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Dennis the Menace is creator Ketcham

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					PAGE 10A                                                                                      Laredo Morning Times   Sunday, March 11, 2001

                            ENTERTAINMENT

‘Dennis the Menace’ is
50; creator Ketcham, 81
BY MARGIE MASON
Associated Press Writer

  PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. —
A little freckle-faced boy
leans out from the back seat
of a vintage car and taunts a
policeman as his parents
wait apprehensively for the
traffic ticket. The caption
reads: “You didn’t catch us!
We ran outa gas!”
  It was March 12, 1951 —
America’s first glimpse of the
blond, towheaded tornado
known as “Dennis the
Menace.” Still “five-ana-half”
on the comics pages, he cel-
ebrates 50 years of publica-
tion Monday.
  The cartoon still runs in
1,000 newspapers, 48 coun-
tries and 19 languages, and
“the only thing that has
changed is the toys,” creator
Henry “Hank” Ketcham said
as he recalled a lifetime of
cartooning in an interview at
his home studio.
  Even now, Ketcham is sur-
prised that his work is so
                                                                      AP graphic/Reprinted by special permission
popular. Other cartoonists
                                   YOUNG DENNIS: This is the initial “Dennis the Menace” panel
also marvel at the loyalty of
                                   drawn by cartoonist Henry ‘Hank’ Ketcham. The cartoon strip
his readers.
                                   celebrates 50 years of publication Monday.
  “If Dennis the Menace fell
out of his swing and went          he’s kept “Dennis the
into a coma the world would        Menace” books, dolls and
probably stop,” said Brian         other cartoon paraphernalia
Walker, who writes “Hi and         displayed at his house.
Lois” with his brother, Greg.        “He’s living in the East
“It just shows how much            somewhere doing his own
these characters are part of       thing,” Ketcham said. “That’s
these people’s lives.              just a chapter that was a
  Ketcham credits Dennis’          short one that closed, which
innocence for the strip’s          unfortunately happens in
longevity.                         some families.”
  “He doesn’t have any               Ketcham       returned     to
answers but a lot of ques-         California in 1977 with
tions and a lot of energy and      Rolande, his third wife, and
you’ve got a lot of loyalty and    their two children.
a little bit of mischief in him,     Although his own family
too, but that’s the way kids       hardly fit the idyllic 1950s
are,” Ketcham said.                model, Ketcham has insisted
  Being a “menace” also is         that Dennis’ neighborhood
key, said Jim Davis, creator       remain untouched, even as
of “Garfield.” “If Dennis were     other cartoonists responded
a perfect little boy, he would-    to wars, scandals and social
n’t have lasted.”                                                     HANK KETCHAM
                                   upheaval.
  Ketcham, who turns 81 on                                            50 years in print
                                     “In the Dennis world,
March 14, put down his             there’s a swing in the back        weekday panels in 1994. His
pencil nearly a decade ago.        yard and the houses are            assistants, Marcus Hamilton
Today, he moves a little           close to each other with pick-     and Ronald Ferdinand, han-
slower while clicking from         et fences,” Walker agreed.         dle the bulk of the work now.
image to image on his Web          “This isn’t a strip about a          That gave Ketcham time to
site, but his artistic eye is      contemporary kid growing up        pursue another art form. He
still sharp and critical while     in America today. It’s about       painted oils and watercolor
overseeing the day-to-day          Hank Ketcham’s daydream            portraits for a decade before
drawings faxed to his home.        about childhood.”                  his ailing health forced him to
  A Seattle native, he               Walker, the son of “Beetle       stop. His work gained
dropped out of the University      Bailey” and “Hi and Lois”          acclaim from critics and was
of Washington after his            creator Mort Walker, is            showcased at several shows
freshman year in 1938 to           putting together a 50th            nationwide with collectors
pursue his childhood dream         anniversary “Dennis the            paying $1,000 to $10,000 for
of becoming a cartoonist.          Menace” exhibit at the             various pieces.
  He got his first job as an       International Museum of              His large studio is filled with
animator for Walter Lantz,         Cartoon Art in Boca Raton,         jazz musician prints, dark
