60 Years of Good Keane Fun

It says here that February 29 is the birthday of Superman, L.O.Annie, and Captain Marvel. I don’t know about that. But I do know that sixty years ago, Leap Day 1960, was the first public appearance of The Family Circle by Bil Keane! Jeff Keane celebrates that anniversary in today’s The Family Circus.

Wait. The Family Circle? Yeah, the comic panel first appeared under a different name, unfortunately there already was a publisher using that brand in the print world. Let’s let R. C. Harvey tell it:

The feature’s title, however, created a small albeit surmountable problem. Keane had christened the cartoon The Circle Family, but his editor at the syndicate thought The Family Circle would be better. And it launched with that title on Leap Year’s Day, February 29, 1960 in 19 newspapers. The inaugural panel shows a front room strewn with toys, and Mom is at the door with a pollster who asks: “Any children?”

Within six months of its launch, the cartoon attracted the attention of the legal department at Family Circle magazine, which threatened to sue. Keane had his editor pondered a host of other title possibilities before Keane opted for The Family Circus, which, he said, “better described his own life experience.” The curtain went up on the new title August 15, 1960. The color Sunday installment first appeared September 10, 1961.


above: the first Family Circle comic and a 1960 issue of the magazine.


Early on The Family was a little different, with the father being a lot different.

above: early Family Circus panels (in 2010 the feature celebrated 50 years by rerunning the first week)


With a little rejiggering the feature became the popular comic we know today.
And, of course, along the way it developed some rather famous themes.



The panel quickly became, and remains, a very popular comics page icon. A sign of that popularity, aside from being in 1,500 newspapers (more than any other comic panel), was the continued publishing of Family Circus paperbacks by Fawcett. In 1980 the first Garfield book came out in a landscape format and spent a couple years at top of the N.Y.Times best seller list. That was the beginning of the end for mass market paperback comic books. By the end of the 1980s that configuration was, if not dead, moribund; and yet Fawcett kept issuing two or three Family Circus paperbacks a year into the 1990s.


Lynda Barry:

I was a kid growing up in a troubled household. We didn’t have books in the house but we did have the daily paper and I remember picking out Family Circus before I could really read.

There was something about the life on the other side of that circle that looked pretty good. For kids like me there was a map and a compass hidden in Family Circus. The parents in that comic strip really loved their children. Their home was stable. It put that image in my head and I kept it.


3 thoughts on “60 Years of Good Keane Fun

  1. Wonderful look at the history of this entertaining panel! Or “circle” – or “circus” – anyway, many thanks and happy anniversary to a family friendly series!

Comments are closed.