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March 19, 2024 64 mins

Robert sits down with Randy Milholland to discuss Hank Ketcham, the creator of Dennis the Menace. Despite his cartoon's kid-safe nature, Hank mined his own wife and child for content while systematically destroying both of their lives.

(2 Part Series)

Sources:

  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1990/05/05/denniss-dear-old-dad/3034ac5a-25fc4f92-ad9b
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Transcript

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Also media, Ah, what's raising my children? If you're the
subject of today's episode, the answer is no one really.
I'm Robert Evans. This is Behind the Bastards, a podcast
about terrible parents. We've just finished our Steve Jobs episodes

(00:22):
who was a Shitty parent for the history books, And today, folks,
we have a horrible, horrible man who was also a
horrible horrible parent for you. That is boy howdy, this
guy much worse than your guessing he's going to be.
And before I introduce our subject for this week, this
is a cartoonist who we're going to be talking about.

(00:42):
And whenever I bring on a cartoonist, bastard and there
are many, we have our resident official Behind the Bastards
podcast cartoonist Randy Millholland Grance.

Speaker 2 (00:55):
Thank you so kindly. That was a lovely intro. I
really can't wait for this best because you're talking about
his property is done by the same syndic that I
work for.

Speaker 1 (01:05):
Good Well, speaking of that, you are the creator of
the webcomics Something Positive and you are currently pop by
the sailor Man's uncle. I think is I think so?

Speaker 2 (01:15):
I think I'm his adoptive father.

Speaker 1 (01:16):
Now this pot Yeah, yeah, his adoptive father. You draw
him to this day, and actually we'll be talking a
little bit about that, about how comics go on when
they're original artist no longer one's tour is able to
draw them and stuff. That's part of the story here.
But our bastard for this episode is the Dennis the
Menace guy. And I know what you're saying. People, The

(01:37):
term history's greatest monster gets thrown around a lot, especially
mostly by me. Yeah, mostly by me, But obviously, who
could be a better pick for the worst human being
in history than the guy who draws Dennis the Menace?
I don't know.

Speaker 3 (01:50):
I'm actually surprised you didn't try to do the Hitler
of comics because you also throw that alout on.

Speaker 1 (01:56):
I've done a lot of the Hitler of X titles
over the last couple of year, Sophie. I'm not a
very creative man. I know, Randy, What can you tell
me about the Dennis the Menace creator, Hank Ketch him
not spelled like the guy from Pokemon.

Speaker 2 (02:10):
Well, I know that he served in the Navy during
World War Two. I know the names of a few
his ghost artists who worked on the comic and the
comic book. I also know that around the time Dennis
the Minists launched in America and Britain, a comic also
named Dennish the Menace, Completely Unrated launched. I know he

(02:31):
was not rumored to be the nicest dad.

Speaker 1 (02:34):
Not that we'll be talking a lot about him as.

Speaker 2 (02:37):
A dad, not to his first son anyway, not to
his first kid. Yeah, ef fact, I would say that
there's definitely a lot of like sadness involved with children,
because like the TV show, I know there were some
sad things happening to Jane Orth as well.

Speaker 1 (02:50):
I'm nervous.

Speaker 2 (02:51):
I'm not gonna lie.

Speaker 1 (02:52):
This is an interesting story obviously, like we're talking about
a lower stakes bastard than a lot of our war
criminals and genocide airs here. But I think it's interesting
both because Hank's career kind of straddles the birth of
animation as a field, and he has involved in some
of like the early acts of bastardry within animation as
it relates to like Disney and labor issues. And he's

(03:14):
also just a fascinating case study of like where's the
ethical line about creating art that's inspired by your life? Right?
Because most people who do some sort of fictional art,
especially for like an audience and an ongoing basis. Their
real life experiences play into that somehow. It's like a
common joke that like writers and whatnot, you know, takes

(03:34):
stuff from their lives and put it into their stories.
And is there actually a moral line? There is there
a degree to which that's like wrong? Like what is
the extent to which you should do that when it
starts to have an effect on the real people that
you're inspired by. These are actually some kind of tough
questions that I think will be rolling over a little bit.
But I will tell you Hank does the wrong thing

(03:55):
in every possible instance. So oh no, yeah, oh god, Yeah.
So Hank King Ketcham was born on March Fourteen's you
say king King is his middle name? Yeah, is a
king of God. And again not like ash Ketchum of
the Pokemons, that's k e tchu Wim. Hank is k

(04:18):
E tch a m And he was born on March fourteenth,
nineteen twenty, in the flooded hellscape of Seattle, Washington. His
father's first name was Weaver, which I don't like. I
don't think that's a very good name.

Speaker 2 (04:31):
It's a weird one.

