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Book Review: The Family Circus Library Volume One by Bil Keane

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One of my favorite newspaper comic strips has perennially been "The Family Circus." I have always enjoyed watching the adorable children's amusing antics unfold, much to the bewilderment of their loving parents. Imagine my excitement when I found out that IDW Publishing would be releasing The Family Circus Library Volume One. This comprehensive collection has every strip from the series' first two years of existence, beautifully packaged in a nice hardcover book.

Christopher Keane, son of "Family Circus" patriarch Bil Keane, has written a highly educational and entertaining essay that offers a great deal of insight into the inception of this iconic newspaper strip. (Did you know "The Family Circus" was not the original name?) This thoughtful essay is accompanied by many pieces of Keane's pre-"Family Circus" art and family photographs. Looking at these photographs of the young members of the Keane clan who would go on to inspire the memorable comic is a real treat.

The essay brings to light the fact that "Family Circus" did not suddenly appear in newspapers as it appears today, but rather the foundational idea has slowly evolved over time and gone through many incarnations to eventually fit into its groove. Keane struggled for several years, striving to succeed as a syndicated cartoonist while raising a family. The essay does a good job putting a human perspective to the "Bil Keane" signature that has adorned "The Family Circus" for nearly 50 years.

These earliest versions of the strip are more than a little different from the modern era that most readers will be familiar with. The first strip originally ran in newspapers on Leap Year Day of 1960, after all. The biggest differences are the art style (particularly the father) and the absence of the youngest child, PJ. The father was named Steve (not Bill, as he is currently known). His large nose and prominent paunch give a much more cartoonish feel than the more realistic tone of today's "Family Circus,"

Despite the potentially unfamiliar art style, the humor in these strips are as prominent today as they were in their original run in 1960 and '61. One of the hallmarks of "Family Circus" is how it balances appealing to an audience of all ages. Some strips are silly and more youth-oriented (See: 5/6/60. This captionless strip features the mother talking on the phone and casually keeping her toddler Jeff from exiting through the open door by holding him back with a running vacuum cleaner extension). Others are definitely geared towards adults (See: 10/22/60, as Steve and the children return home from a ball game, the children greet their mother with the caption, "…And we each had a bottle of soda. Daddy brought his own in his pocket.")

This collection is good for both die-hard fans or people who are unfamiliar with the series but enjoy witty humor. IDW Publishing has plans for another volume. It is fitting for such a beloved comic to get such a fantastic release to allow for Bil Keane's created family to entertain for years to come.

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