The Magazine Cartoon Art of Hank Ketcham
Whereâ€™s DENNIS? Edited by Shane Glines and Alex Chun
Fantagraphics Books 7563 Lake City Way NE Seattle, WA 98115, USA Artwork: Hank Ketcham Editors: Shane Glines, Alex Chun Designer: Jacob Covey Scanmaster: Janelle Anderson Promotion: Eric Reynolds Published by Gary Groth and Kim Thompson
Where’s Dennis? is copyright © 2007 Fantagraphics Books. Published with the kind blessing of Rolande Ketcham. Introductions copyright © 2007 Alex Chun, Ron Ferdinand, and Marcus Hamilton respectively. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce material must be obtained from the publisher. To receive a free full-color catalog of comics, graphic novels and other related material, call 1-800-657-1100, or visit www.fantagraphics.com Distributed in the U.S. by W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. (212-354-500) Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books (800-663-5714) Distributed in the United Kingdom by Turnaround Distribution (108-829-3009) First Fantagraphics Books Edition: July 2007. ISBN 978-1-56097-853-4. Printed in Singapore
The Magazine Cartoon Art of Hank Ketcham
What can I say about being hired by Hank Ketcham? Me, a struggling School of Visual Arts graduate “nibbling on the edges” of the cartooning world. I can still remember being met by legendary Dennis comic-book writer Fred Toole and his lovely wife Mollie at Monterey Peninsula Airport that fateful day in August ’81. Before long I found myself ushered into the presence of “the master” at his Pebble Beach home studio. Hank was truly a cartoonist’s cartoonist. Born with the “soul of a watercolorist” by his own admission, he elevated the comic panel to the realm of fine art. On top of that, he was funny! When all of us eventually worked together in one studio, I had access to the early magazine cartoons presented in this volume. Hank had both the “accepted” and “rejected” assignments on hand, I suppose, to remind him of his roots. This early work ran the gamut from the sophisticated humor of The New Yorker to the “kid” gags that became his bread and butter. Never afraid to admit he employed gag writers (“Hope and Carson used ’em”) he was an excellent editor who refined and honed each phrase until it sparkled. The icing on the cake, of course, was Hank’s superb draftsmanship. My one hope is that my memories of those golden days will remain as fresh as they are right now. R on F erdinand
New York City native Ron Ferdinand was born in 1951. He attended the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League in the 1970s; in 1981, he was hired by Hank Ketcham to work on the Dennis the Menace comic published by Marvel Comics. The following year he was assigned to the Dennis Sunday page, which he continues to produce to this day, a quarter century later.
Hank Ketcham had courage. Jumping feet-first into a freelance gag-cartoon career immediately following three years of active duty in the U.S. Navy was a precarious move, to say the least. Few cartoonists were willing to take that leap, and even fewer had the ability to turn such a risk into a successful career. Hank became one of the few. The cartoonists who made names for themselves in the postwar era were those who fashioned a unique style. Hank understood this and didnâ€™t emulate anyone, relying solely on his natural gift for design and composition. And thanks to his earlier training in animation, he was able to inject exaggeration and action into his single-panel cartoons. Combined with his innovative thick-and-thin inking style, these elements gave his work the dynamic appeal art directors craved, and Hank became a regular contributor to the popular magazines of the late 1940s. Through these early assignments, Hank developed his skills into the sophisticated free-flowing style that became his hallmark when he later ventured into syndication with Dennis the Menace. Working under his precise direction for eight years on the daily Dennis panels, I came to appreciate his quest for perfection. No drawing left his board until he had explored the subject from many perspectives â€” a work ethic that, thankfully, has been passed along to Ron and me. This compilation of Hank Ketchamâ€™s early work gives fans and collectors not only the opportunity to enjoy his humor and talent, but also to follow the progression of an artistic vision that has earned its creator a permanent place among the true all-time classic cartoonists. M arcus H amilton Marcus Hamilton, a native of Lexington, NC, received his degree in Commercial Art in 1965. After a few years spent working in design studios, he embarked on a career as a freelance illustrator beginning in 1972. In 1993, upon seeing a TV interview in which Hank Ketcham mentioned a desire to retire, Hamilton applied for the job of drawing Dennis the Menace; he was accepted, and is now is in his 15th year as the artist of the daily Dennis panel.
A Brief History
H enry K ing “ H ank ” K etcham was born in Seattle, Washington, on March 14, 1920. As a youngster, he was smitten by Max Fleischer’s short-subject series Out of the Inkwell, which combined live-action and animation, and Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs. From that point forward, he dedicated himself to becoming an animator for Walt Disney Studios. After graduating from Queen Anne High School in 1937, Ketcham enrolled at the University of Washington, where he majored in art and minored in drama. He dropped out after just one year, however, when he saw a newspaper ad Disney placed soliciting for cartoonists. Despite receiving a rejection letter after sending in a batch of drawing samples, Ketcham hopped in his friend’s car and headed down to Southern California and the “House of Mouse.” As soon as he arrived in Los Angeles, Ketcham made a beeline for Disney’s Hyperion Boulevard Studio, but he never made it past the receptionist. He lowered his sights and settled for a job at Walter Lantz Studio, where he learned the animation trade working as an “inbetweener,” rendering the transitional drawings between key poses (“What make’ ’em move,” Ketcham used to say). After 14 months drawing more rabbits, squirrels and Andy Pandas than he cared to remember, he finally landed an assistant animator gig at Disney, helping finish up Pinocchio. That temporary job lead to work on Bambi, Wind in the Willows, Fantasia and dozens of Donald Duck shorts under the wings of animation legends Ward Kimball and Fred Moore. At Disney, Ketcham also met Dick Shaw, a regular cartoonist for The Saturday Evening Post, and Virgil Franklin Partch (aka VIP), whose monthly gag cartoons were a mainstay at Collier’s and True; together, they’d brainstorm magazine cartoon ideas for the potentially lucrative New York market. But the New York magazines—and Disney, for that matter—would have to wait. With World War II in full swing, Ketcham was sworn into the U.S. Naval Reserve on June 2, 1942, as a photographer’s mate third class, and stationed at the Bremerton Navy Yard near Puget Sound.
Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he created food conservation and “Jap-bashing” posters (and also managed to meet and marry one Miss Alice Louise Mahar of Malden, Massachusetts). At night, he moonlighted as a magazine cartoonist, producing mostly war-themed cartoons. His Half Hitch was a regular feature in The Saturday Evening Post, and by 1944, his cartoons could be found in Collier’s, True and Liberty. In the Navy he joined other talented artists, including Harry Devlin, Aurie Battaglia and Noel Sickles, best known for his comic strip Scorchy Smith and his collaborative work with Milton Caniff. In fact, when Ketcham was first making inroads to the New York freelance market, he would often show his drawings to Sickles for advice and pointers. After receiving an Honorable Discharge (along with a Good Conduct Medal) from the Navy in 1946, he turned down a chance to return to Disney. Instead, having tasted just enough success from his part-time freelance cartooning efforts during the last year of the war, he headed east, beckoned by the siren song of cartooning for the big New York magazines, one of the pinnacles of the applied arts. Ketcham spent the next five years in commercial advertising (his cartoons were often included in ads for products such as Jell-O Pudding, Mott’s Applesauce, Dentyne chewing gum and Minute Rice) and as a regular contributor to True, Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan and other magazines. On the rare occasion he even made it into The New Yorker, joining the ranks of such luminaries as Charles Addams, Peter Arno, George Price, Saul Steinberg and James Thurber. As such, he became one of the “regular” cartoonists who commuted from Connecticut to Manhattan each Wednesday to drop off cartoons and meet with editors like Gurney Williams at Collier’s and Marion Derrickson at The Saturday Evening Post, where Ketcham would often run into Kirk Stiles, Henry Boltinoff and George Wolfe. (In contrast to Gurney and Derrickson, The New Yorker’s cartoon editor Jim Geraghty reviewed potential cartoons in private, and later sent critiques only to those who showed promise.)
In these magazine cartoons, one can see the development of Ketcham’s unique visual humor (he relied on a bevy of gag writers for the captions) and unerring line, as well as the genesis of a certain endearing troublemaker. In fact, Ketcham would later re-use many magazine cartoon gags and layouts for Dennis the Menace. By the end of the decade, Ketcham grew tired of the East Coast’s extreme climate changes and headed back to California with its smog and earthquakes. After conferring with his friend Virgil Partch, who had long since left Disney for a place on the Monterey Peninsula, he bought a lot in Carmel Woods. The eight-mile valley was filled with cartoonists, including Eldon Dedini (The New Yorker and Playboy), syndicated comic-strip artists Gus Arriola (Gordo) and Frank O’Neal (Short Ribs), and the “Dean of Illustrators,” Al Parker. Ketcham’s redwood house included a small studio and a bedroom occupied by one Dennis Lloyd Ketcham, who was born four years prior. As the story goes, Ketcham was at his drawing table finishing a Saturday Evening Post cartoon one October afternoon in 1950 when he was interrupted by an exasperated wife—their son, instead of taking his nap, had managed to dismantle his room in the course of an hour. “Your son is a menace,” she shot at him. Ketcham’s title for a new strip was born. Just 10 days after submitting the possible feature to his agent, John Kennedy, he received a positive response from Bob Hall, the president of Post Syndicate.
In March 1951, Dennis the Menace made its debut in 16 papers. The strip quickly picked up steam, and by the end of the year appeared in over 100 newspapers. Just two years later, Ketcham received the Reuben Award (then called the Billy DeBeck Memorial Award), the cartooning professionâ€™s highest honor. But as the strip thrived (inspiring a stage musical as well as a live-action and an animated TV series), Ketchamâ€™s family life split apart. He and his first wife were separated when she died in 1959, while he and his son Dennis drifted apart and spoke infrequently later in life. Ketcham married two more times; the last marriage, to Rolande, whom he met during his 17-year stay in Geneva, Switzerland, resulted in two more children: a daughter, Dania King, and a son, Scott Henry. In 1977, Ketcham moved back to Monterey, where he continued to draw Dennis the Menace until he retired from the strip in 1994. He spent the remaining years of his life at his Carmel home, where he painted a series of oil and watercolor portraits of jazz musicians. Though Ketcham succumbed to prostate cancer at the age of 81 on June 1, 2001, his strip lives on in the able hands of his former assistants: Marcus Hamilton, who draws the daily panels, and Ron Ferdinand, who draws the Sundays. This still-beloved strip runs in over 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and in 19 languages.