one on one interview with
T he Peanuts Gang Animator
by Jenny Graber & Ed Boling
was another day at the local gym when a friend
raved about his wife’s grandpa. He told
me her grandpa is an animator from Los Angeles,
that he is the original animator of the Peanuts
Gang, and that he has won many awards. I didn’t
believe him. We joke around all the time so I
thought it was just another joke. He insisted
that he was not joking.
Reedley local, born & raised, Javier Espindola
married Porsche Melendez who is the grand-daughter
of Bill Melendez, the famous animator. As we talked
more, Javier mentioned that Mr. Melendez often
visits the valley and dines at our local restaurants.
I was intrigued that this famous animator has
a connection to Reedley. I took advantage of the
great lead and called his studio hoping to land
soon as we got the good news that Traffic Magazine
officially landed an interview with Bill Melendez
I got very excited. I began to spread the news
with some friends and found it quite surprising
that nobody really knew of the animator. You may
not know him either, but Bill Melendez is a very
famous animator. Early in his career he worked
as an animator for Disney on Fantasia, Pinocchio,
Bambi, Dumbo, Donald Duck, & Mickey Mouse
cartoon shorts. Bill was also a prime mover in
the Disney strike of 1941.
1941 Melendez signed on with Leon Schelsinger
Cartoons, which later became Warner Bros. There
he animated some of the most loving cartoons such
as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig. Twenty
three years later Bill started his very own production
company, “Bill Melendez Prod. Inc.”.
His company was the first to animate Jim Davis’
Garfield The Cat, an Emmy award winning special.
He has won many awards since, including eight
Emmy Awards. In 1964 Melendez produced the first
Schulz Television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Until this day, Melendez has been the exclusive
animator of the Schulz characters. He not only
draws Snoopy & Woodstock but he’s also
responsible for their voices. The Peanuts Gang
became the longest running series of specials
in television history.
all the great achievements in Bill’s life,
there was one thing that inspired me to wake up
at 3 a.m., get in my car, drive 350 miles, and
meet the guy personally. It wasn’t his success
or his fame, but the fact that he is 90 years
old and still shows up to the studio and creates
magic. He can easily retire, but he doesn’t.
His passion for art is too strong. I wanted to
know his secrets. I wanted to know what keeps
him motivated to work. And I wanted to know after
all he had achieved, did he still think he had
something to prove?Traffic: How did you get started
When I moved here from Mexico I landed in Arizona.
My mom had an aunt in California who insisted
that we move to the West Coast so we did. One
of my first jobs was at a lumber yard. One of
my co-workers said, “a guy is hiring a guy
like you”, I said, “what do you mean
a guy like me”. “They are hiring artists”.
The guys at the lumber yard thought I was an artist
because I drew all the time. My co-workers told
me, “you’re an artist, go out there
and get a job”. So I took their advice and
went to the place they told me about. I showed
the employer my drawing samples. My drawings then
landed me a job working for a guy by the name
of Walt Disney. I didn’t even know who Walt
Disney was. So, my co-workers opened up the door
for me that led to my animation career.
Traffic: Out of all of your accomplishments,
which one stands out the most?
The most momentous one is the one that opened
up the door to this industry; the lumber yard
lead that led me to Walt Disney.
What advice would you give to students who are
taking up art/animation as a career.
Never be lazy. Draw all the time. Don’t
waste any time, Like in the evening don’t
go out and goof off. Go to night school, always
learning and continuing your education. Try to
get as much good instruction as you can. This
will be your greatest advantage. You need the
help of professionals to guide you. I often here
people say, “yeah but it costs money.”
I say, “Spend it”. Find the money
because it’s very important to get good
training. I have a feeling that the time is right,
right now. The industry is growing and the money
You have worked for well known companies and still
you risked it all by starting your own business.
What advice would you give to people who are interested
in starting up a business?
Every time a door opens, go for it and take it.
You never know what that door is going to open
up to. Be bold and aggressive. It’s the
only way to do it.
You have been animating for many years, you’re
90 now. You could retire if you wanted to. What
keeps you going?
Because I love it, I love what I do. I love sitting
at my drawing table and drawing. That’s
how I communicate with everybody around here.
They ask me, “What’s going on?”
“I start drawing it out.” It’s
part of my life. I do it instinctively now. I
know no other way.
Are you working on any major projects right now?
Nothing specific. I have several things going
on but they are small like commercials and things
like that. I do have a great feature plotted and
the title is “The Boots of the Virgin”
Some day you’ll see it. I’ve been
working on it for a long time.
We found out that you do the vocals for Snoopy
and Woodstock. Was that planned?
I needed a voice for Snoopy and Woodstock, we
were recording, so I said, “I’ll give
you a voice for Snoopy until we find a replacement
with a professional later on,” but then
they said, “No that’s good enough.”
“So I got stuck with that job, but it was
ok I guess.” It saved me on the talent budget.
How long does a half hour Charlie Brown
television special take to create & produce?
A half hour special’s minimum time frame
is about 6 months. What takes most of the time
is the story, the creation, the development, the
character, boy does it take a long time. Once
you get that all done it narrows down to model
sheets and there you can build up a library or
story board right away. That’s the most
fun. But I do like every aspect of it.
When you’re not drawing, what are you doing?
Melendez: I read a lot. I go to plays. I go to
a movie that gets good reviews, especially if
it’s an animated one.
Do you have a favorite Peanuts character?
I think Linus was my favorite, as a personality,
but I loved working on all the characters.
Do you mind drawing something for us?
Oh sure, I do it all the time. That’s easy
for me to do.
Team traffic gathered around the drawing table
of a legendary animator and witnessed the cartoonist
at work. It is his passion for art that keeps
him going. It was an overwhelming experience I
will never forget; to the five Emmys that stood
out in his lobby, to his friendly staff who happily
welcomed us and showed us around. After the interview
he began to sign a pile of “A Charlie Brown
Christmas,” books for an upcoming art gallery.
Mr. Melendez has no plans to retire; it is his
childlike spirit that keeps him active. After
all he is only 90 years young.