Speaker 1 (04:32):
It's a fine last name if you want to get
shot by the FBI, or at least have several members
of your family shot by the FBI, but a bad
first name. And his mother's first name was Virginia, which
I'm neutral on. When he was six years old, he
met an illustrator who was a friend of the family.
And this is like his inciting incident as a kid
who wants to become a cartoonist. And here's how Hank

(04:54):
describes that moment. A lot of artists I and I
guess basically everyone who becomes an artist has a moment
like this. Hank describes his in his autobiography, which has
the most insufferable title of a famous cartoonist attabious, imaginable.
Do you know what this autobiography is named? I am
dreading this so you know he's the guy who created
Dennis the Menace, right, not weird that people might want

(05:16):
an autobiography for that. What do you call that? I'm
the Dennis the Menace guy, you know, Hank Ketchum a
life in cartoons now.

Speaker 2 (05:23):
Drawing trouble. That that's why I go drawing trouble.

Speaker 1 (05:25):
Sure, all of these are fine titles. He calls it
the Merchant of Dennis the Menace, Oh, like the Merchant
of Venice for no reason, because there's no similarity, like
other than the fact that there's an iss in both that, like,
there's no through line between the Merchant and Venice and
drawing Dennis the Menace. I'm so angry about this, and

(05:46):
I shouldn't be, And like, I don't normally say this,
but Hank Ketchum should have been murdered by the government.
What else can you say about that? I'm sorry.

Speaker 2 (05:55):
The next National Cartoon Society meeting after this podcast, my
next editors meeting, where they're like, hey, heard you were
on a podcast about talking about property distribute, But.

Speaker 1 (06:06):
Seriously, why would you call it the Merchant of Dennis
the Menace.

Speaker 2 (06:10):
I'm sure you thought it, and I'm sure he had
no one who was willing to say no.

Speaker 3 (06:17):
Yeah.

Speaker 1 (06:18):
I mean it is a little telling because past a
certain point in his career, this is just a property
he's marketing, rather than which I mean, I don't actually
hold that against him, right, Like, if you draw a
doodle of a misbehaving little kid and it makes you
a very wealthy man, you kind of ride that ship
as long as you can, right, Who wouldn't you know?

Speaker 2 (06:36):
It's also really common in comics that a lot of
times you'll have cartoonists who will get ghost artists and
ghost writers, and you know, once you get big enough,
you can like Jim Davis hasn't drawn Carfield probably decades.

Speaker 1 (06:47):
God has been, of course not. And we're well on
the record of saying there's nothing wrong with Jim Davis.

Speaker 2 (06:54):
Really not a lot of my friends. In fact, a
lot of cartoonists like Jim Davis Scott their start in
this field. Yeah, being ghost artists, it's a very common.

Speaker 1 (07:02):
Yeah. Yeah. And of all the ways to get that
kind of money, drawing a little a weird little guy
is like one of the least problematic ways, right, Like,
there's not as much exploitation normally with Hank there kind
of is because his child is like the sacrifice he
makes for his comic to work. But I've gotten ahead
of myself.

Speaker 2 (07:21):
Oh God.

Speaker 1 (07:21):
Anyway, here's how he describes first getting pilled on the
wonders of working as a cartoonist. As I watched him
scribble some quick sketches of Barney Google, Moon Mulleins and
Andy Gump. I couldn't wait to borrow his magic pencil
and try my own hand at drawing these comic strip characters.
It looks so easy and such a lot of fun.
I couldn't have been more than six years old at
the time. Well, the two men sure came up with

(07:43):
a good way to get rid of me. In a hurry,
I moved over to the creaky roll top desk, found
some thin sheets of paper, and remained there until dinner,
slavishly tracing the visitor's sketches. Quite sure the pencil was magic.
And uh, yeah, I think that that's not an uncommon
kind of story, right, Yeah.

Speaker 2 (08:00):
I think it's how a lot of us start off.
Either we see it or we just are lucky enough
to start doodling one day you just can't stop.

Speaker 1 (08:07):
Yeah, yeah, And that's what happens with Hank. He starts doodling.
When this guy comes over, he sketches his drawings. He
actually has the opposite experience I had his little kid
where his teacher finds his cartoons and takes them on
in front of the class to be like, look at
how good Hank is it drawing, And she has him
like draw for the class to like praise him, not
as like a to punish him or whatever in.

Speaker 2 (08:27):
This garbage you were doing, piece of shit. I had
those teachers. I had a lot of those teachers.

Speaker 1 (08:33):
Yeah I got. I got in trouble because my cartoons
were way too violent and in a post column by
in America, you didn't want to your teacher to find
your notebook with those drawings.

Speaker 2 (08:43):
Oh shit. I didn't realize how lucky I was to
graduate in nineteen ninety four.

Speaker 1 (08:46):
Yeah. I would have been in so much trouble for
so many things. Yeah. I mean it's only gotten worse since,
like I was not there and nearly as bad as
it would become. But like I did have, I did
catch some flak for some of my cartoons. So in
his autobiography, Hank describes himself as lucky. And I find
this interesting because he's aware that, like other kids spend

(09:07):
years trying to figure out what they're going to be,
and like often never really do And he knew from
like is, basically as long as he could remember, he
knew the only thing I want to be is a cartoonist.
It is interesting he's got that kind of self awareness
that is a blessing, right knowing that you have this
one very specific thing, and it's the only thing you'll
ever want to do.

