This superactive young upstart has been “5 an’ a half” since he was first created in 1950. He’s too young for kindergarten and too old for the playpen. He’s active, agile, tireless and hard to catch. He’s also inquisitive, imaginative and of an experimental turn of mind, which frequently lands him in situations he can’t always control. With his impish grin, he delivers sometimes blunt observations of the truth. While never malicious or mean, the irrepressible Dennis remains a threat to property, the pomposity of adults and quiet afternoons. He’s an All-American handful and every day is “trick or treat” for almost anyone in sight.
With a kiss and a wave, this gangly 32-year-old aeronautical engineer leaves home promptly each morning and avoids the many misadventures that occur in his neighborhood during his absence. He will receive an occasional “Mayday!” call from his wife and, to the apprehension of the staff, Dennis and his mom will sometimes drop by the office for a brief visit. Henry plays his most important role when he arrives home each evening. He listens to his son’s escapades while trying to read the newspaper; he indulges in a little horseplay; and after dinner, he’ll end the day with a good-night story for his son. Then, of course, there’s always the delayed call for “a drink of water.”
She brooks no nonsense, orders Dennis into his corner chair when necessary, and spends considerable time on her knees at the bathtub cleaning the grime from her adventurous offspring. Although often harried, this trim and attractive mother of our short hero is loaded with patience, energy, logic and love to spare. She keeps her small house clean and tidy, always fresh-smelling, the perfect oasis of comfort and joy when her husband arrives from the office to spend quality time with his son and take her off the hook. She is forever grateful for having neighbors like the Wilsons, but she can hardly wait until Dennis finally enters the first grade.
Ruff is Dennis’s ungainly but amiable canine of uncertain ancestry whose characteristics include large paws, stringy ears and lots of long hair. Dennis gives him the affection and companionship that might otherwise go to a brother.
The portly George Wilson retired from the Postal Service hoping to enjoy his Golden Years far from noisy children and yapping dogs. He’s often found puttering in his rose garden, fussing over his stamp collection, or lounging in an attic full of boxes of photo albums, an old hunting canoe, ancient golf clubs, a Victrola, and his prized accumulation of classic jazz records. George and his wife Martha are childless, but a short, tow-headed boy next door has filled the vacuum, driving poor George almost to distraction but bringing much-needed love into the otherwise quiet life of the Wilsons. Dennis has a jillion questions and lots of time while George has all of the answers but little patience.
A plump, good-natured and understanding lady, Martha has been married to her well-meaning fusspot husband George for nearly 50 years. She loves Dennis as though he was her own grandchild. Her home is spotless and her kitchen smells like heaven, especially to Dennis. After a welcome cry through the window, he usually quietly enters through the back door to enjoy a sample of whatever has just emerged from Martha’s oven and chats with the gracious hostess until the retired grump brusquely ushers him out the front door. Martha’s biggest regret is having no children of her own, but she more than makes up for it by spreading her motherly warmth and charm to all of the neighborhood children. Every neighborhood should have a Martha Wilson.
Younger and shorter, he’s Dennis’s shadow. Joey eagerly learns various facts of life from his neighborhood hero. Shy and a bit nervous, he is afraid of ghosts, goblins and anything else he can’t see. Still, he and Dennis are the very best of friends.
This bespeckled redhead is a bit taller, two years older and, she thinks, MUCH wiser than her heartthrob, Dennis Mitchell. Margaret knows Dennis has great potential, but badly needs shaping up under her guidance. She has grandiose dreams of a romantic future and lots of children. Dennis tolerates her piano playing as long as the cookies hold out. In fact, Margaret’s cookies and fudge are the cement that binds their relationship together, however shaky it might become. She keeps coming back in spite of rebuffs, insults, put-downs and outright total rejection. All of this fazes her only momentarily, for her mind is made up.
