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The Timeless Appeal Of A Charlie Brown Christmas

One of the most iconic images from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ is the unloved small shrub of a tree that Charlie Brown adopts. An original cartoon cel, signed by director Bill Melendez and numbered 332/500, sold in May 2021 for $1,400 plus the buyer’s premium.
Image courtesy of Alderfer Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Imagine bringing together children, light, faith and the true meaning of Christmas in one animated special that still charms audiences more than 50 years after it first aired. A Charlie Brown Christmas does precisely that. What you might not realize is that at first, the odds against its success seemed as daunting as Charlie Brown’s odds of kicking a football held in place by Lucy Van Pelt.

In 1947, Charles Schultz, known as Sparky to his family and friends, created the four-panel comic strip Li’l Folks for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, featuring the antics of elementary school-age kids. Charlie Brown (the name of a real childhood friend), Patty, Shermy, and a dog named Snoopy were the original characters. 

When United Features Syndicate picked up Schulz’s strip in 1950 for national syndication, an editor changed its name to Peanuts (despite the artist’s objection) to avoid its being confused with an earlier comic strip that had a similar name. Lucy, Linus, Sally, Violet, Schroeder, Marcia, Franklin, Pig-Pen, Peppermint Patty (a different character from Patty), Woodstock and many others eventually joined the cast. Adults were never seen.

At its peak, Peanuts ran in 2,600 newspapers. Schulz produced nearly 18,000 original strips before he retired in 2000. He died that year on February 12, the day before the final original Peanuts strip was published. All subsequent strips are reruns. Unlike other comics that have continued long past the deaths of their creators, United Features Syndicate honored Schulz’s request and chose not to hire a successor to continue drawing Peanuts.

A photo of the Charlie Brown characters standing around a Christmas tree, signed by several Peanuts voice artists, sold for $275 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Schulz maintained a different, more relaxed outlook on Peanuts TV specials, however. New series starring Snoopy and other characters from the strip currently appear on the Apple TV streaming service. But, of course, none of these contemporary productions would have even been pitched if A Charlie Brown Christmas hadn’t earned its place in American pop culture and provoked demand for more. 

Schulz didn’t leap directly to television. The first step on the path that led to the initial Peanuts TV special was taken in 1961, when he allowed his characters to appear in a series of animated commercials for the Ford Falcon, a small compact car. Bill Melendez, an animator for Walt Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons, tackled the task of translating Schulz’s characters into moving images. 

In early 1965, Lee Mendelson, a television producer, was asked by the advertising agency that handled Coca-Cola’s account whether he had an upcoming Christmas special they could sponsor. According to the 2001 documentary The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Mendelson said, “Absolutely.” That was a lie, but he immediately set to work on turning his lie into the truth.

As recounted in the 2001 documentary, Mendelson called Schulz and said he had sold what he called “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Sensibly, the artist asked, “Well, what is that?” Mendelson replied, “It’s what you’re going to write for a presentation the following Monday.” Schulz suggested bringing in Bill Melendez to help outline the Christmas special. The Coca-Cola executives liked the pitch and asked for it to be ready for broadcast in early December – giving the men just six months to write a script, cast voice actors, compose a musical score, and draw, ink and paint more than 13,000 animation cels needed to render a 30-minute-long television program. 

They wrote storyboards depicting the Peanuts gang organizing a play centered around the meaning of Christmas. Composer Vince Guaraldi contributed the light jazz background music and vocals, which Mendelson described in the documentary as “ … being very adult-like and kid-like at the same time,” a curious choice for the soundtrack of an animated holiday special aimed at children in the year 1965.

The men cast real children as the Peanuts characters instead of adult actors who sounded like children another bold and unusual choice. They recruited regular kids from families they already knew instead of professional actors, with the exception of the two 11-year-olds who voiced Charlie Brown and Linus. “The 10- and 11-year-olds could pretty well read without our help, but … we had to coach the five- and six-year-olds … and feed them half a line at a time … which is why there is a sing-songy pacing to the voices in the show,” Mendelson said in the 2001 documentary. Bill Melendez, who directed A Charlie Brown Christmas, provided the voice of Snoopy. The dog’s little yellow avian companion, Woodstock, debuted in the strip in 1969 and Melendez voiced the bird in later Peanuts specials.

An original animation cel depicting a key scene from the finale of A Charlie Brown Christmas realized $3,600 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2015. Image courtesy of Peachtree & Bennett and LiveAuctioneers

Schultz emphatically refused Mendelson’s suggestion to add a laugh track, even though that was fairly standard in children’s animation at the time. The creators also wove in a Bible quote from the Book of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-14 of the King James Version, famously spoken by Linus: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them …” When it was suggested that including a Bible verse in a commercial work of animation made the special seem too religious, Schultz reportedly said, “If we don’t do it, who will?”

After delivering the finished show, Mendelson had jitters, fearing that he and his colleagues might have ruined Charlie Brown. He needn’t have worried. When CBS aired A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 9, 1965, 49% of all televisions in the United States tuned in, yielding the highest ratings to date for a prime-time Christmas feature. When A Charlie Brown Christmas won an Emmy and a Peabody Award, it opened two sets of floodgates: one for animated Christmas specials of all sorts, and a second for Peanuts TV specials.

