Review: Dennis the Menace comic from the April 28th New York Post

by Emily LAWTON
 

“Dennis the Menace” was created by Hank Ketcham, who modeled the rascally character of Dennis on his own son. He died in 2001, but his legacy is carried on by Ron Ferdinand and Marcus Hamilton. Dennis’ character is well defined and has been used as the subject of animated and live-action films and television shows. He is also the long-time spokesmodel for Dairy Queen.

His main characteristics are:

Blonde

Freckled

Overalls-wearing

Slingshot-wielding

Nuisance-making

The setting is a one panel “square” (actually about 2.5” by 4”, including space for the captions), such as is used for cartoons “The Family Circus” (though innovative creator Bill Keane often places the action inside a circle — with hilarious results), and “The Far Side.” The panel for April 28th’s comic is cleverly divided into two equal rectangles, thus providing the cartoonists the opportunity to more fully explore an event-and-reaction joke.

The left panel shows Dennis the Menace’s long-suffering neighbor George “Mister” Wilson from the back standing at an open door. Presumably this is the door to his house; outside there is a segment of a picket fence, a bush, and a neighboring home. Dennis is running (we know by the little clouds trailing his feet) between Mr. Wilson’s legs, a grin on his chubby face. Mr. Wilson seems unconcerned, or perhaps he is merely slow to react. It’s interesting to note that his stomach seems inordinately large and lumpy in this frame. It appears he has a microwave under his sweater.

Since I’ve mentioned the sweater, I’d like to mention Mr. Wilson’s outfit. On another man, it could be quite hip. He wears a dark-colored sweater over a black collared shirt, black cigarette pants, and white loafers. His legs seem impossibly slender for such an enormous man. It begs the question of the physics of Dennis’ run. Dennis is shorter than the height of Mr. Wilson’s shelf-like ass, but definitely tall enough that, standing straight, he would give Mr. Wilson a straight-on head-butt to the crotch. His actual height can be assumed to be even higher than shown in the panel, since he is shown mid-stride and slightly inclined with the momentum.

The caption says “HI, MISTER WILSON!”

Dennis wears his typical overalls and a horizontally-striped shirt, and sneakers. His right arm is extended in front of him, and slightly limp, as seen in zombies seeking brains. This apparently is also intended to convey speed. His left hand appears slightly behind him.

The second panel shows a very close shot of Mr. Wilson’s face in profile. His mouth is completely absent from the shot, and his mustache (which typically designates his mouth area) is undefined and appears similar to the bushes in the previous panel. All attention is put into drawing Mr. Wilson’s double chin and TWO sets of bags under his eyes. Though his face is basically expressionless here, one gets the sense of a seething rage covered by a veneer of mild annoyance. I almost expect a third panel showing Dennis filleted on the porch like Mr. Wilson’s bass catch.

The caption for the second panel is “HE DOESN’T VISIT… HE INVADES.”

The untrained eye might think this a mild condemnation, but look again. Any experienced reader of cartoons recognizes that a cartoon character cannot make any statement without including an exclamation point. Not so, for Mr. Wilson. The use of a period here implies a sense of finality that seems ominous for Dennis.

Other foreshadowing of impending doom are a shading on Mr. Wilson’s extremely bulbous nose in the second panel. It’s possible he has been drinking, or that the rage he is otherwise able to control shows itself in some overactive blood vessels here. His eyes are so narrow as to be practically invisible. The genius of the cartoonists’ work here is that we are left to fill in what will happen next. Some might think Dennis is likely to escape unharmed, since he is small and quick. Others may expect the saintly Mrs. Wilson to step in. Some will think that Mr. Wilson’s brontosaurus-size belies his wiley ways.

Another reading of this cartoon would be that the cartoonists are using their platform to subtly criticize the current administration’s actions in the Middle East. Do you mean, Mr. Ferdinand and Mr. Hamilton, that the “Dennis the Menace” that is the United States is using the pretext of visiting to invade the “Mr. Wilson’s House” of Iraq? Could we further assume that “Dennis” is seeking the “chocolate chip cookies” of oil?

One thing I think we can safely say here is that this particular Dennis the Menace cartoon is not what one could call classically funny. These comics are meant to amuse, so when they don’t we have to ask ourselves: why? I think the answer is obvious here; the authors are challenging us to ask some difficult questions. And some of these questions may never have satisfactory answers.

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