Managing to do what Spike Milligan didn't
January 10, 2017 10:54 AM   Subscribe

For nearly 35 years, Mell Lazarus knew exactly how the end would go for Momma. In 1982, when the cartoonist began dating Sally Mitchell, who would become his second wife, he confided to her that he had already decided what the final installment of his comic strip would be, and he told her the idea.
Cartoonist Mell Lazarus died on 24th May of last year and had the perfect ending for his comic strip planned thirtyfour years earlier already.
posted by MartinWisse (30 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Thorzdad at 11:40 AM on January 10


I don't really have much of an opinion on Momma, I remember reading it and not liking it years ago, but I do love the idea that Lazarus planned it ahead of time and they were able to pull it off even after he died.

Also comic crossovers is one of my favorite things ever.

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posted by bondcliff at 11:43 AM on January 10 [5 favorites]


A bit ironic that Snoopy was included in the comic, mourning the loss of Momma, given that the Powers That Be will not let Peanuts itself die. I think a strip ought to end with it's creator. Could never understand why Peanuts is continuing to run on, like a zombie, endlessly recycling the already-used strips.

I mean sure, from a syndication standpoint, it costs nothing to keep reprinting strips you already own, with no author to pay. But from a consumer perspective, is there really that much demand for Peanuts to continue being a feature attraction in the funny pages?
posted by caution live frogs at 11:47 AM on January 10


Relatedly, Mell Lazarus had a white piano, and practically every cartoonist drew a sketch on it at some point. Behold its glory in photos and video!
posted by Shmuel510 at 11:49 AM on January 10 [10 favorites]


Aw, that's a good wrap-up. It's nice to read how involved other longtime syndicated cartoonists were; that the other artists drew their own characters mostly and that "Cathy Guisewite, of Cathy, had come out from Florida to keep Mitchell and Lazarus company at the end."
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:49 AM on January 10 [6 favorites]


Previously.
posted by Melismata at 11:52 AM on January 10


But from a consumer perspective, is there really that much demand for Peanuts to continue being a feature attraction in the funny pages?

The funny pages are a vestigial organ on a dying lifeform anyway. Might as well satisfy those six old people who still read them.
posted by Etrigan at 12:01 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


But from a consumer perspective, is there really that much demand for Peanuts to continue being a feature attraction in the funny pages?

Didn't I once read that out of all the negative snail mail feedback received by newspapers, the vast majority comes from disgruntled comics readers responding to even the smallest of changes made to the funny pages?
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:04 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Could never understand why Peanuts is continuing to run on, like a zombie, endlessly recycling the already-used strips.

See also my rage at Lynn Johnston making money recycling 30+ year old For Better or For Worse strips when the original run ended 8 years ago.

But yeah, this is good. I remember Momma from when I was a kid. Didn't like it, but this was really the only way to end it. And good on it for ending.
posted by kimberussell at 12:07 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


TBH it was the funny pages that kept me reading and subscribing to newspapers as long as I did. My daily habit before I hit my blog roll and social media is to load up the webcomics tabs in my browser, with uBlock off so the creators can make some cash. Some of those I've been reading for damn near twenty years, and they've changed along with me (most notably Sinfest and John Allison's Tackleverse comics).
posted by infinitewindow at 12:11 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


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posted by drezdn at 12:13 PM on January 10


. IRL
. in Story
posted by Bringer Tom at 12:15 PM on January 10


An autopsy was performed when foul play by Not Me was suspected.

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posted by dr_dank at 12:31 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


This is the first I've ever heard of this strip, but didn't some other famous person either use the same epitaph, or joke about doing so?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:43 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the epitaph's been used before, but that's not really the point.
posted by Shmuel510 at 12:52 PM on January 10


But from a consumer perspective, is there really that much demand for Peanuts

Even worse, they rarely reprint the early, sardonic stuff. Nostalgia is the junk food of emotions. Schultz is amazing, but you'd never know that with the stuff that gets re-printed.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 12:55 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


I'm not convinced by the equivalence of David Bowie & Mell Lazarus, or "Black Star" & Momma's last panel, but hey. I like the funny pages, even now that they're not that funny.
posted by chavenet at 1:06 PM on January 10


_v_

(I never understood Momma's hat.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:19 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Could never understand why Peanuts is continuing to run on, like a zombie, endlessly recycling the already-used strips.

Still better than hiring someone to extrude new strips.
posted by brennen at 1:22 PM on January 10


Still better than hiring someone to extrude new strips.

Surely a creative person or team capable of putting out Peanuts strips matching Sparky in his prime is ready to put out something original.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:25 PM on January 10


They try -- recent comic books by Shane Houghton, and the movie from last year, but the magic's gone, clearly.
posted by Rash at 2:08 PM on January 10


Almost as moving as the time the Wizard of Id sailed west over the Sea to the Undying Lands.
posted by PlusDistance at 2:47 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]


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posted by radwolf76 at 2:59 PM on January 10


>Surely a creative person or team capable of putting out Peanuts strips matching >Sparky in his prime is ready to put out something original.

