Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Daily Strip Is Frisco Fixture: 'Farley' Creator Puts His Commentary in the News Hole

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Daily Strip Is Frisco Fixture: 'Farley' Creator Puts His Commentary in the News Hole

Article excerpt

CAN "FARLEY," A local comic strip featuring a hat-wearing reporter-comecolumnist, his feathered roommate, talking bears, a feral cat and a streetcorner guru, make it in San Francisco?

Hands down, by all indications.

"Ninety-nine percent of the reaction has been favorable," said the strip's creator, Phil Frank.

And when Baba, the guru, inserts his real fax number in the San Francisco Chronicle strip, he gets dozens of messages. They're answered by Frank, who looks suspiciously like Farley, his main character.

The strip, unique among daily newspapers, has been running in the Chronicle since 1986. It began as a syndicated feature, "Travels with Farley," in 1975.

Farley, a newshound who wears a perpetually gloomy expression and a droopy mustache, writes for the Daily Requirement, a switch from his former employer, the afternoon Daily Demise.

The six-day strip is strictly local, landing drolly on timely San Francisco issues such as a transit strike, parking, the installation of street toilets, the mayor's up-and-down popularity and politics.

When Farley isn't chasing sources, the panels are taken over by Baba, the bears, the cat and sometimes feral pigs. Orwell, the neutered cat, recently lost his job as security chief for Socks, the White House feline.

The four bears, ardent San Francisco Giants fans, operate a restaurant, the Fog City Dumpster, for their animal friends. The Fog City Diner, one of the city's most popular eateries, was so enamored of the allusion that it displays original "Farley" strips on its walls.

Another of Frank's spoofs didn't go over as well. When his pigs opened a bank called First Feral Savings and Loan, the president of First Federal Savings and Loan didn't get it and asked the cartoonist to drop the name.

"I did," Frank said, laughing. "I felt there wasn't much else I could do since his bank was holding the paper on my house."

In another instance, Frank was the aggrieved party. Children's Television Workshop, the producers of Sesame Street, came up with a character dubbed H. Ross Parrot, which Frank believes was lifted from one of his characters.

"We protested and thought at first of taking action," he said, "but who wants to go to court against Sesame Street?"

So far, no journalist has complained of being ripped off.

The fictional Farley, who lives in a bachelor pad with Bruce, a wisecracking raven, has an on-again-off-again romance with Irene, a blonde meter maid. She would like to get married, but Farley can't work up a commitment.

When Baba asked readers to fax him on whether Farley should take the big step with Irene, the machine overflowed with opinions, Frank recalled.

Whatever their views, Frank is unlikely to join the pair.

"Marrying Irene would take a lot of fun and tension out of the strip," he explained.

Baba has other interests besides advising Farley on his personal relationships. He is a confidante of Mayor Frank Jordan, who summons up the guru's image in an office mirror whenever he has a tough problem he needs help with.

Frank often uses his characters, human and otherwise, to take pokes at the city's officialdom. The artist, who frequently sits in on Board of Supervisors meetings for research, commented about politicos: "I have a kind of tenuous relationship with them. My job is to make them the butt of jokes, but because it is a cartoon, I don't think anyone gets really incensed. …

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