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Comic strips hail spark of 'Peanuts' creator

NEW YORK (AP) -- The rest of the world knew him, rather formally, as Charles M. Schulz. But to his many friends, the late creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy was simply "Sparky."

Those friends, many of them fellow cartoonists, celebrated Sparky's 50 years in the funnies business Saturday evening by running Schulz-themed cartoons in the nation's newspapers. More than 80 strips paid homage to "Peanuts" -- everything from "Alley Oop" to "Ziggy."Saturday night, 600 members of the National Cartoonists Society and guests honored Schulz posthumously with The Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award. His widow, Jeannie, accepted the organization's highest honor during the black-tie event.

"Sparky had hoped for all of his life that he would receive this award and had hoped he would be here for it, and in many ways, I think he is," she said to a standing ovation.

Patrick McDonald, who created "Mutts," presented the award to Schulz's wife.

"Let's get the record straight," McDonald said. "Charles Schulz was the greatest cartoonist who ever lived."

Bill Keane, creator of "Family Circus," added, "This was a small tribute to an icon we all consider a dear friend."

Mort Drucker paid tribute to Schulz in his "Beetle Bailey" strip, which showed Beetle, Col. Halftrack and Sgt. Snorkel saluting a blimp with Snoopy on its side.

"We salute you, Snoopy and Sparky," it read. "We'll miss you, old friend."

The Saturday coordination of cartoons was organized by Pulitzer Prize-winning artist Mike Luckovich of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was timed to coincide with the Caniff Award for Schulz, who died Feb. 12.

"I thought this would be a fun way for cartoonists to personally honor and thank Sparky," Luckovich said. "This tribute is a celebration of his life."

"Peanuts" made its official debut on Oct. 2, 1950. The daily tales of the "little round-headed kid" and his pals eventually ran in more than 2,600 newspapers, reaching millions of readers in 75 countries.

Schulz won the Reuben Award, comic art's highest honor, in 1955 and 1964. In 1978, he was named International Cartoonist of the Year, an award voted by 700 comic artists around the world.