William Aloysius Keane, better known as Bil Keane, died Tuesday at age 89 at his longtime home in Paradise Valley, near Phoenix. Keane was an American cartoonist notable for his work on the long-running newspaper comic The Family Circus, which began its run in 1960 and continues in syndication. Jeff Keane, Keane’s son, said that his father died of congestive heart failure with one of his other sons by his side after his conditioned worsened during the last month.
Keane said it best, when he wrote about himself on the Family Circus website:
I was born in Philadelphia. Well, I wasn’t exactly born, I was discovered there by Benjamin Franklin (Oct. 5, 1922). I grew up in that city with a penn by my side–William Penn! When asked who cracked the Liberty Bell I replied, “Not me!”–my first association with that invisible gremlin who showed up in “The Family Circus” many years later.
Taught myself to draw, so I can’t blame anyone but me. Started cartooning in high school which I attended when I grew too tall for low school. Spent 3 years in the U.S. Army during World War II, but we won anyway. While stationed in Australia I met a cute koala bear named Thel Carne who was trying futilely to throw away a boomerang. I, too, returned–5 years later and we were married in Brisbane. In Roslyn, Pa. we started our real-life family circus. They provided the inspiration for my cartoons; I provided the perspiration.
I worked at the Phila. Bulletin for 15 years where I was a staff artist. I drew staffs. I launched “Channel Chuckles” in 1954, a syndicated cartoon about TV. The TV repairman was at our house so much I thought he was part of the family. In fact, later I named one of my cartoon characters after him: Barfy. I drew free-lance cartoons for the major magazines and a Sunday comic for the Bulletin called “Silly Philly.”
In 1959 I decided to work from my home and we moved the whole family lock, stock and barrel to Arizona. We managed the lock and stock okay, but had trouble with the barrel. We still live in the same house near Phoenix and love the state. Even its canyons are grand.
“The Family Circus” bowed in 1960 and I’ve been going around in circles ever since. It now appears in over 1500 newspapers whose editors have excellent taste in comics. Readership polls place “The Family Circus” at the top regularly. And it’s a very nice view from atop a poll.
“Family Circus” has appeared on TV in holiday specials and has been published regularly by Fawcett Gold Medal Books in paperback collections. There are over 14 million “Family Circus” books in print. If you can’t find a copy in your book store, come over to my house–I have 13 1/2 million of them.
In 1983 I was named cartoonist of the year by the National Cartoonist Society and at the awards dinner I was given a sitting ovation. We now have nine grandchildren who I like to follow around for grand ideas.
Thel is my editor and consultant. Youngest son Jeff inks and colors the cartoons. The Syndicate does the selling. Come to think of it, what do I do? I keep in shape (I’m not sure what the shape is) by playing tennis and jogging.
If asked when I will retire I say “probably about 11 o’clock tonight. But, hopefully, I’ll be back at the ol’ drawing board in the morning and happy to be there!”
Keane was able to draw upon his experiences with his family and bring it to us in comic form. He gave some heart and consistency to the public with his traditional family values. He will be missed.