'Dennis the Menace' (1958).

David "Davey" Law was a mid-20th century Scottish comic artist, best known for his iconic humor series 'Dennis the Menace & Gnasher' (1951) in The Beano. The shenanigans of the nasty, spiky-haired boy and his dangerous dog have delighted readers for decades. Law created most of the secondary cast members, including Dennis' parents, his Granny, his friends Curly and Pie-face and his arch rival Walter Brown. Even though the comic strip's wild, anti-authoritarian comedy was controversial, 'Dennis the Menace' became The Beano's longest-running feature. It was adapted into animated TV shows and influenced dozens of similar British humor comics about mischievous children. One of them, 'Beryl the Peryl' (1952-2012), was also created by Law and ran subsequently in The Topper and then The Dandy. The latter magazine also featured Law's third series, 'Corporal Clott' (1960-mid 1970s), about a clumsy army corporal. Together with Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid, David Law forms the "Big Three" of post-war British children's humor comics. But both wouldn't have achieved that status if Law hadn't paved the way for them.

Early life and career
David Law was born in 1908 in Edinburgh, Scotland. One of his first jobs after graduating from the Edinburgh College of Art was providing illustrations for the publishing company Odhams Press. In the early 1930s, he joined D.C. Thomson as a cartoonist for their magazines and newspapers. For the Dundee Evening Telegraph, Law drew a comic strip titled 'The Wee Fella', featuring a prototypical version of Dennis. Compared to his later work, Law's characters were initially short and squat, and drawn in a more elaborate way. Halfway the 1950s, he switched to a sketchy drawing style, with typically tall and thin characters. A direct motivation may have been a change in page lay-out, but historians have also attributed this change in graphics to deadline pressure and an increasingly bad health. His working methods were also remarkable, as he characteristically worked with tiny pencil stubs stuck in steel holders.


First sketch for 'Dennis the Menace' by editor George Moonie.

Dennis the Menace
In 1950, David Law was approached by editor George Moonie to develop a gag comic for D.C. Thomson's popular children's magazine The Beano. Inspired by a music hall song with the lyric "I'm Dennis the Menace from Venice", Moonie dictated the main character should be a naughty schoolboy with the name 'Dennis the Menace'. In a St. Andrews pub, Law and sub-editor Ian Chisholm (1921-1981) further discussed the idea. Fitting for such a depraved character, Chisholm made a rough sketch on the back of a Players Navy Cut cigarette packet. The doodle suggested a boy with a mean look, black spiky hair and knobbly knees. Law developed Chisholm's scribble into a fully-designed character. Chisholm remained on board as scriptwriter during most of the feature's early run. On 12 March 1951, Dennis the Menace debuted in issue #452 of The Beano, replacing Allan Morley's 'Sammy's Super Rubber'. This pilot episode also introduced Dennis' father. By May of the same year, the boy was first seen in his iconic red-and-black striped jersey sweater.

As his name implies, Dennis the Menace is a wild and uncontrollable bad boy. The malicious brat plays pranks on other children, but parents, policemen and teachers aren't safe either. Everywhere he goes, mayhem ensues. Gag comics about naughty children have always been popular, dating all the way back to Wilhelm Busch's 'Max und Moritz' (1866) and Rudolph Dirks' 'The Katzenjammer Kids' (1897-2006). In England, where corporal punishment in schools was legal up until 1986, many novelists and cartoonists ventilated their juvenile frustrations with stories about sadistic teachers caning misbehaving children. Frank Richards's 'Billy Bunter' (first adapted in comic strip form by C.H. Chapman in 1939) and Ronald Searle's 'St. Trinians' (1946-1952) are the most iconic predecessors in British comics. However, Law's comic strip had a vitality and anarchy previous British comics lacked. The artist was a master in conveying speed and movement. His characters often rush from one panel to the other, adding tremendous energy to each gag. Portrayed as an anti-hero, Dennis is an uncompromising hoodlum who enjoys shaking up his environment. He defies manners, rules and regulations. The rascal stands up against adults and other figures of authority. And even though he gets punished or humiliated for his actions, he never learns his lesson: the brat is back at creating havoc in the very next episode. In many ways, the character captured the spirit of the 1950s. Dennis was a prototypical teddyboy long before these rebellious teens became a subculture.

