Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bil Keane, Family Circus Creator, Follows Dotted Trail into the Infinite

Today it was announced that Bil Keane, creator of the long running and enormously popular Family Circus comic strip, had passed at age 89.  Keane's strip appears in over 1500 papers and has been in publication for over 50 years.

As a somewhat shallow jerk with no children of his own, like literally dozens of other Americans, I quit enjoying daily newspaper strip The Family Circus's whimsical take on the gosh-darn cute things kids say and do some time back.  But circa 1984, I was all about The Family Circus.  Mostly because I'd found a huge treasury album on deep discount at Bookstop, but its also a fairly consistent (perhaps too consistent) strip, and sometimes it was sweet and amusing enough and inoffensive, in the way you might find yourself partially smiling at a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond when its on in the waiting room of Jiffy Lube and you're stuck there for 45 minutes.*

I expect once you loop back and have your own littler weirdos, watching Billy leave a trail around the neighborhood looking for a gum drop or whatever is familiar enough that it just tickles the funnybone.  Or blaming tragedy on invisible gremlins named "Ida Know" or "Not Me" rather than accepting personal responsibility for one's failings is funny to some.  It was safe, sanitized, and sentimental, and I don't think I've cracked any secret code by pointing out that Family Circus was not the edgiest of material in the newspaper.  

see, we may be of differing opinions regarding whether this is an actual joke/ gag or not

I do think Keane was a solid cartoonist, and managed to move out of the late-50's/ early-60's-era style with which he began and developed his own signature look well enough that those squish-headed kids are now iconic.  Keane had the misfortune of having created a cast comprised of humans, none of whom made for very good plush toys or who looked like they should find a home on a t-shirt or sleepy-time boxer shorts, so merchandising did not necessarily build the Keane family fortunes.  But his characters all had a voice, be it Jeffy's confusion, Dolly's brattiness or Mom's constant look of having had a few glasses of wine while the kids were at school (which also explained her mild confusion and resigned silence in most strips.**).

Keane has passed off duties to his children since the 90's, I believe, so one shouldn't expect we've seen the last Ida Know strip, or the last time Ghost Granddad hovers creepily over Billy.  For some, the comic is a family business (not alone in this, the Mort Walker/ Dik Browne powerhouse responsible for Beetle Bailey, Hi & Lois and Hagar the Horrible has handed off duties to children long ago).  

So long, Bil Keane.  You were the last bastion of at least trying with your family-friendly strip.  You took the high, obvious road, and it paid off.  Let that be a lesson to you web-comics kids and your filthy, filthy jokes.

**I always imagined the mom of Family Circus had once had aspirations, but given up her dreams, always intending to get back to them, maybe when the kids were in school.. maybe then there'd be time?  But with the accidental conception of fourth child PJ, and between loads of laundry and the incessant whine of kids mixing up words and revealing their father's wandering eye, she has finally forgotten about whatever it was she loved so about painting in the first place...  But the wine rack is always there.  And sometimes she still sneaks out back after putting PJ down, looking at that yard full of toys while she drags on a Pall Mall and wonders what happened.


Matt A. said...

I enjoyed his comics... until I was about 12. Then the swan song of Blooms County urged me into a more adolescent sense of humor. Now, more than ever, I find that adolescent craving for poop jokes is still there, giving me that terrible itch, and I have those scratchy scratch needs. The only ointment that gives me relief these days is Axe Cop.

Thanks, Signal Watch, for ruining my free time by introducing me to the glory of Axe Cop.

The League said...

We are here but to humbly serve and take no responsibility for time lost and marriages ruined through introduction to Axe Cop and/ or any other incredibly silly time sinks.