Speaker 2 (09:26):
I can relate. Actually, that's something my earliest memory was bluring.
People can draw for a living, and that's why I
wanted to do. I God, I hope that is the
only similarity between us.

Speaker 1 (09:37):
I'm I also hope that's the only similarity between you.
In his autobiography, he describes himself as like becoming increasingly
obsessed with cartoons as a child. The Wondrous World is
inhabited by Barney Google, Harold Teene, Mutt and Jeff, the
Tuonerville Folks, and the Gumps, and like I went through
those and I was like, I have not heard of
any of these fucking people. M Jeff A little bit,

(09:57):
A little bit.

Speaker 2 (09:58):
Yeah, Andy. The Gumps was actually one of the first
comics to have continuity. It started just before Simple Theater did.
It was also had like one of the first storylines
where a character died. It was a national event.

Speaker 1 (10:13):
People freaking wow. Yeah, like America for a while. Oh
like wow, that dates it.

Speaker 2 (10:19):
Yeah, Like it was like I think it was Spanish
flu or some It was something that a woman got sick,
and it was a very big deal.

Speaker 1 (10:27):
No.

Speaker 2 (10:27):
Granted today I would probably get fireball and for doing
the same thing. But at the same time.

Speaker 1 (10:33):
That is I don't know. I don't know if kids
today are having these experience, but I like one of
the first things I remember learning about death was from
a Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

Speaker 2 (10:40):
So oh the bird or the phone?

Speaker 1 (10:42):
No it was it was the raccoon, I think. Sah, yeah, yeah,
it really was. And one one of the fun things
about cartoons is that they never die, at least if
they're successful enough, they never die.

Speaker 3 (10:54):
Right.

Speaker 1 (10:55):
The reason I bring that up is because some of
these comics I hadn't heard of. I looked up and
in the case of Bunkie and Barney Google and Snuffy Smith,
which is a cartoon I was not aware of, it
was created the year before Hank was born, and it
is still in print today under a new cartoonist. Yeah.
Oh cool.

Speaker 2 (11:12):
Oh, Rose is a sweetheart. He's a wonderful man. Again.
It's the King Features And like Bimble Theater, it's a
comic that started off about one character, Barney Google. Yeah,
eventually they're brought in Snuffy Smith, and Snuffy kind of
outshine Barney and he just kind of vanished from the comic.

Speaker 1 (11:28):
Yeah, they like killed him or took him away for
a while, and he came back back.

Speaker 2 (11:32):
Every once in a while the current artist does his
best to bring him back and actually bring back a
lot of old characters from the old days.

Speaker 1 (11:38):
And yeah, I had not heard of this comic at all,
but I you know, when I came upon the name,
I was immediately like, I wonder if this has anything
to do about like Google, the search engine, and you know,
the Barney Google comic, I think obviously exists before the
concept of computers in most people's mind. But the answer
is probably. As a matter of fact. In the book

(11:59):
That Hidden History of Coined Words, published by Oxford University Press,
author Ralph Keyes argues that Barney Google was probably the
inspiration for the term goggle, which is the term for
a very large number, which is what inspired the name
for Google. So you know, what does all this mean?
Should you burn down Google headquarters and draw and quarter
there's c suite in public as vengeance for Barney Google suffering.

(12:23):
Maybe I haven't read the comic. I don't know. Pop
Probably I feel like I.

Speaker 2 (12:26):
Should say at this point no opinion here expressed as
an opinion of King Features Syndicate or their parent company
hurst uh want to get fired?

Speaker 1 (12:36):
Yeah, none of these are even my opinions usually. So
the first animated movie that's going to come out that
that Hank is going to be aware of as a
kid is the French film Phantasma Gory.

Speaker 2 (12:48):
Oh probably, Yeah, I've heard of that. I haven't seen it.

Speaker 1 (12:51):
Seen some ancient stuff, and like we're saying probably because
like a lot of media from them was lost, so
you can't ever say, like for certain nobody tried it before.
But if you look at least from the clips I've
seen and stuff, it actually kind of reminds me a
little bit of Don Hertzfeldt's work, Like a lot of
it's like stick figure style animated art. There were also
some pseudo animated movies that kind of predated Phantasmagori, but

(13:13):
they were all animated by like putting images on a
wheel and projecting light through it and like moving the
wheel around to make the images move or some shit,
which is like it's not considered like it's not animation
in the same way that like traditional animation is done
right now, cartoons grew up fast from this point in
nineteen twenty eight, we get Steamboat Willie, a short film

(13:34):
by Walt Disney and UBI Works that is generally considered
the first Mickey Mouse cartoon recently enter the public domain.
As I think we're all aware.

Speaker 2 (13:42):
I'm doing a comic based off of it right now too. Yeah,
I want to see if I get sued.

Speaker 1 (13:48):
Where is that line You're allowed to call him Mickey?

Speaker 2 (13:51):
Right?

Speaker 1 (13:52):
Uh?

Speaker 2 (13:52):
Yeah, I'm also a Mickey. He's not allowed to have
read shorts. He's not allted have gloves.

