Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Short Conversation with Cartoonist Ron Ferdinand (Dennis the Menace)

“Any smart person who is making humor his profession is out of his mind if he doesn’t depend on good assistants. I can sleep at night without torturing myself.” — Hank Ketcham, May 24, 1999       
by John Adcock

HANK KETCHAM saw his first Dennis comic strip appear in newspapers on March 12, 1951, a series still extant 65 years on. Today Marcus Hamilton draws the dailies and Ron Ferdinand the Sundays. What follows is a short conversation I recently had with affable cartoonist Ron Ferdinand, born in Manhattan in 1951, about his background.

Q. First, could you tell me a little about your background before Dennis? Did you have an education in visual arts or any previous employment in the cartooning field?
I attended the School of Visual Arts in the early 70s. Before that, I went to Catholic elementary school and High School where there were ZERO art classes. After SVA, I did a year at The Art Students League studying anatomy with Gustav Rehberger.
Q. Tell me how and when you became an assistant to Hank Ketcham and — if you recall the name — who was the assistant you were replacing? Was Marcus Hamilton already employed in the writing of Dennis the Menace? Did you assist on dailies and Sundays? Who writes the daily and Sunday these days, Marcus Hamilton still?
In 1980, I read an interview with Hank in CARTOONIST PROfiles where he mentioned that he was looking for a couple of assistants to help produce DENNIS. I sent him a few sketches of the characters, which he liked enough to start a correspondence for a few months where he sent me a few gags to rough out and ink. He then flew me out to Monterey (I lived in Queens) for two weeks after which he offered me a job. I worked on the MARVEL comic for a year with two other folks (Karen Matchette and Brian Lum). Bob Bugg was doing the Sundays in Connecticut. Hank had invested in a studio and asked Bob to relocate. Bob was well established in Connecticut with grandchildren nearby and didn’t want to move to California. Hank then put Karen Matchette and myself on the Sundays after he decided to discontinue the comic. Marcus didn’t come on board until ’94 as an artist. You may be thinking of Fred Toole, who was Hank’s writer on the comic books.
Q. When Hank Ketcham (1920-2001) retired in 1994 he gave an interview to a newspaper saying that, although he drew the strip, he hired comedy writers for ideas, ‘otherwise, you settle for mediocrity — or you burn yourself out…’ This may have been in part a reference to Fred Toole. Did all of Ketcham’s assistants submit gags for approval or were they solicited from outside sources?
Hank’s writers were outside sources. He did want the artists to be good editors and sometimes had us pick some gags and defend our choices.
Q. You started employment with Hank in 1980. How long did it take before you began to see your inks in print?
Actually, I started in September ’81. I came in on Marvel comic #5 or #6. There were 12 in all. I started on the Sundays in ’82. This was when, as I said, Bob Bugg had decided not to relocate to California. My first Sundays probably appeared in early ’83. I’m not too sure, but Bob had been several months ahead. Hank would give me a daily to do every now and then but he had designated me as a Sunday artist. There was also a bit of merchandising work going on which we helped on.
Q. When I was a kid, all of the Canadian newspapers carried a colored comic section on Saturdays — today there are none that I’m aware of. Sunday comics these days appear to have more of a presence on the web. Do you find yourself spending much more time promoting Dennis through social media and personal appearances?
Well, where I live, in upstate New York, the Sunday Dennis is available in three local papers. I recently did a presentation to a 3rd grade class, most of whom probably weren’t familiar with Dennis. The week before I spoke, the teacher prepped the class with YouTube vids of the Dennis cartoons, comic books and newspaper clippings of the Sundays. By the time I got there, the kids were so pumped for Dennis they were jumping out of their seats. I surmise from this that, given even a minimum amount of exposure, he could hold his own against most of today’s competition. There’s such a wealth of Dennis history in all mediums that, when it comes down to it, Dennis the Menace really has few equals.
Dennis the Menace daily and Sunday strips HERE.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Induction of the Sycophant

by John Adcock

“We are getting to the roots of one of the contributing causes of juvenile delinquency when we study the influence of comic books. You cannot understand present-day juvenile delinquency if you do not take into account the pathogenic and pathoplastic influence of the comic books.” — Dr. Frederick Wertham, M.D., speaking at 1948 symposium on The Psychopathology of Comic Books

THE SCENE is set in the early 1950s, Cold War America, where a virus is spreading across the country infecting the nation’s children with sexual perversion, suicidal epidemics and murderous impulses. Dr. Wertham, children’s psychiatrist, “fueled with a youthful vigor that bordered on constant rage,” takes a wrecking ball to the comic book industry, laying waste to the livelihood of greedy publishers and hapless cartoonists alike. This might seem like a familiar story to fans of comic books but East Village author Tiger Moody posits an alternate history of the well-worn tale with savage black humor and a brutal disregard for the tender feelings of the reader. Shock follows explosive shock in a merciless rendering of events shot through with tenderness and horror.

Dr. Wertham painted by Moody.
THE NOVEL is a short one so I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, suffice to say the politically incorrect characters include: overworked hero Jack Coal, cartoonist-creator of Elastic Man, who is suffering testicular problems from fears of job redundancy; his stuttering pal Bert Meskin; shop-boss Will Meiser; a flashy up and comer, Wallace Good, accompanied by an ever-present guitar; Millard Gaines, a rye and Benzedrine-besotted publisher; and Zach Kirby, a hack who dreams of doing headier stuff; names which will ring a bell with anyone at all knowledgeable of US funny book history.

On a personal note, by the time I reached the third page I had a smile on my face which never left me until I had reached the last page of Induction of the Sycophant. In between I was seized by eruptions of groans, raised eyebrows, snickers, involuntary guffaws and uncontrollable laughter. The fact the book has been only sporadically reviewed in the media seems nothing short of criminal.

AUTHOR Tiger Moody was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and raised in Trenton New Jersey. He has worked as a fry cook, tattoo artist, bouncer, zine artist and janitor. His previous book was Heart of Brass, published by United Crud in 2015. Moody also wrote the introduction to I Fought the Law: The Life and Strange Death of Bobby Fuller, also from Kicks Books, 2015.

Moody personally describes his pulp novel Sycophant of the Innocent as a “little love-letter to despair, Benzedrine and horseflies.”  Moody himself painted both the portrait of Dr. Wertham gracing the back cover and the front cover illustration. The little boy on the cover is Lester, a character in the book, with a skull ring for a crown. The interior is illustrated with 46 chapter header panels from public domain comics.

Induction of the Sycophant by Tiger Moody, Foreward by Lenny Kaye, 254 pp., Kicks Books, NY, 2015. Available from Amazon or HERE.