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Good Grief! <i>Peanuts</i> Ends

Aaaaaaaaaaargghh! It's finally over.

After five decades of watching his kite eaten by trees, his baseball games collapse in disarray, and his dog Snoopy walk away with the best lines, Charlie Brown and his gang say farewell Monday in the final new "Peanuts" comic strip in daily newspapers.

Y2K was bad. But this? GOOD GRIEF, YOU BLOCKHEAD. This is a real crisis.

"This changes the whole fabric of my existence," said Dilbert cartoon creator Scott Adams, who attributes his career as a cartoonist to Charles Schulz, the creator, writer, artist and guiding light of Peanuts.

"He's the most significant and the best cartoonist of our age, which means ever," Adams said.

"Charles Schulz is in a league all his own," wrote Calvin & Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Schulz reconfigured the comic strip landscape and dominated it for the last half of this century. One can scarcely overstate the importance of Peanuts to the comics, or overstate its influence on all of us who have followed."

Snoopy, perched on his doghouse in front of his typewriter, looks over a farewell message from creator Charles Schulz in the last new daily Peanuts strip, running in newspapers Monday.

Schulz, 77, who has written, drawn, colored and lettered every Peanuts strip for almost 50 years, decided to retire after being diagnosed with colon cancer in November. His contract stipulates that no one else will ever draw the comic strip.

The single-panel farewell strip is primarily a text message, over Schulz's signature, with the Snoopy drawing in the lower right corner.

"Dear Friends," Schulz writes. "I have been fortunate to draw Charlie Brown and his friends for almost 50 years. It has been the fulfillment of my childhood ambition. Unfortunately, I am no longer able to maintain the schedule demanded by a daily comic strip, therefore I am announcing my retirement.

"I have been grateful over the years for the loyalty of our editors and the wonderful support and love expressed to me by fans of the comic strip.

"Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, can I ever forget them...?"

Schulz's quiet farewell was typically elegant. But his departure has sent shock waves reverberating far beyond the black-and-white world of comic strip devotees.

"What we are hearing from lots of papers is that they don't want it to stop," said Mary Anne Grimes, a spokeswoman for United Media Syndicate, the cartoon's distributors. "But he wants to concentrate on getting better...We all must respect that."

For those newspapers that want it, United Media will offer reruns of strips starting with those that first appeared in 1974.

"Peanuts," a sly, simple series of stories about a group of childhood friends and rvals, had become a handbook for Americans facing the tiny triumphs and plentiful pitfalls of modern life.

Unpredictable, hopeful, neurotic and nervous, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and the Peanuts gang took their behavioral cues from Charlie Brown, whose brave, squiggle smile always was just a shade short of confident.

"I suppose I've always felt that way: apprehensive, anxious, that sort of thing," Schulz told one interviewer in 1989. "I have compared it sometimes to the feeling that you have when you get up on the morning of a funeral."

He also once wrote: "I don't know why there is so much unrequited love in my strip. I seem to be fascinated by unrequited love, if not obsessed by it. ... There's something funny about unrequited love."

Charlie Brown's saga as a great American loser has become, perhaps fittingly, a great American success. Peanuts runs daily in more than 2,600 newspapers around the world, reaching 355 million readers in 75 countries and 21 languages. There have been more than 50 animated Peanuts specials, and fans have snapped up more than 300 million copies of some 1,400 Peanuts books.

It's an empire that generates more than $1 billion per year in global retail sales. In Japan alone, Peanuts sales totaled $550 million in 1997, while greeting card publisher Hallmark has sold more than 1.5 billion Peanuts cards since 1960.

Unlike some recent merchandising phenomena, Peanuts never got lost under the mountain of money that it made. Instead, Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy, Peppermint Patty, Schroeder and Pig Pen all have struggled on with their lives, stumped by problems, stunned by betrayals or by the ordeal of slogging through another school day.

"The poetry of these children is born from the fact that we find in them all the sufferings of adults," novelist Umberto Eco wrote of Peanuts, calling Charlie Brown and his pals "monstrous infantile reductions of all the neuroses of a modern citizen."

At the Santa Rosa, California, studio where Schulz has written, drawn, inked and lettered each and every Peanuts comic for most of his 50-year career, no special events were planned to mark Monday's farewell.

Paige Braddock, a close Schulz aide, said the cartoonist was resting.

"I think he's just really focused on the treatments that he's getting for the cancer," Braddock said.

But, in an aside that could boost the spirits of some broken-hearted fans, she said she noticed something new in her boss: a willingness to discuss potential ideas for a new video.

Could that mean that Peanuts might come back after all?

"I don't think he would come back to the daily strip, but I don't think he wouldn't have other outlets, like books or videos," Braddock said. "It's not like the characters just die. He's still thinking about them."

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