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|Launch date||2 April 2001|
|Syndicate(s)||United Feature Syndicate|
|Publisher(s)||Andrews McMeel Publishing|
|Genre(s)||Slice of Life / Social Satire|
Frazz is a syndicated comic strip by Jef Mallett that, on the surface, is about school custodian Edwin "Frazz" Frazier and the school where he works, but which, according to Mallett, is really about discovery. The strip debuted on 2 April 2001.
Style and theme
Mallett has explained that the strip is about discovery, and not merely learning. Frazz's job is just the surface. He reads everything from Milton to Hiaasen to bike racing magazines, he writes, he races, he’s an athlete, and he’s a songwriter, discovering the value of a day job. When songwriting started going well, he kept his custodian job because it was the perfect environment for discovery through the energy and interest of the students. Many of the characters are based on his childhood experiences at school, and at home as the child of an educator. Frazz is, at least attitudinally, based on Mallett himself. During a 1996 book tour of schools to promote a children's book he wrote and illustrated, Mallett noticed that the kids wouldn't quiet down for their teachers or principals, but would for the school janitor; he or she was "the man", existing on a separate plane between the students and adults.
Frazz – The eponymous character, Edwin Frazier, is a barely-thirty-year-old songwriter who took a job as janitor of Bryson Elementary. Mallett describes him as "the voice of reason, the voice of experience and, frequently, the voice of temptation." He took the job because his songwriting career wasn't going well, but then several of his songs became major hits. Now independently wealthy, he keeps his job as janitor because he can. His daily interactions with the students and faculty reveal insight into an unimaginable number of topics: books, music, pop culture, art, history, and many more. A true Renaissance man, Frazz is always ready to teach children and adults more about the world around them. Because he doesn't look down on them, the students look up to him, and he also has the respect of the adults, with the possible exception of Mrs. Olsen, who remembers what a handful he was when he was in third grade. Drawing inspiration from his daily school life, his songs soon become extremely popular. Frazz loves triathlons, bicycling, jogging, swimming, basketball, songwriting, and talking with the students. However, among the students, he seems to have a spot in his heart for Caulfield especially, as he is always spurring him to mischief (often unintentionally), and makes excuses for Caulfield's "bored genius" behavior. He also seems to always clean the detention room where Caulfield spends a good bit of his time. He has a pet guinea pig which he rescued from Mrs. Olsen's classroom and named "Lyle" after Lyle Lovett. Frazz has a sister who works as a nurse, and his mother is said to be an excellent cook and seamstress, but these relatives are unseen characters except for occasional Thanksgiving Day appearances. Frazz admittedly suffers from poor taste in clothes, confessing at one point that he wore sweaters "... good enough for Bill Cosby" all through high school and frequently showing a penchant for Hawaiian patterned shirts, including one featuring dogs playing poker. Frazz is also bad at shopping for gifts, having been banned from future purchases on his parents' behalf after incidents involving "... a singing bass and a Dancing Hula Girl".
Caulfield – An eight-year-old named by his parents after J. D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Caulfield tried to convince Mrs. Olsen that he was from a disadvantaged background, but his father is finishing his PhD in pharmacology, and his mother is a civil engineer. Mallett regards Caulfield as "the hero of the strip ... He won’t give up that joy of learning for the sake of a test score, for quiet approval, for the easy A". Caulfield is a handful. He is a genius, but hates school because it fails to challenge him. He spends a lot of time in detention for speaking out in class, but whiles away the hours discussing books or logic with Frazz. His fresh perspective on the world brings interesting, often startling revelations to the comic. Caulfield chooses a literature-themed costume every Halloween, often stumping most of the teachers but being quickly recognized by Frazz. Mrs. Olsen decides one year to remove all of the books Caulfield has checked out over the year from the library. She thinks her plan is a good one until Frazz mentions that it "narrows it down to triple digits"; correcting herself, she says her plan is good but not foolproof.
Caulfield's costumes have included:
- Jean Louise "Scout" Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird
- Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea
- Dorian Gray
- The Frog from "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"
- The Greek god Zeus
- Chief Bromden from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
- A Tralfamadorian from Slaughterhouse Five
- Mildred Montag from Fahrenheit 451
- Lt. Mudd a/k/a "the dead man in Yossarian's tent" from Catch-22
- The Devil from Faust, specifically Randy Newman's Faust
- "The Road Not Taken" (symbolized by his choice to take a different route to school from his usual one)
- "The Pit and the Pendulum" (sitting on the playground swings with his dog) 
- Gregor Samsa from The Metamorphosis 
- "The Man," the unnamed main character of the Jack London story "To Build a Fire" 
- "Jabberwocky," as interpreted by a word processing program's auto-correct utility
- Into Thin Air or The Eiger Sanction, mentioned as an afterthought by Caulfield to explain his mountaineering outfit
- Rip van Winkle, as he appears in Act I of his eponymous tale by Washington Irving
- Norman Maclean, from his semi-autobiographical A River Runs Through It, though it was never overtly stated.
