Get to know the legacy of Franklin — ‘Peanuts’ comic’s first Black character — at Comic-Con
Peanuts x The Armstrong Project Pop-Up will run Thursday through Sunday in the Gaslamp Quarter
Whether the only comics you read are in the Sunday paper or you’re gearing up for your millionth Comic-Con, chances are you’ve heard of Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
While the round faces of the “Peanuts” gang have been around for more than 70 years, you might be less familiar with the backstory of Franklin Armstrong, the comic’s first Black character.
At this year’s convention, Peanuts Worldwide is bringing a pop-up event to the Gaslamp Quarter to celebrate the history and the lasting legacy of Franklin on the comics industry.
The creation of Franklin traces back to Harriet Glickman, a school teacher from Los Angeles who wrote a letter, dated April 15, 1968, to Charles M. Schulz, imploring him to integrate a Black character in the comic strip. In the wake of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Glickman wrote to the cartoonist that he had the opportunity to help change the attitudes of people through his comics.
While Schulz was initially concerned that adding a Black character could be perceived as “patronizing,” he continued his correspondence with Glickman.
Schulz, who passed away in 2000 and would have turned 100 this year, introduced Charlie Brown and the rest of the world to Franklin on July 31, 1968.
Ajani Brown, a professor of literature who studies comics at San Diego State University, said that the letters from Glickman were intentional because as an educator, she recognized that kids needed a hero to look to amid the racial tension and cultural shifts of 1968.
“A hero could just be someone who has a position in a storyline that represents someone that looks like me. Essentially, that could be a hero to them,” he said. “[Franklin] is an accessible character — not a character ... we just feel like we are creating ... just to say we have someone Black in the comic strip, just to say we have representation.”
It boils down to the purpose behind the character and Brown recalls seeing himself in the authentic representation of Franklin’s character as a kid. While Franklin was by no means the first Black comic character, Brown noted that because the “Peanuts” brand reached so many kids and adults, the appearance of Franklin was more impactful.
Part of that legacy is using the influential namesake of the comic strip to inspire and uplift the next generation of artists. Specifically, helping diversify the comics industry, where only 3.9 percent of animators are Black, according to 2019 data from jobsite Zippia.
Peanuts Worldwide will host panel discussions about the animation industry and its future and highlight their effort to support the next generation of artists through an endowment called “The Armstrong Project,” named after Franklin. The initiative offers scholarships to art students at two historically Black colleges and universities as well as mentorship and internship opportunities.
Robb Armstrong, creator of the syndicated comic-strip “Jump Start,” will lead these conversations alongside other creators.
For him, the lasting impact of Schulz and the “Peanuts” gang run deep. As a kid, he liked to read the comics, and later on, he became close friends with Schulz, who looked to him as the inspiration for Franklin’s last name.
Armstrong recognizes that artists have the opportunity to strike a note of truth in their work and “cartoonists have the opportunity to reach everybody,” which is why he wants to help younger artists through this initiative.
“I would like to be behind somebody else and push them up that ladder,” he said. “If you have a voice, you have something you want to express, I can tell you how to get there. I can tell you what you need to do artistically. But your voice can be heard. I want your voice to be heard. I want my voice to be heard but you know right now, I have an opportunity to help another artist.”
The evening panel discussions with Armstrong will be open to people without Comic-Con badges on a first come, first-served basis on Thursday and Friday. The Friday conversation will also feature Bruce W. Smith, the creator and executive producer of “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder,” and other guests to be announced.
There will also be a panel inside the convention center on Friday at 12:30 p.m. titled “Celebrating 100 Years of Charles Schulz.”
Glickman’s letters to Schulz and other memorabilia charting the history of Franklin will be on display at the Gaslamp Quarter pop-up exhibit “50 Years of Franklin,” from the Charles M. Schulz Museum which is open to the public.
Peanuts x The Armstrong Project Pop-Up
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, July 21 through Sunday, July 24
Where: 200 J St., Suite 105, Gaslamp Quarter
Panels: “An Evening with Robb Armstrong,” 7 p.m. Thursday, July 21. “Talking Iconic Black Comic Characters,” 7 p.m. Friday, July 22.
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