The “Peanuts” holiday shows are seasonal classics enjoyed now by several generations. Starting with Halloween’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and going through to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the beloved comic strip characters Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Woodstock and, of course, Snoopy work their magic every time.
But for Paige Braddock, the “Peanuts” gang is a year-round job of spreading sweet bliss. She is the creative director at Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates in Northern California. Paige oversees the visual and editorial direction for all “Peanuts” licensed products all over the world. A cartoonist herself, she has drawn several “Peanuts” books, the Snoopy U.S. postage stamp, and the Newsweek cover of Snoopy when Schulz died in February 2000.
Paige, a former Atlantan with deep Southern roots, also creates her own characters. She has written and drawn the groundbreaking comic “Jane’s World” since the ‘90s, among other projects. “Jane’s World” is about a sweet-natured, romantically befuddled lesbian and her group of friends. It became the first gay-themed comic to receive national syndication when it was picked up for Internet distribution in 2001. Paige started a publishing company to make it available in comic shops and bookstores. (Check out her home page, PB9.com.)
Up next for this endlessly creative storyteller? A new illustrated children’s book, plus her first novel next year — and still running “Peanuts,” of course, created by her childhood hero, Schulz, who handpicked her for the job.
What does it mean to be creative director of Peanuts, Inc.?
It basically means you look at a lot of stuff featuring the “Peanuts” characters. Everything: pajamas, T-shirts, toothbrushes, slippers, tennis shoes, nail decals, video games and apps, books, animated commercials for MetLife. It’s to make sure items meet with our editorial standards and don’t use any “Peanuts” characters in inappropriate ways. Like, no profanity, or alcohol use would be two obvious elements to look for, but most of the time it’s much more subtle. For example, the characters need to stay “in character.” Linus should never sound like Lucy and vise versa. People ask sometimes what my typical day is like and it’s sort of impossible to describe. We do a little of everything at the studio and, on top of art direction, I actually still draw the characters from time to time for various uses.
Do you mind telling how you came to this job?
I met Schulz — everyone called him Sparky — several times at National Cartoonist Society gatherings and one time, after I’d given a talk in San Antonio, he just came up out of the blue and asked if I wanted a job. I accepted immediately, not really knowing at the time what the job would involve. I think he’d been thinking of stepping away from all the demands of the licensing side of his business — basically, all the “stuff” — so that he could just focus on his comic strip. He wanted help with art direction for the licensed product. He never even advertised for the job. We just sort of met and something I said during the presentation struck a chord with him.
What was he like, Schulz? How was it becoming friends with someone you admired so much?
He was everything you’d hope the creator of “Peanuts” would be. Really. It was nice to meet someone you’ve admired forever and have them actually meet your expectations.
Can you share an example?
One of the things I liked about Sparky was that he took lunch very seriously, as do I. He took a lunch break at the same time every day no matter what was going on. We could be in the middle of some high-level discussion with a potential licensee and when 11:30 rolled around he’d say, “Well, it’s time for lunch.” I loved that. He would also show up at the door to my office with donuts or other desserts around 3 p.m. He’d say something like, “I’ve got this apple pie. Where should we eat it?” And then I’d follow him into the conference room for pie, coffee and some great discussion about theology. His observations were always funny and unique.
As a storyteller, what’s your role in carrying on what he started?
We try not to create new stories with the characters. But that’s not always entirely possible because, as we move the content to different platforms, like digital, we have to alter the content to fit the format. In those cases we use the comic strip as our “Bible.” Luckily, Schulz gave us 50 years of material to use as a guide. I see my role as one of stewardship, not authorship. I encourage everyone on the studio staff to employ the same approach.
How is that different from the work you do on “Jane’s World” and other projects that you originated?
It’s very different in terms of content. But I’ve learned a lot about character and story integrity from working on “Peanuts” over the years. Might as well learn from the master, right?
“Jane’s World” is doing great. How long have you been drawing it now?
I started “Jane’s World” in earnest back in 1995. There were even some early character sketches and single panel comics featuring Jane as far back as 1991 when I was working for the Chicago Tribune.
She’s kinda you, right? Sorta?
Only in our shared love of donuts and our hairstyles.
What draws you to telling stories through comics, rather than just writing or just drawing?
Funny you should ask. I actually wrote a novel this past year and it will be released in May of 2015 from Bold Strokes Books. I’m writing it under a pen name. It’s a lesbian adventure romance. … Graphic novels and comics are very labor-intensive, and I just decided to tell a story rather than draw a story. It was kind of liberating, but hard at the same time. I realized how much I rely on the drawing to relay an emotion or feeling that, in a narrative, has to be represented in words.
What’s your favorite comic?
Besides “Peanuts,” my favorite modern comic is “Cul de sac.” Hilarious.
As a reader, do you like them online or in print?
Definitely in print.
Does Snoopy tweet? Is Charlie Brown on Facebook?
Yes to both questions. Peanuts social media is managed by our licensing office in New York, Peanuts Worldwide.
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