Images © Bil Keane.
This book of newspaper strips is a well-made and well-designed hardcover along the lines of the “Peanuts” series, but a little larger. THE FAMILY CIRCUS is a strip I’ve read off and on since my own childhood; never a favorite, but generally amusing family humor. Light weight, without the adult undertones of “Peanuts,” but in this collection of early strips, often on the mark and funny. The daily strip has always been a single panel in a circle, and most of this book has three of those on a page. The Sunday strips, in color and much larger, began in September of 1961, so there are relatively fewer of those here.
Bil Keane died in 2011, and the strip is now being done by his son. The drawing style has become somewhat refined from these early days, but hasn’t changed hugely. The kids, especially, look pretty much the same. The parents have changed more. The restrictive nature of a single panel gag (occasionally two panels) means you have to come up with ideas that can be conveyed quickly. Some work better than others, but the best of these are right up there with good New Yorker cartoons, I’d say.
This is not a book I would have bought, it was a gift to attendees at the Harvey Awards. I’m glad I got to read it, I think I appreciate the strip and Keane more now than I ever did.