Momma and the Kids. Artist: Mell Lazarus.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Publishers-Hall Syndicate
First Appeared: 1970
Creator: Mell Lazarus
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Mell Lazarus is equally famous for two comics — Momma and Miss Peach. Of the two, he he found the latter easier to do because, as he put it, "it was wide-ranging and the …

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… world was my source"; whereas the tighter cast of Momma required a much closer focus. But when it came time for him to curtail his activities, in 2002 (when he was 75), it was Miss Peach that he chose to drop.

The title character of the surviving comic was based on the cartoonist's own mom, who reportedly conformed to the "Jewish mother" stereotype (in fact, she's one of the most overtly Jewish comic strip protagonists since Abie the Agent). According to the lady in question, Lazarus nailed his target precisely — but she thought the target was his Aunt Helen. If this proves anything, it's that the character's appeal is universal. Take away a few stylistic flourishes, and practically anybody could be her son or daughter, or at least knows someone who could.

"Momma" is Sonja (no relation) Hobbs, 65, whose three offspring (Francis, Thomas and Mary Lou) form her supporting cast. Francis is a perennially unemployed slacker, unmarried, whose source of fodder for Momma's perpetual criticism is obvious. Thomas is quite successful in his job, but his wife can't possibly come up to Momma's standards. Mary Lou gets along okay in the material realm, but has constant relationship problems. Momma is very, very short — even shorter than Elmer Fudd or Snuffy Smith — because Lazarus finds it convenient to have a lot of space over her head for word balloons.

Lazarus launched his homage to Mom on October 26, 1970, through Publishers-Hall Syndicate (Mark Trail, Funky Winkerbean). Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, the syndicate eventually became a part of King Features. But by the time that happened, Lazarus had moved his feature to Creators Syndicate, which also handles Baby Blues, Heathcliff and other popular strips. It has appeared both daily and Sunday since the very beginning.

Between them, Momma and Miss Peach were responsible for getting Lazarus The National Cartoonists' Society's 1982 Reuben Award. This puts him in company with some of the greatest cartoonists of all time, such as Al Capp (Li'l Abner), Alex Raymond (Rip Kirby) and of course, the man the award was named after, Rube Goldberg himself.

Other than reprints of the strip in book form, Momma hasn't appeared in other media — not even Mother's Day cards! Lazarus once turned down an offer of a toy contract, on grounds that the toy (a "Momma" doll that criticizes you when you pull the string) was annoying, and they must have been crazy to think something like that would sell. Her success as a character is reflected only in the fact that Creators Syndicate distributes her strip to more than 400 newspapers worldwide.


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Text ©2005-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Mell Lazarus.