By Tami Scott
Photography by Kimberly Cook
When Baldwinsville native Amy Lago stepped off the elevator to her former office at United Features Syndicates in the Big Apple, she was faced with a most unique question from none other than controversial filmmaker Michael Moore, who shared the same ride up to her office.
“What do you do?” Moore, who was there for a meeting, asked Lago.
“I’m a comics editor. I sit in my office all day, read comics and get paid for it,” she replied, to which he followed her lead. “What do your parents think of that?,” he said.
A quick-witted Lago said to Moore that her parents think she has a fantastic scam going and that they’re very proud of her. The two then shared a laugh.
“When you tell people what you do, you get a lot of queries about ‘what does that really mean?’ To be asked, ‘what do your parents think of that’ — that was a new one for me.”
All joking aside, Lago has mingled with some pretty impressive characters over the years, most notably the entire Peanuts gang. In the mid-90’s, she became the primary editor for American icon Charles “Sparky” Schulz, and worked closely with him until his death in February 2000 at age 77.
“When I first met Sparky, I was very nervous. He pretty much put me at ease, although like a lot of cartoonists who are very sure of themselves and have been doing this for a long time, he wasn’t necessarily wanting anybody to mess with his stuff. Which, why would you?” Lago said. “The only thing you would want to do is watch out for him, if, on the off chance, he made a mistake. When he realized that was my attitude, it became a warm relationship, very friendly and a lot of fun.”
Lago, who now works for the Washington Post Writers Group, the syndicate arm of The Washington Post newspaper, currently handles eight comics and five editorial cartoonists out of her own home on a virtual network in Liverpool. She and her husband moved back to Central New York from the nation’s capital in October so they could be closer to her aging father.
Lago works on strict deadlines involving artists who can be either über efficient, like retail stores that start decking out for Christmas in July, or who regularly push the limits, propelling Lago into 11th-hour panic mode.
Fans of the funnies, however, can sit back and enjoy easy humor due in large part to Lago’s dedication to detail.
Her day-to-day tasks involve proofing the submitted material for the usual grammar, spelling and punctuation. She checks the art to make sure word balloons are pointing to the right character and that somebody who’s got a shirt with a zigzag on it in the first panel has a zigzag in the second — unless, of course, they change their shirt. She also develops and launches new comic strips, such as “Pearls Before Swine” by Stephan Pastis, “Get Fuzzy” by Darby Conley and “Frazz” by Jef Mallett, and works on promotional pieces not only for the comics but also for well-known syndicated columnists like George Will, Kathleen Parker and Dana Milbank.
Lago said that becoming an editor for cartoonists was simply “dumb luck.” She had been living in the Big Apple when opportunity knocked, and she landed a gig working at United Media, a company no longer in existence but that at one time syndicated 150 comics and editorial columns worldwide. Since then, she’s worked with well-known names like Lynn Johnston (“For Better or For Worse”), Berkeley Breathed (“Bloom County” and “Opus”) and Brian Crane, the creator of “Pickles.”
The favored editor among many cartoonists owns a personal collection of sincerely signed and framed originals produced by the best of the best in the business. Lago said she enjoys being a part of history, and particularly felt it with Sparky. “It was a tough go toward the end when he was ill. There was a lot of concern, not just concern about what he did,” she said. Schulz employed a great deal of people and he felt a responsibility toward all those who worked for him.
Lago also relishes the ongoing opportunities of working with creative minds, although she admits that over the years she’s developed a higher laugh threshold than maybe the average reader. “If I think something’s really funny, I sometimes email back a cartoonist and just say ‘snort.’ They seem to like that. Just like it brightens a reader’s day when they’re going through the comics pages and something really tickles them. It’s the same thing.”