Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dennis the Menace Goes to Washington

Fawcett was a major comics publisher in the Golden Age, with Captain Marvel Adventures actually outselling Superman in the 1940s. But after losing the lawsuit to DC over whether the Big Red Cheese was a rip of the Man of Steel, Fawcett went out of the business for several years, before returning with only one character for the entirety of the Silver Age: Dennis the Menace.

Dennis was the creation of Hank Ketcham, and was originally published on the comics pages, as single-panel gags. In 1959, about the time that Fawcett started publishing the comic books, Dennis became the title feature of a TV show starring Jay North. The TV show lasted four seasons in its original series and virtually forever in reruns.

These Dennis Giants were generally organized around a theme, including trips to Mexico, California, Hollywood, Hawaii, and in this one, our nation's capital. They were also frequently republished; this particular giant appeared in 1963, 1964 and 1966. The stories are generally amusing if predictable tales of Dennis alternately exasperating his parents with his mischief, and amusing them with his childlike mistakes.

This giant starts with a quick travelogue of DC; the Mitchells visit the Washington Monument and see the Supreme Court, Lincoln Memorial and White House. While at the Mint, they have an interesting tour guide:

A black woman; pretty outstanding diversity by 1963 standards.

When they visit the White House, Dennis meets someone his own age:

That's obviously Caroline Kennedy; her line appears to be intended as a reference to this novelty song of the time:

Update: I had remembered that the girl who sang that song went with me to Traphagen Elementary School in Waldwick New Jersey, but wondered if that was just one of those crazy things you think you remember, but actually confused with something else. As it turns out, my memory was right (PDF file, see page 8, "Spotlight On"):

There was also a Jo Ann Morse who graduated high school with me in Allendale (one town away from Waldwick) in 1973; I suspect that she's the same one. Pixie gal who definitely loved to sing.

Dennis confronts her with the fact that her father didn't appear on any money, and therefore he couldn't possibly be the president. She checks:

The "Let me say this about that," line was a verbal tick of Kennedy's that was picked up by the impressionists of the time, particularly Vaughn Meader, much as Richard Nixon impersonators would use, "Let me make one thing perfectly clear."

The tour of Washington is occasionally interrupted by Dennis taking a nap and dreaming about himself involved in historical events, like Captain John Smith and Pocahontas:

Another wince-worthy moment is when Dennis comes up with a terrific product for the colonists to send back to England:

The family also visits the FBI, where Dennis meets J. Edgar, and the Pentagon, where he gets confused for a Russian spy:

All in all, it's an entertaining issue with just enough facts to be considered educational by adults, and enough fun so as not to be boring to kids.

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