About Henry King "Hank" Ketcham
Henry King "Hank" Ketcham (March 14, 1920 – June 1, 2001) 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. His great-grandfather was James Weaver, who ran for President two times on third party tickets in the late 19th century. 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 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.
He made his first journey abroad, for an exchange of cartoons, to the Soviet Union in 1959. Learning of this trip, the Central Intelligence Agency enlisted him to draw anything that could be of use to the United States during those cold war days. If he saw something he would draw it in his sketch book, and if the flight attendant would happen to walk by, he would draw a big nose and eyes to disguise the sketch into a funny face. According to his recollection this resulted in a sketch book full of funny faces and undecipherable sketches.
Ketcham's first wife Alice Louise Mahar died in 1959 of a drug overdose. Hank and Alice were separated at the time of her death. 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. This marriage ended in divorce. In 1977, he moved back to the United States and settled in Monterey, California with his third wife the former Rolande Praepost, whom he had married in 1969, and had two children, Scott and Dania. Ketcham and his son Dennis drifted apart, and were estranged for much of Dennis's adult life.
Later Life and Retirement
When his Dennis The Menace comic became more than a daily page, Ketcham hired his friends Al Wiseman (a cartoonist) and Fred Toole (a writer) to produce the color Sunday strips and also the many Dennis The Menace comic books that were published. There were always writers who contributed to Dennis the Menace. People from around the country sent captions to him in the mail 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, Ketcham's former assistants, Marcus Hamilton and Ron Ferdinand, took over drawing the strip. At the time of Ketcham's death it was distributed to more than 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and 19 languages, by King Features Syndicate.
Ketcham 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 the Menace. Also, Fantagraphics Books published the complete Dennis by Ketcham from the start of the strip, in thick volumes collecting two years per book.
Ketcham died of prostate cancer on June 1, 2001. He was survived by his oldest son Dennis, his third wife, Rolande, and their two children Dania and Scott.