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Comic Strip / Dennis the Menace (US)

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Dennis and his dog, Ruff.

Dennis the Menace is a long-running newspaper comic, created by Hank Ketcham, that first appeared in March 1951. It features the adventures of mischievous "five-an'-a-half"-year-old blond boy Dennis Mitchell, often at the expense of his parents, Henry and Alice, or his neighbor, Mr. Wilson.

It has inspired a live-action series, an animated Saturday Morning Series, and a few live-action films.

Dennis was also the mascot of Dairy Queen from 1971 to 2001. DQ dropped him because they felt children didn't relate to him anymore.

Dennis had his own comic book series for a time. In them, Dennis was depicted as just a normal small boy, realistically thoughtless and reckless for his age. His status as a "menace" was entirely due to the unforeseen consequences of his adventures and Dennis was usually responsible and mature enough to own up when he realised he'd done something wrong.

In the comic books, Dennis was occasionally the victim of his own menacing, such as the time his father accidentally gives him $10 instead of $1 (in the 1960s when money was worth a lot more) to buy food at a food fair and Dennis spends it all. As such, he got a massive stomach ache.

Not to be confused with the British comic book character also called Dennis the Menace, who stars in a completely different and unrelated eponymous strip which also coincidentally debuted in March of 1951. In Britain, the cartoon and film based on this comic is thus simply called Dennis!.

