- Posted by Johanna on March 26, 2006 at 9:41 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Hank Ketcham
- PUBLISHER: Fantagraphics; $24.95 US
You know the character, but I doubt you know this version of the strip with the original, anarchic kid and the lively, fluid line art. This almost cubical brick of a book contains the first two years of the comic, with each single panel given its own page.
Don’t read the whole book through at once, or you will find yourself thoroughly tired of the little brat, but in small doses, it’s mildly entertaining. The punchlines are rarely all that original, so it’s the art that I kept coming back to.
I also enjoyed the bits that were unique to the time, as when Dennis runs around in full cowboy outfit or Dad smokes in the doctor’s office or how everyone wears hats in public. The gender roles are predictable: Mom is the one stuck cleaning up Dennis’ messes, whether he’s broken yet another lamp or wisecracking about dinner or embarrassing her while shopping or backtalking the barber. Dad is gone most of the day, and when he interacts with the child it’s to take him fishing or teach him to box, in one of the more disturbing strips. Dennis, wielding a baseball bat, is sneaking up behind Dad, in boxing gloves, and the caption is “Come on back, you little cry baby! You’ve got to learn to take it!”
The kid wisecracks to everyone — police officers, store clerks, and his parents. At times, he sounds like a little adult who spouts out what everyone thinks but no one says. It’s the drawn attitudes that carry it through, with Dennis’ devilish eyebrows, pig nose, and hair over his eyes.
Brian Walker’s introduction should also be commended. It provides just enough background information about Ketcham’s history, techniques, and influences and the development of the strip. The new reader is given everything they need to understand and enjoy the cartoons without being overwhelmed by needless detail. I was astounded that some of the characters had such fleshed-out backstories.
I’m glad I read this, especially at a discount price, but I doubt I’ll come back to it to reread. It’s an interesting time capsule, but it’s not timeless. More information is available at the publisher’s website.