Thursday, November 10, 2011

Family Circus Lives On

Bil Keane, 1990, from Wikipedia
The news this morning was that Bil Keane, creator of The Family Circus cartoon, died Tuesday at age 89. My first thought was, “But we need that cartoon. Will we still have it? Does he have a son who will continue doing it?” which actually is the case. His son Jeff has been working with him for years and is ready to continue. 

My next thought was—nostalgia. This single pane cartoon was one of the first I became aware of, during elementary school. The recurring “Not Me” ghost that did all the naughty stuff is a long-time favorite. And especially after I had children I related to Billy getting from one place to another with the circuitous dotted line following his path. 

As an adult I appreciated the grandpa watching and silently being part of the family after his death. So maybe now that is how Bil Keane will continue to be part of his legacy. 

There’s a famous opening line, of the Russian novel Anna Karenina, which I’ve long believed to be wrong: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I think unhappy families are pretty much alike. Go down the list of the Ten Commandments, and those in that unhappy family are breaking one after another. There’s a predictable pattern. 

(just a sample from last month)
But happy families, on the other hand, tend to be endless sources of amusing little moments, frequently unexpected, and seldom just the same as any other happy family. That’s why Bil Keane could look at his own family and come up with something new every day, something that actually happened in his home. 

In the Associated Press piece in today’s paper, they quoted him: 

“I never thought about a philosophy for the strip—it developed gradually,” Keane told the East Valley Tribune in 1998. “I was portraying the family through my eyes. Everything that’s happened in the strip has happened to me.”… 

“If The Family Circus has any social value,” Keane was fond of saying, “it shows parents that their children are normal. And if there is a philosophy behind the feature, it’s this: A home filled with love and laughter is the happiest place in the world.” 

This may seem simple and obvious enough—to anyone from or in a happy family. But worldwide efforts are underway attempting to erase that simple truth. Especially now, after 51 years of consistent examples of happy family life, we need Bil Keane’s legacy to live on.

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