Dennis the Menace, known in some countries as just "'Dennis'"is a daily syndicated newspaper comic strip originally created, written and illustrated by Hank Ketcham since March 12, 1951, which made its debut in only 16 newspapers. It is now written and drawn by Ketcham's former assistants, Marcus Hamilton and Ron Ferdinand, and distributed to more than at least 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and 19 languages by King Features Syndicate. The comic strip usually runs for a single panel on weekdays and a full strip on Sundays.
Dennis was so successful that he was later made into many kinds of popular media, including a 1960s live-action television sitcom, a 1980s animated television series, a 1987 made-for-TV live-action movie, a 1993 theatrical live-action film and another animated series based on that film, and there is also a 1981 animated prime-time television special, a 1998 direct-to-video live-action sequel that followed the 1993 live-action film and a 2002 animated television movie, and a 2007 Christmas special film, with a 2008 Halloween special film in already in development.
- Dennis - a bumbling but lovable blond-haired, angel-faced little devil, five-year-old boy with a penchant for mischief. Everywhere he goes, Dennis's wide-eyed curiosity, well-meaning attempts to help out and his youthful nature always seem to lead to trouble.
- George Everett Wilson - a retired postal carrier, Dennis's next-door neighbor. Dennis worships Mr. Wilson but often annoys him as he regularly disrupts Mr. Wilson's attempts at a serene, quiet life-such as cultivating roses. As a result, the gruff old man overtly displays a less-than-cordial attitude towards the young boy, though Dennis continues his well-meaning intrusions unabated. Mr. Wilson is named after a teacher Hank Ketcham knew.
- Martha Wilson - Mr. Wilson's engaging wife, Martha coddles Mr. Wilson, adores Dennis and sees him as a surrogate grandson, since the Wilsons never had any children.
- Henry Mitchell & Alice Mitchell - Dennis's father, an aerospace engineer and Dennis's stay-at-home mother. His long-suffering parents can only shake their heads and try to explain their son's antics to others. Despite this, and the many times his mother sends Dennis to the corner chair, they really do love him very much. Henry seems to understand Dennis a lot more in affairs of the heart. One example was when a furious Dennis stormed in saying,"Wimmin can say some of the stupidest things!" and his father knowingly said to his wife, Margaret. Another time was when Dennis and Gina were having a fun time together, and his mother wondered if Dennis would realize that he really likes Gina, and his father said knowingly again, "I think he will". His mother, however, is usually the shelter where Dennis can run to when things get too overwhelming for him; and she is there with a warm hug and protection. As a running gag Alice Mitchell has a phobia about snakes. Like his creator Hank Ketchum, Henry Mitchell served in the US Navy.
- Ruff - Dennis's faithful dog. Ruff is always eagerly following him around, accompanying him running, riding his bike or his skateboard.
- Joey McDonald - Dennis's friend, loyal and not-too-bright, he usually plays the sidekick to Dennis. Also he appeared in Colton Parrot.
- Margaret Wade - Dennis's friend and somewhat arch-foil; red-haired glasses wearing know-it-all whose cloying and self-important demeanor is always getting on Dennis’s nerves. She is attracted to Dennis, but he will have none of it. She always tries to improve Dennis and his manners, but only succeeds in annoying him. She has a certain amount of dislike for Gina, whom she sees as her competition. Gina gains Dennis's respect and admiration by just being herself and Margaret's pretensions fail to even make a mark on him.
- Gina Gillotti - Dennis's friend, a tomboy. She is a fiercely independent young Italian girl, whom Dennis secretly has a crush on. He likes her because she is as independent minded as he is; and she enjoys the same things that he does. Gina is also highly aware that she is a girl, and woe betide anyone who doesn't think so. This earns her Dennis' respect and admiration.
- Grampa Johnson - Alice's father who spoils Dennis often. He evokes the unintentional jealousy of Mr. Wilson, for he gets to see him only on occasion, but Wilson sees him all the time. Because they are so much alike, Dennis and Grampa Johnson get along beautifully. Wilson also thinks that Johnson should act his age, but this advice is often ignored. To Grampa, life is worth living, and he encourages Dennis to live it to the full.
- Hot Dog - Dennis's rarely-seen cat who usually commiserates with him whilst he sits in the corner and reflects on his sins.