The comic strip provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Margaret is occasionally depicted as having a crush on Dennis. Unfortunately for her, Dennis is still very much at an age where he feels that Girls Have Cooties.
  • Acid Reflux Nightmare: In a Sunday strip from June 10, 2012, Dennis has a nightmare where his father, Mr. Wilson and his dog Ruff have all been sentenced by his mother to sitting in the Corner of Shame with him. In the last panel he wakes up and asks, "Yikes, what did I eat last night?!"
  • The All-American Boy: Despite the name, Dennis is a pretty good example of this trope.
  • Author Avatar: One comic book issue had Dennis and his father meeting Al Wiseman and Fred Toole, the artist and writer of the comic book itself!
  • Babysitter's Nightmare: Dennis has proven to be such a terror to every babysitter watching him that no babysitter has volunteered to look after him a second time. It has gotten to the point that Alice and Henry are up to "Z" in the phone book.
  • Badly Battered Babysitter: No one who babysits Dennis ever did it twice!
  • Big Friendly Dog: Ruff. In some media like the 1986 cartoon or comic books, he could be much bigger than Dennis.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: Dennis had this. In one of the comic books, he added ketchup to his milk while at school. In the newspaper panels, he'd mix up other strange concoctions to eat like peanut butter with horseradish in a sandwich.
  • Black Bead Eyes: Dennis and pretty much every character had these.
  • Boys Like Creepy Critters: One of Dennis' pets is a frog named Willy. Dennis smuggles Willy with him wherever he goes, and sometimes tricks Margaret into kissing him.
  • Brats with Slingshots:
    • Trope Codifier.
    • Subverted in one daily panel where Dennis explains to a confused Joey holding his slingshot that he rarely uses it as he wouldn't hurt cats, birds or dogs and his father won't let him shoot at people.
  • Broken Glass Penalty: Dennis and his friends frequently do this to the Wilson house.
  • Cat Stereotype: Hot Dog, introduced in the mid-to-late 1970s, is an orange cat. True to the orange cat stereotype, he is friendly to Dennis.
  • Charlie Brown Baldness: Joey eventually developed this via Art Evolution. In the early years, he had a full head of dark, curly hair before going down to one big strand on the edge of his head.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: A few of them came out over the years, being published by Fawcett, Standard/Pines and Marvel Comics.
  • Competition Coupon Madness: In the comic book story "Dennis vs. Television", Dennis collects cereal box tops without actually buying the cereal, hoping to win a big prize.
  • Cranky Neighbor: Mr. Wilson. Though, to be fair, you'd be cranky too if Dennis was your neighbor.
  • Depending on the Artist: The strip's current artists have very different styles. Marcus Hamilton, the Monday-through-Saturday artist, draws the strip in a very close approximation of Hank Ketcham's style in his later years, while Sunday artist Ron Ferdinand (who also draws a few daily panels on occasion) has a far looser and sketchier style than either Ketcham or Hamilton.
  • The Dreaded Pretend Tea-Party: Dennis scrupulously avoids Margaret's tea parties, unless there's plenty of cookies available. No amount of cookies, however, can compel Dennis to attend one of Margaret's piano or violin recitals.
  • Drop-In Character: Dennis, to the Wilsons. Mrs. Wilson doesn't object to this, but her husband certainly does.
  • Exact Words: One strip has Dennis get in trouble with a park ranger for disobeying an "ALL DOGS MUST BE ON LEASH" sign. Dennis points out that Ruff is, in fact, on a leash, and that the sign never said anything about someone holding the other end.
  • Girls Have Cooties: Played straight mostly; Dennis doesn't like being kissed by females or being affectionate with them, especially Margaret. Some cartoons imply he may feel differently about Gina.
  • Girly Bruiser: Margaret was sometimes this Depending on the Writer. One of the comic books has her getting into a fistfight with Dennis. A few daily panels show Margaret taking up karate, judo, etc and giving Dennis a firsthand demonstration.
  • Gleeful and Grumpy Pairing: Dennis and Mr. Wilson, respectively. Dennis is an energetic and happy-go-lucky young boy who idolizes Mr. Wilson, who just wants some peace and quiet and doesn't appreciate his company.
  • Granny Classic: Mrs. Wilson often acts this way, especially to Dennis. Word of God states that she deeply regrets that she and Mr. Wilson never had kids of their own, causing her to treat Dennis like he was her own grandson.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Mr. Wilson again, and for the same reason.
  • Hates Baths: Dennis is shown to dislike baths, and will often try to make some kind of excuse to get out of taking one, such as "I don't need a whole bath, my clothes kept the rest of me clean." and "Another bath? Does dad know you're hikin' up the water bill?". A comic book story featured his dog Ruff having a similar aversion to baths, but otherwise loving getting wet. According to Dennis, it was the soap that they both loathed (one strip even had Dennis say that the soap will last longer if he leaves the wrapper on it).
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: As much as Dennis acts like a jerk to Margaret at times, there have been the odd occasion where he'll come through for her. A Sunday strip from a time back showed Margaret sitting on her porch crying because, as she tells Dennis, a bully stole her doll. Dennis clocks the bully, retrieves the doll and returns it to a grateful Margaret. As much as he was happy to do it, Dennis just as well tells Margaret to not mention it to anyone.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Dennis has one with Mrs. Wilson. He thinks he has one with Mr. Wilson.
  • Kids Hate Vegetables: Dennis hates carrots. In a few strips , he'd try unsuccessfully to get rid of them.
  • Last Resort Takeout: Invoked when Dennis deliberately ruined the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner so the family can order pizza.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Dennis always wears his Iconic Outfit of striped shirt and red overalls, except in church or other "dress-up" scenes where he's seen with a white button-down shirt, a tie, and a blue jacket and slacks.
  • Loud Sleeper Gag: In "Teacher's HELPer", Ms. Johnson serves as the substitute teacher for Dennis' kindergarten classroom, since Dennis' regular teacher Mrs. Garner is out sick. Dennis manages to drive Ms. Johnson crazy, so she insists that everyone take a nap after recess over (mostly so she can take a nap herself). Dennis manages to keep her awake during naptime, first by snoring like Henry, his father, then by barking like Ruff, his pet dog, saying it's the way they sleep. While Dennis' classmates are amused, Miss Johnson, unfortunately, is not.
  • Love Triangle: Dennis, Gina and Margaret.
  • Meaningful Name: Hot Dog, Dennis' cat, got his name when he ate a whole package of hot dogs.
  • Menace Decay (the Trope Namer)
  • Nephewism: Inverted — Dennis treats the Wilsons like his grandparents.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: One strip has Dennis and Henry encounter Pearls Before Swine-creator Stephen Pastis at a convention, to which Dennis asks what his real job is.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The comic strip's locale is based on Wichita, Kansas.
  • One Head Taller:
    • The rather spindly Henry is portrayed as being much taller than Alice.
    • In some installments of the comic strip Margaret has been drawn as noticeably taller than Dennis or Joey, even in flats.
  • Parent Service: Dennis' mom, who is drawn very attractively, is sometimes used for light (but still family-friendly) fanservice in the context of gags, such as taking a bath or laying on the beach in a bathing suit.
  • Print Long-Runners: Six decades and counting.
  • Real Men Hate Affection: Dennis didn't like his mother hugging or kissing him when anyone else can see, especially neighborhood children. At least one daily panel actually has Dennis ducking down so nobody can see his mother holding him.
  • Regal Ringlets: Margaret has this hairstyle.
  • Retraux: The strip retains a 1950s drawing style, despite always being set in the present day.
  • Shout-Out: The character Gina was named after Gina Lollobrigida (the character's Italian ancestry is also a reference to her).
  • Soap Punishment: In one strip, Dennis comes outside, with bubbles coming out of his mouth, and he tells his friend that he was "right about that word."
  • Supreme Chef: Mrs. Wilson is one as both Mr. Wilson and Dennis enjoy her cooking. Dennis even lampshades this by asking Mr. Wilson why he never kisses Mrs. Wilson for being such a good cook.
  • Time Out: A frequent punishment for Dennis, usually shown sitting facing towards the wall and grumbling about the punishment or what he did.
  • Tomboy: Gina Gilloti (who IS actually quite a cutie).
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Gina and Margaret, respectively. Gina usually wears jeans and sneakers and plays sports with the boys. Margaret wears a flouncy skirt and pushes a doll in a baby carriage. Dennis, who makes a big deal about his own butchness, is more comfortable with the former.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Without a doubt, pizza ... to the point where (he thinks) he practically can live on it. On the exact opposite of the spectrum: vegetables, especially when they were served as part of a meal that had no pizza in sight. Especially carrots at any time.
    • In the comic books, it was ice cream.
  • Training the Pet: In Dennis the Menace and Ruff, Dennis loves Ruff, his pet dog, but his parents and his next-door neighbor, Mr. Wilson see Ruff as a nuisance since Ruff buries his bones in the Mitchells' backyard, leaves muddy pawprints in the Mitchell's house, and licks the dishes. Dennis has to teach Ruff to behave or his parents will send him away. For a while, Dennis succeeds in his lessons, including training Ruff to save a baby from drowning by practicing with his teddy bear, and as a result, Henry reluctantly lets Ruff join them in a party at Uncle Dick's house. On the way to the party, Ruff snatches a police officer's hat, and Dennis is now sure that his parents will send Ruff away. At the party, Dennis' two-year-old cousin, Billy falls into a pond and is in danger of drowning. Ruff sees Billy and rescues him just as Dennis taught him, is praised as a hero, and Henry decides never to send Ruff away after his heroic deed.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Henry and Alice. More than once Dennis has referred to this situation:
    Dennis (to Henry): How come everybody says you were lucky to marry Mom and nobody says she was lucky to marry you?