Todd Gaines: There you are, enjoying your comics, when all of a sudden there's the Family Circus just waiting to suck, and ruin your whole experience.In its literal form, Bil Keane's The Family Circus (originally The Family Circle) is about the innocent childhood adventures of young siblings Billy, Dolly, Jeffy, and infant P.J. Occasionally, parents Bil and Thel will contribute some insightful comment about the children's exploits, like when they all were imitating Wayne's World and Bil says "Makes sense to me. NOT!!"Other characters include random neighbor children, pets, extended family members (many of whom are dead), and various ghosts representing childhood excuses. A standard Family Circus trope is for a parent to ask the children who broke something, only for them all to say "not me"... just as a ghost named "Not Me" flees the scene, damning evidence of the crime in hand.Family Circus Sunday strips are also notable for generally sticking to the format of the weekday strip; often consisting of an elaborately drawn single panel strip. Some of these Sunday strips have a gimmick where, through the usage of a dotted line arrow, you can see the path taken by Billy or another of the Keane children, through a heavily detailed map of a neighborhood, usually done to show how kids can get distracted why running simple errands. The 1990s added another set of themed strips ("It's Apparent You're A Parent"), which expands the Sunday strip to multi-panel (or in this case, circle) format to showcase how parenthood, through Bil and Thel, affect their everyday lives when dealing with their fellow adults.Occassionally, the strip will go on a week-long "hiatus" as Bil Keane allowed his then young son, and later his grandson, to contribute rather crudely drawn "fill-in" strips when their father and grandfather needs to take a breather from work.Besides little kids, the sincere fanbase for the comic consists of moms and grandmas who love the domestic slice-of-life humor of writers like the late Erma Bombeck; in fact, she and Keane were friends. One of Keane's sons, Glen, became a top animator at Disney (the lead animator on Ariel, the Beast, Pocahontas and John Silver, among others). Another son, Jeff, began assisting his dad with the comic in the 2000s, and has taken over following Bil's death in November 2011.While it's ostensibly a humorous comic strip with a wide circulation, The Family Circus has been more popular as the butt of jokes at least since The Nineties. Amazon.com's user-contributed book reviews are infamous for containing snarky reviews of the printed collections of panels. Such reviews usually fawn over the tremendous symbolism and deep philosophical meaning in its plain single-panel storylines, often discovering hidden Freudian or religious symbolism. The Comics Curmudgeon blog takes particular delight in mocking the strip and its characters. In the Diary of a Wimpy Kid novels, which are aimed at preteens, it's parodied as Li'l Cutie.The early days of the Web (1995-99) saw a Web Original feature called Dysfunctional Family Circus. Family Circus strips were posted without the original caption, inviting readers to submit alternate interpretations of the scene. Hilarity ensued. DFC's creator said "A number of people have told me they don't like The Family Circus because they don't think it applied to them — they never experienced anything remotely like it." One newspaper called the DFC a "twisted Rorschach test." Perhaps this explains why Todd Gaines, the cynical drug dealer from the 1999 film Go, was compelled to read Family Circus every day.For all the abuse it gets, it's clear that The Family Circus speaks to a lot of people. As another newspaper observed at the height of the DFC controversy, no one would bother making a Web site called The Dysfunctional Fusco Brothers.A Live-Action Adaptation film is planned for the future.
Claire: Then why don't you just not read it?
Todd Gaines: I hate it, but I'm compelled to read it.
— Dialogue from the movie Go
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