by United Feature Syndicate (UFS), the global distributor of Schulz’s work, alongside other ideas including an adventure strip called Joe Cipher and co-written with a friend, the artist Jim Sasseville.

According to the Washington Post, UFS executives were reluctant to commission anything that might detract from the fast-growing popularity of Snoopy and co. “Please don’t attempt it if it cuts into Peanuts, my first love,” one wrote to Schulz, who went by the nickname Sparky.

In a 1975 interview, Schulz explained why his most popular creation featured only children.

“Adults are not needed in the Peanuts strip,” he said. “They would intrude in a world where they could only be uncomfortable.”

Jean Schulz, the cartoonist’s widow who writes a blog on the museum’s website, is unsure if her husband intended Hagemayer to be a Peanuts follow-on.

“It’s a mystery to me,” she told the Post. “I don’t see Sparky in it.”

Benjamin Clark, the museum’s curator, said he did not believe there was a connection.

“He’s just trying to tap into something that might work, he’s trying to pitch his best thing. He’s thinking as a comic-strip connoisseur, and I don’t think of [Hagemayer] as grown-up Peanuts,” he said.

The name Hagemayer featured in Peanuts cartoons, as the married name of Miss Othmar, the sometimes heard but never seen schoolteacher of Lucy’s brother Linus, and again as Marcie’s organ teacher. Marcie is the best friend of Peppermint Patty, a sports mad tomboy who has a crush on Charlie Brown, whom she calls Chuck.


Richard Luscombe

The GuardianTramp

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