Russ Heath and The War That Time Forgot

« Look! An undersea monster!
Spearing that torpedo like it
was a sardine! It’s a nightmare! »

Writer-editor Bob Kanigher, flanked by artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, drew first blood in « The War that Time Forgot », chronicled in DC’s Star Spangled War Stories beginning with issue 90 (May, 1960). The idea was scarily basic, but it was an irresistible premise, at least where young boys were concerned: let’s face it… soldiers vs dinosaurs. How might a T-Rex fare against a bazooka charge? Well…

The only time the series (what I’ve read of it… Andru and Esposito are no dream team of mine) did anything for me was a tale about two soldiers, one American and the other Japanese, stranded together on « Monster Island » and having to save each other’s sashimi. And this was before Lee and Toshirô got together on their own little slice of Hell in the Pacific, yet! I enjoyed the human interest aspect of the tale.

While I, like pretty much any other kid, was fascinated by dinosaurs early on, I quickly soured on inaccurate and fanciful depictions of the beasts. The War That Time Forgot is just one long, tedious dino-butchering exercise, be they harmless herbivores or kill-frenzied carnivores. Piss-poor palaeontology, that. Give me King Kirby‘s Devil Dinosaur any old time instead: that series runneth over with surreal, freewheeling fun, with nary a claim to accuracy in sight or in mind.

Ahem. The WTTF ran its course in SSWS until issue 137 (February-March, 1968), and was replaced by the far more nuanced Enemy Ace by Kanigher and Joe Kubert. Their all-time high, arguably in the case of Kubert, and without the faintest shadow of a doubt in Kanigher’s case.

So why am I writing about this series if I care so little about it? Well, when Andru (meh) or Kubert (great, true to form) weren’t handling cover duties, Russ Heath was. And while I’m fairly unmoved by Heath’s skill as a storyteller (too static, too measured), he was a first-rate cover artist, most strikingly for DC’s 1960s war books (and hey, Sea Devils) and Atlas’ 1950s westerns and horror titles.

So, in fond remembrance of Mr. Heath, who left us last week at the age of ninety-one, here’s a gallery of his Star Spangled War Stories covers featuring The War That Time Forgot. Thank you, sir.

Star Spangled War Stories no. 122 (Aug. – Sept. 1965). Grey toning and colour by Jack Adler.
Star Spangled War Stories no. 123 (Oct. – Nov. 1965). Dinosaurs love those orange skies, which set off their scales to fine advantage.
Star Spangled War Stories no. 130 (Dec. 1966 – Jan. 1967). The first Japanese-American “Enemy Mine” team-up, but the Japanese guy gets no redemption before dying. Grey toning and colour by Jack Adler… probably my favourite cover of the lot.
The Bird-Man provides a new wrinkle to bloodthirsty war criminal Curtis LeMay‘s « Bomb them back to the Stone Age » pronouncement. Star Spangled War Stories no. 131 (Feb. – Mar. 1967).
Star Spangled War Stories no. 132 (Apr. -May 1967).
Star Spangled War Stories no. 133 (June – July 1967).
Star Spangled War Stories no. 134 (Aug. -Sept. 1967). Once more, grey toning and colour by the indispensable Mr. Adler.
Star Spangled War Stories no. 135 (Oct. – Nov. 1967).
Last call! Star Spangled War Stories no. 137 (Feb. -Mar. 1968).

Addendum to SSWS 131: apparently, « Bird-Man » started a trend, as everyone and his distant ancestor soon was riding a Pteranodon of his own. To wit: Tomahawk #109 (Mar. – Apr. 1967… just a month later).

What do dinosaurs care about the American Revolutionary War? And yet the poor, noble Pteranodons all perish in the end… « for the cause » . Tomahawk no. 109 (March-April 1967), cover art by Bob Brown.


Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Joe Kubert

As Tentacle Tuesday lazily unfurls its slimy appendages yet again, we come face-to-face with one of the comic greats, Joe Kubert. And, as luck would have it, his ability to draw pretty much anything extends to depictions of cephalopods.

