The Changing Face of Dennis the Menace
By Will Barber – Taylor
Dennis the Menace is a cultural legend like Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Doctor Who. Like all these other great, timeless characters, he has changed. Unlike Bond, Holmes or The Doctor, Dennis is primarily a comic character so the change between each “incarnation” of Dennis is harder to see than with the different Holmes for example. Let us start with the first “incarnation” of Dennis the Menace (A note: This Dennis should not be confused with the American Dennis the Menace who appeared at the same time as our hero but over in America.)
Dennis the Menace “Incarnation” One: 1951-1970
Dennis’s first “incarnation” appeared on the covers of the Beano in 1951 where he was drawn by David Law. Dennis was very different to how he is now. He was much tougher, although even back in the early days he had his trade mark red and black jumper. Often, at the end of stories, Dennis would be smacked on the bottom by a slipper as punishment for his antics previously in the strip. This was common practice back in the 1950’s. If we compare Dennis at the beginning of Law’s work in 1951 with the end of Law’s work in 1970, Dennis was taller in 1970 than he was in 1951! No one knows why Law did this. It could be suggested that as Law was a perfectionist, he needed Dennis to grow. David Law sadly died in 1970. By this time, Dennis had been promoted to the back and front pages of the Beano and in full colour. It was time for a new major change to the Dennis strip, the beginning of a new artist, David Sutherland.
Dennis the Menace “Incarnation” Two: 1970-1998
Dennis was about to undergo more changes. After the addition of his pal Gnasher during Law’s time as the artist, Dennis would meet Curly (who had appeared briefly in previous strips.) and Pie Face. For most of Sutherland’s times as artist they would be called “The Menaces.” This showed a profound change in the makeup and ideas of Dennis. Until Gnasher appeared, during the 70’s, Dennis had been alone in his menacing. Now there was a full gang of Menaces. Times were changing and so was Dennis. It was out with the corporal punishment of the previous era and in with a new fresh Dennis. It was time for Dennis to clean up rather than be smacked on his bottom. Sutherland was later told to make Dennis less teenage; his editor claimed he needed Dennis to be more childlike for the new Beano animations. Subsequently, Dennis became more like a child as he went into the 2000s. Dennis was to undergo another change of artist and a change of direction.
Dennis the Menace: “Incarnation” Three (1998-2003)
Dennis’s new artist was David Parkins. He brought even more change to the Dennis strip. Gnasher, The Menaces, Dennis’s parents and the Softies were still central, but a new character was to emerge during Parkins’s era. The new character was Bea, Dennis’s younger sister. She was and still is as much of a Menace as Dennis is. Also, during this period, Dennis started to be involved with other Beano characters. After Dennis’s 50th anniversary, Parkin could not keep up with the vast Menace workload and had to leave the post as artist. This would lead to more change, but not as much as had gone on before.
Dennis the Menace: “Incarnation” Four (2004-2010)
Nigel Parkinson, Jimmy Hansen and Tom Paterson became Dennis’s artists after Parkins left. This change, unlike the previous changes, was not that drastic. Dennis, Gnasher, The Menaces and co. continued in the direction that they had been going in under Parkin. In 2009 however, Dennis changed for good. The Beano became in co-production with the BBC for a new animated series. (The previous Dennis series had been in the 90s and had run successfully for two series.) Dennis was to be completely revamped. The entire way Dennis was drawn was to change, as were all the familiar characters. Bea was side-lined and so were the Menace parents. The emphasis was to be on the idea that Dennis was no longer a Menace but just a kid trying to have fun. This announced change proved to anger some people. Indeed, when this new incarnation of Dennis appeared, lots of people felt the strip had betrayed its roots. In 2010 Nigel Parkinson, Jimmy Hansen and Tom Paterson left the role as Dennis’s artists and a new artist took over….
Dennis the Menace “Incarnation”: Five (2010-????)
Barrie Appleby took over as Dennis’s artist. The style was the same; Appleby drew the same Dennis as had appeared in the TV series. This Dennis, however, was different. The 2009- early 2010 version had not been a deliberate Menace. The Dennis Appleby draws, however, seems to have reverted back personality wise to the Dennis who was first introduced to us back in 1951. He may not look the same and he has definitely changed, but one thing you can say is: Dennis is still a Menace after 61 years.
- The Trial of Dennis the Menace – review (guardian.co.uk)
- The Trial of Dennis The Menace – audio slideshow (guardian.co.uk)
- Royal Mail to release new set of stamps featuring The Beano and The Dandy (dailymail.co.uk)
- Dundee comic legends on Royal Mail stamps (changebydesign.wordpress.com)
- Beano Edition of Triathlon 220 (itriwetri.co)
- James Moore: Even Dennis the Menace would balk at this trick (independent.co.uk)
- New Personalised Dennis The Menace & Beano Gifts (prweb.com)