Friday, November 11, 2011

The Family Circle Of Life

It was the circle at the bottom of the comics page that I avoided: The Family Circus. Even in the days when I was a voracious enough comics reader to take in all the drama of Rex Morgan M.D., I couldn't bring myself to read the single panel of benign humor. There was something about it that was just a little too precious, a tad too sentimental for my very mature tastes. I preferred the bone-dry wit of "Peanuts," or the racial diversity of "Wee Pals." I wasn't going to fall into that saccharine trap. I still had "Hagar the Horrible" to read.

By the time I got to college, I realized that what Bil Keane was offering us all a convenient target for our angst. We could all roll our eyes collectively at the antics of Jeffy and Dolly. We could sneer with contempt at the relative struggles of P.J. and little Billy. What was their life if not a sardonic comment on the state of the American dream for the rest of us.

I had forgotten that Bil Keane was the illustrator of Erma Bombeck's "Just Wait Until You Have Children Of Your Own." This guy knew what was going on. He lived through the same reality we all did, and as a parent, I began to sneak a peek in that corner of the page, after I had read everything else. It turns out that he was doing that thing that artists are encouraged to do: He wrote about what he knew. And he drew pictures. He was friends with Charles Schultz. He had a dog in his strip that was named "Barfy." Not exactly subversive, but kind of funny that no one fussed about it for fifty years. Then there's this: Apparently Billy and Zippy the Pinhead were pals.

Aloha, Bil. See you in the funny papers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you ever noticed that "benign humor" rhymes with "benign tumor"? Just sayin'.