Bil Keane, the cartoonist who created “Family Circus,” died November 8, 2011, at the age of 89. He’d been drawing the cartoon about a family with a mommy, daddy, and four kids since 1960—my entire life. I can remember many, many cartoons depicting departed loved ones, such as the grandparents of Billy, Jeffy, Dolly, and P.J., drawn in lightly as if visiting the family from heaven. I also remember many cartoons with the family in church. Because of the church and heavenly visits shown in the “Family Circus” cartoon, I think people might be finding God in Bil Keane and Family Circus.
Has your Mom ever cut out a cartoon and mailed it to you? I have no idea how many “Family Circus” cartoons my Mom must have sent me over the years. They always brought a smile to my face. Bil Kean was quoted as saying, “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.”
I’m thinking Bil Keane surely must have gotten that wish come true multiple millions of times.
According to an article on FoxNews.com, “He worked as a messenger for the Philadelphia Bulletin before serving three years in the Army, where he drew for ‘Yank’ and ‘Pacific Stars and Stripes.’ He met his wife, Thelma (‘Thel’), while serving at a desk job in Australia.” He modeled the mommy character in “Family Circus” after her so well that “if she was in the supermarket pushing her cart around, people would come up to her and say, ‘Aren’t you the mommy in “Family Circus”?’” the article said. A different article said Thel died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2008.
Together, Bil and Thel had one more son than the family in the comic strip. They had daughter, Gayle, and sons Glen, Jeff, Chris and Neal. Bil (the FoxNews.com article said he dropped the second “L” around the time he was in High School just to be different) said he drew the cartoon about a family much like his own. He said, “Everything that’s happened in the strip has happened to me.” [FoxNew.com article]
The FoxNews.com article also said Bil Keane “listed Gary Larson’s ‘The Far Side’ among his favorites, and he loved it when Bill Griffith had his offbeat ‘Zippy the Pinhead’ character wake up from a bump on the head thinking he was Keane’s Jeffy. Keane responded by giving Zippy an appearance in ‘Family Circus.’”
According to the FoxNews.com article, “In later years, Keane continued to produce ‘Family Circus’ with the help of his youngest son, Jeff. Keane sketched out the ideas, characters and captions and sent them to Jeff for inking.”
Bil Keane clearly showed in his cartoons his faith in God, and so I’m sure he’s in heaven right now looking down on us as if lightly drawn in over our shoulders wishing us a warm smile, a tug at the heart or a lump in the throat as he, through his cartoons, continues to point people to finding God in Bil Keane and Family Circus.
Here an AP report on Bil Keane’s passing.