Hank Ketcham
14 March 1920 - 1 June 2001

Hank Ketcham was born on March 14, 1920, in Seattle; he wanted to be a cartoonist since age 6. In 1938, Hank left college after his freshman year. He went to California to work as an animator, first for Walter Lantz, creator of Woody Woodpecker. Later Hank worked for Walt Disney, where he helped draw "Bambi" and Donald Duck shorts. During World War II, Hank joined the Navy, and kept drawing-- but now for training material and posters. After the war, Hank was a freelance cartoonist and drew magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post. But his dream of having his own comic strip still eluded him.

Hank was living in Carmel, in October 1950, when his wife Alice, worn out by their misbehaving kid, snapped at Hank one day: "Your son is a menace!" History was about to be made. The mischievous adventures of his 4-year-old son Dennis gave Hank fodder to create the famous comic strip, which made its debut on March 12, 1951, in 16 newspapers, and was an instant hit. Hank named Mr. Wilson after a teacher he'd known, and Dennis' friend Gina was named after Gina Lollobrigida. Hank was doing the strip daily, but eventually the work load was too heavy for one person, and Hank built up a staff with comedy writers. His work led to the live action "Dennis the Menace" (1959) TV series, which ran on CBS from 1959 to 1963, and is fondly remembered by baby boomers everywhere. The entire country loved it, and Hank recalled: "I set the whole thing in Wichita, Kansas, and as a result I got made an honorary mayor of Wichita."

The newspaper funnies gave rise to collected works of his strips, 50 million "Dennis the Menace" books have been sold. In real life, Hank remarried, then his 2nd marriage ended in divorce. He married a 3rd time, to Rolande, and they had 2 wonderful children, Scott and Dania. The comic strip continued to have tremendous success. Hank stopped drawing the Sunday funnies in the mid-1980s. There was a "Dennis" musical, and a 1993 movie. Hank retired from drawing the weekday sketches in 1994, leaving the work to assistants, but he was still overseeing it.

March 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of "Dennis the Menace," now running in 1,000 newspapers. Hank died on June 1, 2001, at his home in Pebble Beach; he was 81. In an interview, Hank had shared his thoughts on his creation: "There's some little bright spot in your day that reminds you that it's fun to smile."


Hank Ketcham took inspiration from the antics of his then-4-year-old son and created and launched one of the most successful comic strips in syndication. The year was 1951 and, before Ketcham's death in 2001, Dennis the Menace had become a familiar panel in the funny papers in at least 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and in 19 languages. From early on Ketcham assembled a team of writers and artists to produce the strip, and only in 1994 did he retire altogether from it, turning over the helm to his team.

Henry King Ketcham grew up in Seattle and claims that he was no more than 6 years old when he discovered that he wanted to be a cartoonist. He had watched a family friend sketch Barney Google and other then-popular cartoon figures and "couldn't wait to borrow his 'magic pencil' and try" creating his own magic sketching cartoon characters. Eventually, his success in drawing was the impetus for dropping out of the University of Washington while a freshman in 1938 and trying his hand in Hollywood where he contributed as an animator to Walter Lantz' work and then that other Walter (a.k.a Walt) at Disney's studios. Ketcham worked on "Pinocchio," "Bambi," "Fantasia" and Donald Duck shorts. During World War II, he worked for the Navy drawing cartoons for Navy posters, training material and the war bond market. He settled in Carmel, California, after the war working at home as a free-lance cartoonist. One day in 1950 his studio door flew open and his then-wife Alice, in utter exasperation, exclaimed, "Your son is a menace!" The son was their 4-year-old Dennis who while commissioned to take a nap had instead managed to similate what looked like the results of a tornado in his bedroom. The "menace" epithet and the image of the tornado stuck. The lanky, bespectacled dad, who resembed Ketcham himself, also became a fixture in the strip, which made its debut in the following year in 16 newspapers. In just one year, a volume of Dennis cartoons was on the best-seller list.

Ketcham and his first wife had separated when she died in 1959. He and his son Dennis drifted apart, and they spoke infrequently in later life. In 1960, Ketcham became fed up with many of the movers and shakers in the business of marketing Dennis the Menace and moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he lived for 17 years, returning to the United States only infrequently. He relied upon the Sears & Roebuck catalogues to keep abreast of the ever changing American landscape. A second marriage ended in divorce, but Ketcham married a third time and had two more children. He and his family returned to the United States in 1977, setting up home in Monterey, California, where he continued to work on the strip for another 17 years. He had actually stopped drawing the Sunday strip in the mid-1980s, but maintained control of its production and continued to draw the weekday strip until at last relinquishing the helm in 1994. Without "Dennis" he concentrated his artistic talents on a more serious nature of oil and watercolor portraits, claiming that his paintings were his true bid to a place in posterity.

Personal quotes

"What a dull world it would be without any Dennises in it! Peaceful, maybe--but dull."

In reference to his Dennis the Menace comic strip: "I'm not in it for posterity. People look at it for 30 seconds ... then it gets used to wrap fish."