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October 15, 2001   383 Words

Bill Keane, Creator of The Family Circus, Draws Inspiration from Faith and Familiarity

CINCINNATI—With the cartoon, The Family Circus, creator Bil Keane has been drawing his way into the hearts of Americans for more than 40 years. In over 1,500 newspapers each day, the characters of Mom, Dad, Billy, Dolly, Jeffy and PJ tackle the kinds of daily problems that normal families face, exuding a wholesomeness, purity and humor that are its trademarks, as well as welcomed respites from the country’s current tragedies.

Keane’s passion for his families, both real and paneled, his children’s growing responsibilities within the business and his use of spirituality in the cartoon are all featured in St Anthony Messenger’s Keane-illustrated November cover story entitled Bil Keane’s Family Circus. The story can also be found at:

Many loyal readers have suspected, and rightfully so, that Keane’s Circus-family, which debuted in 1960, is largely based on his own. Wife Thel, daughter Gayle and sons Neal, Glen, Christopher and Jeff would agree. The Keane children, when growing up, “always thought our dad really enjoyed being around us,” Jeff says. “Later we realized he was getting ideas all the time.”

Keane has always been intent on portraying a realistic American family and, as is true of many families in this country, religion is an important factor. But, in typical Bil Keane fashion, the subject is laced with humor. “With religion and praying, sometimes it’s poking fun,” he says, like when Dolly kneels to say her nightly prayers and begins, “Hail Mary, full of grapes...”

At 79, Keane realizes that he may have to slow down from the day-to-day grind of the panel, but feels secure that his Circus family will stay within his own. Youngest son Jeff assists his father on the feature by inking the cartoons and coloring the Sunday panel. Daughter Gayle manages the fan mail, as well as the sale of Keane cartoon books, original drawings or prints of published works.

But don’t count on a full retirement from Keane. “Thel told me the other day that she believes I’ll never retire from being involved in the feature. She’s right. It’s my life.”


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