In May 1951, Dennis' best friends, the Shepherd Brothers, were introduced. Crispin Lee Shepherd is nicknamed "Curly" because of his curly, blond hair. Since he loves eating pastry, Kevin Peter Shepherd goes through life as "Pieface". Forming a gang nicknamed "the Menaces", the three boys trick and torment their environment, though they easily turn against each other too. When united, they share a common enemy in a group they nickname "the Softies". The Softies are a bunch of bland, wholesome children, of whom the best known representative is Walter Brown. Walter, debuting in The Beano issue #577 (8 August 1953), is a nice, well-mannered boy, who lives next door to Dennis. Contrary to Dennis, Walter is a model student in every way, but he can also be snobby. He doesn't hesitate to snitch on other children if he spots them "misbehaving". This makes him an irresistible victim to Dennis' nefarious schemes, and all the more satisfying to readers whenever he is humiliated. In the fall of 1967, Dennis' female cousin Denise also made her entry, but she never caught on and Law quickly wrote her out of the series again.

The other main character in 'Dennis the Menace' was introduced late in Law's run. In The Beano issue #1363 (31 August 1968), Dennis adopted a stray dog with black, curly hair. He is described as an "Abyssinian wire-hair tripe hound." Beano writer Jim Fowler had read an article about how pets tend to look exactly like their owners. As a result, the dog was designed to look like Dennis' haircut and named Gnasher (pronounced: "nasher"). True to his name, Gnasher loves to bite everyone, especially mailmen. He and Dennis quickly became inseparable, and the feature title was eventually changed to 'Dennis the Menace and Gnasher'.


Introduction of Gnasher on 31 August 1968.

Success
'Dennis the Menace' proved a lifesaver for The Beano. Founded in 1938, the magazine had steady sales during World War II, but it encountered difficulties in competing with other children's magazines after the war. The popularity of 'Dennis the Menace' helped it grow into the market leader! By 7 March 1953, Dennis went from half a page to a full one. A year later, his face replaced Reg Carter's 'Big Eggo' in the magazine's cover heading. In November 1953, 'Dennis' gags ran in D.C. Thomson's family paper The Weekly News as well. Starting on 13 February 1954, the Beano ran the comic in color on its back cover until Ken Reid's 'Jonah' replaced him on this spot in March 1958. In April 1962, Dennis returned to the back page and stayed there until 1974.

Within a few decades, many of The Beano's older and more quaint stars were gradually phased out, such as Reg Carter's 'Big Eggo', Hugh McNeill's 'Pansy Potter' and Dudley D. Watkins' 'Biffo the Bear', 'Oor Wullie' and 'Lord Snooty'. As a replacement, The Beano launched several series mimicking Dennis' golden formula of mischievous boys or girls. Ken Reid introduced 'Roger the Dodger' (1953), Leo Baxendale came up with 'Minnie the Minx' (1953) and 'The Bash Street Kids' (1954), Gordon Bell devised 'The Belles of St. Lemons' (1971-1972) and Robert Nixon created 'Ivy the Terrible' (1985), to name but a few. Most were expies of Dennis, not only in behavior, but also in hair color, red-and-black clothing and loyal pet sidekicks. Rival magazines also introduced naughty children in school settings, such as Eric Roberts' 'Winker Watson' (1961-2007) and Wayne Thompson's 'Jak and Todd' (1997-2012) in The Dandy and Ken H. Harrison's 'Skookum School' (1973-1975) in Buzz. The closest copy was 'Beryl the Peril', created by Law himself for The Topper (7 February 1953). Still, none could touch 'Dennis the Menace' in popularity.

