Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dennis Sunday Pages

I've probably posted this Sunday page before in a post on another topic with other people's art, but it's worth its own post.

I love these early Dennis The Menace Sunday pages. They are masterpieces of design and layout.
Ist of all the whole page is layed out well, each panel fits and contrasts well with all the other panels.1st of all Ketham has a very "modern" style. In other words, it's graphic, has some angles; it's not made of generic 40s spheres and pears. But that knowledge and foundation is behind his variations on it.

He started out as an animator and designed this character for some navy cartoons in the 40s.You can see him starting to break away from the purely generic Preston Blair style here. It's half pears and spheres style, and half "modern" style.
here's the generic 40s design style to compare to

Have you ever seen the Clampett cartoon starring Ketcham's Hook character! Wow! It gives you a sense of how Clampett would have handled more stylized animation, had he stayed on at Warners into the 50s.

Ketcham doesn't think in terms of designing each little piece. Instead, he crafts the whole composition as a design, and then goes and fills it in with details that conform to rather than detract from the overall graphic statement. His use of negative shapes is phenomenal. Each neg space is a design in itself.

I like how that desk is in silhouette while the characters are full color. There is so much information in the shapes that make up the desk, that there's no question what it is - and note how small the details are in comparison with the overall shape of the desk. Small details don't break up a large image. Big details compete with the objects they are part of. This should be taught in every cartoon school today!

Even the curling lamp neck makes a really beautiful negative shape that then in turn relates to all the other shapes, both positive and negative around it.
His poses are always strong, definite and customized to the story and the characters.
Pure silhouettes were a standard technique in old comic strips. Ketcham was an expert. I noticed that the lines of action of the adult characters in silhouette are less extreme than the lines of action in the younger characters. Makes perfect sense to me
Someone told me that Ketcham didn't do all the Sunday pages himself, but whoever did was following his style very closely.

To me, this kind of work is real design - it's not just abstract stylized shapes for the sake of them.

Everything is tightly controlled and thought out, has a purpose and reads very clearly. There is no wonkiness about it.

Check out Ger's site for lots of great Ketcham art.


Ger Apeldoorn said...

John, I also have trouble believe that this (and other early pages) is not by Ketcham. If you have the Fantagraphics collectioon, you can see that it follows his early style just as well as the later Sundays follow his later style. So either the ghost was following Ketcham's progress very closely or Ketcham had a hand in the early years himself. I also beliee that Mr. Wilson waas shown and naemd in the Sundays first, something I don't think would have happened if Al Wiseman (the first and most important ghost Ketcham use don the Sundays) and his writer (the name escapes me now) had total freedom, which they did have later on when Ketcham moved to Switzerland. Also, if you have a look at the recent Hogan's Alley article about the current Dennis artist, you'll see how much control Ketcham kept over his successor, often correcting or redrawing sketches long after he was supposed to have given it over.

Niki said...

I actually found a Dennis web page a while back, but it only had single panel pages.

HemlockMan said...

I love seeing silhouettes done in comics. When they're done well. Carl Barks used them from time to time--often in backgrounds. He was great at it, too.

When I was a little kid I used to wonder if some of the comic artists wrote their own stories. One day I was reading a Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge story and in the background there was a tiny silhouette of a "man" (a duck, really) leading an elephant by the trunk. Seeing that one tiny detail, I suddenly realized that only the man who wrote the story could have illustrated that panel. In that instant I knew that this guy was writing AND drawing the stories. Of course I didn't even know Barks' name, then. I was only eight years old and Carl Barks was just a cog in the corporate wheel. All I knew was that his duck stories were the best.

Larry Levine said...

Henry King Ketcham was a cartooning giant.

Shawn Dickinson said...

You should check out this book, "Where's Dennis?--The Magazine Art of Hank Ketcham", which has a lot of his non-Dennis cartoons and illustrations. Really great stuff:

Hans Flagon said...

I don't think it is Ketchum. Anyone that has the Ketchum biographys around might check and see which assistant might have been coached thru this.
Possibly Wiseman before he got it under his belt better? Did the Sundays use the assistants before any comics were put together?

I think it may not be Hank because of Dennis and his parents faces. The closing panel is the most like Ketchums daily panels especially for Dennis and Alice, although hang is still a bit off.

The line and layout is certianly there though.

Ted said...

Wouldn't this be a good place to plug Cartoons For Victory, what with its Hook cartoons and your commentary?

smbhax said...

Love the silhouettes. Thanks for the insights and the background on Ketcham.

This inspired me to look up some info on him, and I found he was born right here in Seattle, WA. Wikipedia says he took up painting full time after he stopped doing the strip in 1994--can't seem to find much at all in the way of photos of his paintings on the internet, drat. :|

Oh! And a mini-bio on him on (second one)

mentions that he stopped doing the Sunday strips in the mid-80's, so maybe that's what the person who mentioned he didn't do them all was thinking of. Since the one you posted's from '52, that would mean it's his own work, unless he was part-timing them way back then, but I haven't come across any mention of that.

Pilsner Panther said...

Ketcham was an amazing draftsman, but the content of "Dennis" got to be very repetitive after a while. Maybe after the strip became a TV show? Formula thinking set in, as it often does when creative people have a lot of money waved under their noses.

Hank did some watercolor paintings of early jazz bands and jazz dances that are really beautiful. Too bad I don't have them to post, but they're probably under copyright, and I'd be sued if I did. That, I don't need.