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Hank Ketcham: Creator of the Comic Strip Dennis the Menace

Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Hank Ketcham

Hank Ketcham

Hank Ketcham was the creator of the comic strip Dennis the Menace. The inspiration for it was from experiences he had with his 4-year-old son named Dennis. Ketcham realized he had a strong desire to create cartoons when he was as young as six years old. This is when he watched the friend of his family draw many different comic-strip characters. He asked the friend if he could borrow his magic pencil. His Dennis the Menace comic strip has been published in more than 1,000 newspapers in over 48 countries. It has also been translated into over 18 languages.

Early Years

Henry (Hank) King Ketcham was born on March 14, 1920, in Seattle, Washington. His father's name was Weaver Vinson Ketcham and his mother's name was Virginia. He was the grandson of James Weaver Ketcham, a person who ran twice on a third party ticket for president. One day after dinner, six-year-old Ketcham watched a family friend draw some illustrations. He was overwhelmed with what the magic pencil could draw. This is when he asked his father to have a small desk put in a closet in his bedroom. It would be his special drawing-room. This is where Ketcham would spend many hours as a child drawing. During his youth, Ketcham would spend time watching Max Fleisher and Walt Disney's early animated films. As a young man, Ketcham decided he was going to spend his time as an adult drawing and getting paid for being funny.

Walt Disney

In 1937, Ketcham graduated from Queen Anne High School. He then attended the University of Washington. He didn't like it and dropped out after a year. Ketcham then decided to hitchhike from Washington to Los Angeles. He was going to answer an advertisement announcing more cartoonists were going to be hired at Disney Studios. Initially rejected by Disney Studios, Ketcham was hired as an inbetweener at Walter Lanz studio. In 1940, Disney Studios hired Ketcham and he worked on classic Disney movies such as Fantasia, Bambi, Pinocchio as well as Donald Duck Cartoons and others.

Half Hitch comic by Hank Ketcham

Half Hitch comic by Hank Ketcham

World War II

After World War II started, Ketcham worked in the U.S. Navy Reserve as a photographic specialist. During this time, he created a character for the Navy named Mr. Hook. Four cartons were created based on the Mr. Hook character. Warner Brothers did three of them in black and white. Walter Lantz Production made one in color. When he was in the Navy, Ketcham also created a comic strip for a camp newspaper called Half Hitch. Starting in 1943, this comic strip ran in the Saturday Evening Post. He also illustrated and wrote promotional materials that were utilized in the effort to sell war bonds.

Hank Ketcham in U.S. Navy

Hank Ketcham in U.S. Navy

After World War II

Ketcham was discharged from the Navy in 1946. He then started making a comfortable living as a freelancer drawing for advertising agencies. His work regularly appeared in national magazines such as Collier's, the New Yorker and others.

Hank Ketcham with his son Dennis

Hank Ketcham with his son Dennis

Creation of Dennis the Menace

It was an October afternoon in 1950 when the comic strip was conceived. Ketcham and his family were living in Carmel, California. He was finishing his drawing work for the day. This was a time his son was supposed to have been resting, but his son was actually spending his nap time dismantling his room. The young Ketcham dismantled the bed mattress, springs, curtain rod, drapes and more in his bedroom. His son regularly added to his collection of cookie crumbs, leftover peanut butter sandwiches as well as dismantled plastic toys. This made Ketcham's wife Alice quite upset. Her frustration was at a high point when she came into the studio where Ketcham had been working and yelled: “Your son is a menace.”

Moment Of Inspiration

After hearing what his wife said about their son, Ketcham was inspired. He realized that his family's unique triangle could be the basis for a comic strip. He quickly devised some Dennis the Menace samples. They were about a feisty young blond boy and his parents who were always confused and perplexed by their child's behavior. Alice and Henry Mitchell would be the name of the comic-strip parents. It would also feature George Wilson, who would be their grumpy neighbor. He would also be the regular victim of Dennis's adventurous behavior. Dennis would have a friend named Joey and a dog named Ruff. He would also have a tomboyish friend named Gina. Dennis's arch-nemesis would be the proper Margaret Wade.

