thrift store finds: peace, mommy, peace- a family circus collection

(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the books I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)

I don’t have 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 fact remains, though I’ve seemingly plumbed the depths of my interest and knowledge of Billy, Jeffy, Dolly, and PJ,  I keep finding Family Circus books. They are legion at our St. Vincent DePaul. I have a baker’s dozen of these Fawcett Gold Medal collections I could talk about, but I choose Peace, Mommy, Peace! because of the oh-so hep cover.

Published in 1969 and collecting strips from ’67 and ’68, I just can’t decide of the whipped cream on Jeffy and PJ’s face is a happy accident or if he is actually supposed to look like he’s sporting a hippy dippy handlebar mustache. I’m going to say the latter, even if Keane didn’t go “all the way” with the idea.

I find it a little funny that, on my first look at The Family Circus, I described Bil Keane as a choirboy without addressing one of the cornerstones of The Family Circus: it’s overt use of Christianity. Keane famously makes references to his belief in Roman Catholicism through the comic, as illustrated here in this Christmas strip:

I found this one interesting for two reasons. Firstly, you’ll notice that it’s the Daddy character who’s making the punny joke in the strip, rather than one of the children. It struck me as a little odd, considering that “How are they going to top the FIRST one?” is a perfect joke for one of the kids… and yet Keane sets himself up as the deliverer of the gag.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into one comic, but I feel like the intent here is to throw a bit more weight behind the notion that the memory of the first Christmas has been besmirched by commercialism. If a cuddly kid says that gag, it’s a cuddly joke. If an adult says it, it strikes me that more meaning and purpose is intended. As churchy as Keane made the strip in later years, that angle of the father character didn’t come out very much early on.

The second notable thing about this strip is likely the thing that struck most people on looking at the comic: the design of the Daddy character. When The Family Circus first began, the Daddy character was much less a surrogate for Keane- he was the nondescript businessman type of father figure of the type you’d usually find on the comics page. He ogled women, he occasionally got drunk- Keane was playing off an already established stereotype. Heck, originally, Daddy’s name was “Steve”.

As The Family Circus went on and as Keane presumably got more comfortable with the strip, Daddy gradually changed from the nondescript lummox in the early strips (you can see a version of that in The Family Circus’ Wiki page) to a very close parallel to Keane himself. This is the version of Daddy that I’m more familiar with- the bespectacled milquetoast Daddy who clearly makes pays the bills as a cartoonist. The strips covered in Peace, Mommy, Peace seem to mark a halfway point for the change. Daddy’s not yet wearing glasses and he clearly has an office job (there’s an extended run of strips in the book where he and Mommy go away for a convention of some kind).

It’s ironic that the change in the Daddy character took a few years to happen, as Keane immediately patterned the Mommy character after his own wife, Thel. Let’s talk about Mommy for a minute, as her position in the strip has often offered some of its more sobering moments.

I have to give Keane quite a bit of credit for paying service to the idea that parenting is often an exhausting, thankless job and Thel has always been his vehicle for these kind of jokes. I must admit however, that I’ve always found those gags very morose, as evidenced in this strip:

That just bums me out, man. Poor Mommy. Keane rings this bell pretty regularly in The Family Circus over the years.

Peace, Mommy, Peace also features a visit from Mommy’s parents. The maternal grandmother character still occasionally appears in the strip today. This is personal taste, but I gotta mention- I have always found the design on this Grandmother to be absolutely weird and unflattering. It’s clearly based on a real person, but Keane makes her look like a linebacker.

A couple of other notes:

From a week long “The Keanes go to the fair” run, I don’t understand the joke of this strip. Is there a joke? It just seems like a strange snapshot. Is the joke that Jeffy is scared of a a baby ride?

Look at the calendar hanging on the kitchen wall. Look close.

It’s a Family Circus comic, hanging in the Family Circus house! The snake is eating its’ own tail!

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3 Responses to “thrift store finds: peace, mommy, peace- a family circus collection”

  1. NinevehRains Says:

    Nice observation about the wall calendar! 🙂

  2. I used to own that book as well.

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