Family Circus creator Bil Keane just passed away at the age of 89. For over 41 years, his daily one-panel comic has set and upheld the standard for innocence and wholesome all-ages wisdom within our nation's funny pages. And while Circus is still in circulation, an era has ended nonetheless.
While some dailies try to keep up with pop culture (Zits), others with current events (Doonesbury), and still others with their own linear narratives (Baby Blues and most of your standard three-panelers), Family Circus subscribed to an almost Peanuts-like insularity exclusively dedicated to it's own particular rhythm, pace, logic, and frame of reference. Keane famously dropped the second "L" in his first name "to be
distinctive" and then went on to cultivate one of the most distinct
voices in comics.
Though a self-proclaimed "circus," Keane's comic never really reached for the high-impact entertainment of a Barnum & Bailey, instead providing G-rated slice-of-life snapshots. They revolved around sitcom-like familial camaraderie and kids-say-the-darndest-things punning.
Following the exploits of a family of first-names -- Bill and Thelma (a.k.a. Mom and Dad), and children Billy, Dolly, Jeffry and P.J. -- Family Circus is a bit like a peering into a window of domestic utopia -- a place where children are wise beyond their years, marital strife is nothing more than chummy ribbing, and everyone is provided for, materially, emotionally, and so on.
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While the comic may often be met with criticism for overdoing sentimentality to the point of becoming saccharine, Keane's accomplished history of awards suggests somebody must relate (or, at least, wish they could relate) to Circus's depiction of the world.
In his lifetime, he was awarded the National Cartoonists Society's Award for Best Syndicated Panel on four separate occasions. He was named the Cartoonist Society's Cartoonist of the Year in 1982, the same year he also won the Reuben Award (Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year) and the Elzie Segar award for his "unique and outstanding contribution" to cartooning.
Though certainly steeped in cornball sentiment, and locked into a super-limited, borderline 'Merica perspective, Family Circus speaks with an impressively consistent visual voice unlike any other. Bil Keane, you will be missed.