Archive for channel chuckles

thrift store finds: a eulogy for bil keane

Posted in eulogy, thrift store finds with tags , , , , on November 12, 2011 by Christopher Pearce

No new Thrift Store Finds this week… but I did want to take a moment to note the passing of Bil Keane.

I didn’t much like The Family Circus when I was growing up. I found it bland and boring, even when I was a little kid. I was lucky to grow up in the last great gasp of creativity and life in newspaper comics. Billy, Jeffy, and Dolly could not compete with Calvin, Hobbes, and Gary Larson’s cows. I read The Family Circus, I processed it… but I can never say I enjoyed it.

When I started writing these weekly Thrift Store Finds, the very first book I looked at was a collection of Bil Keane’s lesser-known comic stirp, Channel Chuckles. I remarked at the time, having some small perspective on drawing my own comic strips, how impressed I was with Keane as a draftsman and designer. I think there’s a real talent to pulling off a one panel gag strip… and even in a silly comic like Channel Chuckles, it was clear that Keane knew what he was doing.

Later, I looked a couple of Family Circus paperbacks and I was again impressed with Keane’s work, crafting that small world into something millions of readers enjoyed everyday. There were, at least in the two paperbacks I looked at, far more details in Keane’s penwork than I remembered as a kid. Keane’s syndicate recently re-ran a parcel of “The Family Circus goes on vacation to Boston” comics I looked at in I’ll Shovel the Cards and I remain impressed with those strips. The cobble streets of Beacon Hill, the various touristy details of Boston all looked lovely, even when shrunk down to the size most newspapers run their comics.

I was so intrigued by The Family Circus after this point that I picked up a couple of IDW’s Family Circus hardcover reprints, collecting the first four years of the comic. I was unexpectedly impressed by those comics, which paint a much grimmer picture of parenting than the modern Family Circus ever had. It’s clear that Keane always intended for heartwarming punny chuckles to be a part of his comic, but in the early years, he tempered those maudlin gags with some genuine commentary on parenting. The Daddy of the early strips was often seen taking a nip from a flask or ogling beautiful women, edgier fare than I had ever seen in newspapers when I was growing up.

There are aspects of the strip that are cloying. The overt religious aspects of Keane’s life did encroach into the strip at times. Entire weeks could go by in The Family Circus without the comic approaching anything resembling an actual gag. I can’t deny any of that. Don’t think I’m arguing for The Family Circus to be included in the great works of mankind or anything. I was just surprised and pleased to find more to appreciate about his work when I started writing these weekly posts.

…and I guess that’s what I wanted to say. In an odd way, I feel like I owe Bil Keane a debt, as he was the “road in” for me in beginning these Thrift Store Find posts. Most weeks here, I try to  take something most people would think is worthless and reexamine that thing in an interesting way. Writing these TSF posst has made me a more thoughtful consumer of comics… and perhaps even a little better at drawing them.

So thanks for that Bil. Rest in peace.

I wrote about Channel Chuckles here.

I wrote about I’ll Shovel the Cards: A Family Circus Collection here.

I wrote about Peace Mommy Peace: A Family Circus collection here.


Thrift Store Finds: Channel Chuckles

Posted in commentary, thrift store finds with tags , , on February 13, 2010 by Christopher Pearce

One of the really great things about the neighborhood where we moved is, within walking distance is a St. Vincent DePaul thrift store. I’ve always been a big fan of thrift stores although, truth be told, we didn’t have a lot of really great ones where I grew up. I’ve been told by collector-types that there exists a legion of crazed thrift store trolls that cruise all the Salvation Armys within a 50 mile radius of New York City who pick them clean of anything remotely worth buying and resell said finds in the big city for a sizable mark-up.

Living in that radius, I never found a whole lot of cool geeky stuff… but that’s changed with my moving to the Midwest. I am constantly surprised at the stuff I find for sale, at insanely cheap prices at our St. Vincent DePaul. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, someone donated about two dozen pristine Atari 2600 video games.

Look at that! I know people back in New York that would give good body parts to find a nice collection of vintage Atari games for $2 bucks apiece. I thought about buying them but I honestly wouldn’t have a clue what to do with them!  That happens all the time too… I’ll find a complete collection of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock promotional glasses from Taco Bell and I’ll think “Oh, someone would totally be jazzed to have these… but I’m not that person and I’m not paying $6 dollars for four glasses I’ll never use.”

Our thrift store has a really huge book selection, taking up almost an entire third of the place. The majority of the books that are for sale are pretty darn pathetic, the type you’d expect to be sold by a store whose wares are given to them free of charge. Lots of worn copies of The DaVinci Code, a bunch Kelley Blue Books circa 1994, that kind of thing. While they’re mostly books I wouldn’t be interested in reading if I lived to be a hundred, there are real gems to be found in those dusty shelves… and since Ellen and I visit the store about once a week, I get the chance to find a lot of the good stuff.

One thing I always snap up whenever I find them are comic paperbacks. We comic readers are somewhat spoiled today with the embarrassment of high quality reprints of comic material, but throughout the Sixties up through the Eighties, the only real “collections” of many comics were published in these cheapie paperback-sized books. Completely disposable, the most popular of these types of books were probably the Holt, Reinhart, & Winston’s reprints of Charles Schultz’ Peanuts strips, but there were hundreds of different properties and comics collected in this way.

The paperback format is all but dead now, but I’ve always liked this method for collecting comics.  They’re not flashy, but they remind me of being a kid… and when, every once and awhile they pop up in the the thrift store, I buy ’em up. I’m pretty undiscerning when it comes to what types of comics are collected. I just like comics.

For the next few weeks, I’ll share some of them with you. I wouldn’t call these recommendations, as you can VERY easily find higher quality reprints and collections of most of the things I’m going to talk about here… but I thought it might be fun to share a part of my comic book collecting that many people overlook these days.

Today’s Thrift Store Find: Channel Chuckles

Apparently collected before he dropped the extra “L” from his first name, I had never heard of Channel Chuckles before I found it a few weeks ago but the comic had a pretty goddamn impressive run. Starting in 1953, Channel Chuckles ran for over two decades appearing in newspapers until it was retired in 1976. If I’m to presume from this collection, Keane probably retired the strip about six or seven years after the novelty had run its course.

Most of the gag strips included in this paperback seem to trade on the novelty of television as a new aspect to people’s lives. It’s a lot like The Family Circus as they’re one panel gag strips, and you can see a lot of Billy and Jeffys running around in front of the boob tubes here. There are no regular characters save for an occasional feature called “Dim Viewer” where an unpleasant middle aged man complains about all the crap he sees on television.

I will say this: the jokes are a lot more topical than I remember The Family Circus being when I read it in the 1980’s… or at least, they’re topical for their time. There an awful lot of Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey jokes in here, which probably dates most of these strips to sometime around the early 1960’s. Keane takes about ten potshots at Romper Room, a show that I remember watching on New York City’s WOR affiliate when I was a kid. I’d also say about a third of the gags in this book have something to do with TV repairmen coming to visit someone’s house and either they do something stupid OR someone says something stupid to them. TV Repairman- now there’s a job that doesn’t really exist anymore, does it?

As a kid, I always found The Family Circus as bland as boiled celery, but I really have to admire his sense of composition to most of these strips. Regardless of whether you like The Family Circus or not, something doesn’t get to be that entrenched in the newspaper comic section unless it has some kind of universal appeal, and I think Bil Keane’s style is wonderfully stripped down. Next week I’ll look at some of Keene’s later work and make a couple of comparisons. As it stands, I paid a quarter for this book and I think it was well worth it.