Speaker 1 (13:59):
I love copyright law.

Speaker 2 (14:01):
It's a little dance we do. And I know there's
there's some poor lawyer in the basement of Disney whose
job is every day like as he fucked up.

Speaker 1 (14:09):
It is fucked up. It is wild, like is like
a seven or eight year old Hank's watching Steamboat Willie
with no idea that like, in the not too distant future,
this mouse will be worth more than most of the
nations on Earth, Like he will absolutely change large aspects
of how life is lived and creativity functions for a
huge percentage of the human population. Yep, it's so fucking

(14:34):
crazy where that all goes. But yeah, so he loves
this as a little kid. He's enthralled by all animation.
You have to think about animation in the period where
Hank is a kid. It's not like we animation today
is like, yeah, kids like animated movies, right, and so
do adults. Animated movies are a big deal. Animation is
kind of like it's close to the Internet than it

(14:55):
is to like a type of entertainment. Yeah, because the
idea that you could just like draw pictures and have
them move and have that on a screen is like
such a wild like it really has this almost hallucinogenic
effect on people in the day because it's such a
new concept. Like you have to imagine going from like
dying of the Spanish flu to seeing Fantasia is quite

(15:17):
an experience, you know, Oh my.

Speaker 2 (15:20):
God, or seeing the goddamn donkey transformation in Pinocchio.

Speaker 1 (15:24):
Yeah, that shit's intense, you know. And I do think
that like really or you know, it might be better
than compared to the Internet, compared to like how YouTube
videos impacted the development of kids who were born like
after the two thousands. Right, It's both in some good
ways and some bad ways. It's this thing that just
like utterly captures a generation. And Hank is right in

(15:45):
the center of the blast radius. Hank saw cartoons from
a very early age, not just as a method of
self expression, but as a path to money. His first
job was when he was ten years old. A classmate
with a rich dad offered to pay him twenty five
cents cash. He writes it in his book if he
drew one hundred cartoon heads, and he describes this as
like a nightmare job. It was like the first time

(16:06):
he took a horrible gigwork animating piece and was like, Oh,
this sucks. Why would anyone do this?

Speaker 2 (16:14):
Every cartoonist has that job in their history. I'm glad
he got out of the system.

Speaker 1 (16:18):
Really back in his day, like that was the equivalent
of mid journey is find a kid who's good at
sketching and give him a quarter. His childhood was not
all cartoons, of course, and they seem to have served
as at least a partial escape from his world, you know,
And he grows up in a world you might want
to escape. He's kind of comes into being right after
the Spanish Flu and shit calms down, and he grows

(16:39):
up right in the teeth of the Great Depression, and
his own description of his father's discipline style sounds unpleasant
to say the least. Quote. My sister Joan is two
years younger than I, and we grew up as too normal,
well behaved, insecure, terrified kids. Dad served in the Navy
during the First World War and was by nature a
stern disciplinarian. I don't know what prompted it, but one

(16:59):
evening he brought home a horsewhip, a stiff, tapered thing
about three feet long that he solemnly placed in the
corner near the front door. My first thought was, oh boy,
when is he goin to bring the horse? The rules
were quite simple, no whipping above the knees. Now, maybe
this is as it should be on horses, but on skinny,
little underfed kids, it's murder. However, it did stimulate the
circulation on cold afternoons, and I developed various techniques of

(17:20):
fancy footwork that to this day have given me the
reputation of being an agile dancer, which is like a
very funny and lighthearted way of saying, yeah, like, my
dad beat the hell out of us when we were
bat Oh my god, love the old times.

Speaker 2 (17:34):
I'm sure that's not gonna come back later in any way,
that's not the effect anything in the future, is it.

Speaker 1 (17:39):
I mean, you know, his kid might have done better
if he'd been like there and just smacking him sometimes
as opposed to like this is a weird case of
like honestly, if he'd just been there at all, it
might have been better. Fuck, I don't know. I can't
make a conclusive stance.

Speaker 2 (17:53):
There still like what a what a fuck of a thing? Like, yeah,
we grew up as normal terrified children. That's not fucking normal.

Speaker 1 (18:01):
Dad brought a whip and just laid it in the room,
so we had to think about it for a while.

Speaker 2 (18:06):
Oh my Jesus Christ.

Speaker 1 (18:08):
I mean I had I had the healthy version of
that as a kid, which was my dungeon Master bought
a copy of The Book of Vile Darkness and just
like set it out on the table for like five
sessions before he ever used anything from it. And the
instant we're in a fight and he like grabs it
from the middle of the table and opens it up.
We're all like, oh fuck, that was my having a switch.

Speaker 2 (18:28):
That book, wasn't it.

Speaker 1 (18:30):
Yeah?

Speaker 2 (18:30):
Yeah, yeah, I had a book that was awful, great,
great source book. I never used him a player once,
couldn't so.

Speaker 1 (18:38):
Hank doesn't claim to we have had a bad relationship
with his father, who actually supported his ambitions to be
an animator. I do think that description of himself as
his and his sister as insecure and terrified shouldn't just
be read as a joke. We should maybe use that
as a little bit of like a oh, yeah, the
boomers make a lot of sense, or in their predecessors, like,

(18:58):
I'm not surprised they've done some of the things they've
done as a generation.

