Monday, August 11, 2008

No Time For Dennis

Monday Cartoon Day.

Continuing my weekly showcase of Hank Ketcham's cartoon career before Dennis the Menace. Some of these cartoons can be seen in Fantagraphics recent compilation of Ketcham cartoons called Where's Dennis. Although I applaud the publishing of this book, I do have a couple of problems with it. a couple of years ago, someone on e-bay sold a unidentified lot of 'Hank Ketcham's cartoons for magazines and advertisements'. I bid on it, but lost out to another collector. Where's Dennis feels as if it has been assembled from this or a similar collection. It's supposed to be edited by Shane Glines and Alex Chun. Both have a perfect pedigree for the job. Alex Chun has assembled the various Humorama collections for Fantagraphics, showcasing the work of naughty fifties cartoonists such as Dan deCarlo, Bill Wenzel and Bill Ward. Shane Glines is a cartoonist and animator who for some years has run Cartoon Retro, a website devoted to old cartoons and other beautiful stuff. For $5 per month of $50 per year you can see the same sort of stuff you can find on my blog... only more. Glines' site has been a favorite among artists looking for inspiration and collectors from the beginning. Still, I wouldn't called Where is Dennis edited as much as assembled and designed. The cartoons and ad illustrations are presented without date or any other sort of credit. Some are reprinted four to a page, others are given a whole page on their own. Nowhere do the editors explain what their intention or principles were in doing this. The selection of cartoons itself is not explained either. Are these the best they chose from a larger collection? Or are they all they could put their hand on? The haphazardness of the collection is furthered by the fact that cartoons and ad illustrations are put side by side without an explanation. The ad illustrations are often cut loose from the ad portion, which misrepresents Ketcham in my view. Sometimes he had to use copy written by the advertising company, so what seems like a weak cartoon could sometimes actually be part of an advertising campaign. From what I have seen, very cartoon that was made in color is presented in color, which helps. What also helps, is the fact that as you can see here, that there as no such thing as a bad Ketcham cartoon. It doesn't matter that the selection is haphazard, because any selection is as good as the rest. And there is more than enough for a second book. Of course it would have been nice if the cartoons had been published with some sort of credit as to what magazine they appeared in and maybe an essay covering Ketcham's evolution. I bet that Shane Glines, as an artist himself, could have given a great analysis and appreciation of Ketcham's qualities. Take a look at the random shadows in the last cartoon below and tell me you don' want to know what another carrtoonist would make of it. Now we have to make do with the fact that his older autograph looked different from his later one. What the editors do show, is how some of the cartoons have been repeated in Dennis years later. But I am not quite sure if that was all that much work, as Fantagraphics have already four Dennis books, covering the early years.

Overall this book leaves the impression that someone had a folder of Ketcham cartoons and decided they would make a good book, without doing any further research. The nail in the coffin is the fact that one of the cartoons doesn't even have it's caption intact. Some overanxious collector probably cut it off. I am showing it here.

The cartoon itself is from True, one of Ketcham's major accounts. It appears in the may 1951 issue.

I am adding some more of Ketcham's 1948 and 1949 cartoons from Collier's.

Permit me to make a small stylistic observation. Is it me or do some of Ketcham's secondary characters sometimes look as if they are drawn by Chuck Jones? I don't think there was any influence either way. The similarity seems to be the result of similar stylistic choice resulting in the same look. Either way, I just love those double chinned older men.


Mike Lynch said...

Ketcham was one of the stylistic best. The verve and artistry of that line -- especially during his post WW II gag cartoon days just gleams.

I think you're right that some of his work looks a little like some ancillary Chuck Jones character designs, Ger! I never thought of that before.

cartoonretro said...

Regarding the "Where's Dennis" book- I agree on all points.

P.S. Fantastic blog- The early B.C. Sunday strips are a real treat. I pretty much learned to read on my mom's Peanuts and B.C. books and Hart is still one of my favorite cartoonists.

Ger Apeldoorn said...


Thanks for the response. I'd love to be in touch privately to exchance stuff and views. I am preparing a series about Daan Jippes and would love to know what you have saved. Contcat me at