'Family Circus' cartoonist was master of the warm smile

Bil Keane was creator of The Family Circus, the gentle, long-running comic syndicated in almost 1500 newspapers.

Mr Keane, who has died at the age of 89 at his home in Arizona, became a wry poet of the innocence of childhood, his single-panel cartoon portraying the joys and travails of growing up.

The themes stayed constant for the more than half-century Keane wrote and drew the comic: The children play with their pets, track snow into the house, have tantrums, kneel for their prayers, and tire out their long-suffering, ever-affectionate mother, “Mommy.”

The cartoons were more sharply observed than ha-ha funny. "I would rather have the readers react with a warm smile, a tug at the heart or a lump in the throat as they recall doing the same things in their own families," Keane once said.

A native of Philadelphia, Keane taught himself cartooning by copying New Yorker artists. During World War II, he served in the Army, drawing a strip called "At Ease With the Japanese" for Pacific Stars and Stripes. He founded The Family Circus in 1960, and it caught on quickly.

Because many found The Family Circus guileless and treacly, the strip was a frequent target of satires, many of which Keane professed to like. But in 1999, Keane insisted that the website Dysfunctional Family Circus, which contained astringent captions to his drawings, be taken down.

When they were growing up, the Keane kids "thought our dad really enjoyed being around us," Jeff Keane once told the American Catholic magazine. "Later we realised he was getting ideas all the time."


'Family Circus' Creator Bil Keane Dies at 89 (Wall Street Journal)


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The Family Circus (Wikipedia)

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