softy n : a person who is weak and excessively sentimental [syn: softie]
Somebody who finds it difficult to scold or punish
a software expert who is ignorant of the workings of hardware
Dennis the Menace (known as Dennis the Menace and Gnasher since 1970) is a long-running comic strip featured in The Beano children's comic, published by D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd, Dundee, Scotland, in the United Kingdom.
The strip first appeared in issue 452, released on 15 March 1951 (cover dated for the off-sale date of 17 March), and is the longest running strip in the comic. From issue 1678 onwards (dated 14 September 1974) Dennis managed to grab the front cover, replacing Biffo the Bear, and has been there ever since.
Coincidentally three days earlier, on 12 March 1951, another Dennis the Menace debuted in the United States. The two strips should not be confused — as a result of this the US series has been retitled Dennis for UK consumption, while the British character's appearances are often titled "Dennis and Gnasher" outside the UK.
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. Barrie Appleby did the artwork for the Beano Superstars series, which, towards the end of its run, resorted exclusively to strips based on the TV series (see below).
The main recurring storyline throughout the years features Dennis's campaign of terror against a gang of 'softies' (effeminate, well-behaved boys), particularly Walter. Walter finds himself in unfavorable circumstances on many occasions; although he sometimes gets the "last laugh".
Dennis usually used to get away with his mischief for a while before receiving a spanking from his father, for which Dennis’s father used a slipper. Dennis’s best defence involved sticking a thick book down his shorts. His dad never noticed. Dennis’s grandma also had a slipper, except it was made of elephant skin and called 'The Demon Whacker'. Since the 1980s, however - owing to the burgeoning tide of opinion against corporal punishment of children in the UK - the slipper is no longer used.
Dennis started wearing a striped red-and-black jumper a couple of months after his debut, in May 1951, knitted by his granny for him, which along with his spiky hair has become his trademark. It is notable that another Beano character, Minnie the Minx, also wears this colour jumper. He uses his faithful pea shooter, catapult and water pistol.
A Dennis the Menace fan club was set up in 1976. By the time it was replaced with The Beano Club in 1998, it had reached over a million members (the millionth occurring in 1988), including actor Mark Hamill in 1979. Millionth member Simon Palmer "met" Dennis (a costumed character) and Beano editor Euan Kerr, and was treated to a traditional slap up comic meal of bangers and mash. The Beano Club was launched to coincide with the comic's revamp, including its logo.
Dennis celebrated his 40th anniversary in March 1991. A special pull out poster supplement (including a story featuring Dennis appearing on This is Your Life, looking back at the last 40 years of menacing) for the comic was produced to celebrate this. Also, for the same reason, an Italian designer was called in to give Dennis a makeover. He now wore a tracksuit, sported a pair of shades, and had a personal stereo on him. However, this revamp lasted only one story - since the strips are written and drawn months in advance of printing, it seems this was a publicity stunt, like when The Bash Street Kids were briefly given similar modernisation for their 40th anniversary in 1994, and when Desperate Dan in The Dandy 'left' the comic on his 60th anniversary in 1997.
A Dennis the Menace puppet series was produced in the early 1990s for broadcast on the Children's Channel. A Dennis the Menace animated cartoon began airing on BBC One (as part of CBBC) in 1996, with another series following in 1998. Originally called Dennis the Menace in the UK, the series was renamed Dennis and Gnasher for international broadcast, to avoid confusion with the American Dennis The Menace (likewise, the US series was retitled "Dennis" in the UK. The show has ceased production, although repeats are frequently shown still.
It was announced in October 2007 that a new animated series of Dennis The Menace will be made. Like the original, it will be screened on CBBC. It will premiere in 2009.