In tone, Dennis is most like an escapee from a 1930s movie
, such as an Our Gang
film, and can be seen as a derivative of another mischievous comic strip creation, The Katzenjammer Kids
. The character's long-running success may be seen as being due to the timeless
nature of such characters. Dennis the Menace serves as a prototype for other cartoon troublemakers, such as Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes
), Bart Simpson
, Little Lulu
, Buster Brown
and Curious George
Adding to the timelessness of the character are personal touches that Ketcham included in his work. For instance, The Sugar Bowl, the ice cream counter Dennis frequents, is based on a real ice cream counter of the same name in Scottsdale, Arizona, frequented by cartoonist Bil Keane, as well as Arthur creator Marc Brown.
Another facet of Dennis which may be included in this is Dennis' love of Westerns. Though Dennis is consistently shown in a striped shirt and suspenders, he is still shown, at times, in a traditional cowboy outfit. This can be attributed to the setting of Kansas, and also the fact his Uncle Charlie owns a farm. The cowboy motif was more common when the comic strip first appeared, because Westerns were so popular, though even now, the advent of cable television means the Mitchell family can plausibly have access to plenty of Westerns for Dennis to enjoy.
The inspiration for the comic strip came from Dennis Ketcham
, the real life son of Hank Ketcham, who was only 4 years old when he refused to take a nap and somehow messed up his whole room. Hank tried many possible kid names for the character he was drawing in his desktop in his home at Carmel, and translated them into some his rough pencil sketches, but they seem unsuitable for a character of such immense depiction, until his studio door flew open and his then-wife Alice, in utter exasperation, exclaimed, "Your son is a menace!" Thus the "Dennis the Menace" name was used, the "menace" epithet and the image of the tornado stuck. The character of Henry Mitchell even bore a striking resemblance to Ketcham himself, who also became a fixture in the strip. Many people feel the characters hold remarkable resemblance to Jamie and the Magic Torch
According to Hank Ketcham's biography in the Internet Movie Database, Ketcham said that Dennis the Menace was set in Wichita, Kansas.
Dennis the Menace comic strip made its debut on March 12, 1951, in the following year in 16 newspapers across the US for the first time.
Coincidentally, another cartoon strip titled Dennis the menace was published in the British comic The Beano on March 15 (cover dated March 17 - the "off sale" date) of the same year.. Like the American character, the UK one remains popular to this day and has made the transition to television cartoons. As a result, any product of the US character, including the TV series, was billed simply as "Dennis" in the UK.
Ketcham received the Reuben Award
for the strip in 1953.
He also was made honorary
mayor of Wichita. He was quoted saying "I set the whole thing in Wichita, Kansas, and as a result I got made an honorary
mayor of Wichita.
Dennis the Menace has been published in comic books and comic digests from the 1950s through at least the 1980s by a variety of publishers, including Standard/Pines
(1953–58), Fawcett Comics
(during their only return to comics after losing the Captain Marvel lawsuit) (1958–80), and Marvel Comics
(1981–82). These were produced by others, in particular Al Wiseman
in the 1950s and 60s, who was one of Ketcham's assistants and Ron Fredinand in the 1980s, a Sunday page artist who drew several of the Dennis stories of the Marvel books, including the cover for issue #11. There have also been paperback book collections of the comic strips and comic books during the same time period from Avon Books
, Gold Medal
, and others.
Ketcham gradually turned the production of the strip over to his assistants Ron Ferdinand and Marcus Hamilton, who continued it after his death in 2001, due to a heart attack at age 81. In 2005, Dennis appeared as a guest for Blondie and Dagwood's 75th anniversary party in the comic strip Blondie.
Dennis had been produced in comic book format for many years. The first issue of Dennis the Menace was published in August, 1953 by Standand/Pines, the original series ran for a total of 155 issues until January, 1978. Meanwhile, Fawcett Comics purchased the half of the comic book rights to the character and Dennis made his only return to the comics after Fawcett lost the Captain Marvel lawsuit in 1958. At that point, Fawcett Comics and Hallden Publishing became a subsidiary of CBS Consumer Publishing (A publishing imprint of CBS Corporation) and the Dennis the Menace comic book title became The Dennis the Menace Fun Fest series, the comic books continued through the issue #166, published in November, 1979.
The comic book series (Drawn by Ketcham's assistant Al Wiseman, until the mid 60s) was running in tandem with the “Specials” series. First, there was The Dennis the Menace Winter Special
, then The Dennis the Menace Spring Special
, The Dennis the Menace Summer Special
and then finally The Dennis the Menace Christmas Special
To continue this tandem, Fawcett published an anthology series of his previous adventures called The Best of Dennis the Menace
, which ran from 1959 to 1961 in a total of 5 issues. This was followed with The Giant Dennis the Menace
series, and concluded the specials series with their most-famous of their Dennis the Menace
titles, The Dennis the Menace Travel Special
Series. These Travel issues included Dennis and his family going to places like Mexico or camp in Yosemite Park and the most popular issue "Dennis Goes To Hollywood"
which has him wreaking havoc on various movie sets and encountering assorted movie stars.