Speaker 2 (19:02):
Nope, not remotely.

Speaker 1 (19:04):
Hank would later claim that the first animated thing that
really had a huge impact on him was The Three
Little Pigs. This is a Disney short film that's released
in nineteen thirty three, and this is what makes him
want to be an animator specifically. He always wants to draw.
He's like, because you know, there's a bunch of different
jobs for animations. You could do advertisements, you could do cartoons,

(19:24):
Film animation is new, and it's Three Little Pigs that
makes him want to become specifically a Walt Disney animator.

Speaker 2 (19:30):
Also of the early color ones as well.

Speaker 1 (19:32):
Wasn't that Yes, yes it is. It comes out in
thirty three, and then four years later is the very
first animated film of all time, Snow White and Some
Dudes Yes right, which still actually looks great, you know
it does.

Speaker 2 (19:44):
It has never like they really worked hard, like the
work that is core. It was groundbreaking.

Speaker 1 (19:50):
Yeah, It's such a cool thing about animation is that
like it ages, but not in a way where it
like it doesn't look worse with age. Good drawings are
always good drawing. You can date them because like, people
don't draw the way they did for Snow White anymore,
but they don't look bad.

Speaker 2 (20:05):
Well. Across town, the Fleischer Studio did their Goalvers Travels movie,
which you know, hell lot of rotoscope and actually even
the Popeye meets Sindbad thirty minutes short they did it
is still one of the most stunning things I've ever seen,
as the actual real background that they rotated and it
sells over.

Speaker 1 (20:24):
Yeah, I love when they I mean, I grew up
on a lot of rotoscope stuff, like I'm a big
I'm a big like Fritz the Cat Boxhi fan, Yeah,
Bakshi y rotoscope Oh yeah yeah. He couldn't get enough
of it. And that was when you're nineteen years old
and hallucinating every weekend recreationally like rotoscoped movies hit different.

(20:45):
He didn't have hallucinogens, probably, but he did have cartoons.
And as he kind of grows into an adolescent, he
continues to like love drawing, and he gets what's weird
is he describes it as like this is what makes
him a cool kid, Like I've never actually I've read
a lot of car because I like cartoons. I've heard
a lot of cartoonists autobiographies and memoirs. I have never

(21:08):
heard of cartoonists say that it got them late, not once.
But Hank Ketcham makes that claim. And here's what he says.
I accepted most any request for a funny drawing. It
was a splendid ego massage. I received as much attention
from the girls as the muscular athletes and was never
out of breath.

Speaker 2 (21:25):
That sounds like he was getting dates from both, which
is the headcanon I want.

Speaker 1 (21:30):
Yeah, I don't know if I really believe that, Hank,
just because I've never heard of it of a guy
drawing cartoons getting that kind of attention from it. But
perhaps that happened.

Speaker 2 (21:40):
I mean, I did meet my spouse because of my comic,
But I.

Speaker 1 (21:44):
Still like in high school it was like in high school.

Speaker 2 (21:47):
Oh god no, I was like, oh, could you draw
this horse? I'm gonna give it to my boyfriend? Okay,
here you go.

Speaker 1 (21:52):
Yeah, absolutely not. But I don't know, maybe it was
a different era. Disney animators were the U. I don't
know what's a sexy job? Is any think sexy anymore?

Speaker 2 (22:01):
Took your bills?

Speaker 1 (22:03):
Yeah, having more money than rent costs.

Speaker 2 (22:07):
Yeah, that's pretty hot.

Speaker 1 (22:08):
So after he graduates from high school, Hank hitchhike to
Hollywood and talked his way into a job at an
ad agency. He hitchhiked, Yeah, he hitch set Yeah, yeah,
down to It's not that you're not like, no car's
gonna go particularly fast and begin with but damn. And
he makes the claim that, like, you could never do
this today. Everything's too dangerous today. And I don't know,
I have I have friends who hitchhike. Now, it's not

(22:30):
that much worse. You may just be more scared of
the way would argue dangerous back then got murdered. Yeah,
there was nobody to check.

Speaker 2 (22:40):
Sometime from Texas that's the same time period. In a hotel,
he just threw people to alligators. I mean, it's just
he's not lucky.