Although a rivalry between Dennis and Minnie The Minx is frequently shown, they do appear to have feelings for each other. For instance, in a 1980's strip in which Dennis and Minnie arm wrestled when Dennis took on all the other Beano characters, she said to Dennis he better let her win. When Dennis enquired what would happen should he not, she replied with the threat of giving him a kiss. Another example is when Nigel Parkinson drew the 'several ages of Dennis' in a Dennis the Menace annual. He was shown to marry Minnie and for them to have children. Also, in the 1992 Dennis Annual an interviewer called Terry Wogan Asked Dennis "Is it true you fancy Minnie The Minx?", Dennis pounced on him angrily with his fist raised and said "Is it true you fancy a punch in the mouth?"
March 1951 Drawn by David Law, Dennis the Menace appears for the first time, as well as his dad.
May 1951 Dennis gets his famous striped jersey knitted by his granny aka Whentball. He also teams up with fellow menace Curly.
1952 The strip appears in two colours (red and black). Walter appears for the first time.
Early 1953 Walter is now named.
Mid 1953 Dennis gets expanded to a full page, while earlier strips were only half a page long.
1955 The first Dennis Annual is published, using reprinted stories from previous years.
1957 David Law's style of drawing Dennis changes dramatically, making the characters tall and thin.
1958 After a year of being drawn this way, characters become more or less back the way they were.
1962 Dennis returns to the back of the comic.
August 31, 1968 Dennis finds a dog on the street, Gnasher, on his way to the dog show at the local town hall. Gnasher becomes a regular from this point onwards.
1969 Walter's Dog, Foo-Foo, debuts, replacing Walter's previous dog, Tiddlums.
July 29, 1970 Bash Street Kids artist David Sutherland starts drawing Dennis, although drawing the strip almost identical to David Law. The strip is renamed "Dennis the Menace & Gnasher" when originally it was just called "Dennis the Menace" as Gnasher had been appearing every week on the strips.
Mid 1974 Sutherland's style starts sinking in on Dennis, with Walter looking slightly different, and the outlines getting slightly thicker.
1975 Walter joins "the softies", Bertie Blenkinsop and Algernon "Spotty" Perkins.
May 1979 Dennis' pet pig, "Rasher" debuts.
1983 Dennis starts looking taller and stockier.
March 1986 Gnasher "goes missing". Foo Foo's Fairy Story temporarily replaces Gnasher's Tale.
May 1986 Gnasher returns, introducing his pups; Gnatasha, Gnannete, Gnancy, Gnaomi, Gnorah and Gnipper. "Gnasher and Gnipper" replaces "Gnasher's Tale".
1987 Dennis' spider, Dasher, appears.
1988 Rasher's strip ends, replaced by Ill Will and the Germs.
1990 Granny's personality also changes drastically. Now, rather than a mean old woman, she becomes an elderly menace. The slipper is no longer used, partly due to changing attitudes towards child discipline at the time.
1991 Editor Euan Kerr has a word with Sutherland that Dennis is looking too old.
1992 The Menace car is seen for the first time.
1993 Sutherland, understanding Euan's words, starts changing Dennis, making him look young and cute for a few years. The "Gnasher and Gnipper" strip is now drawn by Barry Glennard, the current artist.
Early 1996 Dennis The Menace is looking like he did again, and for the first time ever, the story is drawn in the same style as the Bash Street Kids.
1997 The strip is printed in bright, shiny colours, for a short while. This year marks the first appearances of The Colonel, Dennis' neighbour, and Sergeant Slipper, the local constable.
August-September 1998 For the 60th anniversary for the Beano, David Parkins draws Dennis the Menace, creating Bea some issues later.
October 1998 Bea gets her own strip called Beaginnings. She says her first word (Mud) in this strip.
March 2001 Dennis celebrates his 50th Birthday. A poster drawn by David Parkins (In the style of David Law) is available in the issue.
December 2001 Beaginnings gets renamed Dennis' little sister Bea - the Mini Menace. Also, Nigel Parkinson's style of drawing Bea changes from David Parkins' original style (with huge eyes) to his own style of drawing her. 2003 Jimmy Hansen takes over as the main artist, although Nigel Parkinson draws the Dennis strip every now and again.
2004 Dennis the Menace becomes the longest running strip in the Beano ever, beating Lord Snooty.
2004 Walter gets revamped when drawn by Jimmy Hansen, and he now bears the appearance of an Elvis impersonator with much bigger glasses.
