Monday, August 20, 2018

Dennis the (British) Menace

Beano #3560 (DC Thomson; Nov. 13, 2010; £1.35)
When I was much younger, thanks to two generous pen pals, I became intrigued by British comic books. Other than the British Marvel reprints I could sometimes come across, purely British titles such as Beano and Eagle—and later, 2000 AD—reminded me more of Japanese manga than American comics. Though much thinner each issue than the Japanese news-pulp phone books, the British titles were anthology titles, featuring multiple shorter stories, often in serial form, and featuring different artists and writers. They were weekly. And you could subscribe by giving your newsagent a cut-out coupon that basically said, "Save me a copy every week." (This was before the direct market in the States, and before pull service, so it kind of blew my mind.)

Beano, the presumably most popular title mostly targeting younger boys, was doubly intriguing because it featured a character named Dennis the Menace. But not... our Dennis the Menace. While the American Dennis the Menace created by Hank Ketcham in the early '50s is a portly overalls-wearing all-American boy with a slingshot and nuclear family complete with working father and stay-at-home mother, later appearing on television—the British Dennis the Menace, with rugby shirt and mussed hair, is more along the lines of Donald Rooum's Wildcat comic strips appearing in the anarchist paper Freedom since 1980.

The British comic—originally launching in 1938 and still publishing today—hasn't changed a heck of a lot over the decades. Here is a relatively recent issue I read this weekend:

Dennis and Gnasher—two pages, by Tom Paterson: The red and black-striped shirted ruffian pranks Walter into believing there's a Hound of Beanotown Moor using a shovel, his dog Gnasher, and "the steam from my pies."

Billy Whiz—one page, by Nick Brennan: Two of Billy Whiz's friends figure out how to make snowball fights more fun for him with the aid of a tennis ball machine.

Minnie the Minx—two pages, by Ken H. Harrison: The female version of Dennis the Menace, Minnie—wearing a similar black and white-striped shirt—follows a treasure map and obstacle course, defeating the Haarm brothers and overcoming physical obstacles in order to get to school on time.

Meebo & Zuky—one page, by Laura Howell: A cat and chubby dog, rivals, get each other's goats using musical instruments, including "a lovely double bass."

Calamity James—one page, uncredited: James has obtained an ice lolly from World of Lollies but trips on a little squelchy thingy, angering Mungo McChung, combined Kung Fu and Highland Fling world champion. Another little squelchy thingy propels him into a vat of lime ice lolly mixture, which is problematic.

The Numskulls—two pages, by Barry Glennard: Edd's head is populated by a handful of little creatures similar to Highlights magazine's Timbertoes. He gets invited to a party, but it's a fancy dress party (British English for costume party, natch), so he hastily constructs a costume using breadsticks and a stuffed bird costume sewn inside his mouth. Edd wins first prize, and the Numskulls retract his tongue on its roller.

Ratz—one page, by Hunt Emerson (!!!): This might be the highlight of the issue. Long-time British underground cartoonist Emerson offers this strip about a rat who is nervous about not sleeping, only to wake his friends when he finally does.

The Bash Street Kids—two pages, uncredited: Teacher hires a mobile school radio station to broadcast to Beanotown, but the Head distracts him and the kids to take over the station himself. "He wanted to do his 'cool' DJ act. Ha-ha!"

Ivy the Terrible—one page, by Diego Jourdan: Ivy doesn't want to eat too many eggs, so she uses her mother's face cream and a feather pillow to dress up like a chicken, thereby fooling her mother.

Fred's Bed—two pages, by Tom Paterson: Fred has a time traveling bed. In this episode, he meets Tarzan, lord of the jungle. Frightened by a snake, alligators, and an elephant, Fred returns home.

The Three Bears—one page, by Mike Pearse: Perhaps a reprint, the bears trick Frank into abandoning his post guarding the store. They eat his food.

Robbie Rebel—two pages, by Ken H. Harrison: Robbie's parents ask him to close the door because he wasn't born in a cave. So he dreams about being born in a cave. In the dream, he helps start a fire, hits Cheryl over the head, improves on the recently invented wheel—and wakes only to be frightened by his parents' fancy dress party costumes: cavemen!

Roger the Dodger—two pages, uncredited: Roger tries to get out of PE by forging a note, but nothing doing.  He tries to get out of playing football twice using botany and a dummy, only to become the butt of a brutal dodgeball game.

60 Second Dennis—one page, uncredited: Dennis the Menace gets out of shoveling snow by making a snowman decoy and using a shovel as a sled. His father is not pleased.

Each issue includes reader photos, usually with their collection of Beano back issues ("I've got so many Beano annuals, I can even use them as a chair!"), as well as jokes, giveaways, and reader-submitted art.

Availability: I do not know whether this issue has been reprinted, but the Beano annuals make great samplers, as do the Sixty Years of Beano and Dandy collections Focus on the Fifties, Funshine and Laughter, History of Fun, and Side by Side, as well as Dandy and Beano Present an Alphabet of Fun.

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