Speaker 1 (22:47):
This is why I keep trying to start an alligator
farm in my backyard, and my neighbors on the property
keep saying, Robert, you can't just buy. You can't keep
alligators alive in the Pacific Northwest by just buying hundreds
of them and the body heat works out. That's not
the way alligators are. If they love each other, they'll
find a way, That's what I say. And that's kind

(23:08):
of how Hank feels, because he loves Walt Disney. And
he says that as he's hitchhiking down to Los Angeles,
the only thing on his mind is Walt Disney. He
gets a job doing like some kind of like you know,
scrub work here and there, and this is this shows
how easy it is to like break into Hollywood. He
like moves to Hollywood with nothing. He gets like a
gig doing like a little bit of work for a studio,

(23:30):
making twelve dollars a week, and his bedroom, which comes
with three cooked meals a day a cost six dollars
a week, Like without food, you're lucky if you're doing
that well. Income as a percentage of rent in Los
Angeles these days, it is such a different fucking world.
It's so different, Oh my god. And it's different also
in that like there's just it's opportunity is easier to

(23:52):
find because like he has this first job and then
that leads him to get a gig at Universal that
pays a little bit more as an animator's assists. Because
he's working as an animator's assistant based on the strength
of showing up and shaking some guy's hand. He's in
the right place at the right time when Disney is like, shit,
we've got this movie Pinocchio, and we're trying to finish

(24:12):
The Son of a Bitch, and we did not realize
Pinocchio was going to be such a complicated endeavor. So
we need a fuckload of people really fast, and we'll
pay them twenty five bucks a week, which is a
lot of money back then. And so that's how he
gets his first job with Disney.

Speaker 2 (24:27):
Yeah, I mean, like Disney paid better than whe else,
but you also worked way more hours than were yes too, sorry.

Speaker 1 (24:31):
Call yeah, yeah, and this is I mean, this is
going to be a lot of work, but it is
like because the industry is so this is a little
tip for all you kids out here. Find a thing
that people have just started figuring out how to make
money on and then walk into the room and say, hey,
do you have anything for me to do? That's that's
how to get yourself a job. And was Pinocchio before

(24:52):
the Big Strike. Yes, we're coming to the Big strike.
But first, you know who never strikes.

Speaker 2 (24:59):
Would be these fine ads and.

Speaker 1 (25:03):
That's right, they have no need to strike because we
love them too much. And they shoot strikers, don't they? Well, yes,
occasionally allegedly, probably not now with live ammunition.

Speaker 2 (25:17):
The Goal people absolutely do.

Speaker 1 (25:19):
Yeah, and the Reagan Coin people and look to be
entirely honest. We've had the Washington State Highway Patrol on
our show and they have definitely shot some strikers in
their day. You know, we're not gonna say nobody shoots
strikers who advertises on this podcast, but probably not. Sorry, Sophie,

(25:43):
we're back and speaking of shooting strikers. A guy who
didn't shoot strikers but probably made emotional peace with shooting
strikers if he had to, was Hank Ketchum's boss at Disney.
The most legendary animators in all of animation history, Ward Kimball.

Speaker 2 (26:05):
Wait, we're kimble' that's your sweet guy.

Speaker 1 (26:08):
Yeah, but he was we'll talk. He's not the worst
guy in the story, but we're building to that. I
was like, oh no, there's some shade on the fella.
So Kimball is one of the first professional animators period, Right,
he's of the first generation of people who do this ever. Right.
The old Men, Yes, yes, there's a there's a termu'l
here when you people talk about Disney this period, Disney's

(26:30):
nine Old Men, which is the core animation team that
ran the studios projects from the start in the twenties
to the really to the beginning of like the Reagan years.
A lot of these guys are still in there. And again,
when you think about Disney at the start, we're actually
talking about the period where Disney changes into the company
that it's going to become. At the in the early
days in the twenties, when like Hank is in love

(26:50):
with what these guys are making, Disney is kind of
closer to like a tech startup than anything. No one's
ever done this before. It's hugely profitable, it's really sexy.
It's like this thing that people are fascinated by, and
it's this like team of self taught weirdos who all
come together. There's not really much of a hierarchy for
a long time. It's very much not a traditional workplace,

(27:13):
you know. Yeah, yeah, everyone's figuring everything out as they're
doing it. How could you have a traditional business structure right,
like where you've got like bosses telling.

Speaker 2 (27:22):
People being as you go along.

Speaker 1 (27:27):
Yeah, and Ward is again like undoubtedly one thing no
one can argue. One of the greatest animators who's ever lived. Unfortunately,
he was also a strike breaker during the Disney animation
revolt of My Team. Dude. Yeah yeah, andre Ward will
talk about being sad about this. I don't know how
much that should get you. I'm not I'm not here
to absolve anyone's soul, but I am going to try

(27:49):
to tell the story.

Speaker 2 (27:50):
Ass as I guess. I'm a Union kid, so.

Speaker 1 (27:53):
Yeah, yeah. So one of the great animators that was
central in Disney's early success and in the work that
had so inspired Hank was a guy named Art Babbitt.
Art worked at Disney through the thirties on productions like
Snow White and Fantasia, and Hank Ketchum also worked on
some of those. When he's like new to Disney. But
as the Great Depression is kind of going on, as

(28:14):
it's like hitting its peak and whatnot, workers are unionizing
in the US at a pretty unprecedented rate. And Babbitt
is looking around at Disney, which is turning from this
kind of small shop where a bunch of weirdo geniuses
are making great stuff together into like a real sizable business,
and he's like, we should probably have a union, you know,
we should probably get this locked down before this place

(28:36):
gets much bigger. Right, Yeah, Walt Disney is not gonna
like this, right, No, I'm not a union man. You know.