Controversy
Ever since its debut, moral guardians felt 'Dennis the Menace' was a bad role model. This, of course, made him all the more "cool". Law saw Dennis as a bad boy who did all the things young readers secretly wished they could. Even when he foolishly steps into his own traps or gets caught red-handed, it doesn't diminish his thrilling appeal. Though Dennis' personality isn't entirely one-dimensional. In some gags he's a straight-out selfish sociopath who gets what he deserves. On other occasions the boy is a rebel with a heart of gold, sticking up for justice. The most persistent complaint about the juvenile menace is that he acts as a straight-out bully. He often picks on people purely for fun, especially Walter. In Law's version, Walter was a disgustingly wholesome geek and a posh tattletale, on whom the inflicted punishments at least felt deserved. Later on, Walter became softer. Law gave him a white cat, Fluffy, and in 1969 a pink poodle named Foo Foo. Law's successors pushed Walter's soft nature into the extreme, making Dennis' pranks feel more vicious.

Dennis the Menace after Law's retirement
On 25 July 1970, Law fell ill, leaving The Beano's hit comic without an artist. Gordon Bell replaced him for one episode. From 1 August on, David Sutherland became the official 'Dennis the Menace' artist for the next 28 years. He continued Law's formula. The young hoodlum remained as popular as ever, even making it to The Beano's cover spot from issue #1678 of 14 September 1974 on. In August-September 1998 Sutherland passed the 'Dennis the Menace' comic strip to David Parkins (1998-2006). During the 2000s, Parkins alternated on the artwork with Barrie Appleby, Tom Patterson and Jimmy Hansen. Each period meant the introduction of new cast members, as well as the launch of several spin-off features, such as 'Gnasher's Tale' (1977-1986), 'Rasher' (1984-1995), 'Gnasher and Gnipper (1986-2009), 'Go, Granny Go' (1992-1998), 'Beaginnings' (1998-2001), 'The Bea Team' (2010-2014), 'Gnasher's Bit(e)' (2011-2014) and 'Gnash Gnews' (2012-2013). Since 2012 Nigel Parkinson is the main 'Dennis the Menace' artist. 


One of David Law's final 'Dennis the Menace' episodes.

From the late 1980s on, 'Dennis the Menace' underwent significant changes to counter some of the criticism and evolve with the times. For starters, Dennis is no longer spanked with a cane or a slipper as punishment. He and Walter also became more worthy opponents in tricking and deceiving each other. In certain episodes they even help each other out, making Walter a more sympathetic character to readers. Attempts to tone down the violence in the comic strip have been less persistent. From time to time, Dennis was less mean, didn't use his slingshot any longer, while Gnasher didn't bite anybody either. On 28 September 2016, the series' title was shortened to 'Dennis and Gnasher', removing references to his menacing reputation. But this softer tone always remained a temporary change. Every measure to make the comic strip "nicer and less violent" was always harked back in the end.

Merchandising and media adaptations
'Dennis the Menace' has been featured on numerous media products, including animated series. 'The Beano Video' (1993) and its sequel 'The Beano Videostars' (1994) were broadcast on ITV and drew enough high ratings and video sales to kick off a genuine animated TV series. 'Dennis and Gnasher' (1996-1998) was produced by Collingwood O'Hare Productions and broadcast on BBC. A British-Australian reboot ran between 2009 and 2013. A third series, 'Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed!' (2017), marked the first CGI-animated effort.

Comparison with Hank Ketcham's 'Dennis the Menace'
In the United Kingdom, 'Dennis the Menace' is a household name. Elsewhere in the world, another comic with exactly the same name is far more famous: Hank Ketcham's 'Dennis the Menace'. In one of the most mind-boggling coincidences in comic history, both series debuted on exactly the same day: 12 March 1951! The first Beano carrying the British 'Dennis' has a cover date of 17 March, but the magazines post-dated their issues so they could be kept on store shelves for a longer time. Given that cartoonists develop characters over a course of time and magazine editors usually prepare certain content several weeks or months beforehand, it's impossible to tell who was first. Certain is that both artists were completely unaware of each other. Their comics share a few similarities. Ketcham's Dennis also causes mayhem, owns a dog and has a slingshot. Just like the Beano version, the U.S. 'Dennis the Menace' is still in syndication today. Both comics have been adapted into animated TV series. On the other hand, they are completly different in tone, style and format. The U.S. 'Dennis' is a newspaper comic, appearing mainly as single-panel gag cartoons. The comedy is overall gentle and family friendly. Although Dennis causes calamity, he is basically an innocent boy, unaware of the bad impact he has on his environment. Either way, the U.K. Dennis is often referred to as 'Dennis the Menace and Gnasher', since his dog is a more prominent sidekick than the U.S. one. Even more amazing is that neither Law, nor Ketcham was the first to create a comic titled 'Dennis the Menace'. Between 31 October and 21 November 1943, Stanley J. Link also created a 'Dennis the Menace' feature, but this short-lived series was merely a topper to his 'Tiny Tim' comic. 