Page from “It Was a Dark and Heavy Night…”, published in Heavy Metal Special Edition Vol. 11, no. 2 – 20 Years (January 1997).

I’m less engrossed with Kubert’s work on prehistoric cavemen, archetypical feral youngsters or troglodyte adventurers (my interests lie more in the direction of Enemy Ace or Unknown Soldier, as well as Kubert’s solo projects like Abraham Stone). Nevertheless, Korak, his father Tarzan, and the unrelated Tor have all encountered tentacles in their eventful careers of dinosaur skirmishes and vine-swinging. (I also have to admit that if anybody could make me inquisitive about this sort of thing, it would be Kubert. I may yet reconsider, especially in the case of Tor, a comic Kubert both drew and plotted.)

Page from Tor no. 3 (May 1954). Read the whole issue here. The adorable monkey Tor is talking to is Chee Chee, his pet gibbon.
See Korak wrestle tentacles on this aquatic Joe Kubert cover! Korak (the ape name for “Killer”) was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs for his Tarzan novels. (Korak was the hero of The Son of Tarzan from 1915; in other novels he was but a young boy, incidental to the plot). This is Korak, Son of Tarzan no. 54 (October-November 1973). This issue has Robert Kanigher and Murphy Anderson on the main story.

It’s not only prehistoric men who have to put up with tentacles – Scandinavian royalty has to deal with them, too.

The Brave and the Bold no. 24 (June-July 1959). The main two stories, “The Trail of the Black Falcon” and “Curse of the Dragon’s Moon”, both scripted by Bob Haney and drawn by Kubert, are frankly silly.

Moving into a slightly different direction….

Mystery in Space no. 115 (January 1981). In a Kubert illustration, even monsters have soulful, anguished eyes.
Weird War Tales no. 77 (1979). Do all three dooms involve tentacles, by any chance?
Kubert’s tribute to Arzach, a comic series by Mœbius. Interesting to see Kubert sort-of imitating someone else’s style – however, the feet, hands and tentacles are obviously his.

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “The Night Dancer!” (1972)

« If i should sleep with a lady called death… » – E.E. Cummings

This time out, I’ve plucked a delicate story that’s resonated with me since our first encounter… somehow, the tragic plight of a lonely, vulnerable old man touched me deeply, even if I couldn’t have been more than ten years old when first I read it.

In the intervening years, witnessing the rise of elder abuse, the growing fragility of my own parents, and the sometimes desperate loneliness of acquaintances, old friends and strangers alike, Joe Gill and Don Perlin‘s The Night Dancer! (Ghostly Tales no. 99, Nov. 1972, Charlton) has steadily gained in poignancy. Its spirit, theme and mood remind me of some very fine tales by Joseph Payne Brennan*, who conveyed all too convincingly the quiet desperation of a near-destitute life lived with scant hope or companionship.

On a more cheerful note, it happens that (okay, it’s no accident) ‘Dauntless’ Don Perlin celebrates his eighty-ninth anniversary on this very day. While he’s most appreciated for his runs on Werewolf By Night, Ghost Rider, Moon Knight (his co-creation with writer Doug Moench) and The Defenders at Marvel Comics, I steadfastly cling to the notion that his finest efforts were brought to bear on hot rod and ghostly yarns for Charlton at the dawn of the 1970s. Judging by the results, I’d venture that he’s especially inspired by adventures set in the American Southwestern desert country. I’ll return to this topic in due time and present my case.

Without further tarrying ‘n’ foot dragging, meet our hapless protagonist, Cecil Durant… and his tormentors and benefactors.


While Mr. Perlin never became a superstar (and I suspect it never was his goal), the longevity of his career is easily explained: solid craft, excellent storytelling skills, a clean, unfussy line, and of course that supreme asset: reliability. Incidentally, co-credited Howard Perlin was Don’s young son, who was helping dad out around the studio that day.

Yom hu’ledet sameach, Mr. Perlin… and many happy returns!

