Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mell Lazarus 1927 - 2016

Cartoonist and writer Mell Lazarus died on the morning of May 24, 2016 at his home in Woodland Hills, CA. He was 89 years old.

Born in Brooklyn, Mell, as he put it, "never really graduated high school."

My art teacher flunked me. I have since, however, attended many classes of one kind or another. I frequently lecture at colleges and to other groups around the country. I sold my first cartoon when I was 16. I did commercial art and edited children’s magazines prior to February 4, 1957 when my comic, Miss Peach, was launched. The characters in Miss Peach are not actually modeled on real persons, with the possible exception of Lester, the skinny kid in the strip. Possibly the most loved character is Arthur, the dopey little kid. I make notes all week based on thoughts, conversational fragments, etc. I sift through all these notes on Monday mornings and select several to develop. I then write gags for them. I do six daily strips and Sunday page. -- from THESE TOP CARTOONISTS TELL HOW THEY CREATED AMERICA'S FAVORITE COMICS by Allen Willette. Allied Publications, 1964.

"'He was a high school dropout who later joined Mensa,' writer/cartoonist Tom Gammill told the NCS, confirming that Mr. Lazarus was literally a comic 'genius.'" -- "RIP, Mell Lazarus: Colleagues salute the warm wit of the ‘Momma’ and ‘Miss Peach’ comics creator" by Michael Cavna for the Washington Post's Comic Riffs

His early years were spent as an assistant to the Caplin brothers, Eliot Caplin and Al Capp. Mell assisted on their publishing enterprise, Toby Press. He wrote a novel, THE BOSS IS CRAZY TOO (1963), a fictionalized account of those times

MISS PEACH was syndicated beginning February 4, 1957, and would run until 2002. MOMMA began in 1970 and is still in newspapers today. He also worked on a comic strip with Jack Rickard PAULINE McPERIL, which ran for three years from 1966.

Mell was a National Cartoonists Society mainstay, winning multiple awards -- the Humor Comic Strip Division Award twice (1973 and 1979), and the Reuben Award (1982) as well as the Silver T-Square (2000). He was also a two-term president (1989-1993).

Michael Cavna has collected some quotes from fellow cartoonists who knew Mell well. Go see.

Here's Wiley Miller, the NON SEQUITOR cartoonist, on Mell Lazarus which I nicked from that page:

“My lasting memory of Mell was our first meeting. … The Northern California Spelling Bee competition [had] roped Mell into being the lunch speaker. … We had time to kill, so Mell asked me if there was a bar in the hotel. Like bees to nectar, that’s where cartoonists also are drawn, so to speak. As we sat down, continuing talking about cartooning and the business, Mell paused, then asked me, ‘So what should I talk about at this thing?’ I did a spit-take, laughed and said, “Mell, I’m here to learn fromyou!” That was Mell. No big-timing a young a cartoonist. He dearly loved the art form and cartoonists, never treating one better than the other, no matter how long or short they’ve been in the business. Mell and I became very close friends since that day over 30 years ago. 
“My last memory of Mell was two years ago at the Reubens Weekend when he was the presenter for the Reuben Award, which went to me. Having Mell hand the award to me meant more — far more — to me than the award itself. I’ll cherish those bookend memories the rest of my life. As I said in my acceptance speech about Mell, his influence on me didn’t make me a better cartoonist — it made me a better person.”
In person, he took you quietly into his confidence and there was, for a moment, just you and Mell. And he treated you like a contemporary!!! Mell told great stories and was a genuine gentleman. A huge loss for us all.

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