Family Circus Man
By James DiGiovanna
JUNE 1, 1999: For years I've been lobbying to convince the editors at The Tucson Weekly to hipify their overly mainstream comics page by including "The Family Circus." Unfortunately, they're too "PC" to allow extreme right-winger Bill Keane's daily jottings about the foibles of upper-middle-class suburban living to, as they put it, "darken our pages with its disgusting, reactionary politics and pro-family message." Okay, they never actually put it that way, but it sounds a lot more interesting than the truth.
I have gotten them to agree, at least as a one-time indulgence, to run these text analyses of the strip by our discerning hipster audience, so you can decide if this is not the best thing since the Symbionese Liberation Army destroyed the U.S. government and made Patty Hearst our Queen for Life:
April 22: Cartoon ostensibly drawn by "Billy, age 7." Billy has been age 7 for over 20 years now, so the plausibility of this claim is highly dubious. Image shows Father (presumably Bill Keane) at mailbox, explaining to postal worker that Billy is behind schedule with the latest cartoon, and Father will send it tomorrow via the more efficient FedEx service. Postal worker appears nonplussed.
April 23: Cartoon again ostensibly drawn by "Billy, age 7." Billy works at drawing table, while Father looks on, half hidden behind door frame. Billy is nervous in Father's presence, and complains to Mother. Mother's expression hard to read...sympathy? pity? She may be experiencing tensions between her role as mother and wife, with said tensions exacerbated by the fact that Billy is taking his father's role as cartoonist. Freudian speculation warranted.
Date Unknown (someone anonymously mailed this one to me...it appears to have been torn out of the paper in the last week or two): "Sally, age 5," is lying on top of Daddy's naked chest at the beach. She notes that his chest is both "nice" and "warm," and attributes this to the fact that there is "fur all over it."
If that stuff doesn't tap a much deeper vein of childhood neuroses than Lynda Barry's increasingly self-congratulatory "Ernie Pook's Comeek," then I'll eat a bug. Any bug, bring it on.
I think that the world's "cool" people love "the Circus" for the same reasons that they loved "Nancy" (back when Ernie Bushmiller did it): For one, it's almost always one of a set of five standardized non-gags; and two, it's not funny in almost exactly the same way that real life isn't funny.
Like most young scenesters, much of my dream life is dedicated to the "Family Circus." In hopes of convincing the square (some would say "totally Melvin") editors at TW that we need "The Circus," I'm asking readers to write in with their favorite Family Circus-inspired nocturnal reveries. Here are some examples local Fourth Avenue hippies, skate rats and business leaders have related so far:
Mom is mad at Billy for joining the Nazi party, and he tries to get out of his punishment (being sent to a Cambodian re-education center) by saying that "Not me" did it.
Grandpa's ghost molests Billy, and when he tells his parents they beat him for lying.
Billy and Sally "experiment" with each other, and learn an important lesson about the elasticity of plastic figurines.
(Draw inspiration for your own unhinged observations by checking out the official "Dysfunctional Family Circus" website at www.spinnwebe.com/dfc.)
Look, just because Bill Keane does stand-up routines at Republican fund-raisers (don't you wish you could be there for one of his drop-dead observations on the sinfulness of liberals and fornicators?) is no reason to exclude him from the comics page.
Ferchrissakes, they let Matt Groening in, and what's he done lately besides pollute the airwaves with fart jokes set in the distant future? So please, send your "Family Circus" dreams, fantasies, tributes and analyses to email@example.com, and please include the words "Bill Keane is God" in the subject line.
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