Speaker 2 (28:46):
He did a cartoon on his Alice Comedies that literally
was making fun of the idea of unions, and the
heroes literally start harassing all these chickens are trying to unionize.

Speaker 1 (29:00):
Hear that that's such a Walt Disney thing.

Speaker 2 (29:03):
This really fucking is. The villain of the cartoon is
a communist rooster named little Red hens Key.

Speaker 1 (29:11):
Oh my god, oh beautiful, that is actually the story.
You have just summarized the story of the Great Disney Revolts,
the Disney animation revolt of nineteen forty one. So Art
and another other employees are like, hey, let's organize. They're
trying to organize their shop. They're talking to their co workers,
and eventually there's like a big fight, you know, at
the office between Disney and art, and Disney fires art, right,

(29:36):
and not just art, he fires a number of employees
who were trying to organize workers. And this sparks a strike.
And in a very good book on the subject, The
Disney Revolt by Jake Friedman, Jake writes, quote the salaries,
and this is him trying to explain, like kind of
where the workers are coming from here. The salaries of
the Disney artists average less than those of house painters.
Read a press bulletin the Disney Girl. Inkers and painters

(29:58):
received between sixteen to twenty dollars dollars a week on
snow White. The much publicized bonuses did not even compensate
the artists for the two years of overtime they worked.
Snow White made the highest box office gross in history,
over ten million dollars. All the other major cartoon studios
in Hollywood have Screen Cartoon Guild contracts. The Disney studio
is the only non union studio in Hollywood. The union

(30:19):
demanded a ten percent wage increase across the board, a
twenty five percent wage increase for the lower bracketed artists,
and the reinstatement of the nineteen animators who they argued
were fired for union activity. So what's happening here shouldn't
be surprising is Disney artists are making bank. They have
just had the highest, the most success. This is snow
White is the fucking Avatar of its day, except unlike Avatar,

(30:41):
it's deeply influential and people will not shut up about
it for years, right, Like it is in every conversation.

Speaker 2 (30:46):
People forget they saw Avatar.

Speaker 1 (30:48):
Yeah, yeah, nothing against it or for it particularly, but
like snow White Gully, it's just fucking Ferngully. Yeah, we've
kind of forgotten because it's been so long. How much
of a pop culture bomb in like the successful way,
not like yeah, I shouldn't use the term bomb, Like
there's nothing, very little that is Like The Matrix is
actually probably the movie in our lifetimes that's most like

(31:11):
Snow White in terms of like everyone is obsessed with this.
It completely changes the way movies are made. It's copied
a million times, Like that's probably the closest thing you
could have And none of these animators who Disney is
keeping nights and weekends for months while they're working for years,
while they're working on this thing, get any kind of

(31:31):
like profit sharing or any additional wages for the fact
that this movie that they break their backs on makes
a bunch of money. So it's not hard to see
why these guys are like, well, we probably should have
to strike if we want to get any kind of
better deal. Now. Hank Ketchum is just another Disney animator
during this period of time, and he's one of the
guys who all of his coworkers around him are unionizing,

(31:53):
and so he's going to be pressured directly to participate
in this. And this is what he says about the
strike in his autobiography. A handful of dissident artists organized
a group of unhappy employees, and, with the gleeful assistance
of the Teamsters union, Disney was presented a list of grievances.
To no one's surprise, a general strike was called. Most
of the men in my unit were recently married, just

(32:13):
starting a family, and scratching to make monthly mortgage payments,
barely making ends meet. They had every reason to join
the picket line at the gate. Now that's a promising start, right.
There's that little weird thing about like the teamsters unions
were so happy to do this. But he's like, I
understand why all my coworkers wanted this. They had a
good reason to need to unionize. They had families to support, right. Yeah,

(32:36):
And for a few days, Hank joins the picket line,
right for a little while, he does what you should
do when your coworkers unionize, right, And this is the
thing what he's kind of insinuating there by saying I
get why my coworkers wanted to is like, well, I
didn't really benefit from this for me. This was good
paying work for me. I was exactly where I wanted
to be, so I didn't want to strike. And like, yeah, man,

(32:58):
that's a strike. Don't always do it for you, you
are in any time you're striking, it's never just for
you or even just for your co workers. It's for like,
especially in a creative discipline the field, like the art.

Speaker 2 (33:11):
Form, you will benefit from it eventually, if you're not
benefiting from now, years down the road, when you have
health benefits, when you are getting paid over time, when
you have like something, you will benefit from it. Yeah,
And honestly, the pictures I've seen of the Disney strike
line cross God, Sam, guillotine.

Speaker 1 (33:32):
Yes, these guys are so fucking radical. And part of
why they're so radical is they're very young. The average
Disney employee is under twenty five, right, So these guys
number one, they all grew up during the Depression. This
is a time when socialism is in a very different
place in American public consciousness, Like it is a lot
more people are openly calling themselves socialists as a percentage

(33:52):
of the population back then than tend to today, right,
And a lot of these are very radical young men
who are also talented artists, And so there's a lot
of cool shit that gets made for the Disney. There's
some yeah, yeah, the worst people to like have drawing
posters for a strike if you're the boss. It's a

(34:13):
bunch of fucking Disney's.

