Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bil Keane R.I.P.

Cartoonist Bil Keane, best known as the creator of The Family Circus, passed on 8 November 2011 at the age of 89. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Bil Keane was born in 5 October 1922 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He grew up in the Philadelphia suburb Crestville, Pennsylvania. It was while he was at Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia that he began drawing, mimicking the style of cartoons in The New Yorker. His first cartoon was published in 1936 in the pages of The Philadelphia Daily News. It was while he was still in high school and publishing an amateur magazine titled The Saturday Evening Toast with friends that he dropped the second "l" from "Bill" so that his name would stand out. As neither he nor his parents could afford art school, he went to work as a messenger for The Philadelphia Bulletin. While there he watched the newspaper's artists and learned all he could from them.

During World War II Bil Keane served in the United States Army, where he worked on Yank and Stars and Stripes. It was while he was stationed in Australia that he met and married his wife Thelma, the inspiration for the mother in The Family Circus. After the war Mr. Keane returned to The Philadelphia Bulletin, this time as an artist. It was there that he created his first comic strip, Silly Philly. In 1954 he created his first nationally syndicated comic strip, Channel Chuckles. It was a single panel strip that drew upon television for its humour. It ran until 1976.

It was on 29 February 1960 that The Family Circus debuted. The Family Circus is a single panel comic strip that was based on Bil Keane's own family. The characters are all fictional versions of Mr. Keane, his wife, and his children. Throughout the years none of the characters have aged, with the exception of the baby, P. J. The Family Circus would prove extremely successful. Many book collections of the strip have been released throughout the years. In the late Seventies and early Eighties three television specials were based on the strip. The strip still appears in 1500 newspapers worldwide, making it possibly the widely syndicated comic strip in the world.

From 1981 to 1983 Mr. Keane collaborated on the comic strip Eggheads with his son Jeff Keane.

Like many The Family Circus forms fond memories for myself since childhood. The comic strip was very rarely what one would call "laugh out loud funny," but it had a gentle, heartfelt humour that served it well. There can be little doubt that parents and even children reading The Family Circus could glimpse parts of their own family in the fictional family of the strip. And I have little doubt that most of us could glimpse truths about our own families from time to time in The Family Circus. This was Bil Keane's gift in life, to draw upon his own experiences as a father and husband to create a comic strip with which most of us could identify. While I cannot say The Family Circus is my favourite comic strip or even close to it, it is a comic strip of which I have always been very fond. 

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