cartoonNot living in America, I had never heard of popular cartoonist Bil Keane until this week, when someone alerted me to his death. Seems like I have been missing a great tradition all these years.

Bil (correct spelling — he dropped the second L as a teenager, just to be different) was 89 and had been retired for a few years following nearly half a century of creating Family Circus cartoons, which appeared in nearly 1500 newspapers across the United States. His son Jeff has been drawing them recently.

The comic strips, celebrating “family moments”, owed their enduring popularity to their “consistency and simplicity”, Bil once said. Contrary to the idea that people like constant novelty, it seemed that they liked the predictability of seeing the same family: Mom, Dad, Billy, Jeffy, Dolly, PJ, Barfy (the dog) and Sam (the cat). They could also be relied upon to be wholesome and fit for viewing by the whole family.

It wasn’t laugh-out-loud stuff, on the whole — “more of a warm feeling or a lump in the throat,” says Jeff Keane. But it was funny, said the late Charles M Schultz, creator of Peanuts and a friend of Bil Keane.

 “I think we share a care for the same type of humor,” Schulz told The Associated Press in 1995. “We’re both family men with children and look with great fondness at our families.”

All of Bil’s five children, nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter were able to visit him in the last week of his life.

Are there other humourists who celebrate family values, and look at humanity with a fond rather than jaundiced eye? Or are Keane and Schultz part of a dying breed?

Thanks for this tip to Ricardo Peralta in Melbourne — where, incidentally, Bil Keane met his wife and collaborator, Thelma, while stationed there during the war.

Cartoon from familycircus.com

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet