Monday, April 13, 2009

Dennis the Menace vol. 5 and Searle in the Sixties

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded. This time, reviews of Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace 1959-1960 (volume five) (Fantagraphics, 2009) and Searle in the Sixties (Penguin, 1964).

A couple of weeks back, I was mentioning how Monkey Punch's linework on Lupin III in the sixties evoked both Hank Ketcham and Ronald Searle to me. And here are a couple of books from these two. Fantagraphics has been releasing Dennis the Menace in two-year volumes for a while now, and I said when they started, after having my mind blown by how remarkable the earliest stuff with this character was, that I doubted it would be worth following beyond the fifth book. Well, the fifth book is here, and I was mistaken. I should have stopped at four.

True, I laughed three or four times reading this, and there are certainly places where Ketcham kicks his reliably beautiful inking into overdrive and pulls out some eyepoppingly amazing work. I stared at a panel of Dennis and his dad fishing by a gnarled old tree for at least five minutes, marvelling at how gorgeous Ketcham made that scene look. But I also turned past several pages with my eyes rolled, not popped, as Dennis says his bedtime prayers and tells Mrs. Wilson how comfy her lap is. Dennis may have started his career so remarkably menacing that he'd have driven that British kid of the same name running in terror, but five books in and this little scamp is more Walter the Softy, to be blunt. Recommended for cartoonists and artists, and nobody else.

Ever since I read the complete St. Trinian's book (your Hipster Dad's Best Book of 2008), I've been keeping an eye out for old editions of Ronald Searle's work, and found this lovely Penguin paperback at the Book Eddy in Knoxville. This is one of my very favorite bookstores, and I'm already looking forward to stopping back by sometime in July. Searle in the Sixties is a collection of illustrations he'd done over a four-year period for magazines ranging from Punch to Sports Illustrated, ranging from bizarre caricatures to travelogues of everywhere from Las Vegas to Paris to Sanibel Island, of all places.

Searle's love of lines is evident in every picture, and I adore how his focus finds the most comical element of any situation and draws attention to it. A drawing inside a burlesque show is not about the topless cutie on the stage, but the table of old codgers with their noses in the air looking at her. The material from European travelogues and portraits is perhaps even more interesting. Even if I don't know who some of the players are, I really get the impression that Searle has illustrated the Swinging London of Ready, Steady, Go! and That Was The Week That Was better than anybody else.

This book is long out of print, and according to the back cover was never available in the US "for copyright reasons," but you can pick up a copy from used book dealers by clicking the picture above. If you like art or you like the sixties, I recommend you do so!

No comments: