Dennis the Menace Volume 1

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.

Dennis the Menace Volume 1 cover
Hank Ketcham’s Complete
Dennis the Menace Volume 1:
1951-1952
Buy this book

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.


5 Responses to “Dennis the Menace Volume 1”

  1. Dave Mahlin Says:

    “Interesting time capsule but not timeless.” Yes, that’s pretty much how I felt as well. And like you, I was more attracted to the art than anything else, especially affection for the character. It’s pretty much a 1-note strip but entertaining enough in small doses. When I got it, I found myself picking it up at random and reading for 5-6 minutes at a time while waiting for dinner to be ready, stuff like that. Fantagraphics’ Peanuts collections, on the other hand, are truly timeless, IMHO. I have continued to buy and read them as they are released and have no doubt that I will return to them over the years.

  2. Johanna Says:

    That’s a great recommendation for how to sample it. The Peanuts collections, in contrast, are still on my “to read” stack, because they’re such classics that they’re a little intimidating. I’m looking forward to them, though.

  3. Lynn Says:

    I am trying to find a comic strip of Dennis the Menace and his mother at the doctor’s office. The doctor says something like ” Your mom kissed it and it still hurts”. Can you help me find that comic?
    Thanks

  4. Maureen Says:

    I am trying to find a comic strip of Dennis the Menace. His mother, Alice and Mrs. Wilson drink tea together as they watched Mr. Wilson gave Dennis a piggy ride.

  5. Crayon Shinchan Book 1 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] of a 5-year-old boy, Shin. Each episode is three pages long. Shin is basically an R-rated Dennis the Menace. He’s willful, crude, and completely uninhibited. He lacks ‘book smarts’ but has the street [...]




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