Dennis the Menace in Hawaii
Back in the day, there were a few special comic books that were so popular (and timeless) that they stayed on the stands for years through multiple printings. Dennis the Menace in Hawaii was one of them. First published in 1958 (before Hawaii was a state!) as a hundred-page special, it stayed in print through the 70s (with various revisions), with total sales of multiple millions of copies. And it’s still fun to read!
Artist Al Wiseman and writer Fred Toole visited the islands and used the events of their trip to make this comic authentic, giving the reader an accurate feel for the place and its culture (when it comes to the tourist experience, anyway). Dennis the Menace in Hawaii reprints the entire comic, including the puzzles, coloring pages, Hawaiian glossary, and hulu instructions. Also included are 28 additional comic pages done for an updated version of the special in 1969, in which Dennis goes to an aquarium, a bird show, and a Polynesian cultural center. Sadly, they’re reprinted sideways, two to a page. I wish they’d been included at full size, with some of the text material abridged and edited to make space.
This is the third hardcover volume in the series of comic book reprints featuring Hank Ketchum’s character. The first volume also reprinted work by Wiseman and Toole; the second one had art by Owen Fitzgerald.
I find the character of Dennis tolerable in only small doses, so I appreciated the ability to focus on the gorgeous scenery of the various islands and stories about such things as taking a catamaran or visiting Pearl Harbor or attending a luau. I less enjoyed him simply causing mayhem, as on their flight out. But even in those stories, the art is impressively active, capturing his energy, and I loved the details of the time, with everyone traveling in hats and the great differences in air travel between then and now. (Mr. Mitchell smokes a pipe on the plane after his steak dinner!)
You can read the comic online, but it doesn’t have the beautifully freshened colors of this reprint. The copious background material includes news clippings and photos about the creators’ trip; a list of the cameos they snuck into the stories; interviews (done by editor Bill Alger) with Ketchum, Vadis Davis (Al Wiseman’s first wife), and Mollie Toole (wife of Fred); and a smattering of Wiseman’s original art.
Unfortunately, the background material isn’t quite as well done as the comic reprint. It’s laid out in a way that reminds me of old-school fanzines, before people had discovered modern typesetting and when they were just trying to get the information on the page. There are several typos and orphans. I expected a bit more polish from a handsome hardcover like this, especially since the price went up for this volume in the series. Then again, the old-school collectors who will most appreciate having this reprint available may find that format quaintly reminiscent.
I hope that this reprint series continues. I’d love to see a Christmas special, as well as more of the travelogue comics, including Dennis in Mexico and Dennis Goes to Hollywood. (The publisher provided a review copy.)