– RG

*particularly The Way to the Attic (1967) and Mrs. Clendon’s Place (1984)

Spotlight on Florent Chavouet

Once in a while, I come across an artist I’ve never heard of before but whose work I really like. It’s always a delight to stumble upon an elegant boat afloat daintily on a sea of crap. (Life is full of new things to love that we just haven’t discovered yet, but the trick is to discover them amidst all the noise.)

The chief of police dreams of food… but will he be able to find a tasty bowl of udon before all the noodle stalls close for the night? Panels from Petites coupures à Shioguni (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2015).

Florent Chavouet is an accomplished artist who prefers bright colours, which predisposed me to liking his art before I even considered the potency of his storytelling. He mostly draws in a cute, cartoony style that’s perfect for all the travelling-around-Japan chronicling he has done. However, architecture doesn’t stump him at all – a lot of his drawings are successful, detailed sketches of streets and apartments – and he’s amply capable of realism when the situation calls for it. And he’s an excellent storyteller, to boot.

My favourite book of his (so far) is my most recent acquisition: Petites coupures à Shioguni (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2015), a complex story involving many characters and the ways their lives intersect and influence one another during a typical night in Japan. (Well, maybe not typical.) As the story unfolds after sunset, we get treated to a lot of pop-right-out-of-the-book, light-on-dark-background scenes, something Chavouet excels at. The art is his most accomplished yet; his latest book came out in 2016 (L’île Louvre), but I haven’t read it so far. I think we can say with certainty that he’s still developing his talents!

The cab driver has distinctly bad luck on that night. Petites coupures à Shioguni (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2015).
Another lovely feature of Petites coupures à Shioguni (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2015) is the hand-lettered dialogue – it’s an integral part of the artwork.
A promotional presentation of Petites coupures à Shioguni (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2015).

This graphic novel hasn’t been translated to English yet, so non-French speakers will have to wait for a bit until it is.

Going back in time, but remaining in Japan, here are a few samples from Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City’s Most Colorful Neighborhoods (Tuttle Publishing, 2011).

A page from Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City’s Most Colorful Neighborhoods (Tuttle Publishing, 2011); it came out in the original French in 2009. You’ll be encountering scores of intriguing characters if you take Chavouet along as your guide.
Tokyo on Foot is full of such isometric-projection layouts of people’s apartments.
Tokyo on Foot also has plenty of beautifully rendered night scenes.
Page from Tokyo Sanpo (Éditions Philippe Picquier, 2009).

Visit Chavouet’s blog here – if you don’t speak French, you can admire the art (though you’ll be missing the stories he likes to make up for each of his drawings/paintings).

An example of the critters you’ll encounter – which Chavouet calls Yokai, the Japanese word for demons or monsters – on his blog.

~ ds

The Only Dirty Thing Ernie Bushmiller Ever Did

« On my entire street there were only two kids that went to high school… that was the equivalent in those days of making Phi Beta Kappa. »

On this, the one-hundred and thirteenth birth anniversary of the oft-misunderstood Ernie Bushmiller (23 August 1905 – 15 August 1982), was I going to go through a veritable mountain of Nancy strips, naïvely hoping to pare it down just the one? No sir, not me. Life’s too short.


A tidy bit of autobiography from the pen of Mr. B.


Instead, here’s an oddity that Ernie created, historians say, for the Dutch Treat Club* Yearbook (1961). Bushmiller referred to the often-imitated and bootlegged, now-famous cartoon as « the only dirty thing I ever did ».

I decided, a couple of years back, to colour the piece myself, and to restore Bushmiller’s signature. Can you believe the gall of some people? (Rhetorical question, I know.) Here at WOT, we firmly believe in proper authorial attribution.

Happy birthday, Mr. Bushmiller, and thanks for all the chuckles.

– RG

p.s. Thanks to Bushmiller scholar-cartoonist Mark Newgarden for doing the legwork as to provenance. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, as usual! Oh, and since it’s quite relevant (and even if it wasn’t), if you’re a true-blue Bushmiller aficionado, you owe it to yourself to check out Messrs Paul Karasik and Newgarden’s « How to Read Nancy » (2017, Fantagraphics).

A portrait of Ernie from the brush of his esteemed colleague Frank Godwin.

