‘Welcome Home, Franklin’ tells the backstory of the first Black ‘Peanuts’ character

Charlie Brown and Franklin Armstrong high-five.
In the Apple TV+ special “Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin,” we learn what brought Franklin to the “Peanuts” world.
(Apple TV+)

Comic strip artist Robb Armstrong was 6 when Franklin, the first Black “Peanuts” character, debuted in Charles M. Schulz’s beloved comic strip on July 31, 1968.

Schoolteacher Harriet Glickman had written Schulz after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that April. She believed that introducing a Black character into Charlie Brown’s world would have a positive effect on a society that was so racially divided. The correspondence eventually led to the creation of Franklin.

“I know seeing Franklin in a newspaper changed my life,” Armstrong says. “The month he came into ‘Peanuts’ was the same month my brother was killed in an accident. I remember feeling a ray of hope. At that time, you didn’t see this representation in the newspaper.”


Now almost 56 years later, viewers will finally learn what brought Franklin to the “Peanuts” world in a new Apple TV+ special premiering Friday, “Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin.” Armstrong, who went on to form a friendship with the legendary Schulz, co-wrote the special.

Armstrong met Schulz, whom he refers to by his nickname “Sparky,” a few months after his comic strip “JumpStart” was syndicated in 1989. A lifelong “Peanuts” fan, he named the comic’s two main characters, Marcy and Joe, after Peppermint Patty’s best friend, Marcie, and Snoopy’s alter ego, Joe Cool. Schulz invited Armstrong to his home after Armstrong sent him a “JumpStart” comic that found Marcy mistaking the lyrics to “Hang on Sloopy” as “Hang on Snoopy.”

“He said, ‘Robb your strip is great. “JumpStart” has what “Peanuts” has — great characters.’ I remember that and save that for whenever I have to sit down and do this job,” Armstrong says. “He had a professional respect for me and always dealt with me as if I was on his level.”

Still, Armstrong says he was unprepared when Schulz called him to say that Franklin would be getting the last name “Armstrong” as an homage to him in the 1994 TV special “You’re in the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown.”

“I was very close to this character long before this opportunity arose,” he says of getting to write Franklin’s origin story.

In “The Peanut Papers,” Ann Patchett, Kevin Powell and Jonathan Franzen are among those who explain how Charles Schulz’s comic strip shaped their worlds.

Nov. 27, 2019

Craig Schulz is continuing his father’s legacy along with his son (and Charles’ grandson) Bryan Schulz. The specials they have created at Apple TV+ have put many of the beloved “Peanuts” characters into the spotlight. In August, there was “Snoopy Presents: One-of-a-Kind Marcie” and before that “Snoopy Presents: Lucy’s School.” But Craig Shulz knew that he, Bryan and Cornelius Uliano, their writing partner and executive producer, could not write Franklin’s story alone.


“We didn’t want to speak for the Black community,” Craig Schulz says. “We wanted to treat Franklin with the respect he deserves. Robb [brings] that piece of the puzzle that we don’t have, and that’s what makes [the special] really come alive.”

In “Welcome Home, Franklin,” Franklin moves to the “Peanuts” world and struggles to make friends. His father is in the military and Franklin has moved around a lot. He meets Charlie Brown on the beach in a scene that re-creates what happened in the comic strip where Franklin was introduced.

For the first time in a “Peanuts” special, a character breaks the fourth wall as Franklin talks directly to the viewing audience.

“We like trying to explore right to the edge of what it is acceptable in the ‘Peanuts’ world and make it a little more interesting for the new viewers,” Schulz says.

The special also acknowledges the absence of diversity before Franklin‘s arrival . Franklin looks at all the characters eating vanilla ice cream and says, “One thing was for sure, there was a lack of variety in this place.”

“We had a lot of discussions on that scene,” Schulz says. “How to clarify and define diversity in this ‘Peanuts’ universe. That’s when I came up with the idea of the vanilla ice cream. It’s very subtle, and it gets the point across.”