'Beryl the Peril' (The Topper #8, 1953).

Beryl the Peril
A few years after the creation of 'Dennis the Menace', Law introduced a female version of his famous brat: 'Beryl the Peril'. She debuted in the very first issue of The Topper (7 February 1953), another D.C. Thomson comic magazine. By 1958, she received her own annual compilation book series. Beryl is almost an exact expy of Dennis. They have a similar face design, go under a descriptive nickname, wear red-and-black clothing and terrorize their environment. Beryl's nemesis is the goody two-shoes Cynthia. Even Beryl's parents look exactly like Dennis's. The only significant difference is that the pig-tailed girl originally had a different pet, namely a turkey named Gobbler. Law modelled Beryl's behavior on his daughter Rosemary Moffat, who pulled faces whenever she threw a tantrum. Rosemary was also a tomboy, who enjoyed climbing trees and playing cowboys and Indians. Despite seeming a carbon copy of Dennis, Beryl is still historically significant, or even revolutionary. She was the first bratty girl character in British comics, not counting the school girls in Ronald Searle's one-panel cartoon series 'St. Trinians' (1946-1952). In a time when comics usually depicted girls as sweet and innocent, it was a bold move to use such a nasty girl for a protagonist. In late 1953, Leo Baxendale based his bratty girl character 'Minnie the Minx' directly on Beryl.

In August 1970, Bob McGrath took over 'Beryl the Peril' for a while, and was succeeded by John Dallas. Dallas only added two major innovations. In the 1980s, he changed her costume from a red top underneath a black dress to a red dress with a blue and white striped jumper underneath. He also gave her a dog, Pearl, making the similarities with Dennis even more blatant. In 1986, Robert Nixon took over the pencil. He reduced her menacing behavior and made the bond with her father more important. From 24 May 1986 on, Beryl became the main feature on each cover of the Topper. The devilish girl survived various mergers of the magazine, including with Buzz (1975), Sparky (1977) and The Beezer (1990). Even when the magazine printed its final issue three years later, Beryl and her creator Robert Nixon found a new home in The Dandy. When health issues forced Nixon to retire in 1999, Karl Dixon took over the series. He brought back her original design and clothing. In 2006, Steve Bright succeeded Dixon and gave the pig-tailed girl a baggy green and red T-shirt, with baggy black jeans and trainers. In 2010, a special event was organized on Facebook where four different artists, Steve Beckett, Andy Fanton, Nik Holmes and Nigel Auchterloine, drew their own Beryl the Peril comics: 'Pass the Peril'. Although appearing less regularly in the final years, Beryl survived all the way up to the final issue of The Dandy in 2012.


From: Beryl the Peril Annual 1967.

Cap'n Hand and his Merry Mutineers
In 1958, Law introduced the pirate comic 'Cap'n Hand and his Merry Mutineers' (1958-1960) to the readers of The Beezer. Cap 'n Hand is a short-sized and short-tempered pirate captain. Much to his frustration, he is stuck with lazy, unmotivated crew mates. Created by Law, most episodes were drawn by other artists, including Leo Baxendale, Michael Barratt and especially George Drysdale.

