John Lara: In Memoriam
March 18, 1955—January 15, 2012
I was so busy fighting a bad development project up on the Ortega Highway, in the rural wilderness of Riverside County, that I missed the announcement regarding the death of cartoonist John Lara, who passed away on January 15th. John and I had a bit of unknown history together that I think local readers might find amusing.
I first met John when I sold him my used 1965 VW bug back around 1975, when he was just getting a start in his career at age 20. Jump forward some 20 years, and when I needed someone to design a logo for my first environmental protection group, we hooked up outside on the patio at Heidelberg Bakery at PCH and Oak Street near my place.
I brought my thoughts and the $100 he requested. He brought his sketchpad, and in just a few minutes of dialogue, the original Clean Aliso Creek & Beach Association (CACA) logo was created.
John understood completely what I needed, something funny (hence the naughty Mexican slang word "caca") but also something self-explanatory, very edgy, eye-catching and hard-hitting. Something that I later learned was a typical marketing tool: Instant name recognition and product branding.
We felt mildly conspiratorial as we sat, perhaps starting a mini-revolution of activism by creating a logo with startling, thought provoking elements, a bit repulsive and jocular at the same time. Some of the obituaries I’ve read online claim that John was very conservative: He certainly was very stridently liberal in his eco-protection ethics.
We felt that we were being patriots protecting our ocean's water quality, hence we used the red, white and blue colors motif. John was an avid fisherman, and having grown up in Laguna, of course he loved the sea as I did.
Back in the late '90s, there was a lot of crap (trash and sewage) on or in our beaches, plus our polluted streams (like Laguna Canyon and Aliso). This is why in 2000, we eventually began our administration of volunteer beach cleanups for the California Coastal Commission as a community connection flagship program. This was unprecedented, and I’m now proud to be called the Godfather of Beach Cleanups in Laguna with numerous clones.
Back then, we (surfers and skimmers) were suffering from an average of one (1) disgusting sewage spill every three weeks that reached our usually pristine ocean, closing a beach somewhere in Laguna for days on end. Added into the Bitches Brew was the constant drip feed of urban runoff, laden with toxic, cancer-causing chemicals that I still feel to this day are the primary cause of coastal marine habitat decimation.
Many of us had scarred ear canals from so many bacterial infections, plus chronic eye, nasal and throat inflammations. We eventually learned that these flu-like symptoms were a result of exposure to high concentrations of pathogenic bacteria we thought were only found in third-world countries.
John captured that repulsive situation perfectly, and his original artwork serves as a constant reminder, pinned on the wall over my desk to this day. Eventually, the CACA logo morphed into the Clean Water Now! one.
The vibrant circular centerpiece, a riff or variation on the international symbol for prohibitions of forbidden practices, remains as vibrant today as it was in 1998.
As a sidebar, Barbara Diamond (then of the OC Register's weekly, now of the Coastline Pilot) told me when I first announced the birth of CACA that she’d NEVER say or write that name—she found it filthy and objectionable. I retorted by asking her to think about how we as water lovers felt immersed in it—and sometimes swallowing it!
I paid for 144 T-shirts with CACA and 144 of its brethren acronym SLOB (Save Laguna’s Ocean & Beaches) on the back, then gave them away as walking billboards. The Cox Communications guy at televised public hearings blacked out the view of the shirts because he felt that he’d get fired for sending it out into people’s homes. John loved all of that controversy.
We've posted his photo, this memorial, and his artwork at our Picasa website (click here) so that all of our volunteers and extended family will never forget that we owe a great deal of our impact to a local (“loco”) home-grown artist ... a guy with a warped sense of humor, in who we found a perfect match!
John Theodore Lara was born in Tucson, the eldest son of the late Barbara and Theodore Lara Jr., and brother to Haddon Matthew and Lori Lara. He died at the age of 56 from complications associated with lupus.
Editor's note: An image of John Lara in a cowboy hat also appears at the very end of this video that was recently posted on Laguna Beach Patch.