“Laguna Beach has lost and gained a legend,” said Laguna Beach artist and longtime Sawdust Festival exhibitor Michael Hallinan, speaking of his friend John Lara, who died on Jan. 15 at the age of 56. The multi-talented Laguna Beach artist, perhaps best known for his biting social and political commentary expressed in the form of cartoons, leaves behind a diverse array of friends, colleagues and acquaintances in a community that appreciated him as much for his exuberant outlook on life as for his creative muse.
Besides the cartoons he drew for local and national publications to address the issues of the day, Lara tried his well-practiced hand at any number of artistic endeavors, including graphic art and illustrations, when he wasn’t engaged in the art of living, pursuing favorite pastimes such as fishing and surfing.
Audley Bethea, author of “Little Gnome Facts,” a volume of one-line witticisms, met Lara when she moved to Laguna Beach from New Orleans and he agreed to illustrate the book for her.
In the early 80s Lara was a mentor to cartoonist Keith Poletiek, who mourned his passing in a recent post to The Daily Cartoonist web site. “I know he had his flaws (don’t we all), but, he allowed me, a young high school graduate with a dream to be a cartoonist, to sit next to him and watch as he created his next Editorial Cartoon for the OC Register, all while having me draw, create and work on my style as he critiqued,” wrote Poletiek. “He motivated me to be a better cartoonist as well as establish my political views. He introduced me to the Interlandi brothers [cartoonist twins Frank and Phil], Vip [Virgil Partch], Wright and all the Ivy House cartoon dwellers in Laguna Beach, making me lay my work on the table only to be ripped apart by these cartoon veterans.”
Hallinan described the memorial service that was held last Saturday at the Little Church By the Sea, where Lara was a member, as a true celebration of Lara’s life. “We walked into church with Jimmy Buffet music blasting and into a sea of old friends in Aloha shirts and flowered dresses, all honoring John and his Jimmy Buffet life,” said Hallinan. He said that pastor Jay Grant hit all the right notes of spirituality and good humor in a service that was attended by a cross section of Laguna society, including surfing buddies, drinking buddies, fishing buddies and fellow artists.
As friends took turns at the podium paying tribute to Lara, Hallinan said that “for a brief moment a forgotten Laguna Beach came back to life,” with many of the stories filling the room with laughter. He added that Lara would have wholeheartedly embraced every aspect of the memorial celebration from the touching “offbeat and irreverent ceremony” to the food. “If John had ordered a last supper, this is what he would have wanted.”
Poletiek summed up Lara: “Always thinking, always creating, always laughing, always there for me. Gone way too soon! I’ll miss him greatly.”