Weeks before the death of Charles M. Schulz on Saturday, Internet cartoonists began piecing together an online tribute to the creator of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang. The ongoing project is a virtual quilt, which knits together panels drawn by professional cartoonists, amateur comic artists and "Peanuts" fans.
The Charles M. Schulz Tribute Quilt now includes nearly 100 squares, including a red-haired girl penned by Greg Evans, creator of "Luann," which says "From all the red-haired girls, we'll miss you Sparky!" And Bill Holbrook, creator of "Kevin and Kell" and "On the Fastrack," drew one of his own characters lying on top of Snoopy's doghouse.
The idea started in the rec.arts.comics.strips newsgroup, where "Melonpool" cartoonist Steve Troop had suggested that Web cartoonists run Schulz-related themes on Jan. 3 -- the day that Schulz, who had announced that he was retiring to fight colon cancer, had scheduled his last daily "Peanuts" strip. Web cartoonist Thomas K. Dye, creator of "Newshounds," says he pictured it as something like the AIDS Memorial Quilt and suggested that they all contribute panels. "Calling it a 'quilt' would show the unity of our good wishes," says Dye.
They enlisted a third cartoonist -- Ken Plume, creator of "Tibby's Bowl" -- to coordinate the page. "'Peanuts' was very much a part of my childhood," Plume says, "and I thought it would be a wonderful way to show my respect for Sparky's work."
By Jan. 3, they had assembled 25 panels commemorating Schulz's 50 years of cartooning, and 10 more panels were posted by the end of the week. "Y2K gets worse by the second," reads one. "Thanks for the love and the laughs," adds another. The majority of the quilt's first panels came from Internet cartoonists, like Illiad, who drew his Dust Puppy character from the "User Friendly" strip saying "We'll miss you, Snoopy." Other panels came from drawing aficionados who also happened to be Schulz fans.
"It's a very grass-roots affair," Plume notes, "and its existence has mainly been spread by word of mouth, through newsgroups, message boards and mailing lists." Shortly before Schulz's death, Plume contacted the cartoonist's office. "I hope they let Sparky know about how much everyone cared for him and his strip."
Elsewhere online Daryl Cagle, president of the National Cartoonists Society, has collected 77 cartoons drawn by newspaper cartoonists about Schulz's retirement and death. The Orange County Register's Mike Shelton drew a heart-breakingly empty pitcher's mound and an abandoned security blanket, while the Detroit Free Press' Mike Thompson relocated Charlie Brown to the pitcher's mound of the Detroit Tigers. (An onlooking manager explains that "he needed a job, he can't be any worse than the rest of our pitching staff and he's used to working for peanuts.") But perhaps the most touching was by the Hartford Courant's Bob Englehart. He drew Charlie Brown finally kicking that football after all.
After Schulz announced his retirement, newspaper cartoonists across the country began planning a May 27 tribute to the creator of Linus, Lucy, Woodstock and the rest of the gang. It was to have been a surprise for Schulz, commemorating his 50-year contribution to cartooning; it will now be a memorial.
The Net cartoonists' efforts will, of course, be more than a one-day affair. Plume says he'll maintain the quilt indefinitely -- "as long as the squares come in." Dye adds, "We're hoping that it can become one of many monuments to a man who inspired us all with his work."