Franklin and Charlie Brown bond while making a car for the upcoming soap box derby. Franklin tells Charlie Brown about his uncle who played baseball in the Negro leagues and shares his love of music by Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane and Chuck Berry. Many of the details of Franklin’s life mirror Armstrong’s.

Charlie Brown and Franklin Armstrong in helmets sit in a soap box derby car.
Charlie and Franklin work together to build a car for the soap box derby in “Welcome Home, Franklin.”
(Apple TV+)

“I started to relate to Franklin in such a strong way at times, I wouldn’t know where I stopped and he started,” Armstrong says. “My great uncle Eugene Benson played in the Negro leagues. All that’s true. Franklin is expressing lots of parts of me that I’ve never had the opportunity to express. I was able to tap into a lot of emotional content. The reason this special is so good is that the creation of it mirrors its own existence.”

However, Armstrong did struggle with one particular plot point in the special. Franklin and Charlie Brown have a fight when their derby car falls apart.

“I was very concerned,” he says. “Franklin suddenly blows up in Charlie Brown’s face. I don’t think Charlie Brown deserves to be talked to like that. In the canon of the strip, he’s never been so mean. But you know what? They were right. It’s one of the most meaningful things that anyone is going to see in the world of animation.”

Director Raymond S. Persi says that on the onset of each project, he tries to tap into the emotional journey of the characters, whose friendship grows in real time. He thought about what it feels like to be an outsider when you are trying to fit in, saying we’ve all experienced that.


“Franklin meets Charlie Brown, who is completely authentic all the time, and Franklin connects with him and starts to let his guard down,” he says. “I’ve never worked on anything that meant more to me. This is a crazy place, and it makes it more interesting to see Franklin try to fit in. He’s not weird like these kids, yet he loves what they are.”

Interspersed in the story are homages to classic Peanuts moments. Franklin meets Linus in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin. Later, he passes Lucy’s psychiatry stand. Schulz says the “Peanuts” fans want to see these iconic callbacks. “They really want to connect with those old memories,” he says. ‘It takes them back to the days when you had to go sit in front of the TV set with all your friends and wait for [the Charlie Brown specials] to come on.”

Lucy sits behind her wooden psychiatry stand with Franklin standing next to it.
Franklin at Lucy’s psychiatry stand, one of several scenes that pay homage to the “Peanuts” comic strip.
(Apple TV+)

Even though it’s 2024, “Welcome Home, Franklin” has much of the same look and feel as the beloved specials created decades ago. That’s a credit to the jazz score created by composer Jeff Morrow, the animation that replicates Schulz’s original line drawings and the script, which captures the way the characters speak.

“Craig and Bryan are there to keep the guard rails up to make sure we don’t stray too far from what these characters would say or wouldn’t say,” Persi says. “The basic idea is the same. Their problems are small, and their world is small.”

Schulz says it’s imperative that when parents sit down to watch a “Peanuts” special, they know they are in a safe universe.


“The pacing has to be this nice slow pacing. The ‘Peanuts’ world — you breathe it and you smell it and enjoy the moment,” he says. “When my dad wrote the comic strip, he never wrote it for children. It was always written for adults. We really don’t give kids enough credit. ‘Peanuts’ is a world in which every kid would want to live. Kids are all good to each other, and they all treat each other with love and respect.”

That’s especially true for “Welcome Home, Franklin.”

“At its core, a special like this is hopefully reminding kids to give everyone a fair chance and get to know people on an individual level,” Persi says. “I think as an adult, we need to be reminded of that lesson more than kids. Being open to someone who might seem different, you are going to see how much you have in common.”

Armstrong says he’s still pinching himself that he had the opportunity to tell Franklin’s story.

“I’m so happy I was involved with it,” he says. “This was about continuing the legacy of my friend Sparky Schulz. His legacy with Franklin and ‘Peanuts’ deserves to be carried forward in a superb way. What he did with his life is extraordinary and absolutely exquisite.”