*If you’re, er… qualified, it’s not too late to join the Dutch Treat Club!

Tentacle Tuesday: Gold Key’s Octopian Plenitude

Today’s tentacle adventure brings us a bounty of Gold Key covers.

The Close Shaves of Pauline Peril no. 2 (September 1970). Cover by Jack Manning. I love the Pauline Peril series – it’s such loveable nonsense, with dynamic art and fusillade-style dialogue. However tempting it may be to jump to that conclusion, It’s not a comic-book adaptation of a TV cartoon. Read a whole issue (number four, to be more precise, the last one) at, appropriately, the Ominous Octopus Omnibus blog.
HannaBarbera- The Addams Family3
Hanna-Barbera The Addams Family no. 3 (April 1975). The adorable cover is by Bill Ziegler. Is there anything groovier than a froggy belt-buckle? I think not.
Looney Tunes no. 11, 1976. Cover artist unknown. The boat has been filled beyond legal capacity, and no-one’s wearing their mandatory Mae West. The Safety Octopus is here to ensure that the offending parties are brought up to standards (or at least given a tentacle slap on the wrist).

And just to offset all the cartoony, cutesy stuff, here’s a cover featuring an epic struggle, a life-or-death situation, a decisive skirmish between Man and Beast. (I’ll let you guess which is which, though.)

Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 37 (October 1971), cover by George Wilson. Here we have a tentacled creature – “Sea-Beast” for friends – defending a village of innocent people against some sort of flaming monstrosity by shooting water from its tentacles (trunks?) at the flames. Hey, somebody should hire it as a firefighter!

~ ds

Skip Williamson Hears the Music

« Taste the sweetness of Destiny, racist pig!* »

The Old Underground Hall of Legends took some bad hits in 2017, with the losses, within less than a couple of weeks, of Jay Lynch (January 7, 1945 – March 5, 2017) and Mervyn “Skip” Williamson  (August 19, 1944 – March 16, 2017). Skip, in fact, would have turned seventy-four today.

Again, we’re dealing with an artist with a long and nomadic career, so it’s best to think small. There’s plenty of excellent, in-depth biographical material on the subject already out there, so I’ll scare up a few scarce items that reflect Skip’s lifelong love of (and involvement with) music.

« Right now I’d like to do an original composition which deals with the basic existentialistic thought and parallels between the works of Kafka, Tillich, and Buber in relation to the ‘I-Thou’ concept, and which has just been covered by the Rolling Stones…» Underground comix provocateur Mervyn “Skip” Williamson (born 1944 in San Antonio, TX) takes a witty jab at noted self-mythologist Robert Allen “Bob Dylan” Zimmerman. From the March, 1967 issue of Escapade (incorporating Gentleman!), likely a Charlton Publications product (“Second class postage paid at Derby, Conn.”), a factoid that may someday help you win a bet.
« Snuk Comix no. 1 (Skip Williamson, 1970). Extremely rare comic book created for the band Wilderness Road, by Underground Comix artist Skip Williamson. The story is that the printer objected to drug references, and would not deliver the printed comics; Skip managed to grab a few copies before the run was destroyed. As of 2003, only two copies were known to exist; while there have been a few more found since that time, the number of existing copies is staggeringly small… » Typical boorish behaviour on the part of the printer. Most people are unaware of the power that printers held and frequently abused before the salutary advent of digital print. Guys, *first* you nail the printing job (you call that registration?), *then* you indulge in moral grandstanding.
1979 original art for a piece Williamson produced for Playboy magazine. « Now what », you may ask « Do Billy Joel and Three Mile Island have to do with one another? » Here’s one account: « Anne had a couple of his 8-tracks, and made plans to see him live at the Hershey Arena during his 1979 tour … plans that were thwarted by a little incident at a nuclear reactor near my home, Three Mile Island. See, when the accident happened, in March of ’79, people had to be evacuated. And those people had to go somewhere. And there just weren’t a whole lot of large buildings suitable for holding thousands of radioactive refugees in the area at that time, so The Hershey Arena had to be put to use, even if it meant canceling a few Hershey Bears games and a Billy Joel concert »

I was too young and in the wrong small town for Underground Comix to reach me back in the 1970s, but when Skip put together the « Playboy Funnies » section (featuring the likes of Bobby London, Jay Lynch, Chris Browne, Art Spiegelman…) for Mr. Hefner’s magazine, I in due course discovered his work since I read Playboy for the cartoons. I immediately took to Williamson’s stylish, bouncy, clean and friendly visuals, paired with his unflagging subversiveness. Not that I got much of said subversiveness at the time… but that’s how it works.

