SPOILER ALERT: This one slipped by me.
As revelations go, it is a year old.
It may well remain shocking and cause trauma if not prepared.
Does it answer a question or open bigger mysteries?
The other week I picked up a copy of The Beano for the first time in ages. If you are not familiar with The Beano, it is the last bastion of traditional British weekly comics, published by Scotland’s DC Thomson for more than 75 years.
Much imitated, satirised and occasionally derided, it is more significant than 2000AD and at its peak sold in millions. Over the decades it has spawned an assortment of iconic characters and acquired celebrity fans such as Phil Lynott, Mark Hamill and Joan Armatrading (who have both made “guest” appearances).
The Beano’s original 1938 cover star was an ostrich, Big Eggo (inspiration for Michael Moorcock’s super-computer Big Ego) who would get tied up in all kinds of scrapes.
In 1948, the big bird was replaced by Biffo the Bear who had a variety of occupations over the years. Sometimes Biffo could be shown just having fun, other times he was hoist on his own petard, or he could be the underdog enjoying an ironic revenge on anyone who had crossed him. One exception might be a punky little brat who rolled up in a half page strip in Beano No 452, published in March 1951.
Drawn by Davey Law, Dennis The Menace was an unruly tyke who spread disorder and disobedience wherever he went. Gaining a distinctive red and black striped jumper Dennis became an unstoppable force of nature. he had his own hardback annual by 1956. His iconic pet, Gnasher, an Abyssinian-Wirehaired-Tripehound joined the fray in 1968. (Dennis also has a pet pig, Rasher. One Eighties issue has Dennis’s Dad calling all to heel with a cry “Enough of this piggery-jokery.” An editor of mine was so impressed with this line, that we had a mad quest to find a pig related story that we could rip it off in a headline).
Dennis took over The Beano cover spot in 1974 and has remained there ever since. He and Gnasher have enjoyed a certain notoriety, several tv spin-offs, postage stamps, and all kinds of merchandise. Several stunt story lines have punctuated the normal weekly chaos. Gnasher goes missing and later turns up with that French poodle and a litter of pups. Gnasher and Gnipper get a page for their own adventures outside the main strip. Something is up with Mum. She’s expecting a baby. Dennis gets a baby sister, Bea.
So last week’s issue had Dennis alienating his friends and under threat of leaving The Beano, banished forever to Nuttytown (by the way, Nutty was another DC Thomson comic which gave us Bananaman). As a stunt it was nipped in the bud this week by a hippo and a dreamscape sequence after Dennis was hypnotised by his Gran (except she’s not who I thought).
As I mentioned, I haven’t read The Beano for a few years and was dismissive of the new look Mum and Dad. It was almost as if social services had intervened and carted the wayward child off to another family who were equally incapable of keeping him in check. Where was Bea I wondered? Which in itself was a clue.
If I had been reading in April last year, a few panels would have revealed the truth. That’s not Dennis on the cover!
They’ve done a Dan Dare and slipped through a generational shift, the Dennis of old is now “Dad”, an area salesman no less, and that’s Dennis Junior on the cover. When this change occurred has never been explicitly stated but it was acknowledged last year and has been hinted at in other issues. The idea of Dennis as an eternal eight-year-old has been knocked on the head.
Hang on, there’s little Bea with Mum Menace, so that’s my Auntie Bea theory out the window. (Except when she was born “Old Dad” was clearly in play? Something strange is going on).
But it begs the question, is Gnasher still himself or a wire-brush clone? Was Rasher packed off to the bacon factory? Why does adult Dennis look like Roger The Dodger? Are there several generations of Bash Street Kids out there? Is that a mini-Minnie The Minx a few pages in? I think we should be told!
Last year, DC Thomson’s Mike Stirling told Wired magazine: “There’s no definable lineage, but there can only ever be one Dennis at any time. It serves as a salutary warning that even the coolest kids can become boring grown-ups. Everyone should always read The Beano as an antidote to this!”
There you go, reading comics cures all ills!
Pistols drawn! Dennis The Menace as drawn by Hank Ketcham first appeared as a daily syndicated newspaper strip in the USA on March 12, 1951. In the UK, Dennis The Menace first appeared in The Beano, issue 452, dated March 17, 1951. At first glance it looks like Ketcham’s strip got there first, but the Beano date is a week-ending, so that issue would have been out on March 10, or in selected areas from March 7. It is tight, but UK Dennis leads by five to two days.