Frazz is a syndicated comic strip by Jef Mallett that centers on Frazz, a young school custodian who enjoys life. The strip debuted on 2 April 2001. Frazz writes music, rides road and mountain bikes, runs, and simply enjoys living. Frazz often has comic conversations with pupils at Bryson Elementary School where he works.
The strip has a definite literary bent, as characters will frequently wax poetic about classic and contemporary literature, with the characters themselves often employing literary devices, both common and esoteric. In an early strip, Frazz and Caulfield find themselves engaged in a discussion about whether Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is depressing or uplifting. Frazz uses part of his songwriting royalties to purchase favorite books for the school library. A recent story-arc involves a school-endorsed "Get Lost in a Book" day, and it has become a tradition for Caulfield to choose a literature-themed costume every Halloween.
Mallett's decision to set the strip in a public elementary school seems to be partially motivated by a desire to share his opinions about public education in America; the school serves not only as a backdrop for students' exploits, but as a defining factor in shaping these children's personalities and opinions. As a former underachieving student at Bryson Elementary, Frazz represents the kind of student who, while bringing home bad grades, manages to be better educated than those students who excel, and then lives a personally rewarding life as a result of having been truly educated, rather than merely schooled. In one early story-arc, one of the students, Caulfield, intentionally does poorly on standardized tests, leading his teacher Mrs. Olsen to conclude that he is either lazy or not very bright. The manner in which Caulfield sabotages his own scores, though, reveals something of the artist's message: On his first attempt, Caulfield uses the shaded-in answer sheet to create a pointillist replica of the Mona Lisa; in another, he transcribes Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice," using the shaded circles to create letters in Braille.
One of the recurring arcs in the strip revolves around an ongoing basketball game between Frazz and the school's most enlightened teacher, Mr. Burke. Although the game reveals the men's shared lack of basketball skills, it is significant for the conversation that takes place during play. At one point, Frazz and Burke compare their days. While Frazz writes a song that hits the top of the charts, Burke has a breakthrough with a student in his class. Frazz immediately admits defeat. For a teacher, this speaks to the very heart of the profession, and demonstrates an attitude many education professionals wish was more widely shared.
However, literary allusions and deep philosophical discussions aside, the strips are usually just down-to-earth funny, and many readers will enjoy their lighthearted, innocent humor. While Frazz has a dim view of the adult world, he brings an adult perspective to the world of second-graders; this contrast highlights both the innocence of childhood and the frequent folly of adulthood, as when Frazz breaks up a fist-fight and admonishes the students to act their age. One of the combatants asks Frazz how that's possible when they're only eight; Frazz responds with, "I mean stop acting like adults."
Many of the characters or locations in the strip are references to real-life people whom Mallett respects. For example, according to an interview with Mallett, Bryson Elementary is named after one of his favorite authors, Bill Bryson.
Monday through Saturday, strips are issued once a day in black and white. Sunday features a color strip, which is larger than weekday strips.
|Frazz — The namesake of the comic, Edwin Frazier is a 30-something songwriter who took a job as janitor of Bryson Elementary. Several of the songs he has written have become major hits, making him independently wealthy; still, he keeps his job as janitor. 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. The only true authority figure in the school, he has gained the respect of all of the students, and in doing so, of all the adults. 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.|
|Caulfield — An eight-year-old named after J.D. Salinger's attitudinal protagonist, 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.||-valign="top"||Miss Plainwell — A 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 had been hired as a radio station manager before she decided to teach at Bryson Elementary, wanting to work with a "more mature audience." Miss Plainwell bears a strong resemblance to Watterson's "Rosalyn" character from his Calvin and Hobbes strip, but she's actually modeled after Mallett's own wife.||-valign="top"||Mr. Burke — Born to teach, Mr. Burke is the best teacher at Bryson Elementary, and Frazz's best friend. His one-on-one basketball matches with Frazz are filled with brilliant discussions--and very little scoring.|
|Mrs. Olsen — Being very old, Mrs. Olsen is just a few years from retirement--and counts the days. Her disposition is grouchy at best, she hates her job, she hates her students, and she has hated Frazz ever since he was 'her' student. The only good that comes of her reign is that her students learn how to live under a malevolent authority figure while they still have the resilience to overcome it (which could come in handy in the future when they enter the adult world and work force). 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 terrible driver, so much so that Caulfield and other students have set up a betting pool to predict how many parking-lot accidents she will have by the end of the school year. Although Mrs. Olsen resembles the character of Miss Wormwood from Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, she is a composite of several of Mallett's teachers and one of Mallett's wife's teachers. In earlier strips, other characters apparently didn't know whether or nor Mrs. Olsen was married; on Valentine's Day 2008, Caulfield sent flowers to Miss Plainwell and because of his atrocious handwriting, they went to Mrs. Olsen and were thought to be from Coach Hacker. Mrs Olsen was shown hitting Mr Hacker with her flowers while telling him that she was married.||-valign="top"||Mr. Spaetzle — The principal of Bryson Elementary, Mr. Spaetzle could easily be described as clueless. He has all the credentials and runs a smooth operation for the students, but lacks the respect he desires. He looks to Frazz for advice on dealing with students.||-valign="top"||Mrs. Trevino — The second-grade teacher at Bryson Elementary. She is known for incorporating food into her lessons, with both a tamale day, and a reference to a gordita day on Cinco de Mayo.|
|Mr. Hacker — Mr. Hacker is the ultimate in irony: a physical education teacher with no interest in participatory athletics. His arguments with Frazz over what constitutes sports bely an epidemic of uninvolved couch potatoes. Essentially, Mr. Hacker is representative of the anti-Frazz in many ways.|
In the foreword to Live at Bryson Elementary, Washington Post columnist and Mallett advocate Gene 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." Explanations, however, have done little to influence the strips' detractors, who view it not as an homage but as simple plagiarism.
On November 29, 2006, Mallett referenced the controversy in a conversation between Caulfield and Frazz. As part of a brief story arc in which it is revealed that Frazz does not speak a second language, the comic's dialogue is as follows: