If you don’t have time to read all the daily strips on the comic pages, chances are your eyes will at least catch the distinctive single-panel circle known as The Family Circus. As is the case with a handful of today’s popular comic strips, the strip frequently reflects themes related to prayer, church life, and religion in general.
Today we’re remembering Family Circus creator Bil Keane, who passed away earlier this month at age 89.
While the church scenes in the comic were that of a generic, American house of worship, Keane was in fact a practicing Roman Catholic. The blog, Get Religion, which focuses on ‘the story behind the religious stories in the media,’ recently devoted a highly-recommended article to Mr. Keane.
Keane was quoted in The Washington Post
“We are, in the comics, the last frontier of good, wholesome family humor and entertainment,” Keane said. “On radio and television, magazines and the movies, you can’t tell what you’re going to get. When you look at the comic page, you can usually depend on something acceptable by the entire family.”
Get Religion also cites a Keane story from the Catholic News Service
The comic also is known for its occasional religious themes. While the worship depicted in “The Family Circus” is of a generic Christian nature, Keane told St. Anthony Messenger it came from the family’s long connection to the Catholic Church. “I draw out of my lifestyle,” Bil said. “I grew up Catholic, my kids grew up Catholic.”
But the Catholic upbringing Keane had was apparently somewhat informal, as this piece at The Comics Journal notes:
“Laughter was a part of the church services I attended as a child,” said Keane, who believed that Jesus must’ve had a sense of humor: “I like to think of him as a guy who got people to listen to him by leaving them laughing and chuckling with one another.”
At the blog, Rule of Thumb, Sara Foss offers some reflections from when, as a writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald, she did a piece on religion in the comic pages, where she wrote:
“[Peanuts creator Charles] Schulz’s religious references didn’t sit well with all readers.
‘I believe it is inexcusably poor taste, and offensive to many readers both Christian and Jewish, to use texts from and reference to the Bible … especially in a comic strip,” one reader wrote to Schulz in 1969. The letter is included in ‘Peanuts: A Golden Celebration,” a collection of comics by Schulz.
But some people offered praise.
Like Schulz, ‘Family Circus’ creator Bil Keane, 77, said he used to get an occasional complaint about using religion in his strip.
‘Now those same people write to me to say, ‘Thank you for putting spirituality into the comics page,’ he said.
Keane often spins gags out of children saying prayers or the family attending church. In one, young Jeffy prays, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, how did you know my name?’
Keane’s depiction of the family’s grandfather sitting angelically on a cloud in heaven, listening to his grandchildren, is among his most popular images. Readers use the strip to show their own children where people go after they die.
‘To see that in a comic strip, it does more than 10 homilies by a priest,’ said Keane, a Catholic, from his home outside of Phoenix
‘I never set out to be an evangelist,’ he added. “‘All I’m doing is showing the way religion touches a child’s life or family life.’”
A Hollywood gossip blog reported,
On occasion, Mr. Keane quietly introduced religious themes into his cartoon.
One time, Dolly questioned, “Is God white, black, brown, yellow or red?”
Mommy answered, “Yes.”
The Family Circus continues under the direction of Bil’s son Jeff, now 53, who with a recent Sunday panel (see yesterday’s post here) indicates a willingness to continue the faith-oriented themes.