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August 27, 2007

CR Review: Where’s Dennis? The Magazine Cartoon Art of Hank Ketcham


Creators: Hank Ketcham; Shane Glines and Alex Chun
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, soft cover, 200 page, September 2007, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 1560978538 (ISBN10)

The wonderful thing about Fantagraphics' small series of books focused on pin-ups, gags and magazine cartooning is that it fills in the blanks for careers and periods of comics where those outlets played a huge part. In the introduction to Where's Dennis?, we not only get a smart, short history of Hank Ketcham's early career, we find out Ketcham received art advice from Noel Sickles, that he was friends with Virgil Partch, and that there was a community of cartoonists in the Monterey Peninsula. This utility extends to the book itself. While we know that many of the cartoonists who came of age in the 1950s grew out of gag and magazine cartooning, except for Charles Schulz few of the greats have had this work collected.

Editors Alex Chun and Shane Gline splice in a few direct descendant Dennis panels next to their magazine progenitors, the entire book presents itself in relation to what is to come in a more profound and subtle way. The 1940s Ketcham roams from style to style, rattling within the confines of rigid gag set-ups in his early features to a broader take on post-World War II life, bouncing back and forth between dozens of ways to make people laugh. Where's Dennis? could be read entirely for how Ketcham slowly and rigorously perfects the way his bodies lean against and away from each other in slight and telling ways, an approach to describing human relationships that when with paired with the Dennis feature's beautiful line work locked into place one of the exquisite, recurring stage shows in comics history.
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