In the past month or so, my wife and I have become the proud owners of two pieces of original art from the second year of the amazing 45-year run, 1957 to 2002, of the comic strip, Miss Peach, by Mell Lazarus. Although I feel that Lazarus did his best work in his Sunday strips, where he was able more fully to indulge his tremendous gift for comic dialogue, I was thrilled to be able to purchase two fine dailies, dated 09-09-58 and 09-24-58, in two separate auctions, for a mere US$55.50 each, shipping from the USA to Canada included. Here are the strips, which, btw, are not only huge — the paper is 18.5 inches wide by 6.06 inches high — but also in excellent condition, especially considering that they’re more than 50 years old:
Now, I am fully aware that many academically trained artists hate Mell Lazarus’s style of cartooning in Miss Peach, dismissing it as “childish” or worse, but as for me, well, I’ve always had a soft spot for the big-headed, big-nosed, sharp-tongued kids of the Kelly School. Modelled to a large extent on Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts, Lazarus’s Miss Peach combined economical but expressive and amusing drawings with witty and incisive social observation and punch lines that could make you laugh and squirm at the same time. The effectiveness of Lazarus’s visual shorthand is especially evident in his characters’ facial expressions, which in my experience always deliver more relevant and touching emotion than Lazarus’s (and Schulz’s) critics would have you believe possible.
In the first decade and a half of his career, Lazarus, who was never short on ambition, steadily worked his way up in the newspaper comics world, going from fledgling freelancer/comic-strip artist — his first, moderately successful strips were “Wee Women” and “Li’l One” — to an assistant position with Al Capp and Elliot A. Caplin’s Toby Press, to art director/comics editor at Toby Press, to nationally syndicated cartoonist. Following the success of Miss Peach, Lazarus, restless as ever, went on to create a short-lived humour-adventure strip, Pauline McPeril, with artist Jack Rickard, in 1966 — it was cancelled after three years — and then bounced back with a second comic-strip hit with Momma, in 1970. And for the next 30 years, Lazarus wrote and drew two syndicated strips, Miss Peach and Momma, until health issues caused him to reduce his work load by dropping Miss Peach in 2002. Momma, however, is still going strong!
But Mell Lazarus hasn’t only had success with readers; he’s also enjoyed the respect and approbation of his peers, winning the Best in Humour Strip Award from the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) in 1973 and 1979, the Reuben from the NCS for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year in 1982 for his work on Miss Peach, and the Silver T-Square from the NCS “for outstanding dedication or service to the NCS or the profession” in 2000. And as if that wasn’t enough, Lazarus’s fellow cartoonists also elected him President of the National Cartoonists Society for two terms, 1989 to 1991 and 1991 to 1993.
Finally, in addition to cartooning, Mell Lazarus has found time to write television scripts, plays, two novels — The Boss is Crazy, Too and The Neighborhood Watch — and, well, you get the picture. He’s always been a busy guy. But not too busy to answer his own front door: