Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Original Menace

I recently finished up reading the second volume in Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace box set, covering the original comic strips from their beginning in 1951 all the way through year-end of 1954. (I used it as a break between my Harry Potter marathon I've been on for the past month or so.) There are two individual books, which can be bought seperately, in this set and each covers about a two year period of the daily comic strips featuring that rambunctious little boy.

These first volumes really set up foundational Dennis and his relationship with his parents. The only other reoccuring character introduced this early on is Ruff, the dog. The Wilsons, Margaret and Joey will not make their debuts until later volumes. What is nice in these early ones is seeing how Ketcham really hones in on the visuals that will make Dennis and his family the memorable characters they are.

Since each day/page in the book consists of a single panel comic, the read can be a quick one. I flew through the second volume in a couple hours. A lot of the jokes (in theme at least) are very repetitive, especially when you view them in this kind of format. They were created in a time when likely no one ever had a thought of them being collected. They were to appear in newspapers every day that would end up going in the trash. Okay, maybe one might get clipped and put up on the refrigerator or on a bulletin board for awhile. But people weren't comparing them back to back. For example, the Christmas 1953 strip to the Christmas 1954 strip are nearly identical in every way (save one or two minor visual details).

A couple things I really like about these books. One is that they came with their own sewn in, soft ribbon bookmark. That allows for easy tracking of where you are without looking for something to use to mark your place. In fact, the entire quality of the production on this book is nice. These hardcover books with their very clean pages were meant to last awhile.

The second thing I like is the chance to really appreciate Ketcham's artistic style. As a kid, I could tell this comic strip stood out among the others. As an adult, I can see why. He has a very good attention to detail, and he often uses contrasting patterns and shading to indicate different textures in Dennis' world. Because he was working with a single panel every day, he had to convey just the right angle, the right image, and the right moment for it all to work. He did that very well.

The final thing is that this book gives a glimpse into a different time. These strips come from a time ten to fifteen years before I was born. It allows me to have a feel for what the previous generation viewed, how the world around them was and how they reacted to it. I find it comforting in a way, like an old black and white television show or movie.

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