Old Comics Wednesday: The Zen Of Wiseman #001
In the comics-publishing frenzy to package and reprint anything thick enough to support a spine and an ISBN, the largest untapped vein of great comics at this point has to be Dennis The Menace comic books.
As brilliant at drafting and staging as he was, Hank Ketcham never quite developed the same mastery of sequential art; his solo Dennis Sunday strips and rare comic-book work is OK, but nothing like what his assistants/employees later produced; Dennis‘ “Stan & Jack” uberteam being Fred Toole [who also wrote for the Sunday strips] and the obscenely underrated cartoonist Al Wiseman, who drew roughly the first 15 years of the comic-book series.
It’s something of a mystery, why Wiseman’s work never developed anywhere near the fandom that his spinner-rack contemporaries like Carl Barks, Stanley & Tripp, Kurtzman & Elder or even Beck & Binder have enjoyed. Aside from regular praise and credit as a major influence from Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Toole & Wiseman’s work seems to have never made it into the collective hands of both the underground and the alternative generations of cartoonists.
So, in the true spirit of comics activism — a blatantly futile, possibly self-serving gesture that’s undeniably feelgood — I have decided to regularly post my favorite panels from Dennis stories until this grave injustice is finally rightened. Enjoy, and then write to your favorite publisher and demand that they hire me to package at least some of this work for print immediately. If successful, I promise to keep my byline off the book jacket spine. Or just enjoy the pictures, see if I care.
I guess one could make the argument that this work suffers from Dennis being such a one-note/annoying character. To that argument I say: Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Yes yes, Barks and his precious ducks — OK, the boys are trapped in a blazing inferno and you can only save one of them; to do that, you merely have to write down his name and unique personality traits in a sentence within, say, 30 seconds.
[I can't believe you let Donald's nephews die.]
Anyway, the other problem with the Dennis-is-annoying argument against these comics is that he’s rarely their protagonist; for the bulk of Wiseman’s run, Henry Mitchell is often the hero or at least the most sympathetic/audience-identifiable character; if he appears in a story, he’s usually struggling to deal with the chaos his child has wrought.
(These panels are from “Ghost Town,” as published by Hallden in Dennis The Menace #37 [August 1959] and later reprinted in Dennis the Menace Giant #13 and Dennis the Menace Pocket Full of Fun #31. Yes, I’m aware that I posted almost nothing but single panels while talking about how great Wiseman was at drawing comics. Come back next time and I’ll show you some damn pages.)