Every member of the Peanuts gang has an origin story, and now we’re finally getting to learn Franklin’s.

In the new Apple TV+ Peanuts Special, Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin, viewers dive into the origin story of one of Charlie Brown’s beloved friends, Franklin Armstong.

Fans of the comic strip know Franklin as Charlie’s busy friend, who loves music and sports, but his role in the iconic animation means so much more. Franklin was introduced to the Peanuts gang in 1968, making him the first Black comic strip character. His creation resulted from a letter comic creator Charles M. Schulz received from schoolteacher Harriet Glickman. Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Glickman urged Shulz to add a Black character due to a lack of diversity in the comic strip.

In an interview with Blavity’s Shadow and Act, Craig Schulz, the son of Charles Schulz and the executive producer/co-writer of the special, revealed his father was the only comic strip creator who responded to Glickman’s call for diversity.

“The viewership was huge in the comic strip world. Yet, there were no Black characters in the comic strip world until then. So, she reached out to numerous cartoonists and asked if they would put a Black character in their scripts,” he told Blavity. “And most of them well, I think, but so often refused. Except for my dad, that my dad was a quandary.”

Schulz clarified his father’s reason for not having a Black character despite his desire was because he did not want to provide an unauthentic depiction.

“I felt that he didn’t know how to give that character the voice it deserved. He wanted to give Franklin the respect he deserved as a Black character coming into this neighborhood,” Charles said.

Just as his father wanted to carefully handle Franklin’s appearance in the comic, Charles wanted to do the same with his big movie debut. To do so, he recruited the expertise of acclaimed illustrator and cartoonist Robb Armstrong, whose connection to Franklin goes deeper than a co-writing credit. Franklin is his namesake.

“It’s an amazing feeling. But I have to confess I felt a little undeserving,” Armstrong humbly expressed after learning the character would have his last name, a direct request from Charles.

Photo: Apple TV+

Armstrong had been a fan of Schulz his entire career and mentioned his work with The Peanuts was a significant inspiration behind Armstong’s Jump Start comic. To date, Jump Start is the world’s most widely syndicated daily strip by a Black American, and he happily brought the culture to Welcome Home, Franklin.

Moments of the film feature Franklin at the peak of his “Black boy joy,” fixing his curly hair and practicing his words of affirmations and funny icebreakers. The character’s authenticity is part of what Schulz considers the “joy of animation,” where viewers can feel like they could “live” with the character. 

In one scene, Franklin introduces his new friend Charlie to his favorite artists. “My favorites are Stevie Wonder, Little Richard, and, of course, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown,” he says before jokingly asking Charlie if he’s related to the legendary singer.

He lets his new friend listen to what he’s “into lately” and puts a John Coltrane vinyl on the record player. He says, “Listen closely, Charlie Brown. Jazz has harmonies that stay consistent but pay attention. It has other parts that are always being improvised.”

Photo: Apple TV+

The ability to bring to life characters to life and have experiences without including the dampers of the outside world is something that Armstong says Charles, whom he affectionately called Sparky, invented.

“You’re relying on the emotional content inside of each one of your characters. Yes, I’m going to include the other characters and how they respond to one another in an honest, human way,” he said.

Armstrong aims to leave the same legacy for the next generation of cartoonists and illustrators as Schulz did for him. In 2022, he launched the Armstrong Project. The scholarship program awards $200,000 in endowments at Howard University in Washington, DC, and Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, including an annual scholarship to students studying arts, communications, animation or entertainment. 

“It’s about taking our experience and offering it to somebody. It’s about taking what we’ve been able to do and making opportunities open up for somebody,” Armstrong said. “It’s about giving access. These kids don’t have access to anything. They might have dreams and stuff like that, but if someone doesn’t give them access, their dreams could die.” 

The inclusive approach to creating Franklin’s story was also of top priority to the director, Raymond S. Persi. Persi was adamant about hiring a crew and creative team as diverse as the comic’s characters.

“We took an extra step to look a little further for artists that maybe we wouldn’t have, and that wasn’t in our immediate circle that we knew,” Persi said. “And that was awesome because just making that extra effort, it introduced me to a lot of amazing artists that I really want to work with again.”

Persi told Blavity the importance of telling Franklin’s story made it imperative that he “listened” just as much as he directed

“As we were working with my storyboard crew, or even the animators and designers, people had personal experiences related to this story, and it was interesting,” he said.

Persi has worked on several Peanuts projects, but after attending a convention and seeing over 100 Black artists and generations of Black comic enthusiasts share their love for the character, he knew Franklin deserved the spotlight.

“It really showed me how important he is to so many people,” he said.

Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin is now available for streaming on Apple TV+. Check out the trailer below!