By Ken Tucker
Updated March 26, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

You don’t have to read the daily comics page to appreciate The Funnies, but it helps. Lennon’s delicate, moving, and yes, funny novel is about what happens after Carl Mix, creator of a popular comic strip, The Family Funnies, dies. His grown children and widow, long the unwilling subjects of the strip, vent their grief and relief. The story is narrated by one of Carl’s sons, Tim, the recipient of a bittersweet joke from the grave: His father’s will stipulates that Tim can benefit from the strip’s profits only if he abandons his career as an avant-garde artist and takes over the drawing of the strip himself. Tim’s tussle — with art, with his own conscience — gives the story its heart. Realizing that Lennon is spinning a fantasy off of Bil Keane’s widely syndicated Family Circus strip only adds to the novel’s artful extrapolations. A-