Dennis the Menace and Gnasher (previously titled Dennis and Gnasher, and originally titled Dennis the Menace) is a long-running comic strip in the British children’s comic The Beano, published by DC Thomson, of Dundee, Scotland. The comic stars a boy named Dennis the Menace and his Abyssinian wire-haired tripe hound Gnasher.
The strip first appeared in issue 452, dated March 17, 1951, and is the longest-running strip in the comic. The idea and name of the character emerged when the comic’s editor heard a British music hall song with the chorus “I’m Dennis the Menace from Venice”. From issue 1678 onwards (dated September 14, 1974) Dennis the Menace replaced Biffo the Bear on the front cover, and has been there ever since. (Note: The UK version is dated March 17 but went on sale on March 12.)
Coincidentally, on March 12, 1951, another comic strip named Dennis the Menace debuted in the US. The two strips should not be confused – as a result of this the US series has initially been retitled Dennis for UK audiences, while the British character’s appearances are often titled Dennis and Gnasher outside the UK.
Dennis is the archetypal badly behaved schoolboy. The main recurring storyline throughout the years features his campaign of terror against a gang of ‘softies’ (effeminate, well-behaved boys), particularly Walter. Walter finds himself in unfavourable circumstances on many occasions, although he sometimes gets the last laugh.
Dennis the Menace and Gnasher was first drawn by David Law (1951–1970), then David Sutherland (1970–1998). David Parkins took over in 1998, but due to his other work commitments, Nigel Parkinson and Jimmy Hansen have drawn the lion’s share of the strips for some years, and Parkins has not drawn Dennis since 2006. More recently, Tom Paterson has drawn some second Dennis strips for the comic’s rear pages. Barrie Appleby did the artwork for the Beano Superstars series, which, towards the end of its run, resorted mostly to strips based on the TV series. In 2011, he took over as Dennis’s main artist. Upon the November revamp of The Beano, Nigel Parkinson took over as Dennis artist as Barrie Appleby had moved back to drawing new episodes of Roger the Dodger. During this revamp, Dennis was returned to his previous appearance and personality – Nigel Auchterlounie began writing for Dennis a month after and made Dennis (and the other characters) have wider personalities. Nigel Auchterlounie has proven to be a very popular writer since taking over Dennis. Dennis and Gnasher have remained mascots of The Beano.
David Sutherland strips (1970–1998)
In 1970, Davey Law took ill and retired from the strip, leaving Dennis in need of a new artist. Dave Sutherland, who was already the artist of Biffo the Bear and The Bash Street Kids, was chosen. Law’s final Dennis strip consisted of Dennis helping his father with the carpeting after Gnasher ruins it. Seeing a window of opportunity while his father is busy with fitting the new carpet, Dennis nails the slipper usually used to punish him to the floor. He then abandons his father causing the carpet they were laying to roll up and comically trap his dad. Far from being deterred from punishing his son, Dennis’s dad saws his slippers from the floor and chases Dennis with them. The next strip was drawn by Gorden Bell as an artist had not yet been chosen. This depicted Dennis boasting to an ill Walter that he never had to sneeze due to his toughness. However, Gnasher accidentally fetches pepper for Dennis rather than paper causing him to sneeze. Walter, who happens to be passing gloats ‘Look at the tough guy who never has to sneeze!’. Then, on 8 August, Sutherland did his first Dennis comic, which consisted of Dennis at a circus watching a lion tamer. Inspired, Dennis shaves Gnasher’s fur off and sets up his own lion taming show. The audience (including Walter) chases Dennis demanding their money back after it is revealed to be Gnasher. Dennis made a cameo in a Biffo the Bear story in 1972 citing his wish to be on the cover. This dialogue proved to be almost prophetic as he became the cover star of the comic in 1974, a position he still holds today. His first cover story consisted of him using the issue’s free gift, the Happy Howler to torment people including his Dad and in an Opera House, who gives Dennis’s Dad a free gift of his own, a slipper.
Dennis’s popularity was emphasised in 1976 when he was awarded his own fan club. Members would get a membership card, a club wallet and two badges. This later became the foundation of The Beano Club years later. The club was well known for being popular amongst celebrities as well as Beano readers. Phil Lynott, Mark Hamill and Linford Christie were among many to join. A strip promoting an all new Dennis T-shirt for club members emerged in 1978. It featured a guest appearance from Minnie the Minx and consisted of the two fighting over who the red and black jersey image truly belongs to.
1978 also saw The Beano at 40. To celebrate Dennis’s weekly comic strip this week featured him celebrating his birthday and his menacing antics with his brand new cowboy outfit.
In 1980, The Beano reached a landmark 2000th issue. The front cover depicted Dennis offering to show readers the very first issue of the comic. Incidentally and fitting well with the character’s menacing nature, the comic was at the bottom of the pile. The character was then featured in one of the very first Beano spin-off comics, The Beano Comic Libraries. He was one of the first Beano characters to get a feature length story which in turn was called ‘King Dennis’. Dennis was also a character present in the most successful Beano annual to date in 1983.