Miss Jane Plainwell – The first-grade teacher at Bryson Elementary, and Frazz's romantic interest. The students all think they'd be a perfect couple, and the two often go on jogs together while talking about life and love. Like Frazz, Miss Plainwell is also an athlete, running in 5K charity races. She inspired Mr. Burke to exercise more often, and trained and ran with him in the Detroit 5K. She majored in journalism, and worked at the sports department of a newspaper, before she decided to teach at Bryson Elementary, wanting to work with a "more mature audience". Miss Plainwell is modeled on Mallett's wife. She has a pet greyhound named "Mario", which she adopted after it retired from racing.
Mr. Burke – Mr. Burke is the fourth-grade teacher at Bryson Elementary, the best teacher there and Frazz's best friend. His one-on-one basketball matches with Frazz are filled with brilliant discussions—and very little scoring. Burke started out obese, but has slimmed down due to a Frazz-inspired exercise program. He is revealed by the students to have had an Afro during high school.
Mrs. Olsen – Mrs. Olsen is the third grade teacher at Bryson Elementary, and the teacher from hell. She is frequently the object of tricks and practical jokes by Frazz and Caulfield, and Caulfield's questions/comments in class often drive her to distraction. She had enough of Frazz when he was her student years ago, and would just as soon he leave for good. Another side of her character is seen when Caulfield gets a summer job in her garden (a summer 2005 sequence in Frazz) and they come to have a sense of respect for each other. She is a composite of several of Mallett's teachers and one of Mallett's wife's teachers. She has a brother or sister, as she also has a niece. She is also of Scandinavian (probably Norwegian) descent, as she once cooked lutefisk for her class, in much the same way that Mrs. Trevino cooks gorditas on Cinco de Mayo. She is shown to be a hero at heart with the story arc starting the week of 17 June 2013, although she wants to keep intact her public image of a crusty exterior and unsympathetic attitude.
Coach Hacker – The physical education teacher, interested only in team sports, with no interest in participatory athletics. Coach Hacker was an All-Big 10 defensive end in the 1970s, but now is out-of shape and has been married five times. In a later strip, however, Coach Hacker is described as having been an all-conference defensive end for fictional "Southern State", and having played in the Cherry Bowl. The Cherry Bowl existed for two seasons in 1984 and 1985. In college his nickname was "Man-O-War", but now it is "Jellyfish". According to Mallett, he "doesn't understand Frazz any more than he understands how to work a combination lock". He is said to have eaten at Burger Bunker every single day for years. He is often very competitive with Frazz, comparing sports such as football and hockey against running and cycling.
Mr. Uhrmann – A substitute teacher for Mrs. Olsen who is unflustered by Caulfield. He is described by Frazz as the only one of Caulfield's substitute teachers not to "throw up his hands and quit by 9:30". Caulfield calls him "The Uhrmanator".
Mrs. Trevino – The second-grade teacher at Bryson Elementary. She cooks gorditas for her class every Cinco de Mayo. She also had "Tamale Day" to use cooking as a teaching tool (although she apparently didn't know that the corn husk was not to be eaten). This causes quite a bit of jealousy from Mrs. Olsen, who thinks that her native country's food is just as interesting as gorditas. Mrs. Trevino has been phased away from the strip, as has Clutch, now that Ms. Plainwell (Mrs. Trevino's former best friend) and Frazz are in a relationship.
References to real life
Many of the characters or locations in the strip are references to real-life people whom Mallett respects or other aspects of his life. In addition to various literary figures. In a 2008 interview, Mallett said that Bryson Elementary is named after one of his favorite authors, Bill Bryson.
- Frazz plays catch with Caulfield on Bobke's Bluff, referencing cyclist Bob Roll.
- Caulfield tells Frazz that Mrs. Olsen believes reports that Elvis was seen working as a barista at the Water Street Coffee Joint in Kalamazoo.
- In one recent strip, Frazz is wearing a shirt from nearby University of Detroit Jesuit High School.
- In one strip, Frazz and Caulfield visit County Line Lake, which is likely a reference to either County Line Lake in Oakfield, Michigan, or County Like Lake in Locke, Michigan.
- In one recent strip, Caulfield is wearing a hat with the logo of the Detroit Red Wings on it.
Comparisons to Calvin and Hobbes
Because of similarities in calligraphic style, Frazz's physical appearance, station in life as a brilliant underachiever, and his age relative to Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes, speculation arose that Mallett was actually Bill Watterson, with accusations that Frazz was an unauthorized sequel to Watterson's strip and that Frazz is Calvin as an adult. Some other characters that are similar are Miss Wormwood and Suzie Derkins in Watterson's strip to Mrs. Olsen and Miss Plainwell in Mallett's strip. In a May 2006 series of strips, Frazz and Caulfield invent a game called "Bedlamball" that, like "Calvinball", has no apparent rules or scoring. Mallett acknowledges Watterson's influence, but denies that he is Watterson or that Frazz is intended as a copy or replacement of, or sequel to, Calvin and Hobbes.
In his online column, "Chatological Humor", Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten published a response by Mallett to the speculation that Frazz was a grown-up Calvin. In the foreword to Live at Bryson Elementary, Weingarten writes, "They're [critics are] focusing not only on hair (Frazz's frizz), but also on his station in life: a brilliant underachiever. Well, Jef assures me that any similarity is unintentional."
