Phil Frank, whose cartoons graced the pages of The Chronicle and other newspapers for more than 30 years, died Wednesday only a few days after he announced his retirement because of illness.Phil Frank and his characters have been an important part of my life for a long time, and I will miss his work. I first became away of Frank and his character Farley back in the 1980s, when his comic strip, Travels with Farley, was nationally syndicated. I loved the way Farley could leave his regular job as a reporter to work for the summer as a ranger at Asphalt State Park. The wonderful bears he introduced at the park, always scheming ways to get food from the tourists, are among my favorite cartoon characters ever. Think Yogi Bear, but with much more complex characters.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the bears are die-hard San Francisco Giants fans, like yours truly.
Years ago, a couple of his bears were made into plush toys. I have a doll of Alphonse, wearing antlers and a t-shirt depicting one of his classic moments, standing next to a "Do Not Feed the Bears" sign in the park, holding a sign of his own that reads, "I am not a bear." My daughter still loves this joke. So do I. (And here is one such bear that recently sold on eBay.)
And no mention of Phil Frank and his work would be complete without a mention of his puns. Between the last frames of his comics, he always put some kind of appropriate pun, and many of his comics featured them, too. One of his books of collected comics, for example, was titled "Fur and Loafing in Yosemite." And once when a guest chef (a vulture from Death Valley, I believe) was coming to work at the bears' restaurant, the Fog City Dumpster, he was unable to bring his own ingredients on the plane, because of the limit of "two pieces of carrion per passenger."
I always respected Phil Frank's decision to stop drawing a syndicated comic because he wanted to be more spontaneous. He could deliver strips to the Chronicle a day before printing, rather than a couple of weeks before printing for the syndicate. This allowed him to produce very timely, local comics, even though it put him on a very tight work schedule.
Although I am deeply saddened by his passing, my life is much richer for having known the work of Phil Frank. I will miss him, but will always cherish the memories he provided.
I must also note that Mr. Frank died of a brain tumor, and chalk this up as yet another of the ways cancer has affected my life. Please, let's all take care of ourselves, and try to wipe out cancer.