The specials series was then later re-christened as the Dennis the Menace Bonus Magazine Series forerunners, the series, which bore the title Bonus Magazine, started with issue #78 in March 1970 and continued through issue #173 in February 1978. CBS and Hallden later retitled the series as The Dennis the Menace Big Bonus Series, which it ran through issue #194 in October 1979.
By October 1979, Fawcett began publishing a separate series of 36 issues entitled Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson
, which involved the simple adventures of Dennis and Mr. Wilson going into all sorts of mischievous capers. By the second issue, the Dennis and Mr. Wilson
series was re-christened as Dennis the Menace and His Friends
which now involved the adventures of Dennis, Mr. Wilson and friends, Joey, Margaret and dog, Ruff going to cause more troublesome mishaps. Because of this, the Mr. Wilson stories were alternated with the three characters as Ruff, Joey and Margaret
who each shared a #1 issue with Dennis.
There were also other series of Dennis the Menace comic books published in 1961, first there was Dennis the Menace and His Dog, Ruff and Dennis the Menace and His Pal, Joey published the summer and the last but not least was Dennis the Menace and Margaret published in the winter of 1969.
Bible kids series
In 1977, Word Books, Inc. commissioned Hank Ketcham Enterprises, Inc. to produce a series of ten comic books under the title of Dennis and the Bible Kids
, with the usual cast of characters reading (and sometimes partly acting out) the stories of Joseph
, and other Biblical characters. These were sold through Christian bookstores
and related outlets. Each issue contained several inspirational renderings by Hank Ketcham himself.
For some unknown reason, the Dennis the Menace Fun Fest
and the Dennis the Menace Big Bonus Series
were revived for a short issue run in 1980. The numbering system was even more of a mystery.
- January: The Dennis the Menace Fun Fest #16
- February: The Dennis the Menace Big Bonus #10
- March: The Dennis the Menace Fun Fest #17
- April: The Dennis the Menace Big Bonus #11
After this revival series, the Hallden and CBS comics run came to an end in 1980. Fortunately, Ketcham had the half of the comic book rights purchased by Stan Lee and Marvel Comics, they were able to produce a new series of Dennis the Menace comic books. The Marvel series started in December, 1981 and ended in November, 1982. The seventh issue in the Marvel Comics adaptation featured a Spider-Man spoof story called “Spider-Kid”, the story featured Dennis imagining himself as a pint-sized Spider-Man fighting crime with Mr. Wilson as J. Jonah Jameson, Gina Gillotti as his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson and Joey, Margaret and Ruff being themselves, the cover even displayed Dennis is Spider-Kid jumping from a cloud and unmasking himself revealing to be Dennis! The smaller Dennis the Menace comic digests were published continually by Fawcett and Hallden between 1969 and 1980 and they were briefly resurrected in reprints by Marvel in 1982 for a run of three issues.
Several special issues also appeared in the 1970s, with book-length stories of Dennis and his parents visiting the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
in San Jose, California
, the Winchester Mystery House
in San Jose, Mexico
via cruise ship
, and also Washington, D.C.
