Monday, September 08, 2008

Bringing up Dennis

Monday cartoon Day.

Today some more attention for the cartoon work of Dennis the Menace creator Hank Ketcham. I am starting with the best Ketcham piece I have found so far. I am a big fan of cartoon journalism and this is the earliest sample of the genre I have ever seen. The fact that it is by Hank Ketcham makes it extra sweet.

There are three sort of cartoon journalism. First there is the simple carnet de voyage, when an artist of a cartoonist draws scenes for the places he visits. These are usually done in some sort of diary form. If there is a story attached to the trip, it has to be told in a separate text. Secondly, there is the cartoon article, where a subject is chosen as an excuse to throw in as many gags. Often the cartoonist doesn't have to visit the place he is drawing and can use his memory. This is the case in articles such as A Mad Visit to the Zoo. I expect this type of articles can be found earlier than this 1951 sample in any of the cartoon magazines of the thirties or the forties. And finally there is the mix of the two, a true journalistic piece by a cartoonist who is sent on an assignment. This sort of thing is in vogue at the moment in Holland (and probably in other places in the world, as I don't think our editors are particulary origional or visionary). For a long time I thought this particular genre started and ended with Harvey Kurtzman, who sent out cartoonists to do reports from various locations in his magazine Help. It all started when Robert Crumb was visiting Russia and offered to open up his diary. Kurtzman himself had done location reports such as this for the TV Guide and Esquire, so he knew what he was getting. After that, he sent Paul Coker to Cuba, Gloria Steinem to a Spa and ~Jack Davis to a ballgame. He went to the historic taping of Rod Serling's live television play Requiem for a Heavyweight himself and did a spectacular piece combining drawings and photographs. Last year Playboy Press published a compilation of Shel Silverstein's cartoon trips abroad and I realized that he probably was the first to do this sort of stuff in a big way. Since Kurtzman worked with Hefner around the time these pieces first appeared, they will have been an inspiration to him.

Hank Ketcham's piece falls somewhere in between. On the one hand it is a true report based on an actual visit, on the other hand it is nothing more than a collection of gags. Still, I like it and it predates the others mentioned here by at least half a decade.

Additionally, I have a Ketcham illustrated piece for Colliers from 1949. Although this is a straight illustration job, the illustration with the girl twirling her cigarette holder, could be seen as a 'live' study...

To round things of, I came across another Ketcham oddity... an article about his succes with Dennis the Menace written just before the television series started. Ketcham was never shy about being interviewed or mentioning the fact that his son had been the inspiration for the real Dennis. Still, as I am working on the television version of a Dutch newspaper strip myself at the moment, I sympathize with the writer of the television series, who doesn't get mentioned once, leaving the impression that Ketcham himself is doing the television adaptation. Well, he didn't and he wouldn't have had the time.

1 comment:

joe ackerman said...

great post. fella. i'm not that familiar with ketcham's stuff, other than the menace stuff obviously, but this is cool. i love the beauty pageant piece.