Thrift Store Finds: I’ll Shovel the Cards, A Family Circus Collection

Last week, I talked a little bit about Bil Keane’s The Family Circus and I may have done the venerable strip an unkindness by saying that I found it “as bland as boiled celery.” I have to be honest though, it’s never been a favorite of mine. I didn’t enjoy the antics of Billy, Jeffy, Dolly, and PJ they way I felt like I was meant to. They just set my teeth on edge.

I suppose what I disliked about The Family Circus as a kid can be reflected in some of the other comics I was readily enjoying at the time. Calvin & Hobbes was still in the newspapers every day when I was a kid, and Calvin made Billy Keane look like a choir boy. To say nothing The Far Side, the other major one panel strip that was competing for space on our comics page when I was a kid. The sensibilities of those two strips, side by side, made for a weird pairing. If memory serves, Gary Larson even took a couple of shots at The Family Circus during his tenure.

That bein’ said, I found this book in my thrift store and I picked it up because I pick up any and all of these types of comics.

I’ll Shovel the Cards is a relatively late addition to the comic paperback genre; the copyright information indicates this came out in 1992 but I’d hazard a guess a lot of the strips collected here came from the late 1980’s. Comic strip collections really started to change in 1980 with the publication of Jim Davis’ first Garfield trade, Garfield at Large. While before At Large, most strip collections were formatted like Shovel the Cards, after the gigantic success that Davis found with his first book, publishers gradually started changing size and format to accommodate comic strips.

This Family Circus collection entirely encapsulates my problem with the strip in its very title. The saccharine punning, the just slightly naughty behavior of the kids, all those things just didn’t ring true to me as to a young reader. Why did Keane stick with these collections for so long? The back cover seems to have an answer:

FIFTIETH IN THE SERIES. I guess that’s as good a reason as any to keep on keeping on with the paperback format, even in the wake of greater successes from fellow cartoonists’ work. I’ll also say this… one panel gag strips like The Family Circus collect far more comfortably in these paperback collections than stuff like Peanuts strips or old MAD Magazine features.

Also interesting is the picture of Keane with wife Thel, the basis for the Mommy character in the strip. I knew Keane modeled most of the family in the comic after his own brood, but I’m so familiar with Mommy’s black helmet of hair that seeing the inspiration for the character is sort of disconcerting.

At any rate, how are the comics? Well… they’re Family Circus comics.

Cutesy and disposable. Although there’s nothing that explicitly says when these comics were printed, they seem to be collected from early March through the summer. There are a lot of St. Patrick’s Day and Easter jokes to bear that assumption… which brings me to another point. Last week I said something about how unspecific Keane tends to be with this comic. I think this is most greatly represented in this comic.

Look at the title of that movie off to the left! Am I reading too much into this, or does that not sound like a porno flick?

I will give credit where credit is due however… Keane does draw a mean Optimus Prime.

This gave me some pause as the copyright information says that this book was printed in 1992. Usually the strips in a collection are about a year or so old, which would point toward these strips being written and drawn in 1990 at the latest.  According to Wikipedia (that unimpeachable source of information) the Transformers cartoon was cancelled in 1987. That strikes me as a HUGE gap in time between the time that Billy would be playing with Transformers toys and the time that this book’s copyright details say I’ll Shovel The Cards was printed.

Of course, there’s probably a very easy explaination for the strip. Either it appeared earlier than 1990 and was just included here for kicks… or Keane was a few years behind in drawing a Transformer into his comic. I’d wager on the latter. Still, it’s a cool little reference!

The best part of the book for me was the extended vacation to Boston the Keane’s take toward the end of the collection. I lived in Boston for a year and a half during graduate school and I can safely say I have never enjoyed living in a place more. If money weren’t an object, I’d pick my family up and move back to Boston in a second.

Honestly, the Boston strips show a wonderful depth of cartooning that make them quite fun to read. I’ve knocked Bil Keane a few times myself, but he’s got a great line… and when you consider how small most newspapers shrink their comic strips, everything in these two Boston strips is completely readable.

Although the back cover of this collection promises “many more to come”, The Family Circus paperback collections only continued into 1995/96. The strip continues to this day with Keane’s son Jeff becoming involved (and, if I had to guess, completely taking over the strip when Keane either retires or kicks the bucket… the latter being more likely at this point, I guess) The strip continues its tradition of inoffensive hijinx and if you’ve read it in papers recently, it’s pretty much the same its always been. Again, I’m not a great fan, but I’ll definitely pick up another collection if I see ’em.

9 Responses to “Thrift Store Finds: I’ll Shovel the Cards, A Family Circus Collection”

  1. Is Thel holding a single comic in her hand? I had no idea just how large the originals were.

  2. Have you seen this?

    My (and Matt’s) favs are Jan 6 and May 13.

    • Christopher Pearce Says:

      Y’know, I had seen that site early on, when it was just the Scott character standing in the strip, explaining the joke… but it’s gotten SO much crazier and better since I last looked at it.

  3. Despite what Wikipedia says, Transformers, even though cancelled, was still on television in the early nineties. And it was still popular. I was born in 86, and I guess I was 8 or 9 when they stopped showing it regularly on my local television station?

    • Christopher Pearce Says:

      Good point. I’m sure something like The Transformers had a really long life after its initial run… and honestly, just because a cartoon is “cancelled” doesn’t mean its stopped from running. Far from it. My beloved He-Man ran on New York’s WPIX for yeeeeears after Filmation stopped making new episodes.

      I still think the fact that this book was printed in 1992 marks the Transformers reference a little bit old though.

  4. […] Uh… The Family Circus? Ah, if you’ve been reading Thrift Store Finds for the past few weeks, you know it’s Bil …e. […]

  5. […] I wrote about I’ll Shovel the Cards: A Family Circus Collection here. […]

  6. […] much more to say about The Family Circus. I talked a little bit about the Keane family here when I found I’ll Shovel The Cards… and I talked a little bit about one of Keane’s other gag strip, Channel Chuckles. The […]

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