I vaguely remember the last gasp of syndicated "Pogo" comic strips written by Walt Kelly and vaguely remember when someone tried to revive the strip (late 70s? Early 80s?). My parents always spoke reverently of "Pogo", but I couldn't understand why, certainly not from the revival. Then I found some old "pogo" paperbacks in a second-hand bookshop and realized Walt Kelly and Charles Schulz had the same problem: they were dazzlingly brilliant early on and then success made them comfortable, and it's the comfortable years that people find comforting.
posted by acrasis at 5:59 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Walt Kelly and Charles Schulz had the same problem: they were dazzlingly brilliant early on and then success made them comfortable...

The Peanuts cartoon "Specials" were from the very beginning with "A Charlie Brown Christmas" subversive and brilliant and essential.

"It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" was a critique and re-affirmation of faith.

"A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," where a child and a beagle and a non-migratory songbird are expected to provide a sumptuous feast on the spot for the whole neighborhood, and, well, you should be detecting a theme, here. Critique and re-affirmation of faith. The definition of an inclusive and gentle American culture that is being fought against tooth and nail even today.

His comic strips were just a daily idea dump he'd return to now and again, to do stuff like Snoopy Come Home.

Watch Snoopy Come Home and decide you want to repeal Obamacare. What kind of monsters are they?

I kind of wanted a Charles Schultz co-ordinated Uncle Spike animated feature in the early aughts.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:15 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


A lifetime of reading and appreciating journalism started with 7 year old me obsessing over the comics page every morning over breakfast. Just reflecting on that now for the first time that that's a thing of the past now. Of the daily print newspapers, the ones that are even slightly worth reading as a physical thing delivered to your doorstep don't even have comics. I am pleased that both of my kids have read the entire Calvin and Hobbes anthology and busted a gut out loud the whole time.

Anyway, Momma wasn't a great strip and this isn't particularly clever but I suppose it elicits a mild "awww..." from me. I agree that this single panel that the author didn't even produce is nothing at all like Bowie's profound musings on his mortality that consumed/fueled his last year on earth and it seems dismissive and insulting to compare the two. Then again, that's the funny pages in the year 2017, dismissive and insulting.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:23 PM on January 10


The existential angst of the early Peanuts was brilliant. Snoopy selling life insurance era, not so much. But to each their tastes. Folks generally want to be told they are right. It's pandering, but it also pays the bills.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 9:09 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


I kind of wanted a Charles Schultz co-ordinated Uncle Spike animated feature in the early aughts.

Spike was Snoopy's brother, not uncle. And after the disappointment that was 1988's It's the Girl in the Red Truck Charlie Brown, I don't think the any network or studio would have greenlit another Spike-centric project, even if it was fully animated, and not another live action/animation hybrid like Girl in the Red Truck was.

Featuring a script co-written by Charles Schultz and his son, and starring his daughter Jill, the hour long special might be best summed up in the words of Charles himself: “I wanted this to be my Citizen Kane, but it's not." (Which may be the Charlie Browniest thing Schultz has ever said).

Taken as itself, Girl in the Red Truck might have at least been noted for its technical achievement, as no one was really doing much in combining live action and animation on television at the time, but it had the misfortune to be aired just weeks after the theatrical release of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and while as a television special, it had a fraction of the budget of a major Hollywood feature (the production having spent only $300 on the titular red truck for example), it couldn't help but end up looking like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree in comparison to the first place prize Snoopy's dog house won in the Christmas lights contest that was Roger Rabbit.

Girl in the Red Truck might be the low point of the Peanuts television specials in the 80s, but if it is, it is at least tied with It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown, where they made a TV special as an excuse to rotoscope Snoopy over Jenifer Beals' dancing scenes body double from Flashdance, Marine Jahan. Both are technical feats in animation, but when it comes to the basic premise of each, there's not much to do but shake your head and say "The 80s were weird", and possibly theorize on the amount of cocaine use in television network boardrooms.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:14 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


radwolf76, I was pretty sure you were making that shit up until I googled it.
posted by brennen at 9:22 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


The Peanuts cartoon "Specials" were from the very beginning with "A Charlie Brown Christmas" subversive and brilliant and essential.

Well, of course, from the beginning -- Schulz was directly involved only with the first three. And after a while, the storylines in the TV specials diverge so mightily from the strips that "subversive, brilliant and essential" are not at all words used to describe them. (For example, CB with the Little Red-haired girl? Good Grief! Sparky never drew that.)

But this is about "Momma"; I don't mean to derail. Didn't realize "Miss Peach" was by the same guy. That piano must be an amazing item to behold; hope it winds up in some public place where I can inspect it.
posted by Rash at 2:07 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


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