Born in Kennett, Missouri, he got his start as a sports cartoonist for the Tampa Daily Times. While playing golf in the area, Barney Google creator Billy DeBeck noticed Lasswell's work and hired the 17-year-old as an assistant. Lasswell worked closely with DeBeck for the next 18 years. DeBeck and Lasswell changed the focus of the urban-oriented strip when they introduced Google's hillbilly cousin Snuffy Smith in 1934.
After DeBeck's death from cancer in 1942, Lasswell took over Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. Under Lasswell's tenure, Google was gradually phased out (although he did reappear occasionally), and the strip's emphasis shifted to Snuffy Smith and his rural setting. Lasswell also introduced his own characters, including Elviney Barlow, Parson Tuttle and Ol' Doc Pritchart.
Lasswell was a prolific inventor and early adopter of new technology. He was one of the first cartoonists to email his strips to his syndicate, King Features Syndicate, and to employ computer-generated lettering. In the early 1980s, he used a Macintosh II and a laserprinter to create a font that simulated his lettering style. A member of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, he patented a citrus fruit harvester. In addition to devising a hypercard stack for computers and a bilingual laserdisc, he developed a method of Braille for reading comics when he created a comic book, This Is Charlie, in Braille. He also produced the video series Draw and Color with Uncle Fred.
Looking back at age 79
In 1996, Lasswell reflected on the increase of social commentary into comic strips:
- Now you have all these little messages all over the page. I feel like saying, "If they'll keep this stuff off the comics page, I promise to stay off the editorial page." I just try to do what tickles me. You can't go to school and take a course in sense of humor, and if you don't love this stuff, it gets to be just like chopping wood. It can be a real chore. I've always believed that creative talent gravitates to the marketplace. Someone told me once to always remember that there's never room at the bottom. But there's always room at the top.
Lasswell lived for many years in Tampa, Florida. When he died in 2001, he was survived by his wife, Shirley, three sons and a daughter. Editorial cartoonist John R. Rose, who began as Lasswell's inking assistant in 1998, became the Snuffy Smith artist after Lasswell's death. Margaret Shulock is one of the strip's uncredited writers.
Lasswell received the National Cartoonists Society Humor Comic Strip Award in 1963 and its Reuben Award, which had originally been named after DeBeck, that same year. He also received their Elzie Segar Award in 1984 and 1994.