Dennis the Menace has also even been published in paperback book collects of the comic strips and comic books during the same time period, they are consisted of reprints of the previous comic strip adventures from the past decades. Avon Books, Gold Medal, Crest, Pocket Books, Corgi (UK) and Fawcett Books were all responsible for the publication of these books. This is a list of all the Dennis the Menace book compilations published so far (Note: All of the books carry the name ‘Dennis the Menace’ in their title.):
- Babysitter’s Guide by Dennis the Menace (1954)
- Wanted: Dennis the Menace (1955)
- Dennis the Menace Rides Again (1956)
- Dennis the Menace vs. Everybody (1957)
- Dennis the Menace: Household Hurricane (1958)
- The 100 Adventures of the Pickle (1958, UK)
- In this corner… Dennis the Menace (1959)
- Dennis the Menace …Teacher’s Threat (1960)
- Dennis the Menace Voted Most Likely (1960)
- Dennis the Menace A.M.* *Ambassador of Mischief (1961)
- Babysitter’s Guide by Dennis the Menace (1961, reprint)
- Dennis the Menace: Happy Half-Pint (1962)
- Dennis the Menace …Who Me? (1963)
- Dennis the Menace: Household Hurricane (1963, reprint)
- Dennis the Menace: Make-Believe Angel (1964)
- Dennis the Menace …Here Comes Trouble (1966)
- Dennis the Menace and Poor Ol’ Mr. Wilson (1967)
- Dennis the Menace: All-American Kid (1968)
- Dennis the Menace and his pal Joey (1968)
- Dennis the Menace: Your Friendly Neighborhood Kid (1969)
- Dennis the Menace: Perpetual Motion (1969)
- Dennis the Menace …Everybody’s Little Helper (1970)
- Dennis the Menace: Non-Stop Nuisance (1970)
- Dennis the Menace Rides Again (1971, reprint)
- Dennis the Menace: Surprise Package (1971)
- Dennis the Menace: Short ‘n Snappy (1971)
- Dennis the Menace: Where the Action Is (1971)
- Dennis the Menace: Dennis Power (1972)
- Dennis the Menace: Just for Fun (1973)
- Dennis the Menace: The Kid Next Door (1973)
- Dennis the Menace: Busybody (1974)
- Dennis the Menace: Little Pip-Squeak (1974)
- Dennis the Menace: Play it Again, Dennis (1975)
- Dennis the Menace: To the Core (1975)
- Dennis the Menace: Little Man in a Big Hurry (1976)
- Dennis the Menace: Short Swinger (1976)
- Dennis the Menace and His Girls (1977)
- Dennis the Menace: Stayin' Alive (1977)
- Dennis the Menace: Good Intenshuns (1978)
- Dennis the Menace: One More Time (1978)
- Someone's In The Kitchen With Dennis (1978)
- Dennis the Menace: “Your Mother’s Calling!” (1978)
- Dennis the Menace: Ol’ Droopy Drawers (1978)
- Dennis the Menace: Driving Mother Up the Wall (1979)
- Dennis the Menace: I Done It MY Way (1979)
- Dennis the Menace: Short in the Saddle (1979)
- Dennis the Menace: Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1980)
- Dennis the Menace: The Way I Look at It… (1982)
- Dennis the Menace: Dog’s Best Friend (1982)
- Dennis the Menace: Supercharged and Ever Ready (1983)
- Dennis the Menace: Sunrise Express (1983)
In 2005, comics publisher Fantagraphics began to reprint Ketcham's entire run on Dennis the Menace in a 25-volume series over eleven years.
- Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace (1951–52) ISBN 1-56097-680-2
- Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace (1953–54) ISBN 1-56097-725-6
- Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace (1955–56) ISBN 1-56097-770-1
- Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace (1957–58) ISBN 1-56097-806-7
- For some years, Dennis the Menace was the "spokestoon" for ice cream restaurant chain Dairy Queen; many of the characters appeared on their packaging and in advertising. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dennis the Menace was licensed by Dairy Queen as their official mascot, appearing in many commercials and on the chain's cups, bags, and other promotional items. The Dennis incarnation used was the one from the 1986 animated series, as the promotions started in the middle of that series' run. Dennis has since been supplanted by other cartoon characters.
- 1952 saw the construction of the Dennis the Menace Playground, spearheaded by Hank Ketcham, assisted Arch Garner and his two children. It opened at Monterey, California, US in 1956. The playground features a bronze statue of Dennis sculpted by Wah Ming Chang. On October 25–October 26 2006, the 125-lb statue which reported worth as much as $30,000 was stolen during the night.
Animated TV series
Films and TV sitcoms
Dennis has been the subject of a number of animated adaptations, as well as a CBS sitcom from 1959 to 1963 starring Jay North as Dennis and both Joseph Kearns and Gale Gordon, successively, as Mr. (George and John) Wilson. A 1993 live-action film starred Walter Matthau as Mr. Wilson. It was originally titled "The Real Dennis the Menace" before the final name was approved. This was followed up with Dennis the Menace Strikes Again! in 1998 starring Don Rickles as Mr. Wilson.
A Dennis the Menace Christmas is scheduled for release on DVD November 17, 2007. The Warner Brothers film stars Robert Wagner as Mr. Wilson, Louise Fletcher as Mrs. Wilson, and Maxwell Perry-Cotton as Dennis. For the first time, Dennis is being played by a real, live six-year-old actor. The film was shot in Montreal, Canada, and features a number of young Canadian actors.
See the separate entries for more detailed information on the film and TV adaptations
Dennis the Menace in other languages
The animated television series and the comic book series have been translated into 19 languages since the invention of the character, and whom they have made and are famous worldwide.
Footnotes and References