SAN DIEGO — At Comic-Con 2022, Peanuts celebrated black artists in what would have been its creator, Charles Schulz's centennial year.
Robb Armstrong, illustrator and creator of comic strip, "Jump Start," participated in a weekend discussion panel and pop-up event at Comic-Con to talk about his shared namesake with one of Charlie Brown's friends.
Armstrong talked to WCNC about getting into comics illustration, an industry, as of 2019, had less than four percent black animators.
Armstrong remembered signing his first deal and asked his editor, "You think you can introduce me to Charles Schulz?"
Armstrong said the editor suggested he send the Peanuts creator one of his own strips. He sent "Jump Start."
He said, "I sent him a strip that mentioned Snoopy by name."
Eventually a mutual friend introduced the two.
"I walked into his office, which, you know, shocked me. Sparky working in a very spartan space. He had a very elaborate campus with a hockey rink and all this stuff," Armstrong said. Then he noticed the strip he sent Schulz was framed on his wall with no other strips around it.
He said to Schulz, "You're being nice, and I appreciate that. He says: No, your strip has what Peanuts has, great characters. And great characters, Robb, that's the whole thing. I just never forgot that those words."
Then in 1994, Armstrong says Schulz called him with a special favor. "I need to give Franklin a last name," Armstrong said. "He said, I'm asking if you could lend your last name to the character, Franklin."
"A time when the world really desperately needed him. Those are not happy, silly, happy years. I was a young, six year old kid in West Philadelphia, and Dr. King was just assassinated. It was a bit grim," Armstrong said. "Frankly, it was a time when you know the world, we seemed to be at war with ourselves and killing our heroes, leaders and stuff. And weirdly enough, in 1968, not only was Dr. King assassinated, but my oldest brother was also killed that summer. And to make it even more unbelievable, Franklin was introduced the day my brother was killed July 1,1968."
Armstrong escaped with the Peanuts strip everyday.
He said, "What the family was going through, I was reading it to cheer myself up, frankly. And then on a day, my brother passed away, here comes this character. And to say that it gave me hope. It's an understatement. It gave me a sense of purpose, and a sense of urgency. So unlike a lot of little children, I had a sense of urgency, which is rare. I just felt like, now was my time."
Armstrong said, "Cartoon Characters can give us a sense of immortality. And I thought, Wow, I was so honored as of course, where that would be."
Armstrong said he never really talked about the shared namesake until he gave a speech at the Schulz Museum.
Armstrong said, "I told a small crowd the story I just told you, and, and his widow, Jean Schulz, made sure that it was no longer kept secret. And here we are."
In 2020, Peanuts Worldwide and Native Tongue Communications formed "The Armstrong Project." Its purpose is to provide two young artists from historically black colleges an opportunity to pursue careers in illustration.
"It's my life story. I found that following my gifts God gave me, I'm now able to have a more meaningful, purposeful, useful way for someone else."