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 Hank (Henry King) Ketcham  (1920 - 2001)

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Lived/Active: California / Switzerland      Known for: cartoons, illustration

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Ad Code: 3
Hank Ketcham
from Auction House Records.
Dennis The Menace Sunday Comic Strip Original Art, dated 2-3-52 (Post-Hall Syndicate Inc., 1952)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from the artist's obituary, The New York Times, June 2, 2001.

"Hank Ketcham, Father of Dennis the Menace, Dies at 81"

Hank Ketcham, who fathered the cartoon character Dennis the Menace, the freckle-face scamp in droopy overalls whose mischievous childhood has endured for 50 years and amused a worldwide audience, died yesterday at his home in Carmel, Calif.  He was 81.

In March a half-century of the publication of Dennis the Menace cartoons was celebrated, with the panel running in 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and 19 languages. "Mischief just seems to follow wherever Dennis appears, but it is the product of good intentions, misdirected helpfulness, good-hearted generosity and, possibly, an overactive thyroid," Mr. Ketcham wrote in his 1990 autobiography, "The Merchant of Dennis the Menace."

"But what a dull world it would be without any Dennises in it! Peaceful, maybe but dull." Only yesterday, Dennis, holding a jar containing a spider, told the neighbor girl: "Stop screamin', Margaret! You'll scare him!"

In one of the early cartoons, Dennis stood between his mother and her tea guest with a fur coat draped over his arms, saying, "I showed Mrs. Taylor your new fur coat, Mom, but she didn't turn green like you said she would."

In another cartoon, a defiant Dennis told Mom: "Don't shout at me! I'm not your husband!"

Besides the newspaper cartoons, the fictional Dennis inspired by Mr. Ketcham's little boy of the same name, who grew up to live a troubled life gave rise to books of cartoons, a musical, a television series, a film and the Dennis the Menace Playground in Monterey, Calif.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his cartoon creation, Mr. Ketcham told The Associated Press: "It's a joyful pursuit realizing that you're trying to ease the pain of front-page news or television. There's some bright little spot in your day that reminds you that it's fun to smile."

Mr. Ketcham was pursuing a career as a freelance cartoonist in October 1950, when his first wife, the former Alice Mahar, burst into his studio to complain that their 4-year- old, Dennis, who was supposed to be napping, had instead wrecked his bedroom. "Your son is a menace," she shouted. Only five months passed before 16 newspapers began carrying the adventures of the impish but innocent "Dennis the Menace." By May 1953, 193 newspapers in the United States and 52 abroad were carrying Dennis's antics and remarks to 30 million readers.

As the popularity of the cartoons swelled, Mr. Ketcham remained unaware of their impact for some time. But later his travels prompted him to say, "Holy smoke, how come everybody knows about Dennis?"

A few years after the birth of "Dennis the Menace," Mr. Ketcham said, "This little slave driver has kept my nose to the drawing board continuously, while doing nothing himself but annoy the neighbors, startle his parents, confound his teachers and in general have himself a rousing good time."

The real-life Dennis was 12 in 1959 when his mother died of a drug overdose.  Mr. Ketcham took the boy to live with him in Geneva, where he spent some 20 years before moving back to California in 1977.  But Dennis had difficulty with his schooling and was sent to boarding school in Connecticut while Mr. Ketcham remained in Switzerland with his second wife, the former Jo Anne Stevens.  The marriage ended in divorce.  Dennis Ketcham served in Vietnam, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and had little contact with his father.  "He's living in the East somewhere doing his own thing," Mr. Ketcham said in March. "That's just a chapter that was a short one that closed, which unfortunately happens in some families."

Mr. Ketcham is also survived by his third wife, the former Rolande Praepost and their two children, Scott and Dania, all of Carmel, Calif. Henry King Ketcham, a son of Weaver Vinson Ketcham and the former Virginia Emma King, was born in Seattle on March 14, 1920. In his autobiography, Mr. Ketcham wrote that the seed of his career was planted when an advertising
artist who was a friend of his father came to their house and sketched the comic strip characters Moon Mullins, Andy Gump and Barney Google. Mr. Ketcham said he couldn't wait to borrow the man's "magic pencil."  He was then no more than 6.

