Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Keane Teens

This past Monday, Thelma Keane died at the age of 83. Thel Keane was the wife of Bil Keane, the model for "Mommy" in The Family Circus, and from most accounts a careful businesswoman who played a key role in establishing the Keane empire. No matter what Family Circus represents as an easy target, she sounds like a remarkable woman whose life was far more interesting than her comic strip counterpart (she was a native Australian and met Bil during WWII).

In any event, this inspired me to blog about a forgotten Keane work, one of two books he worked on in collaboration with the late Erma Bombeck, Just Wait 'til You Have Children of Your Own (1971). The book is dedicated "To Thel Keane and Bill Bombeck, without whose cooperation with the authors the teen-agers and consequently the book about them could not have been produced." Yes, the book is Bombeck's treatise on the problems of raising teenagers and the generation gap and all that, and features a spate of Keane kartoons on the subject.

While his subjects may have aged, the art style is familiar. In a somewhat disconcerting aesthetic choice, the Keane teens retain the oversized heads of their Family Circus kin. Some of the jokes aren't far removed from the strip either.

Billy-esque, isn't it? This exact same joke was later reworked for FC, with Billy of course, and was used on the cover of the 1984 collection Go to Your Room!.
Not all of Keane's venture into teendom are as predictable or interchangeable with the kiddies, however.

The only way this joke makes any sense at all is if Mom misheard or is unable to see that extra "p." This means she's momentarily fearful that her offspring has been ravished against her will. You never saw this kind of thing happen to Dolly.

I admit it, I'm amused by this drawing, the garish 70s feel good posters contrasting with these clinically depressed youths.

Finally, the expected pot shot at "what kids these days are wearing" (in the past year, how many syndicated newspaper comics made "jokes" about baggy pants or teens wearing their underwear out or girls' provocative dresses, etc.?)

Suddenly, it's like we're staring at Jeffy had he been allowed to age in normal time, but only while the family remained trapped in the 1970s.


Ken said...

Hey, Andrew! Nice to see lesser-known work by famous cartoonists. It reminds me of the "teenager" one-panels that Charles Schulz did in the 50's and 60's that nobody remembers. I love your blog, and keep up the good work!

Kip W said...

I had one or two books of those. "Teen-Ager is Not a Disease" and "Young Pillars," right? Crazed stuff, but with a touch of the Schulz magic.