Saturday, November 10, 2012

Really, Dolly?

Not entirely sure I get this one. Granted, there usually isn't much of anything to "get" about most of what this family gets up to, but in this case, i can't tell if Dolly is supposed to have the dress on backwards, or if it's one of those dresses that buttons up the back. Maybe Jeff Keane doesn't know there are dresses that button up the back, and thus didn't realize the potential ambiguity?

In any case, the Exorcist-y image is rife with parody caption potential, but I'll leave that to someone else, as i disapprove of such things.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I Could Live Without A Parade

As a lil’ lady growing up in  Manhattan (Kansas, the Little Apple), I sometimes spent time with family friends who lived on some farmland in Clay Center, a rural town about 45 minutes away from our college town. I don’t remember much about the family – I  cant even recall their names – but my memories of them mostly involve watching a  lot of taped episodes of Full House with the mom and daughter, a show I wasn’t allowed to watch at home.

Anyway, maybe it was Memorial Day, or possibly the anniversary of Clay Center’s founding, but the daughter was going to be in a parade. And I was going to be in the parade too! But just as all the kids were being rounded up to sit on the rudimentary float – which,  as I recall was some sort of large slab on wheels, covered in white fluffy fabric , on which children would sit and gently wave red roses in the direction of the crowed – I decided that the whole being-in-a-parade thing really wasn’t for me.  

I’m guessing my refusal involved casting my eyes downward, abandoning all but the most basic verbal communication, and possibly squeezing out a few tears (this, I’m sorry to say, is not entirely dissimilar to my current go-to approach to getting out of things).  I was offered the chance to ride in the bed of the pickup that was going to pull the float along (which seems pretty dangerous, though I suppose it would have been traveling at a relatively safe parade pace), as well as the option of riding inside the cab of the truck.  But I wouldn’t have it.

Why? I’m not sure. I was a pretty shy kid, and not very much fun, so that probably had something to do with it.  Maybe I was scared of sliding off the side of that float.  Maybe I was scared that the parade would take me away forever, and that I’d never see my family again.  But if I had known  that would be my only chance to be in a parade -- I mean, let’s face it.  I’m a stranger to the pageant circuit, I’m not in the armed forces, and I don’t know how to wrangle a giant balloon --  I probably wouldn’t have been such a baby about the whole thing.

Then again, I – unlike the kids on the float – ended up having a lot of candy thrown my way.  Maybe I did make the right decision. 

P.S. Hi Kj!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Hey buddy, did you get a load of the nerd?"


You'd probably never guess that a person with a Family Circus blog has a history of being extremely uncool, but it's true. I was, as Billy would apparently say, a nerd of the highest order.

I won't go into all the details of my lameness, but i will say this, and this says a lot:  i was obsessed with Shakespeare.  I memorized monologues, i wore humorous t-shirts - size L - featuring the Bard's face, i was a member of the freaking Shakespeare Sleepover Society.  To make matters worse, my hair was long and parted in the middle, and when i wasn't wearing literary T's, i donned ill-fitting men's sweaters.  

Here's a particularly embarrassing picture some jerk tagged me in on facebook for all to see:

Modesty prevents me from telling you that I've since become awesome (i assume all my readers know me personally, and you all can judge for yourselves!) but it's safe to say that I've  improved since the bleak 11 -18 age range.  There was really nowhere to go but up.

The problem was, unlike our friend Jeffy here, I didn't have anyone -- neither older siblings nor school bullies -- telling me that i was a nerd, and that is why sartorially horrifying photos of me are readily available on the internet.* To paraphrase the guardian angel Clarance, "You've been given a great gift, Jeffy: a chance to see that you're on a one-way train to squaresville."

*I know reposting that picture here would seem to contradict my expressed horror, but i'm trying to get over my embarrassment over my teenage years.  It's all part of the healing process. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

So long, Bil Keane

Sad times in the world of Circles.  Earlier this week -- November 8th -- William Aloysius Keane passed away at the age of 89.

Obviously, Keane's death does not come as a shock.  Many probably assumed Keane had already died – as you already know, I myself had wondered, in the face of declining comics, if he actually had died and it had been kept a secret.  My colleague Andy Mulkerin sent me the following gem from a couple years back, along with a theory: "I bet this actually marked his real death -- it was like when Paul McCartney died and they started putting clues into all those records."

I kinda feel bad for those conspiracy theories now, and kinda don't: such a thing certainly didn't seem impossible.

It also crossed my mind that Keane would never die, an idea which may or may not have been inspired by this:

I've read several sweet and enlightening obituaries about Keane, including this one from the Associated Press, and this one from the New York Times .  Apparently, Keane felt that the comic really "hit its stride" with an instance involving the ever babyish, pajama-clad Jeffy saying to his parents, "I don't feel so good, i think i need a hug."  
 "And suddenly," Keane said, "I got a lot of mail from people about this dear little fella needing a hug, and I realized that there was something more than just getting a belly laugh every day."

