Tuesday, November 20, 2018


After a 22-year comic-book run at Fawcett, from 1958-1980, Dennis The Menace found a brief home at Marvel Comics, of all places. It was a run of 13 issues, monthly from November 1981 through November 1982. They also produced three “digests” which collected earlier work.

I remember seeing these for sale back in the day, but I was spending my money on records at that time and only bought cheap used comics and the occasional reissue volume of vintage comic strips. I would pick up used Dennis The Menace paperbacks when I’d see them for a dollar of less, but those tended to be reprints of newspaper strips, not original comic book material. Fortunately, decades after the fact, I recently scored seven of the thirteen Marvel issues inexpensively, I’ve read them, and here is my verdict.

Basically, these are solid Dennis comics and little has changed since the Fawcett years, at least in terms of the Dennis content. Of course, you just knew that there would be some kind of Dennis/Marvel crossover, and there was in the “Spider-Kid” issue (see pic). Each issue begins with a large STAN LEE PRESENTS…DENNIS THE MENACE on page one, and I assume that Lee was a longtime Dennis fan who could afford to bring him under the Marvel tent, if only for a season. He probably always wanted to put STAN LEE PRESENTS…DENNIS THE MENACE on a comic book, and now he could, the same way that Kim Fowley always wanted to have an album cover that said THE EXCITING ORGAN OF KIM FOWLEY, and so he recorded an album of Sandy Nelson-ish instros at Imperial Records with a lead organ (the BORN TO BE WILD album) just so he could actually use the phrase on an album cover and have his friends and devoted fans get a laugh while giving his ego a pat on the back.

Not sure how involved Hank Ketcham was with these comics….online sources credit him with some of the covers (though not others), but the general consensus seems to be that his assistant Ron Ferdinand did the majority of this work. I have no problem with that as Dennis was a brand, and the assistants were trained professionals who could do what needed to be done, especially with a comic book version of Dennis, which (in my humble opinion) did not need the precision and fine-tuned economy of line and detail that a B&W newspaper strip needed. This particular comic book contains only one story, a LONG story about Mother’s Day. Dennis hears out his window the pre-dawn man delivering newspapers from his car wish someone Happy Mother’s Day, so before his parents wake up, he decides that he will get a big Mother’s Day celebration together for his own Mom. Of course, this misfires in every imaginable way (you can see him throwing everything in the refrigerator and pantry into a blender in the cover drawing), managing to drag in neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Wilson (regulars with Dennis) and friend Margaret. As usual for a longer Dennis story, things fall apart gradually, and then with a kind of domino effect, those events make other things fall apart. Unlike the shorter stories or the newspaper strips, this issue-long story leads to a sentimental ending celebrating mothers and families in general, which would be too saccharin for a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER episode and would be more fitting for something like FATHER KNOWS BEST. Still, Marvel lets Dennis be Dennis for 7/8 of the story. Actually, I’m guessing that Ketcham’s studio probably delivered finished pages to Marvel which were inserted into the books. On the front page, the copyright statement lists the actual page numbers where the copyright is held by Ketcham’s representatives, Field Enterprises (the actual pages of the Dennis story), and then lists all the other pages as held by Marvel.

One thing I did not need in this comic, though, was the sight of Dennis’ bare ass as he is getting dressed in the early morning before his parents are up. A waist-up view would have been enough, thank you.

Overall, the seven Dennis Marvels I’ve read are all worthwhile and a solid continuation of the series. Alas, Marvel was the final comic book home for Dennis The Menace. Fawcett paperbacks reprinting newspaper strips continued to be issued for a few more years into the mid-80’s, but original comic book material ended with Marvel. Fortunately, Fantagraphics began in 2005 publishing beautiful hardcover archival collections of the original newspaper strips in two-year units, starting with the strip’s debut in 1951. That series worked its way up to the early 1960’s, but seems to be on hiatus for the last eight years or so. If you frequent used bookstores and thrift stores, a better (and cheaper) bet would be to score one of the dozens and dozens of Dennis paperbacks published by Fawcett, which contain daily strips. You can still get them for a dollar or two and carry them in your back pocket, ready for you to read when having to kill time at the laundromat or the tire store or the dentist’s office. Let Dennis work his magic and mayhem on YOU, wherever you may be!

1 comment:

top_cat_james said...

This particular issue's story is an adaption of a 1981 animated TV special, "Mayday for Mother" (available on YouTube), which would explain its lengthiness.