In 1986, one of Dennis’s very first story arcs appeared. Gnasher, his faithful companion, had gone missing. Distraught, Dennis asked readers to join him on a ‘Gnational Gnasher Search’. At first, Dennis’s dad was far happier without the tripe hound but as the week wore on he found himself missing him. The story wore on for seven weeks before Gnasher returned, a father with his six daughters and son, Gnipper, who would later become a key character.
On The Beano’s 50th Anniversary, Dennis’s strip consisted of him saving The Beano’s birthday cake which had begun to float away after the rope in which the sailor was pulling it along with was cut by a nearby crab.
A landmark issue for Dennis appeared in 1991, as the Beano announced they were to change his image. The news received much media attention throughout the UK and it was later revealed to be a publicity stunt in the very strip the image was introduced. Dennis’s new attire consisted of a blue tracksuit, sunglasses and headphones connected to a walkman. However, the tracksuit bottoms ripped due to Dennis’s knobbly knees and he ditched the jacket as his father could catch him easier after he had menaced. The end of the strip showed Dennis returning in his trademark jersey and shorts and pea-shooting his nemesis Walter. Dennis also played a vital role in the storyline in which The Beano was turned into colour. The front cover of the famous 2674th issue of the comic depicted Dennis spraying other famous Beano characters with a hose of paint.
In 1993, Beano editor Euan Kerr was becoming concerned at the direction David Sutherland’s depiction of the character was taking, with Dennis becoming ever stockier and larger. Kerr, feeling that Dennis was beginning to resemble a thuggish teenager rather than the naughty boy he was intended to be, told Sutherland to make Dennis look younger in appearance. As a result, Dennis was made shorter, with a smaller chin. He retained his familiar outfit, but started to wear trainers. These changes were also made with the intention of making the character easier to animate for the forthcoming Beano Video.
In 1996, the first Dennis animated series was released on the UK station Fox Kids, with a second series following in 1998.
After the Beano’s 60th anniversary issue in 1998, David Sutherland stopped drawing the strip, and was replaced by former Billy Whizz and The Three Bears artist, David Parkins.
David Parkins (1998–2003)
Dennis as depicted during the Parkins Years
Parkins’ first Dennis strips featured a storyline that formally introduced Dennis’s younger sister Bea into the comic. The story lasted three issues and consisted of Dennis’s fear that a younger sister would ruin his reputation as the toughest menace in Beanotown. However, as it turned out Bea was as much of a menace as her older brother and even gained her own spin-off strip, which Dennis would sometimes cameo in.
Dennis kicked off the new millennium with a strip of him charging 50 pence to access the Menace Dome, a more ‘menacing’ version of the Millennium Dome. He also starred as a villain in a feature length Bash Street Kids strip in which he, alongside Minnie the Minx and Roger the Dodger, raced against the Bash Street Kids to find the treasure which was apparently buried underneath the Millennium Dome. It ended with Danny, the Bash Street leader, outwitting Dennis and his cronies and Dennis angrily blaming it on Roger. Whilst a rivalry with The Bash Street Kids was touched on before in other strips, it was this story which made the rivalry far more well known. Several succeeding feature length strips after, usually drawn by Mike Pearse or Kev F. Sutherland, further depicted the rivalry even to the point it would get violent. He also made other appearances in the spin-off Bash Street Kids – Singled Out, where he would take on a similar role.
In the same year, Dennis became a major mascot for the Chessington World of Adventures section, Beanoland. He was featured prominently throughout the land including a large figure atop of the shop, a member of the squirting water fountain, a character on the dodgems, a silhouette on the entrance and a cast member in the live show located in his treehouse. Later in the park’s history, Dennis’s Madhouse was introduced which was a foam ball play area. In 2008, the land was changed into Wild Asia.
In 2001, Dennis turned 50 and celebrated with a house party in which several Beano characters were invited. Humorously, all his gifts consisted of the 2001 Beano Annual, apart from Les Pretend’s which was simply a pretend annual. He later participated in several party games which he changed radically to be far more menacing but found that most of the games back-fired onto him. The party was then finalised with a large food fight and then the entrance of The Dandy characters and other celebrities who had brought over a cake as the party continued for several more hours. Dennis’s parents then hid and Dennis was forced to tidy up the mess. The same issue also showed readers how Dennis received his trademark jersey which, it reveals, was initially owned by a boy called Tufty. After Tufty asks when someone would land on the moon, to which Dennis accurately predicts 20 July 1969, Dennis offers to give him the chance right then. He attaches his granny’s homemade soda pop to Tufty, shakes him then removes each of the lids which causes Tufty to blast off and fall into a nearby lake. Dennis then grabs the jersey and puts it on remarking it ‘feels right somehow!’.
In 2003, Dennis appeared as a playable character in the PC game Beanotown Racing. He was featured in several strips leading up to the games release depicting how he received his vehicle and races he got into prior to the games events. This includes a rivalry with Minnie the Minx who had gotten her vehicle before him. Dennis tuned up his Menace-Mobile to make a dune buggy.
by simon schofield