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Why South Florida Is Becoming A Mecca For Comics

Reading comic strips is one of those American pastimes that has touched many generations. But it is the late Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts, who is arguably the most influential cartoonist.

With his array of characters American readers and beyond fell in love with the gang, the insecure Charlie Brown, stubborn Lucy, and typewriting dog, Snoopy.

Schulz authored the strips from 1950 to 2000 until his death on Feb. 12, 2000. His work still appears 13 years later: newspapers worldwide publish reproductions of Peanuts strips and each year A Charlie Brown Christmas, a 1965 production, airs on television, proving Charles M. Schulz legacy lives on in our pop culture.

Locally, in Hollywood, a taste of Schulz work has arrived at the city's Art and Culture Center for an exhibition featuring 70 original strips, Pop Culture in Peanuts, that opens today.

It is the largest exhibition of original strips seen outside the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.

The contemporary art gallery's curator Jane Hart, admits she and her staffers are fans, but when selecting this traveling exhibit, she wanted to bring a family-orientated show appropriate for the summer months.

"We are crazed for Peanuts," Hart says. For several months, she has been collecting pop culture memorabilia to exhibit alongside the strips from surfboards, a 1980s boom box to coon skin caps.

What does this exhibit say about the local comic and cartoon community: Is it large or small? Niche and dispersed?

Area expert Nakia Mann, a freelance storyboard illustrator and staffer at Tate's Comic, an emporium in Lauderhill, weighed in why Schulz was so influential.

But while South Florida doesn't come close to San Diego, which boasts a huge comics fan base, the comics community in Florida is growing with a home-grown version of California's mega-event, Comic-Con, already in the works.

According to Mann, his store hosts series of well-attended events and geek movie nights. "They're always packed," he says. But while South Florida doesn't come close to San Diego, which boasts a huge comics fan base, the comics community in Florida is growing with a home-grown version of California's mega-event, Comic-Con, already in the works.

Another example of the Schulz legacy is the recent comic book adaption of Peanuts.

"Last year at Free Comic Book Day, a Peanuts issue was released, and now it's a monthly series," Mann says. "It's not bad, but not as good as the original stuff."

From an illustrating perspective, Mann explained how comic books and strips differ.

"When it comes to comic strips, you're dealing with little panels: 4, 6, to 8 panels to work with. Schulz invented the four-panel gag. It's usually harder to make more serious comic strips work because of limited space," he says. "With comic books, you got 22-24 pages to work with."

When asked about Peanuts' wide appeal, Mann says, "Charles had a timing and pacing in his storytelling that I think a lot of other artists learned from. There's the four panel gag he invented of setting up and telling a joke that really draws in readers. If you try to do it in more than four panels it loses its comedic value," he says. "I think Schulz changed comic strips and comic books as a whole."

Herb Barker and his wife Gloria, Hollywood residents and co-owners of Barker Animation Art Gallery in Hallandale, have been collecting Peanuts paraphernalia at garage sales since the 1960s, amassing nearly 1,800 pieces. The hobby became serious enough for the couple to go into business by opening galleries dedicated to Americana cartoons and comic characters, one in Hallandale and the other in Connecticut.

A snapshot of Barker's Peanuts collection.

It is no wonder then that the Barkers are sponsoring Pop Culture in Peanuts and donated nearly 200 pieces to the show from their Peanuts collection: books, stickers and toys.

Herb Barker says he sees "a surge of interest from Baby Boomers, not only in comic characters, but in animation art," which he credits to major movie releases like The Flinstones and Iron Man.

As for comic books, Barker, 84, says, "The fad of kids going to comic book stores is going away. Twenty years ago, kids would go get their comic books, share them on the sidewalk and read them in the park. Nowadays kids are home playing video games on their iPads."

To Barker, Schulz was the American storyteller of all time, skilled at telling clean jokes that many could relate to.

"A lot of America is expressed right there in his strip. Things that happened in the 1950s and '60s are so important to America. I think this exhibit is going to be a major hit for the all of South Florida, to see the original strips he drew in person, right there in front of you."

Charles M. Schulz: Pop Culture in Peanuts opens with a Snoopy Jazz Party from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 8. Local jazz musician Joe Donato will perform Peanuts-inspired tunes and a cartooning workshop will be held from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison Street, in Hollywood. Call 954-921-3274, or visit artandculturecenter.org. The exhibit runs through Sept. 1.

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