As of December 2021, there are 46 Peanuts specials in total, eight of which were produced after Schulz’s death. These include the classics It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, neither of which could have been made without the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A 1965 first edition, first printing of the read-along children’s book ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ sold for $48 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Artelisted and LiveAuctioneers

One of the first collectibles to appear after the 1965 debut of A Charlie Brown Christmas was a companion children’s book, written by Charles Schultz and published that same year, which tells the story of the TV special in a read-along format.

Since then, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Peanuts comic strip in general has given rise to a mind-bogglingly wide range of collectibles in every conceivable format. Schultz called merchandising ‘The Things’ and was ambivalent about this aspect of managing the Peanuts universe. In an interview for The Washington Post in 1985, he explained, “ … I … had five kids to support and put through college. And I have United Features Syndicate that takes half the money, and they’re pushing for things and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

The items associated with A Charlie Brown Christmas that perform best at auction are individual colored animation cels which were actually used to produce the special. Those signed by Charles Schulz, Mendelson, Melendez, and/or the voice actors can inspire serious bidding wars. Animation cels that reference the special’s original sponsors, Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison, have their fans, too. Seasonal rebroadcasts of the show removed them to comply with FCC regulations that outlawed advertising within children’s programming.

More than half a century has passed since A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired, and more than two decades have gone by since Schulz died. Yet, the holiday adventures of the hapless, confused, gentle third-grader Charlie Brown continue to cast their spell and enchant new generations.

Summoning the faith to do better, even if it’s just improving a scrawny Christmas tree, is why A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a classic. It’s the simple things that matter the most, as Linus, in his youthful voice, says in a key scene: “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” So be of good cheer, Christmas time is here.”

Villains, superheroes & gods abound in Oct. 4 comic book auction

Comic books were never meant to be anything but ephemeral. Printed on cheap paper and priced to fit the budget of a 10-year-old, they nonetheless delivered entertaining stories about characters that still hold our interest today. These publications delivered so well that grownups who once lavished their allowances on the newest releases from DC, Marvel, and others now pay a premium for vintage originals that survived the decades unblemished.

On Monday, October 4, starting at 7 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will conduct an 169-lot No Reserve Rare Comics sale.

Thor #126, March 1966, est. $5-$500

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Sept. 6 no-reserve auction packs a punch with vintage comic books

You can get comics delivered to your iPad or phone, but there’s something special about rifling through boxes or racks of printed, physical comic books. That sense of specialness is enhanced when the comic books are vintage, and date from times you never knew or barely existed in. It gives the sense that the stories are bigger than you – that they were there before you were born, and will be there to delight your great-grandchildren.

On Monday, September 6, starting at 7 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will hold an 147-lot sale titled No Reserve Rare Comics.

Superman #233, est. $5-$500

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Daredevil leads superheroes in comic book sale Feb. 12

Jasper52 will sell 112 vintage comic books, many from the industry’s Silver Age (circa 1956-1970), in a no-reserve online auction on Friday, Feb. 12. Because this auction has no reserves, the high bidder on each lot will prevail.

Daredevil #16 VG-. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Sal Buscema: creating dynamic comics

NEW YORK – Marvel comics are arguably the gold standard of comics and one of the company’s most talented and prolific artists has been Sal Buscema.

The younger half of a dynamic duo, to rip a phrase right from comics, Sal can credit his older brother, John, for giving him his start in creating original artwork for Marvel, where he was already working as an artist. Sal’s own talent, first as an inker and then as a penciller, cemented his legacy in the comicsphere and his original illustrations, comic panels and comic book covers have been eagerly sought after by collectors.

A key Bronze Age Marvel comic is this ‘Defenders #1’ from August 1972 with cover by Sal Buscema, Jim Mooney and Sam Rosen. This issue marked the first appearance of Necrodamus and made $1,711 + the buyer’s premium in November 2019 at Hake’s Auctions. Photo courtesy of Hake’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Born in 1936 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sal grew up reading comics like Prince Valiant, which he credits as being an influence on his artistic style. After graduating high school, he did some commercial art work and served in the military before joining his brother at Marvel in 1968.

“Sal Buscema is one of the old-school Marvel artists whose work really dominated in the 1970s,” said Todd Sheffer, production manager at Hake’s Auctions in York, Pa. “He worked on numerous Marvel titles and there aren’t many that he didn’t touch at some point. Well known for his Defenders run, Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man, his work is eagerly scooped up by collectors when it comes to market.”

The title splash page of ‘Defenders #11’ featuring Sal Buscema and Frank Bolle artwork brought $15,000 + the buyer’s premium in March 2015 at Heritage Auctions. ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight,’ was the final chapter in the Defenders vs. Avengers story arc. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“He is definitely a fan favorite when it comes to collecting,” said Travis Landry, specialist and auctioneer at Bruneau & Co Auctioneers in Cranston, R.I. “He has done a lot of iconic covers and important story lines. His career has been since the early Silver Age [of comics] before there was even Marvel Comics.” Both Sal and John’s art was a fixture at Marvel from the Silver Age through the Bronze Age.