An attractive young girl of Margaret’s age, who “was thought up in Italy, but was born in America.” Her long black hair and deep brown eyes coupled with the charm of her European ancestry make Dennis feel “funny” inside. He has great admiration for the fact that Gina never comes unglued in the presence of spiders, bugs or lizards, prompting Dennis to wonder, “You’re lots of fun! Are you sure you’re a girl?”
After his new cat devoured an entire package of wieners, Dennis exclaimed, “I’m gonna call you HOT DOG!”
Alice’s father is a short, debonair widower, with a bounce in his step, a twinkle in his eye, and an enthusiastic attitude. He visits twice a year but seldom stays long, more than likely because he must share the bedroom with Dennis. But he plays the grandpa game to the limit, spoiling the young lad in every way, much to the disdain of next-door neighbor George Wilson, who pouts and growls that Dennis is really HIS grandson. George has often lamented that “Swede” Johnson comes around just to “grab all the glory, then disappear into the sunset,” leaving poor George to cope for the rest of the year as the suffering, surrogate grandfather.
Henry “Hank” Ketcham created Dennis the Menace in October 1950, and it was syndicated to 16 newspapers the following March. Today the comic is distributed by King Features Syndicate to more than 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and is translated into 19 languages.
Ketcham kept a hand in the day-to-day production of the famous comic strip up until his death in June 2001. Many years earlier, he hand-picked two artists, Marcus Hamilton and Ronald Ferdinand (who produce the daily panel and Sunday page, respectively), as his assistants as he became increasingly involved in a fine arts career. This talented twosome has continued to produce Dennis the Menace.
Ketcham was born on March 14, 1920, in Seattle. He became interested in drawing at the age of 7 when a local art director, a friend of the family’s, doodled cartoon sketches to amuse him. The bug bit, and Ketcham practiced cartooning in every spare moment of his school years.
He entered the University of Washington in 1937 as an art major, but after a year, the cartooning urge lured him to Hollywood and the Walter Lantz animation (pre-Woody Woodpecker) studio. Moving to the Walt Disney studios, he worked on Pinocchio, Fantasia and other Disney productions for two and a half years until Pearl Harbor Day.
He enlisted in the Navy and, as chief photography specialist, spent the next four years in Washington, D.C., developing cartoons, magazines, posters and animated film spots to promote the sale of war bonds.
To supplement his serviceman’s pay, Ketcham began drawing cartoons for magazines, including a weekly panel that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.
After the war, he plunged full time into the competitive free-lance cartooning market. He quickly became one of the country’s most successful and prolific cartoonists, selling his work regularly to Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Liberty and The New Yorker, as well as to advertising agencies. By this time, Ketcham was also married and the father of a boy named Dennis.
Ketcham’s success enabled him to travel extensively. He lived in Switzerland for 18 years, where he worked on his feature from a penthouse studio overlooking Lake Geneva.
Ketcham received the Billy DeBeck Trophy (now called the “Reuben Award”) from the National Cartoonists Society as the outstanding cartoonist of 1952. In 1956, he received the Boys Clubs of America certificate for Best Magazine Comic. The NCS also presented Ketcham with its Silver T-Square Award in 1978 in recognition of his outstanding service to the society and the cartooning profession.
In 1982, he received the “Inkpot Award” from the San Diego Comic Convention as outstanding cartoonist of the year.
Ketcham expanded his lovable imp’s popularity through a variety of other media. The hit network live action television series starring Jay North ran from 1959 to 1963 and still appears on stations around the country. A two-hour, prime-time, live-action “Dennis the Menace” special broadcast aired in 1987 in 114 markets nationwide.
Ninety-six half-hours featuring Dennis’ animated adventures, produced for the General Mills Corp. in 1988 to 1989, are distributed to independent television markets worldwide. Targeted to an audience of younger children, the series runs each weekday and is remarkably successful.
More than 50 million Dennis books have been sold.
