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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis The Menace: 1951-1952/589 pgs. & $24.95


Hank Ketchum was master of the punch line without a "set-up", better known as the single-panel cartoon, and Dennis the Menace was his masterpiece. In parallel to the universal "every-man" concept of prose, Dennis has been everyboy for over fifty years. He has been so for two very good reasons. 1) Ketcham was an astonishing artist. Every Dennis panel is meticulously staged; everything needed to accomplish his punch line is included, and nothing more. The balance of black with white areas is flawless, his line work is fluid and dynamic in execution, and his mastery of human stance and expression is unsurpassed. 2) Dennis is a 'real live boy', to quote Pinocchio. He is smaltzy sweet and downright nasty. He is too full of energy and curiosity, socially awkward, and blatantly honest (especially with his parent's opinions!)

His father, mother, friends and neighbors are also real live people. Characterization and dialog ring true because Ketcham was an astute scholar of the human condition. As an added bonus for those of us alive in the 1950s, Ketcham also caught the nuances of that decade. This reviewer was almost overwhelmed with memories triggered by simple things like the shape of an automobile or refrigerator, a discarded toy, clothing, and the attitudes of that decade.

Yes, young readers, neighbors really did watch after neighborhood kids, 5 ½ year old boys could walk around alone with no fear of being manhandled, and the exuberance of being alive was not labeled "A.D.D." (Attention Deficit Disorder—ha!!). I liked the world better in the '50s. And comics cost a dime!

Dennis the Menace is comics at their highest level of achievement, and this massive collection receives the highest recommendation for readers of all ages. Sold at www.fantagraphics.com and at comics shops.

Review by Michael Vance