He dropped out of the University of Washington in his freshman year in 1938 to pursue his childhood dream.  He found work as an animator for Walter Lantz, the creator of Woody Woodpecker, and later at $25 a week for Walt Disney, applying his talent to animated films such as "Fantasia" (1940), "Pinocchio" (1940) and "Bambi" (1942) before serving in the Navy in World War II and drew cartoons for military posters, training purposes and War Bond sales.

Afterward, he moved to Carmel to devote himself to freelance cartooning.  In 1994 he retired from producing "Dennis the Menace" cartoons, which continue at the hands of a team of artists and writers, and devoted himself to paintings, oils and watercolors that depicted jazz musicians, women's faces, other cartoonists and golfing scenes.

Mr. Ketcham once recalled his first journey abroad, in 1959, to the Soviet Union for an exchange of cartoons. The trip prompted the Central Intelligence Agency to enlist him to draw anything that might be useful to the United States in those cold war days. "We were flying from Moscow to Kiev, and it was during the day and I looked out the window and I saw some shapes," Mr. Ketcham said. "I had my sketch book, and I would put them down, and the flight attendant would walk by, and I would put a big nose and some eyes and make the whole thing into a funny face. So I had a whole book of funny- face cartoons at the end that I didn't know how to read."

Long afterward, Mr. Ketcham encountered a C.I.A. official and mentioned his adventure, saying: "I'm sorry. I didn't have anything to report." To which the official replied, "Yeah, I know, Hank, we haven't sent any more cartoonists on any more missions."

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Hank Ketcham, the creator of Dennis the Menace, was born in Seattle, Washington. In 1938, he attended the University of Washington.  His education in art began with a job in film animation the following year.  He worked in Hollywood for Walter Lantz Productions at Universal Studios before moving to Walt Disney Productions. He made contributions to both Pinocchio and Fantasia.

Ketcham was the son and grandson of naval officers.  Born Henry King Ketcham, he joined the Navy in 1941, and for the next four years was a chief photographic specialist for the United States Naval Reserve in Washington, D.C.  At the same time, he wrote and drew a comic strip named Half Hitch. This was about a hapless little sailor a sort of a naval Sad Sack for the camp newspaper.

For three years after World War II, Ketcham free-lanced gag cartoons and advertising art from his home in Westport, Connecticut, making rounds in New York City with his sketches.  In 1948, he moved to California, where he developed the idea for the panel series, Dennis the Menace.  The concept was developed from his then four-year-old son, Dennis.  Donald Hall had just started the Post-Hall Syndicate and was looking for new material.  He saw Ketcham's roughs in October 1950, and offered him a contract.

In March of the next year, the feature debuted in 18 papers, and the tow-headed whirlwind of energy was on his way to becoming an American institution and part of the national vocabulary.  The innocently mischievous Dennis Mitchell, and his bewildered family, earned Ketcham the first Billy DeBeck Award (later renamed the Reuben) as Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year from the National Cartoonists Society in 1952, and the Silver T-Square Award in 1978.

Ketcham's first wife, Alice, died in 1958.  She was the model for Dennis' cartoon mother Alice Mitchell.  Ketcham remarried and moved to Switzerland, where he would remain in Geneva for the next 18 years.  With the help of "a great memory and a Sears Roebuck catalog" for reference, he would continue to draw his warm, affectionate vignettes of a cozy middle-American family and their energetic child. During this period, he also wrote a humorous travel book about a trip he had taken to Russia (I Wanna Go Home, McGraw-Hill, 1959), and from 1970 to 1975 he brought back Half Hitch as a daily and Sunday feature, drawn by Dick Hodgins and distributed by King Features Syndicate.  In 1970, Ketcham married for a third time, and returned to California eight years later so their two young children could attend American schools.

After more that a third of a century, the indefatigable little mischief-maker continues to occupy much of Ketcham's time.  He admits to having wearied of the daily demands the feature places on him.  Two assistants now draw the Sunday strip and take care of the numerous books that Dennis generates.  Ketcham has expressed the hope of one day turning the whole industry he has created over to them. "As a matter of fact," he reported in 1986, "I've been getting more grumpy as the years tick by and often yearn for freedom. Time to travel, write, play golf, to develop other properties, to goof off."

Ron Goulart, editor; The Encyclopedia of American Comics, edited by Ron Goulart.)

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