Looking at strips from that period, that turning point is pretty clear, as the slight darkness from the very early strips disappeared.   Keane did not, until relatively recently (it seems), completely abandon humorous for heartwarming.  For the truly unfunny dailies of the last 10 years, I continue to blame Jeff, who never quite hits Bil's trademark sweetness sweet spot.

As Jeff himself puts it, "It was a different type of comic, and I think that was my dad's genius — creating something that people could really relate to and wasn't necessarily meant to get a laugh...It was more of a warm feeling or a lump in the throat."
Which is, of course, why people like my grandmother considered the Family Circus to be the highlight of the funny pages, and why people like my sister and myself never tired of mocking grandma for her terrible, unfunny taste.  Grandma always complained that she didn't get The Far Side or Bloom County, and that any animated character created after 1965 was "ugly."  The Family Circus on the other hand, she said, was "nice."  

That i eventually came around to the nicest comic of all time is in no small part due to the fact that, during family visits, i read and re-read Grandma's hardback FC collections out of pure boredom.  Grandma is now in her mid 90s. That she outlived Keane seems improbable, and since my love of the Family Circus seems so closely associated with my love of my grandma, Keane's death makes my grandma's seem considerably more imminent. So, I'd better go call her, and then enjoy that i can still go back and actually, genuinely enjoy the same heartwarming unfunny comics that made, and still make, her happy.

And here's one i think she'd probably enjoy:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Live from (Rochester) New York...

Because the dailies continue to be dismaaaaal (see below)....

....I'm going to take things back, with a couple classic strips from the 60s.

It's been said that politicians are unable to be genuinely funny, lest irreverent jokes or sarcasm be misunderstood as sincere belief or insensitivity.
That first cartoon is about as funny as a politician is allowed to be.  
The second cartoon is like a badass guy/gal who would make an awesome political leader, but keeps it too real to ever be elected.

I love that second strip.  It's over the top in a very uncharacteristic way, and  I'm not sure I completely get it.  What is it that sends this traveling sales man over the edge?  Was the scene of disarray with which he was met the final proof of life's meaninglessness? Of course, the point is that it is obviously NOT the best time for Mommy, and she really can't be bothered with dude's midlife crisis.  If that's the point, though, it could have been expressed without bringing suicide into the mix.  I'm pretty certain that if this strip was written today, the salesman would have finished his sentence with "day," for Mommy, that would have been interruption enough, and the whole thing would be clipped out by grandmothers with terrible senses of humor and taped to refrigerators all over the country.

Just in case you're curious, the highest suicide rates by profession are apparently food "batchmakers," doctors, and lathe and turning machine operators.

Though the onion-tear gag has been done many times, many ways, i think this rendition is just downright sweet.  Compared to more recent strips, in which everything the kids say seems so self-consciously adorable, Billy, Dolly and Jeffy seem completely lost in the fear that they've done something terrible.  Some childhood's scariest moments come when we don't understand what our parents are doing, and i think this captures that feeling well.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sweets and Treats Part 2

Happy Halloween!

P.S. Boy, is my face red!  i just noticed the duel writing credit -Jeff AND Bil-on this strip, so disregard the attribution griping in my last post.  Apparently, Bil's son Jeff works as his assistant, and is expected to take over when his father retired.  BUT! I still suspect Bil has minimal involvement in the strip.  Prove me wrong!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sweets and Treats

Why do i even look at the daily cartoons?

I hate to be negative, but these daily strips prove time and again that the Family Circus is a shadow of its former self.

 First of all, look at that crappy drawing.  It looks like something from a bootleg dollar store coloring book. I know they never looked realistic, but their heads weren't always amoeba shaped. I'm pretty convinced that Bil Keane in nothing more than a Orville Redenbacherstyle figurehead, with little or nothing to do with the actual creation of the strip .. if he's even still alive!  If his son -- occasional "guest" cartoonist "Billy" -- is actually doing all the work, i don't see why they don't just admit it.

Second of all, this strip takes the "non-joke" -- something the series has already perfected --  to a new level.  "Your tummy could use some cake, Jeffy?  And? That's it?"  I keep re-reading it, thinking I MUST be missing something, but there is nothing. 

(Note that Dolly seems to be looking right at the camera, something I don't think I've ever seen any of the family do.  Billy Keane breaks down the forth wall!)

Compare to this sweets-related cartoon from the early 80s:

(sorry for the blurry phone photo)

This one of my top 5 favorite FC strips. Unlike the cake cartoon, this one makes me smile every time i read it. Look at how tired Billy's eyes are.  Is he diabetic?  But even on the edge of  fainting, he never for a moment forgets how to turn a phrase.

Jeffy could really stand to take a page from Billy's book....but that's kind of always been true.

(Dedicated to Dower of Refuse, lover of sweets)