Focus on Dennis the Menace, comic icon

Posted by John Reynolds on

Icon is over-used but Dennis the Menace is surely worthy of the word. 

The flagship character of The Beano, the long-running British children's comic, leapt into the country's hearts in the 1950s, and since then has become practically the country's mascot. Perhaps it's his unruly character which appeals so much to us – perhaps we admire his lack of respect for authority. 

The way he's drawn makes him a gift to the screenprinter - those bold reds and blacks make for very strong prints. 

However he didn't start out that way: the first strip was only in black in white, in fact he didn't even wear his trademark striped football jersey: he was in his school uniform, complete with tie. And for the first few years, red wasn't always his colour - in albums his stories would show him in green or yellow if the spot colour arrangement in which the books were printed dictated that.

Dennis was joined by Gnasher in the 1960s, and has been identified as a wire-haired Abyssinian tripehound (as if such a breed existed).

The UK's Dennis was first published by DC Thomson in March 1953, and by complete co-incidence a  strip featuring an American youngster also called Dennis the Menace appeared that same month. That character is also a source of exasperation to the adult world but he's blond and essentially well meaning, which our Dennis is emphatically not. Ours is Satan incarnate - he goes looking for trouble. He loves causing chaos. His favourite toys - the catapult, the peashooter - are kinds of weapon. One wonders why he's so close to our hearts.