Bil Keane invited us into his circle

Bil Keane, creator of the comic strip “Family Circus,” died Tuesday at the age of 89.

For millions of readers, Bil Keane reached out through the pure and distilled and comforting power of a single panel. "Family Circus" may play out within its distinctive circle, but the debut of its mid-century family felt like a keyhole, then a fully inviting window into a reassuring world.

And for many of us cartoonists, it was reassuring to meet its creator, Bil Keane, who launched the comic with King Features in 1960. Keane, not unlike "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz, seemed to embody a time when things weren't necessarily more innocent, but somehow simpler.

The nuclear family in "Family Circus" was both a porthole of humor and, for some, a mirror of life with young children. And having been launched at a time when the comic strip was still as central to American life as family dinners and "The Ed Sullivan Show," "Family Circus" became a favorite of millions of readers. That is why news of the death of Bil Keane, who died Tuesday, according to a King spokesman, resonates with so many people. Keane, who was born in Philadelphia in 1922, was 89.

Hilary Price, "Rhymes With Orange," creator, remembers meeting him: "I remember being so surprised when I met him in person -- he was a really funny guy! One of the greatest things about attending the National Cartoonists Society events is getting to know the people behind the strips. You see their work differently after that, because you've shaken the hand that holds the pen. For me, meeting Bil and his family turned the small circle he drew in the corner of the newspaper into a deep well."