The Associated Press reports that Bil Keane, whose timeless, one-panel Family Circus comics ran in newspapers for more than half a century, died of congestive heart failure yesterday at age 89.
“I never thought about a philosophy for the strip — it developed gradually,” Keane explained in a 1998 interview. “I was portraying the family through my eyes. Everything that’s happened in the strip has happened to me. That’s why I have all this white hair at 39 years old.” Surprisingly, his ultimate goal as a cartoonist wasn’t to make people laugh. Rather, as he once said, “I would rather have the readers react with a warm smile, a tug at the heart or a lump in the throat as they recall doing the same things in their own families.”
In recent years, Keane — who as a young man decided to drop the second “L” from his first name “just to be different” — was assisted by his youngest son, Jeff, who would ink the comics after his father came up with the concept. It’s unclear now whether Family Circus will live on without its original creator, but considering that the beloved strip is featured in nearly 1,500 newspapers nationwide, there’s certainly still an audience for it. As Keane himself once said, explaining its longevity, “It’s reassuring, I think, to the American public to see the same family.”