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Sorry! No more Mr. Nice Guy

'Family Circus' parody too much

Family Circus artist Bil Keane
Jack Kurtz/The Arizona Republic
Bil Keane has been drawing 'The Family Circus' since 1960, basing it on his own family.

By Alicia A. Caldwell
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 23, 1999

Billy's on Viagra. Mommy's a bad cook. Daddy's ready to trade mommy in on a newer model. And Dolly's a preteen Lolita.

Meet the Dysfunctional Family Circus.

At first, comic creator Bil Keane thought the unauthorized Internet parody of his cartoon was mildly amusing. But he's not laughing anymore.

Keane, a syndicated cartoonist and long-time Paradise Valley resident, said he can no longer sit back and be "Mr. Nice Guy" while an Internet site allows viewers to write their own - often obscene - captions for his cartoons.

Now, he is ready to take the matter to court.

The site

• The Dysfunctional Family Circus site is located at
(This site is not part of Arizona Central or The Arizona Republic. We have no control over the content. Some language may be objectionable.)

The parody Web site featuring the family oriented comic strip has been on the World Wide Web for about five years, Keane said.

And until recently, he let its creator and users have their fun at the expense of Mommy, Daddy, Billy, Dolly, Jeffy, P.J., and Grandma and Grandpa in heaven, the characters in Family Circus.

"I have laid off taking any action for years, but I can see that (Dysfunctional Family Circus) is gradually becoming more dastardly," Keane said, referring to some of the site's content. "I wouldn't mind . . . if it was kept clean and within the parameters of my intentions."

The site contains 500 panels. Reader captions range from what Keane describes as amusing to pornographic. Much of the most recent subject matter is unsuitable to print in the newspaper.

Keane said his comic has long been parodied in the media and normally he enjoys it.

"Almost every cartoonist has done it," Keane said.

He said a newspaper even tried the same type of parody Dysfunctional Family Circus, but has since gone out of business.

Keane said the paper went out of business before the issue reached the courts.

"Some of (the captions) were funny, and in fact I used to say to people that some were funnier than the captions I had written," Keane said about the site.

But when his readers began complaining about the site's content and questioning whether Keane allowed it, he handed the issue to his syndicator, King Features Syndicate.

According to a letter from King Features and Keane's attorney to Greg Galcik, the site's operator, Galcik was given until Sept. 20 to remove any reference to the The Family Circus from the Web site.

Galcik and representatives for King Features were unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Frank Long, an intellectual property rights attorney with Morrison & Hecker, said that if Galcik can prove his site is a true parody of Keane's works, and not just Keane's work with someone else's words, he may be protected by the First Amendment.

"The key issue is whether (Galcik's) use adds something new or has a different purpose or character," Long said.

If the site makes money, he said, then a First Amendment rights defense would be harder to prove. The issue may hinge on whether Galcik's purpose of the site is free expression or profit.

Keane has been drawing the strip since 1960 and said it is based on his own family experience. That's why this issue is so personal to him, he said.

"I didn't want to be a meanie, but I don't want to see this have any exposure that would in any way lessen the warmth and innocence The Family Circus has exuded for so many years," Keane said.


Alicia Caldwell can be reached at via e-mail or at 1-602-444-8222.

(An earlier version of this story included an incorrect spelling of Morrison & Hecker.)


Copyright 1999, Arizona Central
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