Mel Lazarus, Creator of Miss Peach and Momma

15 November 2002

    Mel Lazarus is one busy guy. He has been a cartoonist of several different strips since graduating high school in 1945, worked for Al Capp, been an art director/comics editor, president of the National Cartoonists Society, lecturer and written several books.

    Born in Brooklyn, New York on May 3, 1927, Melvin Lazarus took up freelance magazine cartooning fresh out of high school, with his first work appearing in many nation-wide magazines. He developed two comic strips entitled “Wee Women” and “Li'l One,” forming a solid base of creating the young, saucy characters that would later become his trademark unique style.

Lazarus1

    Al Capp, cartoonist and one of the owners of Toby Press, enlisted Mel’s drawing skills to copy his Li'l Abner characters for cards, games, comic books and other products. Mel worked his way into the position of art director/comics editor at Toby, staying from 1949 to 1954. The young cartoonist found enough material in the experience to write his first book, “The Boss is Crazy, Too,” published in 1964.

    Inspired by a contest held by United Features to find new comic strips, Mel produced a new cartoon. He “scanned the papers and there was nothing about schools, so I invented Miss Peach.” (*1) With bizarre huge heads and sharp-witted personalities, the panel did not win the contest but instead took its place on the cartoon roster on February 4, 1957 in the New York Herald Tribune. Mel used the space normally filled by four-panel strips as one large space, sharing his comic views of politics and societal ironies of the day through the mouths of his sophisticated young stars and their teacher, Miss Peach. The background was set in the fictitious Kelly School, named after the creator of Pogo, Walt Kelly. The dialogue did not talk down to readers The comic won loyal fan support immediately.

    Not sufficiently challenged, Mel teamed up with Jack Richard in 1966 to create a cartoon spoof of the Perils with Pauline movies, entitled “Pauline McPeril,” using the pseudonym Fulton. The comic was not well-received and lasted only three years with the Field Newspaper Syndicate.

    In 1969, Mel developed “Momma,” a comic strip centered on an overbearing, nagging and controlling mother who just can’t let go of her kids, even if they are in their 40s. She has no success manipulating their lives, but is pleased to keep them feeling guilty. "Momma" has become Lazarus’ best-loved cartoon accomplishment, touching a nerve with many readers, most likely because it is partially formed from the cartoonist’s own experiences with his own mother. Mel’s mother doesn’t see herself in the comic, but rather feels that her sister is portrayed. “You’ve caught Aunt Helen to a tee!” *(2) The comic strip made its debut on October 26, 1970, again under the Field Newspaper Syndicate.

    Both "Miss Peach" and "Momma" were moved to Creators Syndicate in 1988, with newspapers numbering in the 300s for the "Miss Peach," panel and 400s for the "Momma" strip. Mel received the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben for Best Cartoonist in 1982 with awards for Best Humour Strip in 1973 and 1979. He was President of the NCS from 1989 to 1993. The author of several books, – sadly, the cartoon collections are mostly out of print - Mel has also written television scripts and plays. His second novel, “The Neighbourhood Watch,” was published by Doubleday and optioned for a movie.

    Treating cartooning as a regular job, Mel, who signs his work as Mell, begins each workday at 8 a.m. Mondays are used to prepare ideas for the week’s cartoons, take care of mail and requests, (money received from originals, reprints and lecturing is sent to one of his mother’s favourite charities) and to organize work on other projects. Tuesdays are spent on dialogue, being “the most interesting process to me, and the longest, usually lasting until Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning.” He begins his drawings and sends off both finished sets of strips, including Sundays, to Creators.

    Mel has three daughters and lives in Woodlands, California. He is husband to Sally Mitchell, four-term Mayor of San Carlos, California and lawyer specializing in employment law. She was selected Citizen of the Year for 2002, an honour bestowed on her as reward for her years of generously devoted work for the children, youth, hospitals and Chamber of Commerce in the area. *(3)

It has been forty seven years and counting for the cleverly humourous Mel Lazarus and his cartoons. That is a lifetime of giggles.

*(1) The Encyclopedia of American Comics, 1897 to the Present, Edited by Ron Goulart, published by Promised Land Productions, 1990. Pages 226, 262, 264.

Daily comics of Miss Peach and Momma on Creators:
*(2)http://www.creators.com/comics_Shell.cfm?pg=biography.html&comicname= mom

© Susanna McLeod 2002
TheCartoonists.ca
     
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)