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Bil Keane remembered


Following the death of Bil Keane yesterday, remembrances are coming out. In a widely linked to piece, Lynda Barry explains how the idyllic family served as an inspiration for her growing up in a broken home:

There was something about the life on the other side of that circle that looked pretty good. For kids like me there was a map and a compass hidden in Family Circus. The parents in that comic strip really loved their children. Their home was stable. It put that image in my head and I kept it.

The author of a Kindle blog recalls that althouh Family Circus was an often mocked comic strip, Keane dealt with the mockers gracefully. For instance, Family Circus was one of the first products on Amazon to get fake reviews, in this case comparing it to literature or other Onion-like claims.

Soon dozens of fake reviews sprouted up on several of Keane’s Family Circus collections — and I thought Bil Keane handled it like a true gentleman. When he was reached for a comment by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, they reported that Keane laughed and said genially that while some of it was in bad taste — some of it was also funny, and “I assume my readers are intelligent enough to know I didn’t do the bad stuff…”

Keane was also apparently friends with cartoonists who drew some of the ‘hipper” cartoons. According to Wikipedia, Keane once even agreed to draw his characters into a special series of Zippy the Pinhead strips, while their dialogue was provided by its creator, Bill Griffith. And while the Pearls Before Swine strip used to mock The Family Circus, in real life, the two cartoonists behind the strips were good friends. In fact two years ago, Bil Keane even wrote the introduction to a Pearls Before Swine collection.

  1. Coincidentally, Barry also discusses Bil in this recent New York Times profile of her writing class:

    She told that story at the end of the session. “I grew up in a house that had a whole lot of trouble,” she said. “As much trouble as you could imagine. In the daily paper, there were all these comic strips, and there was one that was a circle. It seemed like things were pretty good on the other side of the circle. No one’s getting hit. No one’s yelling.”

    Once, at a comics convention, she shook hands with Bil Keane’s son, Jeff — Jeffy — who now inks the strip. Barry instantly burst into tears. She told the class why: “Because when he put his hand out and I touched it, I realized I had stepped through the circle. I was on the other side of the circle, the place where I wanted to be. And how I got there was I drew a picture.” She smiled and held her arms out. “The reason I’m standing here in Florida in 2011 is because I drew a picture and wrote some words. The reason you all are here is because you’re interested in doing the same thing. When I think about all the things that this image world has brought me. . . . I mean, I don’t have health insurance, and dental work is really an issue, but the feeling that life is worth living? Being in this class gives me that in spades.”

  2. On the Family Circus website, under “Files” is a collection of mentions and appearances in other strips, including Zippy’s quest!

  3. Oh wow. I never realized anyone else looked at The Family Circle the same way I did…thank you, Lynda Barry. I used to get so mad at people who would bash it because I would think, “That’s heaven he’s drawing! Leave it alone!” Growing up in a tough household sucks.

  4. I agree with Lynda and the above. To me Family Circus was like Leave It To Beaver. I don’t think I ever really thought life was that simple, but how wonderful to think that maybe it could be.

    And for a moment each day, it was.

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