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Dysfunctional Family Circus is a series of image macros based on the syndicated comic strip The Family Circus, a long-running daily cartoon centered around the everyday life of an All-American Christian family. While parodies of the original comic were self-published as early as in the late 1980s, they gained attention online in the mid 1990s through fan-created single topic blogs.
The Family Circus
Created and written by American cartoonist Bil Keane, The Family Circus debuted on February 28th, 1960. The comic centers around Bil, Thelma, and their four children: Billy, Dolly, Jeffy, and P.J.. The strip’s parental characters are based on the author and his wife, Thelma. Having appeared in 1,500 newspapers over the past four decades, it is considered one of the most widely syndicated cartoon panel in the world.
Dysfunctional Family Circus
Anonymous artists and fans of The Family Circus have been making parodies of the original comic since as early as in 1989 allegedly distributed through anonymous networks of chain mails, nightclubs or coffee houses in America/Europe. They could also be acquired through mail or fax to people who requested copies via Usenet groups. These parodies consisted of imitative illustrations and altered captions, often discussing adult-only topics and serious vices like adultery, drug abuse, animal cruelty and cannibalism.
In 1992, Brian Boling was attributed as creating a cut and paste zine compilation of DFC images for his friends. Without having known of the earlier version, he compiled over 100 parodies of the comic.
However, the most well known version of Dysfunctional Family Circus was created by Greg Galcik in June 1995, with a generator hosted on SpinWeBe. The page offered an automatic caption generator for the visitors to submit their own iterations, the best of which were selected by Galick and a number of editors for front-page publication.
Thematically, the tones of the captions were similar to the original parodies but users also added jokes about breaking the fourth wall, in the process criticizing the artistic work of Bil Keane.
On December 19th, 2007, Driven By Boredom began hosting Dysfunctional Family Circus images. Several other sites began resharing or hosting the images such as The Free-Floating Dysfunctional Family Circus Archives, The Other Family, Associated Publisher, and a single-topic Blogspot.
In September 1999, Galcik received a cease-and-desist notice from King Features Syndicate, the publishers of The Family Circus, on account of copyright violations. Fans of the website did not receive the news well and many viewers followed up with bold statements in protest. Paul Riddel sent the following email, shared on Wired:
“What’s really pathetic is not just the fact that so many people over the past five years responded to the idea of tormenting Bil Keane’s dopey characters -- seeing as how The Family Circus is a blight upon the newspaper comics page comparable to Garfield or The Quigmans -- but that King Features Syndicate let this slide for nearly five years, and only now issued its cease-and-desist order,”
However, following a phone conversation between Galcik and the then 77-year-old Keane, Galcik voluntarily decided to take down the website following the publication of 500th strip in November 1999. Galcik stated that the reasoning for this decision was out of respect for Keane after personally hearing his displeasure over some of the posted captions.
On September 27th, 2006, Losanjealous created The Nietzsche Family Circus, a comic generator application that randomly pairs up Keane’s illustrations with aphorisms written by the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, most renowned for his critical evaluation of Christian values:
On August 7th, 2010, a group of bloggers launched a site called Jersey Circus, which seeks to juxtapose the elements of popular reality TV series “Jersey Shore” and the All-American family comic series “Family Circus.”
In late February 2011, a couple bloggers decided to riff off of the public Charlie Sheen meltdown with Sheen Family Circus.
Search for Dysfunctional Family Circus peaked in 2004 and has steadily declined in the years since.
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