Happy birthday, Skip!


*Class War (Bijou Funnies no. 3, 1969 The Print Mint)

Back When ‘Hipster’ Wasn’t a Dirty Word: Gene Deitch’s The Cat

« It was a fanatic’s world, and I was one of the fanatics » – Gene Deitch

Say, for a bit of a twist, let’s pay tribute to a living* legend. I’m referring to none other than Gene Deitch (born ninety-four years and change ago: August 8, 1924 in Chicago, Illinois).

A recent self-portrait of the master.

This fascinating man has led a life of such distinction, achievement and all-around coolness that I’m tripping all over myself trying to boil it down to a few highlights. Art director of legendary jazz mag The Record Changer, animator-director-scenarist for UPA, Terrytoons, MGM… Academy Award winner for his direction of his animated adaptation of Jules Feiffer‘s Munro (watch it right here), creator of Sidney the Elephant, John Doormat, Clint Clobber, Gaston Le Crayon… and co-creator of Simon, Seth and Kim Deitch. Some fine artistic genes, to be sure!

The stylish young Master Deitch.

If you don’t terribly object, I’ll sidestep the pitfall of ambition and restrict this post to a single facet of Mr. Deitch’s orbit, namely his jazzy cartoons of the 1940s and 50s. Incidentally, these succulent needles have been collected, in their usual, exemplary fashion, by the Fantagraphics team. If you dig these, and the odds are good, you’ll need to acquire, dentro de poco, their The Cat on a Hot Thin Groove (2013).

« I had just recently, for the first time, heard the magnificent pipe organ recordings of Fats Waller and imagined a portly black church janitor setting down his mop and bucket and rolling out some mighty blues in the midnight of an empty church on an elaborate organ most likely sanctified for an entirely different kind of music. This drawing was reproduced many times over  the years without anyone ever asking permission, and I was tickled to find it once on an actual Fats Waller album cover!** »
« The cover shows that having a loud, jazz-playing Cat as an apartment house neighbor is not all that rosy. »
« My cover show the devoted bass player protecting his beloved instrument from the pouring rain by covering it with his own coat and hat. If a musician’s livelihood depended on his instrument – often expensive or hard to come by – he did everything possible to keep it from harm. »
From The Record Changer (August, 1948). « The search for a recording by the legendary pioneer New Orleans trumpeter Buddy Bolden has never subsided. In this issue, The Cat has actually managed to record him from the Great Beyond, but egad, he’s playing a harp instead of a horn! »
« The cover design suggests the unlikely coexistence of a quiet elderly couple and a jazz record maniac within the thin walls of a single boarding house. »
« The cover showed that even with the most careful cataloging it was still mainly guess work to find the record you were looking for. »
« Earlier that year I moved from Hollywood to Detroit, to take up an offer from a commercial film studio there that would give me a chance to become a director. My cover for July was inspired by the hazards of moving the most precious commodity of all. OK, I had two kids, but I let my wife arrange their things for the moving, and the moving men could do what they wanted with our furniture. But I didn’t let them touch my record collection! I schlepped every box full of discs myself, and carefully placed them in the safest positions. I was proud that my entire collection arrived in Detroit unscathed. »
From The Record Changer (August, 1949). « This may be the very best Cat-toon of all. It says everything I ever wanted to say about this character. What is a mere soul in comparison to a 100% complete jazz record collection? Spencer Crilly, wherever you are, I thank you for suggesting this gag! » Perhaps the proverbial catch in the Faustian deal is that, without his soul, a cat can’t appreciate jazz any longer. You can never win.
From The Record Changer (January, 1950). « The Cat, seen as a dodderer in the Buddy Bolden Home for Old Cats, basically predicts the CD and DVD records to come 50 years hence! »

For a fascinating overview of Mr. Deitch’s life in Prague and in animation, by all means check out Bryan Thomas’ « Gene Deitch: An American animation giant who lived and worked behind Prague’s iron curtain for over 40 years ». Phew!


