Charles Schulz on Peanuts’ Franklin: ‘Print It Just the Way I Draw It or I Quit’
On December 9 2021, an Imgur account shared a meme with the claim that the creator of the popular Peanuts cartoon series, Charles Schulz, threatened to quit his work over demands that he “eliminate” Franklin, the only Black character in the series:
Text around a frame featuring Franklin shaking hands with Linus said:
When Charles Schulz’s distributor pressured him to eliminate Franklin from “Peanuts” because he might offend pro-segregation Southerners [Schulz] told him: “Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”
Inclusiveness is what makes America great
Alongside the meme, the submitter explained:
I heard a new perspective today which I am trying to incorporate in my life.
I’m Black. I have experienced some racism in my life. More than some people. Less than others. I’ve always wondered “What can I do to stop racism?”
Today I heard a Black author on NPR respond to a question. The question was “Do you feel your work at all inspired by efforts to end racism?” The author responded “I can’t end racism. Racism is a White problem and only White people can solve it. I’m not White.”
I realized today it’s okay for me to give up trying to end racism. I can’t. I can only respond to it. I can’t end it.
Charles Schulz obviously knew this responsibility and faced it. He did something about it. I can hope for the day it ends. But I can’t end it. I hope there are those out there resolving their issues, acting a new way or standing their ground and encouraging others to do the same.
However, the post did not provide a source for the quote attributed to Schulz. NPR published a piece regarding the introduction of Franklin in Peanuts comics in November 2015, explaining that the character was added in response to a letter from a reader in 1968 — during a period of tense racial relations in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Martin Luther King Jr. had been dead 11 days.
His assassination fresh on her mind, Harriet Glickman, a teacher raising three kids in suburban Los Angeles, sat down at her typewriter.
“Dear Mr. Schulz,” she wrote, “since the death of Martin Luther King, I’ve been asking myself what I can do to help change those conditions in our society which led to the assassination and which contribute to the vast sea of misunderstanding, hate, fear and violence.”
Schulz did write back, to say he had considered her suggestion. But he worried that if he created such a character, black parents might think he was condescending to their families.
With Schulz’s permission, Glickman asked two of her black friends to send him some ideas on how to make a black character relatable.
A few weeks later, the cartoonist responded.
“You will be pleased to know that I have taken the first step in doing something about presenting a Negro child in the comic strip during the week of July 29,” Schulz said. “I have drawn an episode which I think will please you.”
Just like that, Franklin was born.
As for the anecdote, it was the subject of an r/todayilearned post to Reddit in July 2015:
TIL that in 1968 Charles Schulz resisted adding a black character to Peanuts because he thought it would be seen as condescending. After adding Franklin, his syndicate tried to force Schulz to remove him. He said, "Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?" from todayilearned
A July 2018 Saturday Evening Post piece acknowledging the 50-year anniversary of Franklin’s debut (“It’s 50 Years of Franklin, Charlie Brown!”) included a reference to the anecdote:
Charlie Brown first meets Franklin while searching for a lost beach ball. Franklin finds it and returns it, and the pair teams up to build a sandcastle. It was simple, sweet, and completely radical. In an interview collected in the book Charles M. Schulz: Conversations, Schulz recalled a “southern editor” who wrote him and said, “I don’t mind you having a black character, but please don’t show them in school together.” Schulz ignored him. In fact, Franklin would later be shown in school, seated in most classroom shots in front of Peppermint Patty.
Schulz recounted some further negative reactions in an interview with Michael Barrier in 1988. Schulz said, “I finally put Franklin in, and there was one strip where Charlie Brown and Franklin had been playing on the beach, and Franklin said, ‘Well, it’s been nice being with you, come on over to my house some time.’ Again, they didn’t like that.” Schulz also recalled a discussion with Larry Rutman, who at the time ran King Features Syndicate (which distributed Peanuts to newspapers). Schulz said, “I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin—he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, “Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”
That interview was available on MichaelBarrier.com. In the original transcript, Schulz said a bit more about Franklin and his relationship to the character:
BARRIER: Have there been occasions when United Features has sent back a strip, or said, “We’re really worried about this one?”
SCHULZ: Yeah. There were only two occasions. One was a long time ago; Linus’s blanket suddenly took on a life [of its own] and began to attack Lucy. Larry Rutman called; this scared him to death. He thought for sure that it would frighten children, that the blanket doing this would frighten the child reader. Which was ridiculous, when you think of the things that they see in other places. I remember I finished up the little series and let it go at that.
Later on, when Franklin was introduced into the strip, the little black kid—I could have put him in long before that, but for other reasons, I didn’t. I didn’t want to intrude upon the work of others, so I held off on that. But I finally put Franklin in, and there was one strip where Charlie Brown and Franklin had been playing on the beach, and Franklin said, “Well, it’s been nice being with you, come on over to my house some time.”
Again, they didn’t like that. Another editor protested once when Franklin was sitting in the same row of school desks with Peppermint Patty, and said, “We have enough trouble here in the South without you showing the kids together in school.” But I never paid any attention to those things, and I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin—he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, “Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”
So that’s the way that ended. But I’ve never done much with Franklin, because I don’t do race things. I’m not an expert on race, I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a little black boy, and I don’t think you should draw things unless you really understand them, unless you’re just out to stir things up or to try to teach people different things. I’m not in this business to instruct; I’m just in it to be funny. Now and then I may instruct a few things, but I’m not out to grind a lot of axes. Let somebody else do it who’s an expert on that, not me.
A December 2021 Imgur meme quoted Charles Schulz as responding to requests he “eliminate” Peanuts character Franklin by saying: “Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit.” That quote originated in a 1988 interview between Schulz and Barrier, in which Schulz described Franklin’s introduction as well as some of the pushback stemming from readers “in the South” due to its depictions of school integration.