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Family Circus Creator, Bil Keane Dies At 89: Comic Graces 1500 Papers With Heart And Humor
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Family Circus Creator, Bil Keane Dies at 89: Comic Graces 1500 Papers With Heart And Humor

Appearing in over 1500 papers across the country, the Family Circus, a one panel comic that deals with a warm and loving family has long stood for family values even in a rapidly changing world. The strip, which focused on Bil and Thelma and their children, Billy, Jeffy, Dolly and little PJ as well as the family's pets, was created in 1960 by Bil Keane. The families that have long viewed glimpses of their own children in the strip are mourning now; Bil Keane has died. He was 89 years old.

Born in 1922, Keane taught himself the fine art of drawing while a child in Philadelphia. He would work as a messenger before enlisting in the army, serving three years in the service. While in the army he drew for both Yank and Pacific Stars and Stripes. It was also during his time in the army that he met his wife Thelma while he was in Australia.

After the army, Keane drew a one panel comic that he called Channel Chuckles, dealing largely with television which was just beginning to rise in popularity. The family would move to Arizona and Bil would start the Family Circus in 1960. That strip would be unique among others because it was always drawn in a circular border rather than in a square box. Keane called his strip the Family Circle but a threatened lawsuit spurred him to change the name just slightly, from Circle to Circus.

Keane kept the family values of the strip fairly simple and straightforward for the entire time it ran- over fifty years total. In later years, much of the work of the strip, including the final inking fell to his son Jeff, something they often alluded to in the strip as well when young Jeffy would stand in for one reason or another. There were modern updates as the years went on, often with references to popular culture thrown in from time to time. Hair styles changed slightly as did the wardrobe for the illustrated family, but otherwise things stayed even from start to finish.

The popularity of the Family Circus has often been equated with other iconic comic strips including Peanuts, created by Charles M. Schultz. Both men liked and admired each other and counted one another as a friend. The Family Circus has itself been referenced in popular culture, usually affectionately.

Keane was preceded in death by his wife, Thelma who died in 2008. He is survived by his own five children, Gayle, Glen, Jeff, Chris and Neal.


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