*A sad but inevitable update: Gene Deitch passed away in Prague on April 16, 2020.

**I’m looking, I’m looking!

Tentacle Tuesday: the Creepy and the Bizarre (NSFW* Edition)

*That’s Not Safe For Work, for those unfamiliar with the acronym. Turn back while you still can!

We all know that tentacles are often used in comics as a substitute for other, err, organs. Tentacle porn is nothing new. Still, occasionally I stumble upon something that’s just outstandingly odd and perhaps even depraved. Would one be able to find stuff online that’s far stranger and more degenerate? Indubitably. Still, within the context of Tentacle Tuesday, I’d like to think that the following offerings are firmly in the realm of “well, that was strange…”

Our first example of WTF is this cover, drawn by good ol’ William Stout.

Bizarre Sex no. 10 (December 1982, Kitchen Sink Press), cover by William Stout. I imagine the Earthman quivered in horror and became as flaccid as flaccid can be, though who knows what turns people on? The alien creature seems to have its eyes resolutely shut in grim desperation, so perhaps she’s not enjoying it much, either.

Comixjoint explains:

« One of the great series in underground history, Denis Kitchen’s Bizarre Sex was launched in May, 1972. One could discern that this would be a “no-holds-barred” type of publication upon perusing the first issue, as the first two stories were about brother/sister incest and interracial homosexuality. Bizarre Sex became best known for issue #9, which introduced Omaha the Cat Dancer with a story that took up the whole book. After another appearance in Bizarre Sex #10, Omaha moved on to its own successful serial. The great thing about Bizarre Sex is the series matured through the years, evolving from a comic book about atypical sex into more of an in-depth review of sexual relations and the human condition. »

As this is no. 10, the last issue of Bizarre Sex, presumably that “in-depth review of the human condition” part is applicable here. The cover could have fooled me… If anyone out there has read it, do let me know!


Chester Brown has always been one sick puppy. If by now his work is creepy and boring, back in the earlier days of his career, his stories were often fascinating… for those of us who enjoy a good mindfuck and have a strong stomach, that is. As for me, I never liked his stuff: far too disturbing, in a viscerally-uncomfortable kind of way. A good demonstration of his typical sense of humour is the following 2-pager with a characteristic blend of onanism, body fluids and irony. This instalment of Adventures in Science was published in Yummy Fur no. 4 (1984).




A little bit of comic relief: a cartoon from “How the Animals Do It” by Larry Feign. Make sure to visit this page for a little video preview of this book: a little animated tale of the barnacle’s super long penis and what s/he does with it, including the brilliant quote « if no resistance is met, in it goes ».


Okay, I’ll bite. Why did the chicken cross the road? Why did the male octopus lose an arm due to sexual promiscuity?

« Male octopuses have a big problem: female octopuses. Each male wants to mate and pass on his genes to a new generation. The trouble is, the female is often larger and hungrier than he is, so there is a constant risk that, instead of mating, the female will strangle him and eat him. The males have a host of tricks to survive the mating process. Some of them can quite literally mate at arm’s length. Others sneak into a female’s den disguised as another gal, or sacrifice their entire mating arm to the female and then make a hasty retreat. » [source: Mystery of Cannibal Octopus Sex ]

Next time we encounter difficulties with our romantic entanglements, let’s remember not to complain.


Our last entry is a little more standard from the perspective of shokushu goukan. The blend of sex-and-religion is also nothing new, although some people seem to be labouring under the impression that it still has some sort of shock value in this day and age (My sleazy ex-boss from the framing store, I’m looking at you.) However, I think these scaly tentacle-penises are a reasonably original take on the theme, and I also like the choreographed sisters, who seem to be doing some sort of interpretative dance while a-waiting to be ravaged.

