On The Passing Of _Momma_ Cartoonist Mell Lazarus


Years ago I got a book about skyscrapers. It was a collection of articles from Architectural Digest or some similar quasi-trade publication. The articles were mostly about what contemporaries thought of buildings at the time. It was one of those this-looks-interesting-in-the-dollar-bin purchases, since I know less about architectural criticism than you imagine. No, less than that.

One essay catching my attention, though, was about a circa 1910 skyscraper. The article praised its design for having finally solved the problem of skyscraper proportions. And the picture looked … normal. Boring. There was nothing distinctive about this building. You could drop this maybe fifteen-storey thing into any city and not be noticed. It was a mystifying phrase until I understood the context. If this solved the problem, well, of course it wouldn’t stand out nearly a century later.

The National Cartoonists Society announced yesterday the death of Mell Lazarus. He was renowned in comic strip circles for Miss Peach and Momma. Miss Peach, particularly, I keep hearing singled out for brilliance, and I confess I don’t get it. Probably that’s from lack of exposure. It was never running in a newspaper when I was growing up, and I never saw it on a newspaper’s web site before the strip closed up in 2002. I may have seen it parodied, mostly in Mad Magazine, more than I’ve seen the original. It’s hard to understand what’s great in something that way. It looks like an average example of that Mid-Century Modern comic strip style shared by every comic strip from between about 1960 and whenever it was Dilbert became trendy. But see the problem of the solved skyscraper.

Momma, though, that I read growing up and through to the present day. The family dynamics are awfully screwed up, but in a way normal enough for a joke-engine daily strip. The art, at least at Lazarus’s peak, had that style that looks shaggy and undisciplined, but which you learn is really tightly controlled when you study it seriously or, better, try to imitate it. And the jokes may have gotten harder to parse lately, but it’s hard to land every joke successfully, especially in a comic strip with a necessarily small cast of characters and limited set of continuing stories.

Anyway, by all accounts, Lazarus was a fantastic person and your life was considerably better if he was in it. That’s a great thing for people to be able to say about you.

Advertisements

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

2 thoughts on “On The Passing Of _Momma_ Cartoonist Mell Lazarus”

  1. I had figured, based on just how bad the art and incomprehensible the words had gotten lately, that he was on the way to retirement, and probably had some ongoing dementia or some other degenerative condition. Always sad to see someone go, though.

    Like

    1. That he was nearly ninety years old — and not the oldest person doing syndicated daily strips! — and was taking more frequent weeklong breaks made me suspect he was not doing well at all. The shakiness in the art and the writing didn’t help the impression either.

      It is sad, though, and as I say he was apparently an extremely well-regarded person.

      Like

Please Write Something Funnier Than I Thought To

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s