2007 Tom Paterson starts drawing Dennis occasionally.
2008 Dennis gets a comic strip at the back of the beano as well as the front.
CharactersOver the years a variety of subsidiary characters have arisen.
FamilyDennis, Dennis the Menace is a boy of around ten years old; he is solidly built with a mass of spiky black hair, and is habitually dressed in a black and red striped jumper, and a large pair of black shoes. Dennis is an anti-hero; broadly well-intentioned, but utterly amoral, and possessed of a moral code that is widely at variance with that of grown ups and authority: school is boring, homework to be avoided, parents an occupational hazard (at best), and Walter the Softy a traitor to boyhood. Dennis is the indefatigable enemy of all of the above; the bane of a many a teacher's life, the despair of his parents, and the terror of Walter and his chums. Although most of Dennis's escapades and vendettas are doomed to end in retribution, he is never daunted, and always returns the following week enthusiastic for fresh villainy. Even back in the early days, when Dennis was spanked 'severely and often' (to quote his father), the effects were invariably very short lived, the Menace always ready to return to the fray; it didn't matter how often Dennis got whacked by Dad or Teacher, corporal punishment was almost entirely ineffective, and only really to be feared from Granny's dreaded Demon Whacker, which was even known to inspire Dennis to brush his hair and tidy himself up. It is implied in several sketches he has a crush on Minnie the Minx, as they are occasionally seen together.
Dad, along with Dennis himself, appeared in the first strip. His hair loss is down to Dennis’s menacing, and his real name has never been given. He also appears in both Bea and Gnasher and Gnipper. The real name of his wife, Mum, has also never been given. According to the letters page of an early 1990s Beano, he was christened "Dennis' Dad". In his twenties he met a girl named "Dennis' Mum", and they knew they were made for each other. According to his report cards,Issue No.3428's strip (and some of Dennis' older teachers), he was just like Dennis when he was younger.
Bea is Dennis’s little sister, born in issue 2931, dated 19 September 1998. She has her own strip (Bea, originally Beaginnings) and sometimes appears in Dennis the Menace and Gnasher.
Granny, real name "Gertrude", is Dennis's and Bea's 80-year-old grandmother. She owned the Demon Whacker, as above, but in the late 1980s/early 1990s, she got her own strip - Go, Granny, Go! drawn by Brian Walker. As a result, she transformed from the indulgent Granny who used the Demon Whacker when necessary to a very active elderly lady who enjoyed motorbikes. This was also partly because by this time, The Beano no longer punished its characters with the slipper.
Denise is Dennis's cousin, bearing a striking resemblance to Beryl the Peril, although she too wears a red and black striped jumper. She appeared in just a few stories (at least two, both reprinted in the 60 Years books), visiting along with her cat 'Santa Claws'. She generally managed to out-menace Dennis, showing considerable fortitude against the Softies, and at the local boxing club. Dennis seemed to be quite glad to see the back of her. She also appeared in Beano Superstars No 59 titled Dennis and Denise.
Gnasher is a black dog who first appeared in issue 1363, dated 31 August 1968. He is supposedly an "Abyssinian wire-haired tripehound", although sceptics have suggested that he looks more like a mop of Dennis’s hair, with eyes, and teeth gone for a walk on their own. He has extremely strong teeth that can leave teethmarks in seemingly anything, and is usually called upon by Dennis to 'gnash' their way out of situations; however, he usually prefers to bite the postman. His name comes from the British slang for teeth (gnashers).
Since 1986 Gnasher has had a son, Gnipper, who appears with him in the separate strip ( Gnasher and Gnipper). Gnipper is not owed by Dennis the Menace. He first appeared in issue 2286, dated 10 May 1986. Gnipper's name is a pun since 'to nip' something means to give something a small bite, while 'nipper' is a slang term for a young child. Gnasher also has several daughters, their names being Gnatasha, Gnaomi, Gnanette, Gnorah and Gnancy, though these tend not to be seen much. Gnatasha had her own strip in The Beezer and Topper, and appeared in the Beezer Book 1994. Gnasher also used to have another strip, Gnasher's Tale, which began in 1977 and continued for another nine years.