Corporal Clott
In issue #990 (12 November 1960) of The Dandy, Law debuted his final major comic series, 'Corporal Clott' (1960-1970s, 2012). The gags are set at an army base, where Clarence Clott is the clumsiest and most stupid recruit of the entire regiment. Though this isn't entirely his fault. In the pilot episode, Clarence thought he walked into a travel agency, but it was actually the army recruitment center next door. His request, "I'd like to see a bit of the world", was naturally misinterpreted. Once at military camp, Clott causes many blunders and accidents. So much in fact, that before the end of the pilot episode, the army staff already wants to get rid of him. He is promoted to corporal and moved to another unit in Africa, in the idle hope he'll cause less collateral damage. Naturally, he remains as imbecilic as ever, driving his superior, Colonel Grumbly, to despair and uncontrollable anger. Grumbly usually yells his catchphrase "Yahoo!" whenever something goes wrong. A third recurring character is general Hambone.


Conclusion of the first 'Corporal Clott' strip.

In odd timing, 'Corporal Clott' debuted in the same year the military draft (or "National Service") in the British army was abolished. As the 1960s progressed, the Vietnam War made criticism of warfare and military pomposity more prominent. As a result, 'Corporal Clott' gained popularity with readers. During its first six years, the series was set in Africa. In 1966, without explanation, the military base was suddenly set in England, with not only Clott, but all the other charactes now residing on British soil. This move of location was motivated by changing sensitivities. Many of the Africa-based gags involved ethnic stereotypes of black people, who were referred to as "darkies" or "niggers".

'Corporal Clott' shares a strong resemblance with another famous military humor comic: Mort Walker's 'Beetle Bailey'. The dynamic between Clott and Grumbly is very similar to Bailey and Sergeant Snorkel. Just like Clott, Bailey too ended up in the army by mistake. When Law left the series in August 1970, Jimmy Hughes continued 'Corporal Clott' until halfway the 1970s. In 1987, Steve Bright attempted a brief reboot, but his version was quickly dropped. By 2012, Nigel Auchterloine drew a new version of the series again for the Dandy annual, later bringing Clott back in the actual magazine too.


'Corporal Clott' in The Dandy #1080 (4 August 1962).

Final years and death
In his autobiography, cartoonist Leo Baxendale describes David Law as someone who was always in ill health. From the late 1950s on, this was reflected in his drawings, which became sketchier. In July 1970, Law fell gravely ill. It happened so sudden that The Beano and The Topper quickly had look for replacements. Although he recovered, Law's comics career was effectively over, as new artists by now continued his hit series. In April 1971, he passed away at age 63.

Legacy and influence
With Dennis the Menace and Beryl the Peril, David Law added two enduring characters to British comic history. Dennis and Gnasher are still the mascots of The Beano and remain the magazine's longest-running characters. They have by now eclipsed the original record holder 'Lord Snooty' (1938-1991, originally created by Dudley D. Watkins). The Dennis the Menace fan club, established on 5 June 1976, still exists today, although it was temporarily renamed the Beano Club between 1998 and 2008. Among its celebrity members have been Phil Lynott (lead singer of Thin Lizzy), actor Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker in 'Star Wars'), athlete Linford Christie and Prince William and Prince Harry. In 1993, Kurt Cobain was often seen in a red-and-black sweater which his wife Courtney Love bought from an Irish Nirvana fan. Unbeknownst to them, it was actually an official Dennis-style sweater. Darts player Dennis Priestley is nicknamed "Dennis the Menace" and also wears this type of sweater as part of his public image. When Nick Newman drew his political-satirical comic strip 'Dave Snooty and Pals' for Private Eye, he parodied Prime Minister David Cameron as Lord Snooty and Boris Johnson as Dennis the Menace.

In 2012, the Scottish town Dundee considered honoring Beryl the Peril with a memorial plaque as part of their women's history trail. In the end, she was excluded since she was a fictional character and because local politicians considered her a bad role model for children. Their decision was contested by none other than Scottish film actor Brian Cox, who felt Beryl deserved all the honor she could get. The punk band The Damned mentioned Corporal Clott in two of their songs, 'The History of the World Part 1' (1980) and 'Edward the Bear' (1985).


'Dennis the Menace' (The Beano, 28 September 1957).

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