ALONE as always, Charlie Brown is standing on a baseball pitcher's mound in a thunderstorm. His pie-face and catcher's mitt hanging limply by his side can hardly be made out through the wall of water. 'Into each life some rain must fall . . . and it is usually on game day.' Across America, readers of the Peanuts comic strip are this weekend recalling favourites from the 50-year career of Charles Schulz who announced his retirement on Tuesday to battle colon cancer. 'It is raining for us all now,' said 45-year-old researcher Joseph Kearns as he scanned the daily papers on the Washington metro, one of dozens of commuters poring over the last editions of the bitter-sweet cartoon about a gang of children, a dog and a bird and the angst of growing up. 'This cartoon has been part of American life for as long as anyone can remember. It is like the death of a friend. It is hard to imagine it won't be there.' The 77-year-old Schulz traditionally worked five to six weeks ahead but the onset of cancer, discovered during a recent heart operation, has meant there are only enough strips to run until January 3. The extended Sunday version will run until February 13. The wide appeal of the cartoon is as much a reflection of Schulz' tireless work ethic as much as its gentle humour, which rarely relied on the gag and frequently reached aphorism. Unlike other peers who rely on teams of illustrators and hired joke-smiths, Schulz never paid for a one-liner and insisted on drawing all his own strips. Drawing a daily comic, after all, was a childhood ambition. A fortune built from a syndication that stretched to more than 2,600 publications in 75 countries, as well as a franchise operation turning over US$1 billion (HK$7.7 billion) a year, never allowed his drive to ebb. He took just one break - five weeks - on reaching 70. 'I have always wanted to be a cartoonist and I feel very blessed to have been able to do what I love for almost 50 years,' he said in a retirement letter to fans. The racy National Enquirer tabloid issued a get-well card appeal to its readers while others spoke of his Schulz's legacy. 'He is in the rich tradition of the little man. His characters survive because they refuse to give up, no matter how many insults and pressures,' Thomas Inge, a humanities professor at Virginia's Randolph-Macon College, told the LA Times. Garry Trudeau, whose award-winning Doonesbury strip bears little resemblance to tales of the perennial loser in the zig-zag jersey, was quick with praise. 'Everything about it was different . . . the drawing was graphically austere but beautifully nuanced,' Trudeau wrote. 'Although Schulz would say the very notion is preposterous and grandiose, he completely revolutionised the art form, deepening it, filling it with possibility, giving permission to all who followed to write from the heart and intellect.' Or, as his hard-bitten Lucy once put it: 'I just like to kick things.'