Dennis and Mom. Artist: Hank Ketcham.

DENNIS THE MENACE

Original Medium: Newspaper panel
Distributed by: The Post-Hall Syndicate
First Appeared: 1951
Creator: Hank Ketcham
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Hank Ketcham created Dennis the Menace during the month Peanuts debuted, October, 1950. Remarkably, the …

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… daily panel was in print only five months later — Post-Hall Syndicate (Pogo, The Ryatts) had it in a whopping sixteen newspapers starting March 12, 1951.

Readership expanded rapidly, and a Sunday strip was added in 1952. Soon, it was being enjoyed by millions. The National Cartoonists' Society bestowed its prestigious Reuben Award on Ketcham in 1952, when the strip was a year old and its artist only 22. In 1978, the same group gave him the Silver T-Square, for outstanding contributions to their profession.

In a coincidence even more remarkable than X-Men and Doom Patrol starting only three months apart, right when Ketcham's creation was first syndicated, an entirely different character named Dennis the Menace was making his first appearance. That one, created by David Law, became a regular in the long-running British humor anthology comic, The Beano, and is its most popular character today.

But it's Ketcham's Dennis that became a worldwide media and merchandising phenomenon. Tho it never quite reached the stratospheric circulation of Hagar the Horrible or Blondie, it hit the very respectable thousand-paper mark early on, and has stayed in that range ever since. In contrast, Ketcham's second-most famous strip, Half Hitch, limped along for about five years and is scarcely remembered today.

Dennis is not a Katzenjammer-style menace, in that he doesn't set out to do harm. But being perpetually 5, he can't help being kinda destructive — especially to the peace of mind of his cranky but lovable neighbor, Mr. Wilson, who only wants to enjoy his retirement.

Dennis was so popular during the 1950s, they put him on TV. Jay North played the title character on prime time from 1959-63, and CBS re-ran those episodes on Saturday mornings until 1965. And the character stayed popular enough to remain in that medium — he was seen again in a 1987 prime-time special, and in animated form from 1988-89 and 1993-94. He appeared in a theatrically-released feature film in 1993, with Walter Matthau as Mr. Wilson, and since then in a couple of direct-to-video releases with a less stellar cast. Today, he's the spokestoon for Dairy Queen.

In comic books, Dennis was published by Standard/Pines Comics from 1953-58, by Fawcett (in its only return to comic books after losing the Superman/Captain Marvel lawsuit to DC) 1959-79, and by Marvel 1981-82. There, during the 1950s and early '60s, his exploits were crafted by one of Ketcham's assistants, Al Wiseman, who is also known for his work on George Crenshaw's panel, Belvedere, and on the Yogi Bear newspaper strip.

As the years went by, Ketcham came to rely more and more on assistants (Marcus Hamilton on dailies and Ron Ferdinand on Sundays). Eventually, Ketcham was only overseeing the operation; so his death on May 31, 2001 caused hardly a ripple. Now distributed by King Features Syndicate, the panel appears in some 1,200 newspapers, which are scattered among 48 countries and published in 19 different languages. Not bad, for a kid who's been 5 for the past half-century.

— DDM

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Text ©2000-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hank Ketcham