Dysfunctional Family Circus
The Dysfunctional Family Circus is the name of several long-running parodies of the syndicated comic strip The Family Circus, featuring either Bil Keane's artwork with altered captions, or (less often) original artwork made to appear like the targeted strips. First distributed anonymously by mail and fax in 1989, by 1994 various versions of it began to appear on the World Wide Web.
The DFC booklets
The Dysfunctional Family Circus was created and began circulating anonymously in 1989 as a series of booklets found in record and book stores, coffee houses and nightclubs in several U.S. and European cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, New York, London and Madrid. They were also distributed by mail to those making requests and posting their mailing address to select Usenet groups.
The booklet series included 15 titles:
- Grandma's Not Dead Yet!
- See, I Told You Cats Could Smell Dead People!
- Ibex, My Ass! That's a Goat!
- Who Wants to See a Hamster Dance?
- Eat Snow Hobo!
- Grandma's Starting to Sprout!
- It All Comes Back, Except One Tablespoon!
- This Guy's Wankin' Off!
- Wait, I Think My Dick's Stuck!
- Boy, This Dog is Fucked Up!
- Oh Yeah? Well, Kiss This!
- Her, Us, Motel, Tonight!
- Crotch Shot!
- Mommy! PJ's Tryin' to Get Out!
- Holy Shit! It's a Priesty Boy!
Each booklet measured 4-1/4" x 5.5" and was attributed to an anonymous publisher whose name was a unique anagram of "Bil Keane." A French translation of volume #4, entitled "Qui Veut Voir Un Hamster Dansant?" was distributed by mail, as was an unnumbered volume entitled "Guess Where I Can Fit This!" The booklets spawned two annual calendars, a t-shirt, and a set of drink coasters, before being retired.
- PJ's grisly demise
- Sexual promiscuity
- Acid flashbacks
- Drug abuse
- Oral sex
- Animal cruelty
- Film homage
- Feminization of Billy
The first two issues were 16 pages each. Issue three expanded to 40 pages. The remaining issues in the main series were 32 pages apiece. The initial press run for each issue was 250 copies. Issues five and eight had secondary runs of 100 copies each.
Several cartoons from the booklets were reprinted in the Anderson Valley Advertiser in Boonville, California, and Browbeat magazine. Others were reproduced in fanzines and as inserts for CDs by the National Hardwood Floor Association and others. Only one cartoon (#5, page 14) used the original cartoon caption ("The party's not over yet — I just came home to get my siren and handcuffs").
Often called "DFC", the Dysfunctional Family circus was first brought to the World-Wide Web by Mark Jason Dominus around March 1994. This version featured one (later expanded to four) original Keane cartoon without captions, and ran submission software to allow viewers to suggest their own captions. Captions were mostly unfiltered. It was discontinued after about a year, and the concept was adopted by Greg Galcik.
Galcik's version became the best known (or perhaps most notorious) and ran on SpinnWebe from June 1995 to 1999 with a run of exactly 500 comics. It attracted between 50,000 and 70,000 page views per day. Galcik and other editors would select the captions they considered to be the funniest and most original, which would then be saved in an online archive. The humor of these captions ranged from what many would consider the disgusting to the surreal, and from the low-brow to the cerebral. Bil Keane was aware of the site's existence from early on, and initially had no objection to it, stating that the jokes were sometimes better than his own.
Several running jokes developed over the 500 strip run of the series. Recurring themes included incest and child abuse jokes, and aspects of the art itself, such as the Featureless Void (as Keane's comics frequently lacked a background), and Jeffy's Hypno-Hair (his wavy hair with which he hypnotized others in the family). Another running joke involved breaking the fourth wall and commenting on what Bil drew in the strip that day, such as when Thel was vacuuming with many toys strewn about, one such caption was "That dickhead Bil would draw all this shit in here the one day I vacuum!", and the children were aware that they were stuck within the "circle" that outlined the strip, such as when the scene was full of Christmas presents, a submitted caption was "I tell, ya we could hawk more stuff if you just made the circle bigger!"
Common subjects and jokes
(See SpinnWebe Jargon File)
- Child abuse
- Alcoholism or drug abuse
- Murder, usually of a family member
- Inferences about eating one of the family pets
- The kids' violent nature
- The agelessness of the family
- References to the "circle"
- Thel committing adultery
- Inside "Zone" and "Asterisk" jokes
- Bil's artistic abilities, for example:
- Interaction with characters from other comic strips
- "Uncle Roy", Bil's homosexual lover, who is never seen in the cartoon
- Characters arguing over contractual obligations to the cartoon, particularly Jeffy's prima donna attitude
- Depicting the scene as a "memoir" or section from the autobiography of a character (usually Billy or Dolly)
- Depicting the scene as a collector's plate on sale from The Franklin Mint or QVC
- Running gags, such as references to Soylent Green, "pull my finger", and multiple jokes born from typos or rejected ("red-zoned") comments. Frequent inclusions from the latter category were "trippin my nutsack in a frenzy of dikplay", "poop holds the tent wher it is", and "log of fag".
The End of the DFC
In September 1999, Galcik received a warning letter from King Features Syndicate (publishers of The Family Circus), citing copyright violations on the site. Despite the support of the site's fans and round condemnation in, Galcik complied after a phone conversation with Keane. In his closing statement, Galcik said while he believed that Dysfunctional Family Circus could be defended as a work of interactive parody, he had developed a grudging respect for the long and continual effort by Bil Keane. Galcik noted that Keane was both polite and gracious in his request for the strip to end, pointing out that the characters being parodied were based on Keane's own family. Keane also agreed to allow Galcik to continue the strip for an additional week in order to reach strip #500. The captions for the 500th and final strip were completed in November 1999. Despite King Features' wishes, archives of the series have repeatedly appeared in various sites around the web.
SpinnWebe continued to run "It's A Dysfunctional Life" (later renamed "A1-AAA AmeriCaptions"), which was similar to the Dysfunctional Family Circus, but used viewer-submitted photographs instead of Family Circus cartoons.
- Churbuck, David C. (October 10, 1994). "Dial-a-catalog". Forbes. p. 130.
- "Keane KO's Family Circus Parody"
- "'Family Circus' creator tries to stop Web site parody". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
- Gunty, Christopher. "Bil Keane's Family Circus". American Catholic. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
- Tobin, Suzanne (March 1, 2002). "Comics: Meet the Artist, with Bil Keane". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
- "The SpinnWebe Jargon File". Spinnoff. Retrieved 2008-06-26.[dead link]
- Walker, Jesse (December 1999). "Circus Act - parody web site axed by copyright infringement laws". Reason.
- The Free-Floating Dysfunctional Family Circus Archive v1.1.2 - a rehosted archive of SpinnWebe's Dysfunctional Family Circus pictures and captions
- Horselover Fat's Inside Guide to the DFC - An explanation of Spinn's site.
- Family Circus Parody Folds Tent
- Archives of the IADL (It's A Dysfunctional Life), the successor to the Spinnwebe version of the Dysfunctional Family Circus