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In Memory of John McMeel

John P. McMeel, Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Kansas City-based Andrews McMeel Universal (AMU), passed away July 7, 2021.

I was so sad to learn of John’s passing. He played such an important role in my life! I wish I could be there for his memorial, but the current restrictions and border closing make that impossible. What I would tell you if I was there would be that John was amazing. Far from being the unapproachable CEO one might expect to find in a big, successful company, John was “one of the crew.” Oh, he could be tough and businesslike. He could be formidable if he had to be…but his door was always open, as was his mind. I had my “times” with John. I had my snits and complaints! John listened with interest; he took us all seriously and he was almost always willing to make a change. I think this is rare.

One of the many things that made John unique was his genuine enjoyment. He didn’t hide his love for his work, his staff, and his family. There was no “them and us.” When John talked about us all as a “family” he truly meant what he said!

I was very nervous when I first met the folks at Universal Press. The offices were on Squibb avenue—and much smaller of course, than they are now. I was living in Lynn Lake, Manitoba—a northern Canadian mining town of about 800 people—and here I was in a metropolitan American City, about to sign a contract with a successful syndicate of people who would be expecting a lot from me. Sitting at the big rosewood table in the UPS meeting room were John, Jim Andrews, Lee Salem, and a couple of other folks, waiting for me to sign. In front of me was a contract that would keep me working for 20 years. Could I possibly do this? It was daunting and my right hand didn’t want to touch the pen. Jim and Lee began to ask me questions about my work and my life,  just to break the silence. After some discussion, I said, “Well, I guess I’d better look at this again, eh?” John jumped out of his chair and cried “There it is! She said it!” Apparently, they had some kind of contest to see how long it would take a Canadian to say “EH!” This was great fun. I signed and went off for a celebratory lunch with Jim and Lee. How fortunate I was to have had that time with Jim Andrews. A short time afterwards, Jim passed away and I never saw him again. He too was one of a kind.

With some time under my belt and with Lee’s help, I began to produce some worthwhile material. Still, I was nervous whenever I came to Kansas City. John and Susan took me out to lunch and tried to make me feel at home. Susan was refined and lovely. John was handsome and serious. He seemed so confident, wearing a new style of glasses which only had one arm. I asked about the glasses. “Are you serious?” Susan exclaimed. “Those aren’t some fancy new-style glasses—he busted the damn arm just before we left the house!” John sheepishly removed the glasses and showed me the broken frame. We laughed and the nervousness went away. These were real people I was talking to! I felt “at home.”

Over the years, there were so many “at home” times. John and his associates always made us feel exceptional and appreciated. John’s speeches before a noisy dinner crowd were legendary and he never let us down. With easy candour, he would tell us all how proud of us he was, how happy he was to be our host, and how excited he was to be working in this diverse and often controversial industry. He stood up for us in so many ways.

I am honoured to have worked for, and with, John McMeel. I will miss him and I will remember him with affection, appreciation and thanks. His loss is profound.

Read more about John’s legacy here.

See The Trailer for the New ‘Peanuts’ Documentary, ‘Who Are You, Charlie Brown?’

Lynn will be featured in the upcoming documentary, as she was a close, personal friend of Schulz! Read more, and watch the trailer at the bottom of this post:

Apple TV+ today revealed the trailer and premiere date for its upcoming documentary special, “Who Are You, Charlie Brown?,” set to make its global debut on Friday, June 25 on Apple TV+. Narrated by Lupita Nyong’o and hailing from Imagine Documentaries, the special is executive produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and features interviews with friends, family, cartoonists and famous fans of the comic strip, to create a heartwarming portrait of the late “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz.

Honoring the “everyman” creator, Charles “Sparky” Schulz, “Who Are You, Charlie Brown?” celebrates the significance and global multi-generational popularity of the comic strip and its timeless artistry and design to profile the man whose simple characters would touch the lives of millions through the decades and become beloved cultural icons. Featuring interviews with Jean Schulz, the widow of Charles Schulz, along with Drew Barrymore, Al Roker, Kevin Smith, Billie Jean King, Paul Feig, Ira Glass, Noah Schnapp, Miya Cech, Keith L. Williams, Chip Kidd, Lynn Johnston, Robb Armstrong, and more, the documentary interweaves a new animated story that follows Charlie Brown on a quest to discover himself.

“Who Are You, Charlie Brown?” is produced by Imagine Documentaries and WildBrain. The documentary is executive produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Sara Bernstein and Justin Wilkes of Imagine, Josh Scherba, Anne Loi and Stephanie Betts of WildBrain, Craig Schulz and Paige Braddock of Peanuts, and Michael Bonfiglio, who also writes and directs. Imagine Documentaries’ Meredith Kaulfers serves as co-executive producer and Marcella Steingart serves as producer and writer. Original music is composed by Jeff Morrow, composer of the new series  “The Snoopy Show,” “Snoopy in Space,” and “Peanuts in Space: Secrets of Apollo 10.”

Debuting globally on Apple TV+, “Who Are You, Charlie Brown?” will join other Peanuts titles, including “The Snoopy Show,” classic “Peanuts” specials, the Daytime Emmy-nominated series “Snoopy in Space,” and the Daytime Emmy Award-winning “Peanuts in Space: Secrets of Apollo 10,” also from Imagine Documentaries.

Offering multi-generational viewing for children 4-11 and their caregivers, Apple TV+ is home to original series from some of today’s most trusted franchises in kids and family programming, including the Daytime Emmy Award-winning “Ghostwriter” and “Helpsters” from Sesame Workshop; the soon to premiere reboot the beloved, classic series “Fraggle Rock” from The Jim Henson Company; and “Doug Unplugs” from DreamWorks Animation, and “Stillwater” from Gaumont and Scholastic.

Apple TV+ is available on the Apple TV app in over 100 countries and regions, on over 1 billion screens, including iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, popular smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony, VIZIO, TCL, and others, Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices, Chromecast with Google TV, PlayStation and Xbox gaming consoles, and at tv.apple.com, for $4.99 per month with a seven-day free trial. For a limited time, customers who purchase a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac or iPod touch can enjoy one year of Apple TV+ for free. This special offer is good for three months after the first activation of the eligible device.

A Pet Portrait of Odin, For Kevin

A few weeks ago, my comics colourist and dear friend, Kevin Strang, had to say goodbye to his beloved yellow lab, Odin. It was a very difficult thing to do. Odin had been a fixture in Kevin’s studio for many years–and was part of the furniture. One of the things I remember about Odin–besides his love for Kevin, the outdoors, water, and chasing sticks, was his affinity for squeaky toys. He wouldn’t chew them; he would gently take them in his mouth and savour the sound. His rubber chicken was a favourite. He would make the most awful racket with that chicken–with a look on his face of pure satisfaction. He was a wonderful dog; a beauty. His loss was very hard on the family.

I had such a good time painting Keira for my friend, Laurel that I asked Kevin and Karen if I could try painting Odin. This is the result.

Portrait of Odin the yellow lab

A fun note: I forgot to paint in the whiskers on the left-hand side, and noticed this just before we sent the package to Kevin. The photo was taken before this change. I think it’s a funny bit of info. Adding to that is the anxiety I felt, wondering just what Odin’s whiskers were actually like, because they didn’t show up too well in the photo I was using…and I couldn’t remember Odin having whiskers at all! I called Kevin and asked if Odin had whiskers. Kevin said “he was old, so he had a few.” This made me laugh. I’m old and I have a few, too!

Anyway, I have discovered that painting a pet is as serious as painting any portrait, and if you can get a good likeness…you’ve done OK.