Page from The Convent of Hell (published in Spanish in 1987, in English in 1998), written by Ricardo Barreiro and illustrated by Ignacio Noé.

You can read the whole thing herevery NSFW, obviously.

~ ds

Dennis the Menace: Minor Mischief, Major League Chops

Dennis the Menace, the syndicated strip about a monstrous little kid and the mayhem he gets up to, was created by Hank Ketcham in 1951. The strip was inspired by Ketcham’s son Dennis, who was 4 years old at the time; the title was coined by Ketcham’s then-wife, Alice Louise Mahar, who’s said to have exclaimed in exasperation “Your son is a menace!” (Interestingly, she’s supposed to have said “your son“, even though Dennis was her child, too. She died of a drug overdose in 1959, when the real Dennis was 12. I really hope there’s no connection between the cause of her death and Dennis’ rambunctiousness.)

Wikipedia describes Dennis as “precocious but lovable”. I find him to be an irritating little prick who delights in tormenting his poor parents; the kind of kid who grows up to be a sociopath, happily wrecking people’s lives and then feigning complete ignorance. Tomato, tomat-oh! 😉

I had zero interest in Dennis until I stumbled upon a scan of the original art of a daily strip… and discovered that Ketcham’s art is stunning. I could happily stare at it for hours. Bonus: as it turns out, the stories can be quite interesting, especially the ones that don’t pivot as much around Dennis’ self-centered behaviour.

Here are a few strips for your consideration – a couple of dailies, a couple of Sundays. I much prefer looking at them in black and white, as I find that colour detracts from the purity and dynamism of Ketcham’s inking.

October 4th, 1953.
August 27, 1975.
May 24th, 1974.
August 31st, 1978. Margaret is quite the thorn in Dennis’ side… but a dainty, girly thorn.
November 8th, 1979.
July 28th, 1987.
A page from Ketcham’s autobiography “The Merchant of Dennis the Menace” (Fantagraphics, 2005). Visit Michael Sporn Animation to read a whole chapter of this book, complete with entertaining anecdotes involving Virgil Partch, a friend of Ketcham’s. (Small world… especially in the sphere of cartooning.)

Dennis the Menace became a hit very quickly, and Ketcham started using assistants fairly early on. In the late 1950s and 60s, the strip was ghosted by Al Wiseman. (Speaking of which, do visit this website maintained by Wiseman’s grand-daughter, who doesn’t think it’s fair that the rôle her grandad played in the creation and success of this strip is so downplayed.)

After Wiseman moved on, Ketcham hired Marcus Hamilton to help out with dailies and Ron Ferdinand to work on Sunday strips; Ketcham presided over their work until his official retirement in 1994, after which they inherited the proverbial driver’s seat. He passed away in 2001, but the strip yet continues. To quote from the Dennis the Menace website, “Hank handed over the reins to Ron Ferdinand and Marcus Hamilton… two artists totally committed to carrying forward the Ketcham legacy, and keeping Dennis’ fans entertained for decades to come. Scott Ketcham (son of Hank) joined the Dennis team in 2010, helping to keep their creative finger on the pulse of current contemporary trends.” Anytime someone expresses a desire to keep a finger on “the pulse of current contemporary trends”, I get worried. Besides, their eagerness to stay relevant to modern life is conflicting with the attempt to keep things static. That’s the thing about newspaper strips that outlast their creators by decades… They get stuck in some bizarre time-warp, but with all the humour leached out. I bravely went through 50 or so dailies to figure out how Dennis the Menace was “Staying Modern”, so you wouldn’t have to. The results are much as expected: the family roles are exactly the same, with apron-ed mothers in skirts serving lunch or cleaning up, fathers working in offices, playing golf or having a beer in front of the TV (the mere three options available to men, apparently). However, now the family  has a flat TV screen and a laptop, the babysitter has her nose stuck in a cellphone, and cars have some automated features.  Oh, and lest I forget: women very occasionally wear jeans, a true sign of progress.

Incidentally, the real-life Dennis seems to have had one crappy childhood.

~ ds