Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sixty years of menacing

This week's issue of The Beano (out tomorrow, Wednesday 16th March) celebrates the 60th anniversary of Dennis the Menace. The famous mischief maker debuted in the comic in 1951, devised by Beano editor George Moonie, writer Ian Chisholm and artist David Law.

An idea scribbled "on the back of a fag packet" is a cliché now, but that's exactly what happened in the genesis of Dennis the Menace. As D.C. Thomson archivist Morris Heggie explained in the coffee table book The History of The Beano during the initial meeting about the new character Ian Chisholm drew a quick sketch of Dennis on the back of a cigarette packet to illustrate to David Law how he wanted the character to look. A star was born.

David (or Davey as he was known) Law's version of Dennis shook up The Beano like a thunderbolt. This new energetic, anarchic character was just what the weekly needed at that time to liven it up for a new post-war Britain. Subsequently, the strip inspired a young Leo Baxendale to submit work to the comic, leading to the debut of Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, and The Bash Street Kids in the years that followed. Today it'd be hard to imagine a Beano without such iconic characters. It's even doubtful the comic would still be around in the 21st Century without them, and it all started with that sketch on a cigarette packet.

Dennis' famous dog Gnasher didn't arrive on the scene until 1968, but soon became a regular fixture of the strip. After Davey Law's untimely death in 1971 other artists took over the strip, initially David Sutherland, and in more recent years David Parkins, Nigel Parkinson, Barrie Appleby, Jimmy Hansen and others. All of the examples shown here though are by Davey Law, as a tribute to his fantastic talents. It was Davey's style that established the character as a much-loved favourite of millions of children, and the work of his successors continues to delight children to this day.

Both Dennis and Gnasher have always undergone gradual changes in their appearance over the years. (Dennis didn't even wear a striped jumper in the early strips.) However the most recent changes, connected with the launch of the Dennis and Gnasher animated cartoon, are the ones which caused the most disquiet amongst his comic fans. It's fair to say though that comics have always had to change to stay fresh and no doubt Dennis and his faithful tripehound will evolve again in the future.

Beano website:

UPDATE: Various news sources are reporting Dennis' anniversary today. I was even interviewed by the BBC myself on Tuesday about it, and some of my quotes can be found on the BBC website here:


Bruce Laing said...

Some great stuff from David.

Happy 60th anniversary to Dennis, and may he continue to menace Walter and the softies for many more years to come.

MMi said...

Great choice of page, Lew, really enjoyed that one. Happy Birthday, Dennis. Long may you continue!

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