A 1992 comic panel by Sal Buscema, ‘The Spectacular Spider-Man – The Valley,’ sold for €1,300 + the buyer’s premium at Urania Casa d’Aste in June 2020. Photo courtesy of
Urania Casa d’Aste and LiveAuctioneers

One of his most iconic covers is Silver Surfer #4, which features a great battle scene between Thor and the Silver Surfer on the bridge in Asgard, says Landry. From the X-Men to the Defenders and the Avengers, all of whom have crossed over to the small and big screen, Buscema has worked on many iconic characters and important storylines.

“He is always going to be a top five, top 10 name in Marvel because he has touched every important character,” he said.

Buscema’s art “has a crisp line with attention to anatomy and proportion and he has been a penciller and inker, both of which help define his classic work,” Sheffer said. “Some of his covers have brought tens of thousands of dollars over the past several years and he’s even hit the $100,000 mark with a cover [a cover for Submariner #35 from 1971]. Pages can bring upward of $10,000 for key characters, but there are more modern pages that can be had in the $300 range, thanks to the large volume of work he produced. So, for his many fans, it’s still possible to have an original page for a reasonable price, even for the newer art collector.”

Introducing the Grandmaster into the Marvel universe, Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger created this circa 1969 artwork for ‘Avengers #69.’ It earned $3,750 + the buyer’s premium in April 2018 at Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers. Photo courtesy of Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

For collectors, while individual tastes will vary, there are certain types of original art that generally have an order of values. Desirability of comics is often dependent on the artist, the character depicted and content. When looking at particular pages created for a comic book, pages with auction scenes, especially battle scenes by characters in costume, will rate higher than static posed characters, not in costume. Covers tend to bring the highest prices followed by double-page splashes, splashes and panel pages.

This signed Sal Buscema original comic art with storyboard for ‘Marvel Two-in-One Presents’ ‘The Thing and Ghost Rider,’ published March 1975, realized $1,600 + the buyer’s premium in October 2017 at Quinn’s Auction Galleries. Photo courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

A title splash page of Defenders #11, featuring Sal Buscema and Frank Bolle artwork, brought $15,000 + the buyer’s premium in March 2015 at Heritage Auctions. Titled “A Dark and Stormy Knight,” this story was the final chapter in the Defenders vs. Avengers story arc and this page features iconic characters like Iron Man and Captain America as well as the Hulk, Hawkeye, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer and Valkyrie.

Buscema’s original art overall continues to appreciate in value. Citing Avengers #69 as an example, which Bruneau & Co. auctioned off in April 2018 for $3,750 + the buyer’s premium, this comic book would likely sell for double that figure today, Landry said. “The comic market is on an upward trajectory for any good Marvel property and even DC Comics, which have been softer over the past decade, but they definitely are still appreciating in value.”

Fantastic team-ups mark comic book auction Dec. 20

Superheroes team up in a no-reserve comic book auction that Jasper52 will conduct on Sunday, Dec. 20. Nearly 300 lots of vintage comic books will sell to the highest bidder, no matter the price. The first pairing featured in the auction comes in Green Lantern #76 co-starring Green Arrow, a fellow DC character, in a groundbreaking series dealing with various social and political issues in America.

‘Green Lantern #76,’ co-starring Green Arrow, VG+. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

No. 1 issue of ‘Supercar’ stars in online comic book auction

Action, adventure and laughs await winning bidders in a no-reserve comic book auction that will be presented by LiveAuctioneers on Sunday, Dec. 6. Among the star lots is the scarce No. 1 issue of Supercar. Because this is a no-reserve auction, the high bidder wins the lot, no matter how low the price.

Supercar #1, VF-, 1962. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

No. 1 issues stand out in comic book auction Nov. 15

Jasper52 will conduct another no-reserve comic book auction on Sunday, Nov. 15. The bulk of the nearly 200 titles consists of Marvel and DC Comics superheroes, but Disney and Archie fans will find a nice selection of their favorite comic characters as well. Because this is a no-reserve auction, the high bidder wins the lot, no matter how low the price. Bid absentee or live online exclusively through LiveAuctioneers.

The Shadow #1: VG. Jasper5The Shadow #1: VG. Jasper52 image2 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Superheroes prevail in Jasper52 comic book auction Nov. 1

Action heroes and diabolical villains are featured in a Jasper52 comic book auction on auction Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 31-Nov. 1. These no-reserve auctions consist of more than 400 vintage comic books.

‘Avengers #15,’ VG-. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Fantastic Four headline Jasper52 comic book sale Oct. 10-11

Jasper52 will present a pantheon of superheroes in a two-day online auction of rare comic books on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10-11. Fans of the Fantastic Four will have the opportunity to fill holes in their run of this landmark Marvel comic book on Day 2 as all 170 lots are devoted to “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” title.

Fantastic Four #3, the first time in costume, first appearance of Miracle Man, VG. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.