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Interview with a Peanuts book editor

October, 2003

In case you haven't figured it out, we're intensely interested in Peanuts books here at AAUGH.com. So when we had an opportunity to interview Wallace Exman, we jumped at the chance. After all, Wally was an editor at World when they first got into the Peanuts book business, publishing book adaptations of the Peanuts animated specials. When he left that job he headed over to Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, who had long been in the business of selling Peanuts strip collections.

How did you happen to work on Peanuts books for two different companies?

  • My title was senior editor at World and Holt, during a time when the merger craze was in full swing. A year after joining World (1963), we were acquired by the Los Angeles Times-Mirror Company, primarily for World's bible and dictionary business. Times-Mirror had recently acquired Viking (because of an Ian Fleming/New American Library connection it was rumored, T-M owned NAL at the time), and World was not allowed to publish trade books in competition with Viking. The trade department was dismantled. I stayed on to close things down editorially, got a reprieve when Times-Mirror agreed to let World move it's trade department, me and a newly-hired editor, to Cleveland, where World's home office was. We were allowed to publish books of regional interest and books by local authors. The first local author I signed up was Dr. Sam Sheppard, recently released from prison. (Editor's note: you young folks may not remember Dr. Sheppard, but you've probably seen at least the movie and possibly the two TV shows inspired by his case... each of which was titled The Fugitive.) His second trial followed, he was defended by F. Lee Bailey, and his autobiography was launched a week after his acquittal. The trade department was moved back to New York in 1968, a new editorial director was hired, and the old editorial staff was fired.

So you were in search of a job again, and went to Holt...

  • Holt, as it turned out, was looking for a Peanuts editor because until that time his contact person there had been the head of the sales department. Among other things at Holt, I handled the mystery line, stole a young thriller writer named Jack Higgins away from Doubleday, and, because they were attracted by the job we were doing with Peanuts, contracted with Universal Press Syndicate to do the Doonesbury books, and edited those paperback collections, too.
The first Peanuts book that World published was the adaptation of the first Peanuts TV special, the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, released in 1965. During the production of the special, there were times when both the producers and the network were convinced that they had a flop on their hands. Was there ever such a concern about the book at World?
  • There wasn't a great deal of worry about publishing A Charlie Brown Christmas. Indeed, World was totally delighted to be a "Peanuts player."
The TV show wasn't even conceived of until April of 1965. Did the rushed schedule on this book cause any problems?
  • If we were on a crash schedule we must have managed to cope because I don't remember there being any crisis.
By the time that you went to Holt in 1968, their Peanuts strip reprint series had been running for over 15 years, having start at Rinehart & Co., which had merged with Holt. Obviously, the choice not to reprint every strip had long since been made. When you were at Holt, who chose which strips to include in each book? Were the strips chosen by someone at Holt, or by Schulz, or by someone at United Features Syndicate?
  • I received a weekly packet of repro proofs for daily and Sunday strips from United Feature as did, and do, every newspaper that runs Peanuts. For the trade paperback anthologies, I pushed the repros around on the living room carpet and pieced together a collection with as much continuity and logical flow of content as possible. There were many sequences of daily of strips with ongoing episodesÑC. B. sitting on a playground bench with his lunch bag ("I hate lunch hour!"), Snoopy as a vampire, and so on, not to mention the many baseball, golf, hockey, tennis, Red Baron, "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night," etc., sequences. A group of stand-alone strips would separate the sequences.

    Whether by design or not, the events in the daily Peanuts strips at that time followed the calendar year and this became the connecting thread for the collections. HRW published three lists a yearÑspring, winter, fallÑand I made the collection fit the publishing season for no other reason than it didn't seem like a bad idea.

The same year you started at Holt, they published Peanuts Treasury, the first of five oversized hardcover collections. Why this format?
  • Peanuts Treasury had already been published when I joined Holt. I presume it was decided to repackage the strips in a larger, higher-priced hardcover format in order to bring the product to a different, perhaps broader market without cannibalizing the market already in hand. Market segmentation was alive and well even then. I put together a companion collection called Peanuts Classics, with the Sunday strips in color, that did very well.

    The only other oversized Peanuts books I can recall during my time at Holt were the movie books, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, and The "Snoopy Come Home" Movie Book. Bill Melendez and I selected cels for these titles at his Los Angeles studio.

    There were also two smaller hardcover books of original Peanuts art, Snoopy and His Sopwith Camel, a companion volume to the successful Snoopy and the Red Baron, and Snoopy and "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night." Sparky had a particularly good time doing Stormy Night, a book within a book.

So you had direct dealings with Sparky (Charles Schulz)?
  • I traveled to California on many occasions to confer with Sparky about his many projects. This would have been in Sebastopol, before he moved to Santa Rosa. The last time I saw him in an "official capacity" was at the dedication of the ice arena, but we kept in touch over the years.
In 1969, Holt began selling French and Spanish translations of the strip reprint books to the U.S. market. Who were the intended customers for these books and how were they marketed?
  • In retrospect it's hard to say who we were aiming the translations at. When I was asked to find translators, all I knew was that the initial push had came from the sales department, so there must have been enough firm interest from their accounts to get the ball rolling. There was a growing Spanish language market in schools, and HRW had an El-Hi department, but I don't know whether or not they joined in the distribution. Translating the "Peanuts idiom" isn't an easy job. Both Spanish and French have different corresponding idioms depending on where you liveÑMexico City or Port-au-Prince or Madrid, for example, or Paris or Montreal. We ran a competition and came up with a couple of good translators.
The material from the Holt strip reprints was always reformatted into mass market paperback editions published by Fawcett. How much coordination went on between the two companies?
  • Fawcett split each Holt book into two volumes. Presumably, as in most publishing contracts, Holt controlled various subsidiary rights, including the right to license mass market rights. Fawcett would have won the license to publish reprints of the Holt books and, like any other licensee, would have paid Holt royalties, Holt retaining its share and passing the remainder onto UFS.
I don't want to make it sound like all you've done in publishing is working on Peanuts books. Obviously, that's why I'm asking you questions, but if you could give us a bigger picture of your career...
  • Of course I handled a lot of other trade books at World and Holt. I came to World from William Morrow, and left Holt for Stein and Day, Harlequin Books in Toronto, Stein and Day again, and, lastly, Kensington/Zebra.
I'd like to thank Wally once again for taking the time to give us his insight into the compiling and publishing of Peanuts books. He has also talked with author David Michaelis, providing information and insight for the upcoming (in 2006) authorized Schulz biography, so long after his work on the books he is continuing to be very helpful for the Schulz fans.
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Notations used in this guide:

* = There's a copy of this book in the AAUGH.com reference library.

(HB) = The copy in the reference library is a hardcover (may not be noted on books available solely in hardcover.)

CB = Charlie Brown

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