One of Ketcham’s favorites in the large mix of publishing ventures became a collectors’ item: “Dennis and the Bible Kids.” It featured Bible stories as told by Dennis.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the panel, Abbeville Press published “The Merchant of Dennis” (1990), Ketcham’s autobiography, and a companion piece, “Dennis the Menace: His First Forty Years” (1991), a collection of more than 800 panels plus a section of color Sunday pages.
Dennis’ civic-mindedness has made him a popular spokescharacter for many worthy causes, including the Boy Scouts of America, Unicef and the International Red Cross.
He promoted two public-service messages through comic books, titled “Dennis Takes a Poke at Poison” and “Coping With Family Stress.”
The half-pint’s image appears on a myriad of licensed products, from lunchboxes to greeting cards.
The Dennis the Menace Playground in Monterey, Calif., brings enjoyment to children of the area all year round and has served as a model for Dennis the Menace parks across the country.
Ketcham delighted in the ongoing development of a Broadway musical. In 1987, Tom Poston starred as Mr. Wilson, Dennis’ long-suffering neighbor, in a workshop production that ran at the Cherry County Playhouse in Traverse City, Mich. In 1990, Dennis enjoyed a run at the Olney Playhouse in Maryland. Another series of workshop performances appeared in 1991 at the Coterie-Foley Theatre in Kansas City, Mo.
Warner Bros. released the “Dennis the Menace” movie in 1993, starring Walter Matthau as Mr. Wilson and Mason Gamble as Dennis. A 1998 sequel went directly to videotape, finding a broad home entertainment audience.
Marcus was born in Lexington, N.C., and graduated from Atlantic Christian College with a degree in commercial art. In 1965, he and his wife, Kaye, moved to Charlotte, N.C., where he worked in the art department of a local TV station.
In 1972, Marcus began a career as a freelance illustrator doing artwork for such publications as Golf Digest and Saturday Evening Post. But in 1993, his career and life took an abrupt turn when he responded to a TV interview in which Hank Ketcham suggested that he would like to retire if he could find someone to draw Dennis the Menace. Marcus called Hank and asked for the opportunity. After seeing art samples, Hank agreed to train him to take over drawing the daily Dennis panels when he would retire in October 1995.
“Responding to that TV interview opened a whole new world of opportunity for me. It has rekindled my love for drawing and provides me with the biggest challenge of my life…to keep Hank’s legacy alive by keeping Dennis the Menace creatively fresh every day.”
In May 2005, Marcus was awarded the National Cartoonists Society’s Annual Award for “Best Newspaper Panel” of 2004 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Ron was born in 1951 in New York City. “My interest in cartooning began as soon as I could turn on a TV set! Crusader Rabbit, Colonel Bleep and Clutch Cargo were early influences,” said Ron. With the advent of the ’60s and Hanna-Barbera, I was in seventh heaven. The animated Disney films were also a sanctuary from the outside world.”
Ron attended The School of Visual Arts from 1971-1973 and The Art Students League in 1974, where he studied anatomy with Gustav Rehburger. In 1981, Ron read an interview with Hank Ketcham in Jud Hurd’s monthly publication, Cartoonist PROfiles.
“I sent Hank some pencil sketches of the various characters, and after a few months of correspondence, I was brought on board to work on the Dennis the Menace comic books for Marvel.”
In 1982, Ron began drawing the Dennis Sunday page, which he continues to draw today.
Scott Ketcham was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 14,1977, when his father Hank Ketcham worked abroad for 18 years. Growing up in a house full of artwork and comic strips, he was heavily influenced at an early age to draw. Looking over his father’s shoulder most of his childhood, Scott was intrigued and decided, “This is the life for me.”
In 1996, Scott attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. Living in Los Angeles posed many new opportunities and obstacles for a budding artist. While trying to find a job that paid, Scott started freelance storyboarding for 21st Century Fox (Pixel Envy, X-FILES), music videos, print ads and movie shorts. After several years in Southern California, he returned to the Monterey Peninsula where his love for art continues.