Friday, November 11, 2011

RIP Bil Keane

Keane's friend Charles M. Schulz, the late creator of "Peanuts," once said the most important thing about "Family Circus" is that it is funny. "I think we share a care for the same type of humor," Schulz told The Associated Press in 1995. "We're both family men with children and look with great fondness at our families."

I have a sentimental attachment to Family Circus, so the sad news of creator Bil Keane's passing—like his wife before him, three years ago—made me stop and reflect. Reading comics was an integral part of my childhood experience. As all comic strip enthusiasts know, the experience entails a great deal more than just reading gags. Comic strips are universes onto themselves. They are libraries of information, comfort, reference and inspiration. Every Saturday, I'd rush over (cookies in hand) to grab the brightly coloured Comics section in the Toronto Star and read it cover to cover, many times over. It was in many ways the pinnacle of my week. I'd always save "Peanuts" and "Family Circus" for last.

Sabbath mornings meant having to face the pompous individuals who attended our place of worship but there was always that post-churchgoing balm: the funny papers. Yes comics were a bit spiritual for me too. They put one at ease and helped one reflect. I always thought it to be divine intervention that ones churchgoing day coincided with the day newspapers published comics in colour. To my childhood awareness: this occurred for most people on Sunday (is this not still the case?). I assumed the powers that be realized we were a bit different and naturally accommodated us on Saturdays.

I'm an admitted Peanuts fanatic (it takes precedence over all else in the world of comics) but Family Circus too provided joy and comfort in my younger days. My older cousin once lent me a copy of her Family Circus paper back—it was read, re-read, and carried around one weekend with an affection akin to babysitting a new puppy. Books have always been like friends. So when a beloved artist who was a point of reference in your childhood passes away, it is indeed a cause to pause and look back—with gratitude. Bil Keane's fellow cartoonists have also remembered him with affection. Here's a sampling (click here for more):

MIKE PETERS (“Mother Goose & Grimm”): We've just lost the Norman Rockwell of comic strips. He was as American as Irving Berlin, and that's why [“Family Circus”] was a part of everyone’s morning. He spent those early years observing his own family, and that was his secret. How could such true and sweet cartoons come out of such a wicked sense of humor. God love you. Bil. ‘Course, I'm sure He has your cartoons already taped on the Gates.

LYNN JOHNSTON (“For Better or For Worse”): I think my memories of Bill will echo those of so many others: He was generous, kind, talented and very, very funny. He loved his wife, Thel, so much that when she died [in 2008], I think the light went out in his life. Despite the love and companionship of family and friends, he never really recovered. I wish that we could all have experienced such devotion in a partner. Bil was such a good example to us all — not only was he a hard and prolific worker, he was a man of honor, principle and integrity as well. He will be sadly missed.

JERRY SCOTT ("Zits"): I first met Bil when he was the president of the NCS and he and Mell Lazarus ("Momma," "Miss Peach") were pulling together plans to bring the Reuben dinner to Los Angeles. Of course, he put me right to work.Throughout my career, Bil was a friend and a mentor. One of the highlights of our friendship was writing and performing in a skit during the Family Circus Roast one Reuben Weekend. Rick Kirkman ("Baby Blues") and I came up with the idea of re-creating several classic Family Circus panels with live actors (well, cartoonists) wearing Foam Core masks of Mommy, Daddy, Billy, Dolly, Jeffy, P.J. and Barfy posing in front of a giant 'Family Circus' signature backdrop circle. Of course, we made up our own wildly inappropriate captions to go with the re-creations, and Bil roared.What a wonderful man. I'll miss him a lot.

SCOTT ADAMS (“Dilbert”): Bil was a misunderstood creative genius who knew how to write for his target audience. Critics were sometimes harsh, especially other cartoonists. But allow me to point out the obvious: If other cartoonists could make a family-oriented comic that was as popular as “Family Circus,” they would have done it.He was also a great guy. I was a big fan.


  1. Nice tribute. I had no idea that he had passed. You'd think there would be more press about this comic that has touched so many folks lives, and has no doubt made EVERYONE giggle at some point or another. I'm going to retweet this great post now...

  2. Thank you so much Darrin! What a lovely comment. Thanks also for the RT. I just followed you on Twitter. :) It's a shame that Bil Keane's passing wasn't widely covered by the media. It was lovely to see his fellow cartoonists pay tribute.

  3. I cut the obituary article out of the paper for my mom since she's into keeping ones of famous people. I did read it and thought that you might be doing a post about this. The Sunday funny pages were always something that I looked forward to also. Boy was mass such a boring time so seeing this was a treat. I don't know why or how long ago I gave up on reading this and the weekday funnies but about 5 months ago got back into it. I so enjoyed your wonderful post/tribute.

  4. Great tribute... this man's work is truly part of our lives and childhood, I didn't realize he had passed... Thanks for posting Chells!

  5. One of my earliest memories is Sunday mornings reading the funny papers sprawled out on our kitchen floor while my mom made breakfast after church service. I cut out and collected The Family Circus from the late 70's to the early 80's. I still have those scrap books. I think I have just about every paperback collection that was published in those years as well. When he passed, I was appalled at how little notice he received, even in the comics section. In my local paper, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, only one strip ran a tribute -- Pearls Before Swine. When the creator of the strip, Stephan Pastis came to town for a book signing, I had him autograph that strip and it is now the last one pasted in those scrap books.


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