2003 NEA Holiday Comics Special, by Jef Mallett, Creator of Frazz

23 December 2003

    Touching holiday stories are a seasonal mainstay, but a sincere holiday story fashioned in an “operatic, rhyming poem” comic strip series? Now that’s something to see. This year, the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) has kept up their festive tradition, begun in 1937, by enlisting Jef Mallett to create the annual comics Christmas special. He met the challenge with the wonderful “A Mall and the Right Visitor.” The comics special began on December 1 and ends on Christmas Day. (Please see link below.)

    Narrated by Frazz, the lead comic strip character, the storyline follows Mrs. Olsen, a jaded and cynical 3rd Grade teacher, in her evidently Scrooge- like stint at playing Mall Santa. Her sole purpose is to raise enough money for an extravagant holiday to Las Vegas for herself. The students can’t resist the temptation to impose their multiple Christmas wishes on the teacher-turned-Santa with a lot of hilarity in the process. The verse from the December 10th follows the tone set on Day 1 of the special series:

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    “Our grumpy teacher? Santa Claus?/ At Mondomart? How Sweet!/ A sitting duck for mischief/ Dressed in red! Our life’s complete.”

    The verse and drawings throughout "The Mall and the Right Visitor" series is charming and delightful to read, providing both hallmarks of good writing - smiles and heart-rending moments. And all in a short 3½-week run.

    Abounding in artistic talent and skills from working such jobs as copy editor, graphic artist, editorial cartoonist and art director at the Grand Rapids Press, the Flint Journal and the Booth Newspapers’ capital bureau in Lansing, Michigan, Jef Mallett made an easy transition into comic strip cartooning. As a young artist, he taught himself to draw and write creatively, and earned his first comics publication in the Big Rapids Pioneer while in high School.

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    Mallett developed the idea for Frazz while visiting elementary schools on a book tour for his kids’ book, “Dangerous Dan” in the mid-1990s. The kids would not respond to the instruction of teachers or principals to behave for his presentation, “but in a lot of cases, the janitor would step in and the kids would quiet right down… Everybody loved the janitor.” He decided it would make a good basis for a comic strip and “couldn’t believe someone hadn’t beaten me to it.” *(1) In his own educational endeavours, Mallett attended nursing school for a short time, then left school behind to work at local newspapers.

    Drawn by hand on Bristol board with ink, Mallett then colours the Frazz strip on his computer with Photoshop. His lettering is done by his wife Patty because, “her natural handwriting blows away anything else I’ve ever seen.” Mallett uses real life for his plot ideas and “twists” them to fit the strip. “I’ll often have imaginary conversations between my characters. Eventually one of them will serve up a big, fat straight line for another character to spike.” He uses index cards to jot down his ideas for future reference. Working double-duty as Art Director for the Lansing capital bureau until Frazz picked up enough newspapers, Mallett now happily works as full-time cartoonist. *(2)

    Through United Media, Frazz has appeared on the web and in newspapers since 2000. It is steadily gaining loyal new fans. The comic strip is based on the life of Edwin Frazier, better known as Frazz, a young school janitor who commands much more respect from the students than any teacher or principal at the school. The character takes his personality from many sources, including Jef Mallett’s own wistful desires in music and his actual love of particular sports.

    As a struggling musician, Frazz proudly bears the mark of his cartoonist. Jef Mallett comes from a family of musicians: his father taught music, his mother is a violinist and pianist for stage and orchestral productions around the state of Michigan and his brother has a music Doctorate. *(1) Mallett just never developed the same musical skills, rather choosing to expand his writing and drawing talents. He also adds his love of bicycling by sending Frazz energetically off mountain biking and on cycling events.

    Frazz is enjoyed world-wide in 150 newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Denver Rocky Mountain News and the Chicago Tribune. The comic strip earned Jef Mallett the 2003 Wilbur Award from the Religion Communications Council for “excellence in communicating values and religious themes in secular media.” Mallett has a fondness for competiting in cycling and triathlons, and enjoying flight by hang glider and plane. He and his wife Patty make their home in Lansing, Michigan.

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    Be sure to have a look at “A Mall and the Right Visitor” before it disappears from the web. It is inspired, hilarious and certain to make your heart grow "two sizes." Jef Mallett has sculpted Frazz into a new seasonal favourite. And after you enjoy the holiday edition, you just might become a dedicated Frazz fan.

Link to “A Mall and the Right Visitor”:
(Was only available December 25 and until mid-January 2004, it's gone, gone, gone.)

Frazz by the daily dose:

Questions and Answers with Jef Mallett:
*(1) http://www.Dilbert.com/comics_update/0503.html

*(2) washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A4113-2003Nov21.html (Link no longer active.)

© Susanna McLeod 2003
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)