Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dennis the Menace First Appears in the Lorain Journal – 1955

For those of us that still read newspapers, a peek at the comics is like having dessert after a so-so meal. No matter how bad the main course was, you still have something to look forward to.

While many of my favorite comics are newer ones (such as Pearls Before Swine and Overboard), I still read many of the classics out of habit – including Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Menace.

Although Dennis the Menace made his debut in comics back in March 1951, the cute lad with the cowlick didn't make his first appearance in the Lorain Journal until January 1955 – 60 years ago last month. A short teaser campaign appeared in late January to drum up interest in the adventures of the mischievous youngster and his parents, Henry and Alice Mitchell.

Here are the panels that were featured on the front page of the Journal on January 27, 28 and 29. It's a nice little bit of promotion that you don't see anymore when a new strip is launched – probably because so few new ones are actually introduced these days.

The first Dennis the Menace comic strip ran on the front page of the Monday, January 31, 1955 Journal (below).
And here's the second one, appearing a day later on February 1st (below).
It would take a week or two before Dennis would assume his longtime home at the bottom of the Page of Opinion. Here's the February 19th strip (below) in its well-remembered natural habitat. (Note the appearance of a drone in the Laff-a-Day strip!)

I like the design of the early Dennis. He's very appealing and a little bit younger than the version that currently appears on the comic page.
One thing's for sure – I always had a hard time associating the TV series Dennis the Menace with the comic strip, despite the fact that the adult actors were very well cast for their parts. Maybe it's because the comic strip art wasn't featured in the credits. Instead, a whirling cyclone graphic (similar to the Tasmanian Devil) was used to represent Dennis. Plus, by the time my siblings and I were watching it, Jay North was getting a little old – not unlike when Spanky and Alfalfa were literally growing out of their clothes on the Little Rascals movie series near the end.
Here's the opening theme to the Dennis the Menace TV series. It includes the well-known Kelloggs musical tagline that's been stuck in my brain for more than fifty years! 

My favorite Dennis the Menace memory is probably of this Tip Top Elf Book: Dennis the Menace Camps Out (1958). I remember it being mixed in with our collection of Golden Books that we had when I was  a kid. 
Unlike the Golden Books, which were largely fairy tales or stories about animals, Dennis the Menace Camps Out told a story in which we could relate. We were a camping family, so it was amusing to see Dennis set up his tent in his backyard, bringing along all kinds of funny stuff like an electric frying pan, a TV, a toy truck, etc.
In the story he gets scared in the middle of the night, and ends up wandering into good old Mr. Wilson's house, looking for some company, as well as some cookies. It's a cute tale.
Anyway, despite Hank Ketcham's passing back in 2001, Dennis the Menace continues today, still appearing in more than 1,000 newspapers.

Speaking of the Dennis the Menace TV theme song, you might vaguely remember (like I did) a Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon that used a variation of it. The explanation is that the cartoon was made during a musician's strike, and instead of a custom written music score, stock music themes – including a variation of the music used as the Dennis the Menace theme song – were cobbled together for use on the soundtrack.
Here is a snippet of that Road Runner cartoon: Hook, Line and Stinker (1958).

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