The Elderberries, a pioneering senior-specific comic strip launched by Chronicle cartoonist Phil “Farley” Frank, will end its eight-year run on March 4.
Corey Pandolph, who took over the strip after Frank became terminally ill in 2007, is retiring the retirees at Elderpark.
“I’m kind of sad. I just sent in the last strip today,” says Pandolph, 40, in a phone call from New York. “I’ve been doing Elderberries for almost five years, but I’m going in another direction, and I didn’t want to start phoning it in.” It will be replaced starting Monday by Between Friends, a strip about three fortysome-thing women and their life experiences.
The Elderberries started in 2004 and ran in 25 newspapers as the country’s first syndicated cartoon strip about retirees in a planned community, according to Frank’s widow, Susan. Because Frank was already occupied with Farley, a six-day-a-week strip exclusive to The Chronicle, he enlisted Joe Troise, an old Sausalito houseboat buddy, as collaborator.
Originally, it was to be called Gray Matters, and be about a gang of elderly fugitives on a rollicking runaway bus refusing to go quietly. Any student of Farley would understand this as being Frank’s point of view. But the syndicate was hesitant. So Frank developed the lead character, Dusty, an irascible cowboy who liked to sit in his vintage Cadillac, reluctantly corralled in a retirement park somewhere in flyover America.
“Dusty was the personification of what Phil would have liked to be like as an old man,” recalls Troise, who now lives in Sonoma.
Troise and Frank had worked together on previous cartoon projects, so they were comfortable in a routine of weekly editorial meetings at Frank’s studio atop an old ferryboat. “He was a very fast creator with a pen,” Troise says. “You could say, ‘Phil, I want you to draw the Macedonian army coming in from the left, then I want a river with a herd of camels and elephants on the right,’ and somehow he’d do it.”
After two years of this, Troise turned the Elderberries over to Frank in 2006. Frank continued on alone, even though he’d been diagnosed with brain cancer. He did both strips for a year, while undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy.
When Frank was finally unable to continue, the syndicate matched the Elderberries up with Pandolph. Without missing a day, it went from Frank to Pandolph. “It was a little hard in the beginning, but I got used to it, in the closest style as I could get it to Phil’s,” Pandolph says. “I got pretty close.”
Sadly, Frank never got to live into the role of Dusty, who was a spry 80-ish. Four months after withdrawing from the Elderberries and retiring Farley, Frank died at age 64. “He drew right up until the last day he could lift his pen,” says Susan Frank, of Sausalito. “He wasn’t a quitter. He was a teacher for all of us.”
As for the final Elderberries on Sunday, “I don’t want to give it away,” Pandolph said, “but everybody ends happy.”
That includes Farley. Late last year, the entire archive of more than 9,000 strips, from 1975 to 2007, was donated to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. The likes of Floyd, the ursine chef at the Fog City Dumpster, and Velma Melmac, the patron saint of pesticide users, are now where they belong – living among the special collections.
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