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Cartoonist Draws The Line
  • Dysfunctional Family Circus Parodies Comic Strip
  • Creator Upset With Crude, Sexual Captions
  • Lawyers Send Letter To Site Owner
Saturday, September 25,1999 - 04:23 PM ET
Bil Keane: not amused
(CBS) Bil Keane is accustomed to people poking fun at his wholesome newspaper cartoon The Family Circus. Other artists have spoofed it throughout the strip's 40-year run and Keane laughs along.

But the mild-mannered Keane has drawn the line at a Web site that posts crude captions, including sexual innuendoes, beneath his cartoons. He's trying to shut it down.

"It seems that it gets to be a fun thing and a contest between them to come up with the raunchiest and most disgusting captions," Keane said of The Dysfunctional Family Circus site. "It hurts."

Keane's trademarked characters, which are based on his own family, appear in about 15,000 newspapers worldwide and attract about 100 million readers.

Billy, Jeffy, Dolly, P.J. and their parents have entertained fans since 1960 with their innocent escapades and childlike wisdom. Billy's wanderings - marked with a circuitous dotted line - and the ghostlike "Ida Know" and "Not Me" characters who get blamed for household accidents are staples of the strip.

The Dysfunctional Family Circus Web site created by Greg Galcik of Chicago in 1995 takes shots at those characters' innocence.

One of the recent cartoons shows Daddy sitting on an ottoman with one hand out talking to Billy.

Captions submitted for the drawing ranged from humorous:

"When you can snatch the pebble from ... Hey! Give that back!"

To crude:

"Well, since it's our last day together, I think you should be told: You were adopted. But then we killed them and took you back, 'cause I needed cheap labor while I went on vacation."

To the unprintable.

"It certainly crosses the line of good taste," Galcik said. "But even the crude ones I've tried to make sure there's some wit there."

According to Galcik, people are lining up to try their hand at creating captions. He said the site draws 3,000 to 5,000 people daily.

Galcik and three volunteer editors select the captions to be posted. There are 500 different drawings archived with an average of 100 captions for each.

An attorney for King Features Syndicate, which distributes The Family Circus, wrote Galcik demanding an end to the parodies. The letter demanded he "immediately and permanently discontinue the use of The Family Circus comic panel…."

Galcik said he did not receive the letter until Sept. 17 because attorneys sent it to the wrong address. He is still accepting submissions while he considers whether to continue the site, but he isn't adding new cartoons.

"I can't tell you what my future plans are. I haven't decided yet," Galcik said. "I'm not going to let it slide for very long."

Paul Goldstein, a law professor at Stanford University, said copyright and trademark laws are designed to protect the use of intellectual material such as books, music and cartoons, but there is an exception for parody.

If someone attempts to parody copyrighted material, he or she may only use as much of the original work as necessary, Goldstein said. "If they are copying what he [Keane] did and only dropping the caption, it sounds like the claim he's making has some substance."

Galcik said Dysfunctional Family Circus started as a means to poke fun at the cartoon's 1950s nuclear family image that some people adore and others hate.

"It's an obvious target," Galcik said. "I can't think of any other strip that has that rose-colored-glasses look."

Keane agrees.

"It [Family Circus] is so completely innocent. It's the perfect foil for that form of parody," Keane said. "I didn't want to be a spoiler with people who were just doing parody stuff, but when it gets raunchy, it can reflect on me."

Thursday, Galcik was wondering whether Keane had turned the tables.

Thursday's cartoon showed Dolly wearing a shirt with "5 oh!" walking in front of a wall-hanging with the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Beneath the drawing is the caption: "I think I'll go give Gregory a hug."

"I think he's talking to me," Galcik said.

Actually, Keane said he drew the cartoon to recognize his daughter's 50th birthday. Her husband's name is Gregory, he said with a slight chuckle. "It's coincidence."

You can find the Dysfunctional Family Circus at the following address: http://www.spinnwebe.com/dfc/
Copyright 1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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