thrift store finds: babysitter’s guide by dennis the menace

(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood’s St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the things I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)

Last year, I wrote a couple hundred words about Dennis the Menace, and to be perfectly frank, I didn’t expect to ever revisit him here in Thrift Store Finds. I had said my piece, as it were. Although I continue to find Dennis paperbacks during my thrift store runs, nothing unique sang out about them; nothing new occurred to me to the point where I felt like devoting an second post to Hank Ketcham’s ornery little mischief maker.

That is, until I came across this week’s Thrift Store Find.

Babysitter’s Guide by Dennis the Menace, published in 1961 by Fawcett Crest Books is a bit of an oddity. Written and drawn by Ketcham and Bob Harmon, from the onset this looks like the standard collection of Dennis gag strips… but the majority of the comics in Babysitter’s Guide are themed around (you guessed it) Dennis terrorizing his various babysitters.

Obviously, I’ve been reading a lot of these old comic paperbacks in the last year and a half and I’ve often wondered why I didn’t come across the idea of theming more often. Most paperbacks I look at are a random mish-mash of strips, collected with very little rhyme or reason to their sorting within collections. It’s understandable why both publishers and cartoonists might prefer cherry-picking the best strips for book publication, but it occasionally makes for strange gaps within a collection.

Ketcham was a gag man, however. There was no strict continuity within his Dennis strips, no sweeping stories. As such… Dennis the Menace was a good choice for a book culled together as this one is.

As I said in my last go-around, the early Dennis the Menace strips are great in that Dennis is actually menacing, as opposed to the rather milquetoast character he’s become in modern times. Take this strip for example, one of the few non-babysitter strips in the book, as it features Dennis’ father:

Or this one, which is just brutal!

If another reprint collection was all Babysitter’s Guide was, I probably would have given a pass on writing about it. However, there’s another weird/interesting conceit that makes the book notable. As you can tell by taking a gander at the above cover, this book is written BY Dennis the Menace. As the introduction slyly posits, Hank Ketcham has apparently been working FOR Dennis lo these many years, in some kind of indentured servitude. Dennis has finally decided to contribute directly to the production of this book and has cracked the whip on Ketcham to put Babysitter’s Guide together. Every few pages, Dennis breaks the monotony of the comic reprints with some selected bon mots on dealing with life. Here, for example are the titular Menace’s thoughts on spanking:

I cannot decide if this book is clever or a scam. It’s a scam in there’s about a third less comic material reprinted here. Ketcham makes due with including a lot of random drawing and illustrations, like the one above of Dennis just… standing there. That “Dennis standing” drawing is repeated like ten times in the book. Or look at this:

Not only is this just the same comic strip I highlighed a few paragraphs ago… the text underneath and to the right of the comic is just an elaborate retelling of that comic strip! They essentially used the same comic THREE times: once as a straight-up reprint, once as an illustration, and one more time as a text story.

At the same time, Babysitter’s Guide is clever in that it’s markedly different than any other comic paperback collection I’ve yet encountered from the 1960’s-1970’s. Where as most of these collections looked slapped together in fairly short order with very little rhyme or reason to what was being collected and how, it’s obvious a little extra work went into this collection.  Some of the Dennis commentary is even a little clever enough to make me think that this may not have been just a quick money grab.

At least, I thought that until I got to the last page.

Ah yes.

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One Response to “thrift store finds: babysitter’s guide by dennis the menace”

  1. Mary Boggus Says:

    I have a hardback Dennis the Menace-Baby Sitter’s Guide, copyright, 1954, by Henry Ketcham. It, also, has “First Edition”. I grew up watching Dennis and his antics. Jay North was Dennis. I miss the good comics like this. Today, If I had young kids, I would not let them watch cartoons that are on now. Although Dennis was a menace, he never once said nasty, filthy things the “cartoon kids” say today. I think there was a Dennis in every family, somewhere down the line!

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