Johnny America


Re­view: Den­nis the Men­ace Com­ic from the April 28th New York Post


“Den­nis the Men­ace” was cre­at­ed by Hank Ketcham, who mod­eled the ras­cal­ly char­ac­ter of Den­nis on his own son. He died in 2001, but his lega­cy is car­ried on by Ron Fer­di­nand and Mar­cus Hamil­ton. Den­nis’ char­ac­ter is well de­fined and has been used as the sub­ject of an­i­mat­ed and live-ac­tion films and tele­vi­sion shows. He is al­so the long-time spokesmod­el for Dairy Queen.

His main char­ac­ter­is­tics are:

The set­ting is a one pan­el “square” (ac­tu­al­ly about 2.5″ by 4″, in­clud­ing space for the cap­tions), such as is used for car­toons “The Fam­i­ly Cir­cus” (though in­no­v­a­tive cre­ator Bill Keane of­ten places the ac­tion in­side a cir­cle — with hi­lar­i­ous re­sults), and “The Far Side.” The pan­el for April 28th’s com­ic is clev­er­ly di­vid­ed in­to two equal rec­tan­gles, thus pro­vid­ing the car­toon­ists the op­por­tu­ni­ty to more ful­ly ex­plore an event-and-re­ac­tion joke.

The left pan­el shows Den­nis the Men­ace’s long-suf­fer­ing neigh­bor George “Mis­ter” Wil­son from the back stand­ing at an open door. Pre­sum­ably this is the door to his house; out­side there is a seg­ment of a pick­et fence, a bush, and a neigh­bor­ing home. Den­nis is run­ning (we know by the lit­tle clouds trail­ing his feet) be­tween Mr. Wilson’s legs, a grin on his chub­by face. Mr. Wil­son seems un­con­cerned, or per­haps he is mere­ly slow to re­act. It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that his stom­ach seems in­or­di­nate­ly large and lumpy in this frame. It ap­pears he has a mi­crowave un­der his sweater.

Since I’ve men­tioned the sweater, I’d like to men­tion Mr. Wilson’s out­fit. On an­oth­er man, it could be quite hip. He wears a dark-col­ored sweater over a black col­lared shirt, black cig­a­rette pants, and white loafers. His legs seem im­pos­si­bly slen­der for such an enor­mous man. It begs the ques­tion of the physics of Den­nis’ run. Den­nis is short­er than the height of Mr. Wilson’s shelf-like ass, but def­i­nite­ly tall enough that, stand­ing straight, he would give Mr. Wil­son a straight-on head-butt to the crotch. His ac­tu­al height can be as­sumed to be even high­er than shown in the pan­el, since he is shown mid-stride and slight­ly in­clined with the momentum.

The cap­tion says “HI, MISTER WILSON!”

Den­nis wears his typ­i­cal over­alls and a hor­i­zon­tal­ly-striped shirt, and sneak­ers. His right arm is ex­tend­ed in front of him, and slight­ly limp, as seen in zom­bies seek­ing brains. This ap­par­ent­ly is al­so in­tend­ed to con­vey speed. His left hand ap­pears slight­ly be­hind him.

The sec­ond pan­el shows a very close shot of Mr. Wilson’s face in pro­file. His mouth is com­plete­ly ab­sent from the shot, and his mus­tache (which typ­i­cal­ly des­ig­nates his mouth area) is un­de­fined and ap­pears sim­i­lar to the bush­es in the pre­vi­ous pan­el. All at­ten­tion is put in­to draw­ing Mr. Wilson’s dou­ble chin and TWO sets of bags un­der his eyes. Though his face is ba­si­cal­ly ex­pres­sion­less here, one gets the sense of a seething rage cov­ered by a ve­neer of mild an­noy­ance. I al­most ex­pect a third pan­el show­ing Den­nis fil­let­ed on the porch like Mr. Wilson’s bass catch.

The cap­tion for the sec­ond pan­el is “HE DOESN’T VISIT… HE INVADES.”

The un­trained eye might think this a mild con­dem­na­tion, but look again. Any ex­pe­ri­enced read­er of car­toons rec­og­nizes that a car­toon char­ac­ter can­not make any state­ment with­out in­clud­ing an ex­cla­ma­tion point. Not so, for Mr. Wil­son. The use of a pe­ri­od here im­plies a sense of fi­nal­i­ty that seems omi­nous for Dennis.

Oth­er fore­shad­ow­ing of im­pend­ing doom are a shad­ing on Mr. Wilson’s ex­treme­ly bul­bous nose in the sec­ond pan­el. It’s pos­si­ble he has been drink­ing, or that the rage he is oth­er­wise able to con­trol shows it­self in some over­ac­tive blood ves­sels here. His eyes are so nar­row as to be prac­ti­cal­ly in­vis­i­ble. The ge­nius of the car­toon­ists’ work here is that we are left to fill in what will hap­pen next. Some might think Den­nis is like­ly to es­cape un­harmed, since he is small and quick. Oth­ers may ex­pect the saint­ly Mrs. Wil­son to step in. Some will think that Mr. Wilson’s bron­tosaurus-size be­lies his wi­ley ways.

An­oth­er read­ing of this car­toon would be that the car­toon­ists are us­ing their plat­form to sub­tly crit­i­cize the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions in the Mid­dle East. Do you mean, Mr. Fer­di­nand and Mr. Hamil­ton, that the “Den­nis the Men­ace” that is the Unit­ed States is us­ing the pre­text of vis­it­ing to in­vade the “Mr. Wilson’s House” of Iraq? Could we fur­ther as­sume that “Den­nis” is seek­ing the “choco­late chip cook­ies” of oil?

One thing I think we can safe­ly say here is that this par­tic­u­lar Den­nis the Men­ace car­toon is not what one could call clas­si­cal­ly fun­ny. These comics are meant to amuse, so when they don’t we have to ask our­selves: why? I think the an­swer is ob­vi­ous here; the au­thors are chal­leng­ing us to ask some dif­fi­cult ques­tions. And some of these ques­tions may nev­er have sat­is­fac­to­ry answers.

Filed under Comics on April 29th, 2004

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Reader Comments

############ wrote:

Hel­lo Emi­ly, nice to see your work and this site. If i ever write any­thing i will post it. Fam­i­ly friend Susan

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