Cartoonist was 'infinitely talented person'

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John Lara, whose irreverent cartoons appeared in Laguna Beach, Orange County and national newspapers, died Jan. 15 of complications from lupus. He was 56.

A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Little Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St.

John's political and social commentaries in cartoon form appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, Copley News Service, the Orange County Register, the Laguna News Post and the Coastline Pilot. His first job was with the now-defunct Newport Ensign.

"We worked together at the Ensign," said best-selling author T. Jefferson Parker. "It was our first job, and we became friends.

"He was so talented, so full of life and energy, he was a pleasure to be around.

"John saw other people's foibles without seeing himself as better than they were," Parker said.

John exhibited at the Sawdust Festival, where his Thurston Middle School art teacher, Ron Rodecker, also showed.

Rodecker said John's talent was already obvious when he attended Thurston.

"You couldn't miss it," Rodecker said. "John was an infinitely talented person. He was a wonderful cartoonist with an acerbic sense of humor and empathy for people. He always had a twinkle in his eye."

John went on to be named California Junior College Artist of the Year.

Away from the drawing board, he served as master of ceremonies for the Brooks Street Surfing Classic and was a guest speaker for "Let's Hook Up," which referred to fishing in those days. Fishing was another of John's preferred activities, and he taught fishing classes as a volunteer.

He was the leader of the famed "Walk-Around," the bar-to-bar perambulation that celebrated the end of the tourist season in Laguna until it became too popular with out-of-towners and the tradition withered.

John also illustrated books, including "Little Gnome Facts," written by Audley Wheeler Bethea.

While carrying on the great cartooning tradition in Laguna, John worked as a graphic artist and T-shirt designer with Ken Auster, who evolved into a fine artist.

No topic was too sensitive for John.

When Chernobyl imploded in 1986 in Russia, John showed up the same day at the News Post office with blow-torched T-shirts that read "Chernobyl Maintenance Service."

They sold like hot cakes.

Kathy Lawhon, an Orange County Register editor who oversaw the News Post when John was on the staff, said he did not take kindly to being edited.

"In fact, as I recall, he never allowed himself to be edited," Lawhon said. "He constantly surprised us."

John Theodore Lara was born March 18, 1955, in Tucson, the eldest son of the late Barbara and Theodore Lara Jr., and brother to Haddon Matthew and Lori Lara.

Barbara Lara was the daughter of renowned illustrator Haddon Sundblom, creator of the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, and often served as a model for the company's ads, one of which hung at Ruby's Diner. The Lara children were models for a well-known Thanksgiving ad.

After the Laras divorced, the family moved to Laguna in 1967. Barbara Lara became active in arts and politics, married Perry Kopf and gave birth to her fourth child, Julie Elizabeth Harback Kopf.

A liberal, John's mother often wondered why John had tilted to a more conservative view.

John and his siblings graduated from Laguna Beach High School.

"He was a little bit older than I was," said Kimberly Maddock Clark, LBHS class of 1974. "I thought he was so handsome, and he was very much the same person then that he was later."

As an adult, John and his chocolate Labrador, Buffet, were familiar morning sights outside Scandia Bakery, where he harvested fodder from newspapers for his cartoons.

"Buffet allegedly broke Scandia's window, but that is only heresay," Lori Lara said.

The dog was named for John's favorite singer, Jimmy Buffett, whose concerts he attended whenever possible, often with Jim White, a former Laguna Beach police officer.

John was pre-deceased by his parents and wife, Cora Schultz Lara, described by family members as his best friend.

He is survived by his son, Mitchell Lara DeMinck, his sisters and brother.

The family has asked in lieu of flowers that donations may be made in John's name to:

The Lupus Foundation of America Inc., P.O. Box 418629, Boston, MA 02241-8629, (202) 349-1155;

Friends of Rollo, which is dedicated to sending kids on marine awareness fishing trips, 2838 Garrison St., San Diego, CA 92106, (858) 350-5875; or

New Vision Autism Center, 40335 Winchester Road #E-522, Temecula, CA 92591, (951) 708-6827.

coastlinepilot@latimes.com

Twitter: @CoastlinePilot

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