When the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center staged its grand opening reception on Aug. 15, 2002, the long-term goal was not only to honor the famed cartoonist and longtime Sonoma County resident’s career, but to promote the art of comic strips, too.
That is why the biggest anniversary event scheduled to celebrate the occasion is the Cartoon-a-Thon on Aug. 6, which will present more than a dozen professional cartoonists from Sonoma County and all over the country in a day that will include talks, a panel discussion and book signings.
A more modest event will follow on Aug. 15, with free ice cream cake and 20th anniversary Snoopy buttons, until they run out.
But there still has been more to the museum’s vision than a famous cartoonist’s life story and a quest to spread understanding of his art form.
“We have expanded our reach in huge ways. It’s not just about cartooning,” said the Schulz Museum’s education director, Jessica Ruskin, who has been leading and shaping the museum’s public and educational programming for the past 17 years.
For example, Ruskin said, “In May 2019, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 10 by bringing women scientists to the museum. We had a packed audience that day to listen to Dr. Liz Warren, associate program scientist for the International Space Station US National Laboratory, and Dr. Kimberly Ennico-Smith, research astrophysicist for NASA’s Ames Research Center.”
In the first year that the Schulz Museum was open, there were 77,674 visitors. As of June, the museum has had a total of 1.3 million visitors during its 20-year history.
Another successful program has been Museum Mondays For Little Ones, designed especially for children ages 1 to 5 and their caregivers, with stories, crafts and activities. The program was suspended during the COVID-19 shutdown, but now it’s back.
“We are accessible every day,” Ruskin said. “We’ve worked hard to diversify our exhibits and guest speakers.”
On Sept. 10, the museum will host a free event featuring cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, an award-winning nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist and the creator of the syndicated daily comic strip “La Cucaracha.”
“Overall, we are striving to make sure diverse voices are heard and seen at the museum and that different stories are being told — many through comics, cartooning and graphic novels,” Ruskin explained.
The museum also continues to fulfill its mission to encourage understanding and appreciation of comic strip art.
One of the cartoonists scheduled for the Cartoon-a-Thon is Nathan Pyle, creator of the “Strange Planet” web comic and graphic novels, who grew up on Schulz’s “Peanuts” comic strip.
“‘Peanuts’ was synonymous with comics to me when I was a kid,” said Pyle, who grew up in Ohio and now lives in Pennsylvania.
He never got to meet Charles Schulz (“Sparky” to those who knew him) and has never been to the museum in Santa Rosa before. Nevertheless, he learned a lot from “Peanuts.”
“I think that the visual approach that Schulz took is quintessential,” Pyle said. “Schulz’s work taught me a lot about what kind of world you can build in comic art.”
Pyle’s characters are aliens, with no differentiation between genders and races, but his work still shows Schulz’s influence, he said.
“‘Strange Planet’ is on a different planet, but as much as possible, I have tried to make that world seem familiar,” Pyle explained. “In ‘Peanuts,’ you don’t know where the characters live, but they seem to live near you.”
Born in 1922 in Minneapolis, Schulz moved to Sonoma County in 1958 and died in 2000 in Santa Rosa, after writing and drawing the “Peanuts” comic strip for nearly 50 years.
Nov. 26 will mark the 100th anniversary of Schulz’s birth, and the museum plans special events throughout the fall to celebrate.
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at [email protected] or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.