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Bil Keane (1922-2011)

It’s taken a lot of knocks over the years, but the daily Family Circus panel was just as much a part of our lives as Charles Schulz’ Peanuts. Cartoonist Bil Keane passed away Tuesday at age 89.

Keane began his professional career after serving in World War II, first as staff cartoonist for the Philadelphia Bulletin, then broke into syndication with a panel called Channel Chuckles. His Family Circus strip began in 1960. It spawned three animated TV specials.

In tribute, here’s the 1979 Family Circus Christmas, directed by Al Kouzel, with animators including Fred Crippen, Marty Taras, Willis Pyle and his son–future Disney animator–Glen Keane.

UPDATE: It seems like an appropriate time to post this never-before-published questionnaire that Bil Keane filled out in 1995:

  • Michel Van

    that is so sad
    i like his “Family Circus” much

  • Interesting that Bil Keane listed Jim Borgman as his favorite current cartoonist. I’m a native Cincinnatian, and Jim Borgman was a huge source of inspiration to me. He’s one helluva good guy too.

    I’m surprised to read that in 1979, Glen Keane was a “future” Disney animator. I would have guessed he’d been there a bit longer.

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    For all the cheap shots taken at the comic panel (anyone remember “The Dysfunctional Family Circus” on the Net?), Bil Keane did his thing and did it well enough to pass it on as a legacy. There is an undeniable universality about the strip that helps keep it going.

  • eeteed

    sad news.

    much thanks for giving the world your son glen.

  • Condolences to Glen and family. Family Circus always caught my eye in the paper when I was young.

  • ‘Channel Chuckles’ could be pretty clever; Keane went for laughs instead of the smiles he got with ‘Family Circus.’ Sorry to hear the news.

  • Jenny Lerew

    The simplicity, innocence and sometimes barely-there punchlines made me and my friends love Family Circus as kids and even throughout our otherwise hyper-cynical teenager years. It was comfort food. At this point I guess I thought Bil Keane would go on forever. What other cartoonists have had this long a career with as gentle a property?

    Funny too, remembering my delight upon discovering he was the dad of Glen Keane; it always seemed to be “Jeffy” who made cameo appearances, never Glen! I’m probably wrong about that, though.

    His questionnaire’s wonderful. Everyone who loves character and drawing should look at the work of Clare Briggs(especially “The Days of Real Sport”). And I’m sure Bil has met who he wanted to meet.

  • Christopher Cook

    The strip will live on–Bil’s son Jeff will continue it.

    On a related note, “Ziggy” creator Tom Wilson Jr. died November 7 at age 80.

  • Condolences to the family and hats off to a classy cartoonist who did what he did honestly and with honor and he honored God :) Will honestly be remembered.

  • Christopher Cook

    Correction…that should be Tom Wilson Sr., not Jr.

  • Funkybat

    Very sorry to hear this news, though I had prepared myself for it for some years now. I hope he and Thel are reunited.

    While most people of my generation seem to view Family Circus as mostly a source of parody or disdain, I have always had a soft spot for this comic, especially the Sunday spreads where Bil would do stuff like the elaborate dotted-line path the kids would take on their way from point A to point B. I’m not embarrassed to say that I was almost as apt to read it every Sunday as I was Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side.

    Rest in Peace, Bil.

  • I love how his favorite show was ‘Friends’. Really fits. People are either Seinfeld people or Friends people. I like to think Watterson was a Seinfeld guy. Now I can say, “Who, Bil Keane? Yeah, he’s a ‘Friends’ guy.”

  • Clint H.

    R.I.P. Bil. THE FAMILY CIRCUS was a childhood favorite of mine.

  • James Fox

    I wish The Family Circus cartoon specials were either back on TV or be released on DVD

  • Robert Fiore

    Oh, sure The Family Circus was as much a part of our lives as Peanuts. Who could forget the Apollo lunar module named after Jeffy? I think Keane at his best was underrated, but get a grip, pal.

  • Jim

    Am I the only one that is sad that the stupid Justin Bieber post is getting more responses then the news of a great cartoonist’s passing?

    RIP Bill Keane! When Bieber fades into obscurity in a few years time, your work will still be loved and remembered for many years.

  • James Madison

    Loved Family Circus!

    Thanks for the wonderful stories Mr. Keane!

  • I used to remember watching the Christmas and Easter specials of the Family Circus as a kid.

    That’s really sad hearing what happened to Keane.

  • dbenson

    Family Circus had a few inside gags about Glen, aka Billy. One Halloween he was outfitted with a Beast mask; on another occasion his mother found him stalking through the backyard in his underwear, envisioning himself as a dangerous, Keane-animated Tarzan (displayed in a thought balloon).

    Always wondered how he got away with naming the dog Barfy.

  • Very sad to hear. My condolences to his family.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Aside from feeling a little sad for Keane’s passing, I wasn’t particularly big on these TV specials that were made back then (3 in total). Strangely the Christmas special had some odd little goofs if you can catch ’em that made it pretty hard for me to even get through the first time, the Valentines special was good but the Easter special has a lot of song numbers that would put anyone out of their mind (aside from the animators who had been on this special posted above, I think the last special was sent overseas anyway).

  • Brad Constantine

    Thanks for the great memories, Bil!! Rest In Peace!

  • Being as immersed in this man’s world as we have been, this is sad news, indeed. As we dug through all of the years of material, prepping to write the feature film version of the strip, we were struck with the amazing consistency of the comic and its warm, relatable glimpses into everyday life. He and his “family” will be missed.

  • animus

    Bil Keane’s Family Circus was unique in that it didn’t try to be hip or ironic, but at it’s best was very genuine. It sprang from a lovely fantasy: that the magical age when kids are their most innocent, most curious, least self-conscious and most honest might be explored endlessly instead of ending too soon.

    They did a Family Circus Valentine’s Day special that was real good, too. I wish it could be re-run annually like the Peanuts holiday shows.

  • Justin M. Durden

    Hate that he died, but at least he got to do something that he loved to do up til’ the end.

    That’s the way to go.