Friday, June 02, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Phipps


Joseph Farris will long be remembered as a prolific gag cartoonist, whose work appeared in just about every venue that bought cartoons during his long working life. As the proud centerpiece to this career were his many contributions to The New Yorker, even some covers. 

As with many gag cartoonists, the teetering tower of cartoons in his reject pile undoubtedly led to the creation of his first newspaper-syndicated feature, Farriswheel, a gag panel with no continuing characters which had an eight year run in the 1970s. For his second and final foray into the newspaper world, however, he went a different direction by coming up with a character named Phipps. Phipps is an everyman sort of fellow who seems to be on the wrong side of middle-age. I suspect that Phipps was intended to be in his mid-60s, which happens to be the same age Farris was at the time. 

The daily panel/Sunday strip debuted on October 2 1989* through the auspices of NEA, and probably represents Farris looking for a steady paycheck since most of his magazine clients were dead or on life support by this time. The new feature was a pantomime, which Farris probably chose based on the fact that international sales of silent strips are generally stronger. The gags are frankly not overly strong and the Phipps character is generic, offering no hook for readers. I suspect that the thinking was that by simply featuring a senior citizen, matching the dominant readership of newspapers, papers would flock to the feature. This strategy had already proven to be misguided, as shown by strips like Ben Swift. Apparently NEA hadn't gotten the memo. 

Phipps ran until October 2 1992*, cancelled after a three year run that never saw the vast NEA client base embrace the feature.

* Source: All dates from the United Feature internal records.


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