Rob Armstrong remembers the excitement when he first saw a character who was similar to him in the predominantly white world of “Peanuts”.
Armstrong was 6 years old when Charles Sparky Schultz introduced a black playmate named Franklin in the summer of 1968. This change, which occurred despite the concerns of the syndication service, was something profound for a child from West Philadelphia who had an early gift from the pen. Says Armstrong, who grew up to create the popular syndicated tape “JumpStart”: “It was a notable bundle of possibilities.”
Armstrong did not know then that the school teacher’s recent letters to Schultz, which advocated more diversity, led to the creation of Franklin. And he could not have guessed that about a quarter of a century later, Schultz would ask his permission to give the character the full name of Franklin Armstrong – as an artistic greeting to his colleague, who was the founder of the same syndicate.
Today, Armstrong just knows he wants to put that kind of inspiration forward.
Peanuts Worldwide will announce on Monday the launch of the Armstrong project, which will provide $ 200,000 to two HBCU funds: Howard University in Washington and Hampton University in Virginia.
The project offers a scholarship to a student of each school who studies art, animation, entertainment or communication, as well as mentoring and internships.
“I hope the awareness and action we create as part of the Armstrong project will grow into an extraordinary display of creativity and achievement as these students begin careers in the arts throughout their lives,” says Jean Schultz, widow of the cartoonist and president of the board. directors of the Charles M. Schultz Museum. “I’m personally very happy to see what they achieve.”
The heads of each university expressed gratitude in the statements for announcing the project.
Hopes also come at a time when black creators are underrepresented in the comics syndication. In 2020, Stintz (“Heart of the City”) and Bianca Zunise (“Six Chicks”) became two of the few African-American women to ever appear on comic book highlights.
Armstrong, however, does not focus on such “grim statistics.” Instead, he hopes for the aspirations of the students. “I don’t want anything to change – I want kids to change for the things they want to do,” Armstrong said, noting: “Things go better when young people don’t feel restrained.”
The animator, talking on the phone from Burbank, California, says the internship has changed the course of his life.
As a teenager, Armstrong was transferred to Shipley School in Brin More, Pennsylvania, his mother, who supports the arts. The school recently became a student, and Armstrong says he was not only one of the few black students, but also one of the relatively few boys.
However, when Armstrong was 17, connections in this setting led to a three-week internship with local artist Signe Wilkinson, who later became the first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for editorial caricature. From this experience, he learned firsthand how to be a “working pragmatic cartoonist”, beating bricks to make your art sales, and refusing to take rejections to heart. Shortly afterwards, the teen animator drew editorials for the Philadelphia Tribune.
Armstrong’s art received additional support in the ’80s when he was studying at Syracuse University, when his comics from a newspaper on campus were growing in popularity. A few years later, he signed a subscription to the United Feature Syndicate – which also distributed “Peanuts” – and launched “JumpStart”, centered on a black family with four children. At that time, several black families appeared on the comics page.
Armstrong was about 20 years old when he met Schultz, whose advice and acceptance had a profound effect on the young animator. Now a veteran animator – he turns 60 this week – he wants his relationship with Franklin Armstrong, as well as his position on the board of the Schultz Museum, to change. “If you know the story about Schultz and me, it’s more than interesting – it has a deep meaning,” he says. “But I have to do something about it.”
“I want the kids to feel like they’ve been given a road map,” says Armstrong, who says he wants to visit both campuses and personally tell the students, “I’m looking for an intern – I need to see yours I want to see what you have! “
The Armstrong project brings the full range of educational origins of Franklin’s character. Harriet Glickman was a schoolteacher at Burbank in 1968 when, in response to the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., she wrote to cartoonists proposing the introduction of black heroes. She saw firsthand the power of comics among young readers, and she viewed the comics page as a positive forum amid the socio-political turbulence of the era. After some correspondence, Schultz decided to meet Franklin.
But before he did, his syndicate said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” “Glickman, who died two years ago, told The Post in 2017.“ If you know Sparky, you know what his response was. He said, “Either you run it the way I drew, or I’ll quit.”
Glickman also said: “Schultz received some messages from the South from [editors]saying, “Please don’t send us more strips with black kids in the classroom with white kids. We are experiencing forced integration in our schools and do not want to see these strips anymore. ”
Franklin continued to appear in the classroom in the ’60s, paving the way for Franklin Armstrong to help in 2022 and beyond.