04 February, 2009
Henry King "Hank" Ketcham was an American cartoonist who created the Dennis the Menace comic strip, writing and drawing it from 1951 to 1994, when he retired from drawing the daily page and took up painting full time in his studio at his home. He received the Reuben Award for the strip in 1953. The strip continues today in the hands of other artists.
Hank Ketcham was born in Seattle, Washington. He was the son of Weaver Vinson Ketcham and Virginia King. When he was 6 years old, his father had a guest over for dinner who was an illustrator. After dinner, he showed Hank his "magic pencil" and drew some illustrations. Hank was immediately hooked and soon his father set up a small desk in the closet of his bedroom at which he could draw.
After graduating from Queen Anne High School in 1937, Hank attended the University of Washington but dropped out after his first year and hitchhiked to Los Angeles hoping to work for Walt Disney.
Hank Ketcham started in the business as an animator for Walter Lantz and eventually Walt Disney, where he worked on films such as Fantasia, Bambi, and Pinocchio. During World War II, Ketcham worked as a photographic specialist with the US Navy Reserve. Also while in the Navy he drew a cartoon called "Half Hitch". After World War II, he settled in Carmel, California, and began work as a freelance cartoonist.
In 1951 he started Dennis The Menace, based on his own 4-year-old son Dennis Ketcham.
Ketcham's first wife died in 1959. Ketcham married for a second time to Jo Anne Stevens and moved with her and Dennis to Geneva, Switzerland , where he lived from 1960 to 1977, while still producing Dennis the Menace. In 1977, he moved back to the United States and settled in Monterey, California with his third wife the former Rolande Praepost, whom he married in 1969, and had two children, Scott and Dania.
Ketcham was in his studio in October 1950, when his first wife, Alice Mahar, burst in studio and complained that their 4-year- old, Dennis, had wrecked his bedroom instead of napping.
"Your son is a menace," she shouted.
Within five months 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 the strip to 30 million readers. It is now written and drawn by Ketcham's former assistants, Marcus Hamilton and Ron Ferdinand, and distributed to more than 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and 19 languages by King Features Syndicate.
When his Dennis The Menace comic became more than a daily page, Ketcham hired some artists to draw the colorized Sunday strips and also the many Dennis The Menace comic books that were published. There were always writers who contributed to Dennis the Menace, these were captions sent to him in the mail by people from around the country, and he would go through them and find one that he liked and draw a comic to match it.
When he retired from drawing the daily page, he let this team take over and continue to draw Dennis. He spent his last years in peaceful retirement in his home in Carmel, California, painting many originals in oil and watercolor. Many of his fine paintings can be seen in a hospital in nearby Monterey, California. In this period he also wrote a memoir The Merchant of Dennis. Dennis is still being produced today.
Ketcham died of prostate cancer on June 1, 2001.