'Punky' (1957).

Al Wiseman was an American comic book artist and illustrator. Regarded as a "cartoonist's cartoonist", his work on Hank Ketcham's 'Dennis the Menace' comic books is celebrated among his peers for its skilled craftmanship and precise linework. He also created the back-up comics 'Punky' (1954-1958), 'Screaming Mini' (1955-1957) and 'Chubb' (1953-1957) in the same series. He also drew one daily cartoon series of his own, 'Grace and Louie' (1966, 1973). 

Early life and career
Alvin R. Wiseman was born in 1918, and spent his entire life in California. He began his career as a commercial artist in the advertising industry, working on several cartoon-style campaigns. A notable campaign was for Golden State Ice Cream, for which he created the storybook-like ads about the 'Land of Ohs and Ahs'. He also made spicy cartoon covers for the monthly 'Charley Jones' Laugh Book Magazine' series. In the early 1950s, he also appeared in the short-lived 'Dogface Dooley' comic book series with saucy military humor by Magazine Enterprises, drawing features like 'Winnie and Wanda, the WAC-ky Warriors'.

Dennis, by Al Wiseman
Dennis the Menace and Ruff, the dog based on Al Wiseman's own pet.

Dennis the Menace
Wiseman was close friends with the cartoonist Hank Ketcham and, according to legend, the two men made deal over a handshake on the golf course one day. As described by Wiseman's granddaughter Aliza on the site alwiseman.org, they agreed that "whomever got the idea for a strip first, the other would be his ghost." Whether this is literally what happened is up for debate, but certain is that Ketcham won. On 12 March 1951, he launched a syndicated daily cartoon feature about a mischievous kid called 'Dennis the Menace'. Based largely on the cartoonist's five-year old son, Ketcham's single-panel gag cartoons were an instant hit. By popular demand, a color Sunday comic strip was added on 13 January 1952. To take care of its production, Al Wiseman held up his end of the golf course deal and took care of the art duties. Fred Toole came on board as the comic's writer. When in 1953 Pines Publications launched a 'Dennis the Menace' comic book series, Wiseman and Toole were responsible for creating the exclusive stories.

Even though they remained anonymous throughout their eighteen year collaboration, Wiseman and Toole played an important role in establishing Dennis' world. Since Ketcham's dailies consisted of single-panel cartoons, they remained slice-of-life type scenes in a suburban neighborhood. The Sunday comic and the longer stories gave opportunity to deepen the characters and their environment. Still, Toole and Wiseman stayed true to the original. Like in the dailies, Dennis caused unintentional havoc, embarassing and exhausting his parents as well as his next door neighbor, Mr. Wilson. Toole and Wisman could also elaborate on Dennis' relation to the other neighborhood kids, such as Margaret, Joey and Gina. Ruff, the Wiseman family pet, stood model for Dennis' dog. Unlike other comic book tie-ins of newspaper comics, the authors didn't fall back to funny fantasy creatures or over-the-top adventures for inspiration. Varying in length from one to ten pages, all the 'Dennis' comic book stories are set in a plausible reality, emphasizing on the characters and their personalities. With Wiseman gradually adding a personal touch to his linework, the 'Dennis the Menace' comic books represented suburban life of the "modern" 1950s like the best family-oriented sitcoms of the emerging TV medium.

'Tag-along Trouble' (Dennis the Menace Triple Feature, Winter 1961).

Just like the daily, the 'Dennis the Menace' comic book was an instant hit. While comic books at the time usually sold 50-60 percent of their total print run, all copies of the first 'Dennis the Menace' issue instantly sold out. After 31 issues at Pines, Hallden/Fawcett continued the comic book license, and released monthly issues until November 1979, ending the original run after 166 issues. Wiseman and Toole continued to make the stories throughout most of the 1950s and 1960s. By the 1960s, Wiseman shifted focus to special issues and seasonal stories, while Owen Fitzgerald, Lee Holley, Vic Lockman and other artists were assigned to the regular story production and the Sundays. Al Wiseman also made the illustrations for the Golden Book 'Dennis the Menace Waits for Santa Claus' (1961); his only credited contribution to the franchise.

Back-up features
During the 1950s, Wiseman created several back-up features for the 'Dennis the Menace' comic books. He used a more stylized graphic approach for his 'Punky' stories (1954-1958), about a gullible kid with gibberish speech. 'Screaming Mimi' (1955-1957) was a girl with an extremely loud voice, appearing in issues #11 through #21. More sporadic were the appearances of 'Chubb' (1953-1957), a chubby kid with a strong appetite.

'Screaming Mimi'.

Additional cartoon work
In addition to 'Dennis the Menace', Al Wiseman assisted George Crenshaw on his 'Belvedere' daily panel during the 1960s, and and also worked on Hanna-Barbera's 'Yogi Bear' Sunday page. For the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, he briefly made a daily panel called 'Grace and Louie' (1966, 1973).

Al Wiseman passed away in May 1988, at the age of 69. Although to the general audience he has always remained in the shadow of 'Dennis' creator Hank Ketcham, Wiseman inspired a whole new generation of artists with his clean, stylized artwork and expressive lettering. He played a defining role in the comic book version of 'Dennis the Menace', just like Carl Barks did for Disney's 'Donald Duck' and John Stanley for Marge's 'Little Lulu'. Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez and Daniel Clowes have all cited him as an inspiration. Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly included one of his 'Dennis the Menace' stories in their collection 'The Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics' (Abrams, 2009).

Al Wiseman has a cameo in Dennis the Menace #30.

Frank Hembeck on Al Wiseman and Fred Toole's 'Dennis'

Series and books by Al Wiseman you can order today:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.