the creator of “Woody              Fla., opening in May.              portraits of women’s faces,
Woodpecker,” and then for            “I’ve been looking through       cartoonists and golf scenes.
Walt Disney, working on            a lot of old material, and it’s    He even painted the birthing
“Pinocchio,”           “Bambi,”    got some philosophical,            center at a hospital in
“Fantasia” and others.             very profound religious            Monterey, which worked as
  While Dennis stayed in the       undertones to it,” Walker          physical and mental therapy
suburbs, playing with Ruff         said. “I think Hank Ketcham        after his own stint in the hos-
the dog, his friends Joey and      has managed to do it in sort       pital.
Margaret, and of course the        of a gentle type of way that         “I’ve had people come up
crotchety neighbor Mr.             makes people think a little.”      and thank me because they
Wilson, Ketcham traveled             The strip was born with the      had to spend the night there,
the world. For nearly 20           baby boomers and symbol-           and I brightened up their day
years, he kept the strip going     izes the country’s attitude fol-   for a while. That got me
while living in Geneva,            lowing World War II, said          painting,” he said. “I have a
Switzerland.                       Robert Thompson, a profes-         bronze of Dennis and one is
  How did he stay in touch         sor of media and popular cul-      up at the hospital. His toe is
with      American       culture   ture at Syracuse University.       almost glistening because
among the Swiss Alps?                “Dennis the Menace was           the people rub it for good
  “I’m a former kid, you see,      extroverted, hyperactive and       luck when they go in.”
and I have that great memo-        powerful,” he said. “America         Dennis’      panels       also
ry,” said Ketcham, wearing         was feeling pretty big by hav-     inspired several books of
black-rimmed glasses. “I had       ing won the war and about to       cartoons, a musical and a
a Sears Roebuck catalogue,         move into the space race.          television series that ran
which I kept over there, and I     The cold war was a hyperac-        from 1959 to ‘63. A play-
have a great team of writers       tive medication to the             ground in Monterey where
which kept supplying me            nation’s sense of power and        Ketcham had his first studio
with stuff.”                       entitlement and a dark but         is named after Dennis.
  His inspiration for the strip    real sense of optimism, and          Other cartoonists consider
came from the real-life            it was causing a lot of trou-      him one of the true masters
Dennis, his son from his first     ble.”                              of the art.
marriage.                            As times have changed,             “I can remember as a kid
  Ketcham and Dennis’              Ketcham’s work hasn’t gone         every Christmas there would
mother, Alice, separated and       unchallenged. He’s received        be a nice ‘Dennis the
she died soon after in 1959        letters from women and fem-        Menace’ book in my stock-
from a drug overdose.              inist groups saying Mrs.           ing. It was one of my favorite
Ketcham took the then 12-          Mitchell should work and           presents,” said Patrick
year-old to Switzerland, but       Margaret should stop trying        McDonnell, who draws
when the boy struggled with        to groom Dennis to be her          “Mutts.” “Just look at the
his studies there, he was          future boyfriend. Ketcham          folds in his clothing. He has
sent to boarding school in         doesn’t pay much attention.        really studied and has a
Connecticut. Ketcham and             “Dennis doesn’t care much        great eye. I think he draws
his second wife, Jo Anne           for girls at all and doesn’t       the      greatest       elbows.
Stevens,        remained      in   want to play tea party with        Whenever I draw an elbow, I
Europe.                            them and will listen to them       think of Hank Ketcham.”
  Dennis went on to serve a        play the piano if there’s            ^————
10-month tour of duty in           enough cookies and Coke              On the Net:
Vietnam and returned suffer-       around, but other than that,         http://www.hankketcham.c
ing from post-traumatic            Dennis is an outdoor boy,”         om
stress disorder. He has little     Ketcham said.
contact with his father today        Ketcham stopped drawing
(and has been estranged            the Sunday panels in the
from his own daughter). Still,     mid-1980s and gave up the

				
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