Mallett has alluded to the speculation several times in the strip. In a September 2003 Sunday strip an introverted student tells Frazz that she wants to be famous, and believes it is possible to be famous for one's work, without exposing your private life to the public eye. Frazz says, "Good point. Like J.D. Salinger or Bill Watterson." Though she's never heard of them. As part of a brief story arc in November 2006, Frazz tells Caulfield "I also used to be Bill Watterson's personal assistant." Also, in a story arc where Mallett corrects a mistake in attribution of a quote by Edison, Caulfield compares cartoonists to gods. Frazz replies that that might be a bit of a stretch, but Caulfield replies, "What about that Calvin and Hobbes guy?" and Frazz replies, "Okay, him, yeah."
- 2003 and 2005 Wilbur Award for Promoting Ethics and Positive Values
- Live at Bryson Elementary. 2005, Andrews McMeel Publishing. 128 pages. Collects strips from April 2, 2001 to January 6, 2002. Includes foreword by Gene Weingarten and introduction by Jef Mallett. ISBN 0-7407-5447-5
- 99% Perspiration. 2006, Andrews McMeel Publishing. 128 pages. Collects strips from January 7, 2002 to October 19, 2002. ISBN 0-7407-6043-2
- Frazz 3.1416. 2008, Andrews McMeel Publishing. 128 pages. Collects strips from October 20, 2002 to July 26, 2003. Includes an introduction by Charles Solomon. ISBN 0-7407-7739-4.
- Bass, Adrian, "Joy in learning, joy in work" Greater Lansing Business Monthly (April 2009)[dead link]
- "Fifth anniversary nears for "Frazz'", Editor & Publisher (March 23, 2006)
- "Here's a look at the five new comics joining our pages", Cincinnati Enquirer (January 24, 2004)
- Rubin, Neal, "Lansing cartoonist's talks with troops rewarding", Detroit News (April 16, 2009) Archived July 16, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- Guzman, Rene. "'Frazz' sweeps through the comics with cool smarts". San Antonio Express News. October 11, 2008. Archived from the original on October 17, 2008.
- Watson, Ursula, "Smart 'Frazz' joins News's comics page" Detroit News (January 26, 2009)[dead link]
- Frazz Apr 03, 2001
- Frazz Apr 30-May 5, 2001
- Frazz Nov 25, 2004
- Pat Hathcock (2003-05-05). "New comic strip debuts in today's Advocate" (fee required). Victoria Advocate. Retrieved 2008-01-04.
- Frazz Aug 23, 2001
- Frazz Apr 04, 2001
- Frazz Oct 31, 2001
- Frazz Oct 31, 2002
- Frazz Oct 31, 2003
- Frazz Oct 30, 2004
- Frazz Oct 31, 2005
- Frazz Nov 2, 2006
- Frazz Oct 31, 2007
- Frazz Oct 31, 2008
- Frazz Oct 26-30, 2009
- Frazz Oct 26-29, 2010
- Frazz Oct 31, 2011
- Frazz Oct 31, 2012
- Frazz Oct 31, 2013
- Frazz Oct 30, 2014
- Frazz Oct 30, 2015
- Frazz Oct 31, 2016
- Frazz Oct 31, 2017
- Frazz Oct 31, 2018
- "Comics for the young at heart", Deseret News (Salt Lake City) (December 21, 2008)
- Frazz Sep 19, 2002
- Frazz April 27-28, 2007
- "'Frazz' takes readers back to school", Augusta Chronicle (September 29, 2002)
- Solomon, Charles, "The unforgettable, irreplaceable Calvin", LA Times Book Review (October 9, 2005) p.R-6
- Frazz Sep 14, 2001
- Frazz 17th June, 2013
- Frazz Sep 25, 2001
- Frazz Sep 27, 2009
- Frazz June 18, 2001
- Frazz Sept 26, 2001
- Frazz Feb 17-22, 2003
- Frazz May 5, 2003
- Frazz Sept 11-14, 2001
- Frazz July 30 – Aug 11, 2001
- Palmer, Brian, "Washing Machine Post: The Jef Mallett Interview" Ileach (May 3, 2008) Archived August 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- Barringer, Marc, "Q&A; Cartoonist Jeff Mallett on 'Frazz'", VeloNews, (May 23, 2004)
- Parikh, Jane, ""'Frazz' features Kalamazoo coffee shop", Kalamazoo Gazette(January 18, 2008) Archived December 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- Frazz May 19, 2012
- Mallett, Jef. "Frazz". August 2, 2015.
- Mallett, Jef. "Frazz". December 6, 2015.
- Frazz May 1-4, 2006
- Ehlers, Matt, "Jeff Mallett: 'Frazz'", The News & Observer (November 24, 2006) Archived September 22, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- Weingarten, Gene, "Chatological Humor", WashingtonPost.com (January 28, 2005)
- Frazz Sep 21, 2003
- Frazz Nov 29, 2006
- Frazz at GoComics.com; daily strips and information about author and characters
- Interview with Jef Mallett by Marc Barringer in VeloNews magazine