The Washington Post

BIL KEANE:‘Family Circus’ creator dies at 89

Cartoonist Bil Keane, creator of the comic strip "Family Circus," in his Paradise Valley, Ariz. home in 2006. (PAUL O'NEILL/AP)

Jeff Keane announces today on Facebook that his father, legendary "Family Circus" creator BIL KEANE, has died.

"We'll miss you!" posted Jeff, who now draws his father's longtime King Features comic — and who famously is the basis for the cartoon's Jeffy character.

“We've just lost the Norman Rockwell of comic strips,” “Mother Goose & Grimm” creator Mike Peters tells Comic Riffs in an especially apt comparison. Keane, like Rockwell, for decades hewed to a famously recognizable style and wholesome tone that engendered both long-term loyalty and easy criticism.

Bil Keane, who was born in Philadelphia in 1922, created the popular comic a half-century ago, and within several years the strip mined suburban life more for warm, oft-sentimental moments than biting humor.

“Taught myself to draw, so I can't blame anyone but me,” Keane used to say. He drew for the Philadelphia Bulletin for more than a decade before moving his family to Arizona shortly before "Family Circus" made its debut.


Bil Keane launched "Family Circus" two years after he and his burgeoning family moved ot Arizona from the East Coast.

“Family Circus” remains one of the industry's juggernauts. The distinctively circular comic — which appears in about 1,500 papers — has spawned TV specials and sold millions of books. Keane once quipped: "There are over 14 million 'Family Circus' books in print. If you can't find a copy in your book store, come over to my house — I have 13 1/2 million of them."

In 1983, the National Cartoonists Society named Keane as its Reuben Award "cartoonist of the year."

Some of us who have attended the NCS functions also recall Keane as a quick-witted emcee of the event who used to strafe the NCS ballroom with sarcastic yet affectionate barbs aimed at his fellow creators. He could be withering and warm in the span of the same well-targeted punch line.

He could also take the joke, too, when other cartoonists — such as Stephan Pastis, Scott Adams, Bill Griffith and “Dysfunctional Family Circus” — parodied his strip.

Keane, who died of congestive heart failure Tuesday at his Paradise Valley home near Phoenix, is survived by a large family, including son Glen Keane, a Disney animator whose most recent work includes the hit film "Tangled."

Bil Keane was 89.

MEMORIAM: Keane’s fellow cartoonists remember the “Family Circus” legend

JEFF KEANE: USO tour takes cartoonist to Afghanistan



View Photo Gallery: A look back at 11 prominent figures of the 21st century who have died this year.

A warm-hearted moment from “Family Circus.” (AP Photo/King Features Syndicate) (AP)


Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.



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