“LIO” CREATOR Mark Tatulli is a master of the silent gag. But in memorializing “Family Circus” creator BIL KEANE, he also thinks brilliantly outside of the standard comic box.
In Monday’s strip, Lio lays a wreath upon the trademark “Family” circle with artful poignance.
As if testament to Keane’s popularity among his brethren of the drawing board, Comic Riffs continues to hear warm remembrances of the man. One that is especially notable is that of longtime friend Mell Lazarus (“Momma,” “Miss Peach”), who tells us:
“Bil was selfless in extraordinary ways.
“A number of years ago, Bil was nominated for the annual Segar Award, along with a few other cartoonists. I was on the [National Cartoonists Society] board that had to elect the winner. One day, he called each of us and asked us not to vote for him. His reason was that one of the nominees — namely Alfred Andriola ("Kerry Drake") — was very sick and not expected to live. Bil asked us to vote for Alfred because, as Bil put it: ‘Al is dying. He'll never have another opportunity to win the Segar Award.’ "
All the board members voted for Andriola, says Lazarus, who continues:
“Bil was totally devoted to his family, especially his extraordinary wife, Thelma, who suffered from Altzheimer's disease and spent her final few years in a hospice. Not a day went by that he wasn't at her side, even after she began to have trouble recognizing him.
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“Some years ago, by the way, he and Thel asked his syndicate for a change in their relationship. It was their desire to gain the right to amend his ‘Family Circus’ contract so that the feature would revert to his heirs upon his own death. It wasn't easy to accomplish. ... A few of us decided to write an open letter to his syndicate in which we planned to appeal to them to grant the change in his rights.”
Lazarus says the syndicate — “to its great credit” — agreed to the appeal.
“The episode,” he says, “was just one example of how much we loved the guy.”