Dennis the Menace comic

Dennis the Menace comic

Dennis the Menace Comic Strip

On March 12, 1951, Dennis the Menace comic strip was published in 16 newspapers. At the end of the year, it was being published in over a hundred newspapers. Its quick increase in popularity was impressive. Eventually, there was a Sunday comic-strip version provided. In 1952, it won the National Cartoonists' Society Award. The next thing that happened was the publication of a biannual Dennis the Menace book collection. These books went on to sell over 50 million. The Dennis the Menace comic strip was then adapted for a television series. It was televised during the 1960s and featured actor Jay North. There was also a musical as well as animated Dennis the Menace cartoons created. In 1993, a movie about Dennis the Menace was released that featured Walter Matthau as George Wilson.

Dennis the Menace doll

Dennis the Menace doll

Cast of Dennis the Menace television show

Cast of Dennis the Menace television show

Dennis the Menace Items

The comic strip resulted in the creation of Dennis the Menace clothes, dolls, cookie jars, aprons and more. There was even a record created by Rosemary Clooney. It was used at Columbia University Teachers College for psychologists. The recording was utilized to instruct teachers on using humor to handle challenging children.

Life Regrets

The Dennis the Menace comic enabled Hank Ketcham to experience quite a bit of financial success. He moved to Switzerland and took up painting. At this time, he had many regrets for his life. Ketcham felt he had been lacking as a husband and father. His wife Alice wasn't able to beat her drug and alcohol addiction. She died of an overdose in 1959. His son Dennis, who was the inspiration for the comic strip, was never treated for his severe learning disabilities. He later served in Vietnam as a Marine. When he returned, Dennis had a bad case of post-traumatic stress. This is when he lost touch with his father. Dennis blamed the problems in their relationship on how much time the elder Ketcham spent working on the cartoon.

Death

During the last years of his life, Ketcham spent his time painting in watercolor and oil at his home in Carmel, California. On June 1, 2001, Ketcham died from heart disease and prostate cancer at his home. He was 81 years old.


Dennis the Menace comic book

Dennis the Menace comic book

Legacy

Many fellow cartoonists believed Dennis the Menace provided a view of American life that has resonated well with its readers for decades. They believe it will continue to do this long into the future.

Interview with Hank Ketcham

© 2020 Readmikenow

Comments

Readmikenow (author) on August 13, 2020:

Devika, thanks. He is also one of my favorites.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 13, 2020:

Dennis the Menace has been one of my best comedies involving a naughty kid. What an inspiration?

Readmikenow (author) on February 23, 2020:

MG Thanks, I am also a long-time fan of Dennis the Menace.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 22, 2020:

I have been reading about Dennis the menace and his antics for decades. Simply lovely. Thanks for writing about the author also.

Readmikenow (author) on February 22, 2020:

Yves, thank for the comment. Thank you for sharing about your cousin. I'm sure many kids during my childhood who were named Dennis got a similar title.

Yves on February 22, 2020:

I always loved Dennis the Menace. That cute, naughty kid, along with his bewildered parents, made for one of the most hilarious story lines I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying.

I had a cousin named Dennis, and yes, you guessed it, he was a major menace! To this day, I think of him as Dennis the Menace, because frankly, he hasn't changed much. Lol.

I was sad to hear that the actual Dennis grew to be such an unhappy person and that Hank's personal life was so depressing.

But isn't it amazing that Hank knew he would be a cartoonist even as a youngster. That's amazing!

A fun, informative article. Mike Enjoyed it immensely.

Readmikenow (author) on February 09, 2020:

MG Thanks, it was a part of my childhood as well.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 08, 2020:

Dennis is a character I have grown up with. It refreshed my memory. Wonderful article.

Readmikenow (author) on February 08, 2020:

Eric, thanks. I enjoyed reading Dennis the Menace comics growing up.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 07, 2020:

Very interesting I of course read the comics and watched shows. I understood a little about his life and "The Boy Teacher and Father Student" series I do, I keep them in mind.

Readmikenow (author) on February 07, 2020:

Liz, yes I heard of that Dennis the Menace comic strip. Thanks for your comment.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 07, 2020:

This is a fascinating boography. In the UK we had a Dennis the Menace comic strip in the Beano comic. The similarities are striking. He had dark hair and a dog called Gnasher. The strip first appeared in 1951. The idea and name came from the editor hearing a British music hall song with the chorus "I'm Dennis the Menace from Venice".