Rasher is a pig (hence the name) and is Dennis’s other loyal pet, first seen in issue 1920, dated 5 May 1979. He loves to eat swill and was rescued by Dennis. Rasher also has children, their names being Oink, Snort, Grunt, Squeal, and Squeak. He also used to have his own strip called Rasher, which started in 1984 and continued for another four years, with a few one off appearances after that.
Dennis has also been seen with his pet spider called Dasher (named "Sidney" in the animated series). He first appeared in about 1987, as a tool to scare Softy Walter, and was the mascot of the Beano website when it launched in 1997. Originally the spider was all black, but when it reappeared in 1997, it was red and black, matching Dennis's jersey.
He also has a new fish named Splasher. He first appeared in 2006. However, it appears this was just a one off, rather like the bat Dennis had for a pet in a Halloween issue, as neither have been seen since.
Dennis also has two main friends. Curly was the first to appear, appearing a few months after the strip started in 1951. He has a lot of blonde, curly hair, hence his name. In a 1996 episode of the animated TV series entitled 'The Bath-Night Club', we learnt he has a little brother named Spiky. He has spiky hair, and, according to Curly, could not escape and was put in the bath. The next day he started smelling of soap and began prancing about with Softies and girls. The episode was reprinted in print form in 1998 as Number 81 of The Beano Super Stars.
Pieface, real name Kevin, is Dennis's other friend. His favourite food is pies, hence the name. It was revealed in the cartoon series that his real name is never used on the account the Kevins were not what he ate. He does enjoy a good meal.
Together, Dennis, Curly and Pie-Face battle the Softies, a group of children who enjoy things such as teddy bears, dolls and flowers. The most famous, Dennis’s greatest sworn enemy, is a character called Walter. He has a pet poodle called Foo-Foo and a cat named Fluffy. The two most other frequently seen Softies are Algernon 'Spotty' Perkins and Bertie Blenkinsop, who are usually seen playing with him. Walter, Spotty and Bertie once had a competition to decide who had the cutest teddy, but they agreed that they were all lovely. In a 1984 strip both their pets were seen, two dogs called Yorkie and Papillon, although it did not state which pet belong to which Softy. Other softies include Sweet William, Dudley Nightshirt, Jeremy Snodgrass,Softy Matthew ,Matilda and Nervous Rex, a character who is scared of everything and everyone.
The temptation to beware of is to classify Walter as 'good' and Dennis as 'bad' simply because one is well-behaved and the other not- (both boy's fathers are white collar workers, but Walter's Dad appears to be a couple of pay scales up on Dennis's); below Walter's prim virtue lies a deep vein of spite that he is usually too cowardly to express, he actively practices his highly manipluative 'winning simper', and his eagerness to please grown ups seems to imply a whole series of hidden agendas.
The Softies seem to be bound together much more by fear of the Menaces than by any real mutual liking; though they are scrupulously polite to each other, they have occasionally decided to pick on someone perceived as much weaker than they are. In one story they even went as far as being cruel to an animal by dropping Dennis's cousin Denise's cat into a puddle.
The Colonel is an old army colonel who is often seen with toy soldiers and often makes references to being in battles which happened hundreds of years ago. In the TV series his first name was revealed to be Godfrey.
Sergeant slipper is the police sergeant who is always trying to catch Dennis for menacing.
Dennis' Teacher often appeared in Dennis the Menace strips from the early 1970's.
Nasty Norman was a bully who was often seen as Dennis' rival.
Influence on popular culture
Darts player Dennis Priestley is known as "The Menace" and wears a shirt with the familiar red and black horizontal bands.
In recent years, the satirical magazine Private Eye has carried comic strips featuring a character sometimes called Beano Boris or Boris the Menace, a blond-haired version of Dennis the Menace, who bears a suspicious resemblance to the politician Boris Johnson.