Speaker 2 (34:15):
Pissed off Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse posters. And then
the guillotine. They brought a goddamn guillotine.

Speaker 1 (34:21):
Yeah, yeah, fucking if only they'd used it. So, because
strikes b the way strikes do. A bunch of people
who worked for Disney and other outside of animation who
were unionized joined the strike. Disney carpenters, machinists, teamsters, and
food service workers all refused to cross the picket line.
And this is along with most editors and cameramen, right

(34:42):
because those are all unionized positions too, And everybody's like, no,
you know, we're not going to fucking scab. And this
is the Disney strike again, is super organized and very militant.
One of the things they do is this is a
twenty four hour a day's strike. There are never not
animators out in front of the Disney building doing a picket,

(35:02):
and one of them is always kind of around the
side where like the scabs are driving through to like
go work at Disney offices while the strike is going on,
and they take pictures of every single person who scabs,
like they have like a spy unit there so that
they can shame them.

Speaker 2 (35:18):
Yeah.

Speaker 1 (35:19):
On the line itself, workers took full advantage of the
fact that they were the best animators on the planet.
Here's how Friedman describes the picket. About five hundred men
and women were on their feet walking in a large
circle in front of the entrance. Nearly one in ten
carried a wooden picket sign all painted with cartoon characters.
It's not cricket to pass a picket, warned Jimminy cricket.

Speaker 2 (35:36):
I'd rather be a.

Speaker 1 (35:37):
Dog than a scab, chided Pluto. I sign your drawings,
you sign your lives, taunted a caricature of Walt, Michaelangelo,
Rafael Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens Rimbrandt all belonged to gilts.
That what I like a little bit less than the
I sign your drawings, you sign your lives, Walt Disney
cart did they tried? They tried, like I like that.

(35:58):
I mean, most of those are pretty good, you know, yeah, no, no, yeah,
it's really good ones in there. But yeah, and the
number six hundred shows up a lot, because that's how
many artists are striking. One of their handouts reads one
Genius against six hundred guinea pigs, and then another reads
snow White and the six hundred Dwarves. I guess they're
they're comparing Walt to snow White there, which.

Speaker 2 (36:19):
He did, and what was going on around I'm sure.

Speaker 1 (36:23):
Sure probably hit a lot of poisoned apples. So I
think this is all kind of cool. Like everything I
read about the Disney Animators revolt is like pretty dope.
Hank is really pissed off about this.

Speaker 2 (36:36):
He considers all of.

Speaker 1 (36:37):
These signs and cartoons that his coworkers are drawing and
repurposing for the strike to be He calls it quote
infantile behavior, and he grows and enraged at his coworkers
and specifically the teamsters, who he considered quote a bunch
of heavy handed spoil sports interrupting my life of Riley.
He is very clear about, like, I am angry about
this because my life was good. Well, don't workers, bro,

(37:00):
like you know, they have a problem. You should care
about that. Yeah, he decides to betray his colleagues and
returns to work. So this is the thing that he
does that is like his first bastard move is he
joins the strike initially, and then he decides to scap
Like he leaves the picket line and crosses and goes

(37:21):
to work drawing for the company. Okay, not remotely, Okay,
not remotely Okay. He rides to the office with his
roommate who's the brother of a Disney manager and is
on the side of management. And this, for whatever reason,
this actually kind of says a lot about the man.
You don't get much about his experiences during the depression,
other than he talks about what a bad time it was.

(37:43):
But he notes at this point in the book that
kind of the straw that broke the camel's back was
when some of the wives of his fellow animators started
cooking meals for everybody in a big communal kitchen. It
reminded him of a soup kitchen. And the line he
says is like, well, that was in the past, and
I'm only a guy who wants to move forward, right,
so I didn't. That's made me decide to scab on

(38:05):
the union as seeing a soup kitchen. I don't want
to do stuff from the past. You know, that's such
a weird justification for betraying your colleagues.

Speaker 2 (38:13):
That, Like my dad was a union president. I remember
like a lot of union stuff, and it was this
common thing. You know, you have a large catherine, there's food,
You've got to make sure everyone's fed. It's just life.
And what a weird fucking thing. Oh no, we're taking
care of each other. I can't handle have this.

Speaker 1 (38:31):
Yeah, whenever you have like you've got like a coal
mine strike, right, and you've got it's especially in this
period it's like white workers striking the minds won't hire
black people normally, and then suddenly they get a chance
to work at the mine and make more money than
they otherwise would by scabbing. I got nothing against those people,
right like they're in an impossible This is the opposite
of that. Yeah, you saw you saw free food and

(38:52):
got angry, so you scapped? Is so weird to me, Yeah,
it's it's weird to the other Disney animators. This is
the kind of thing they take very seriously. And Hank
recalls being screamed at as he drives through the picket line.
I scrunched myself down between Kenny and Albertino, two protective linebackers,

(39:12):
hoping to be invisible as the Mercury convertible ease through
the mass of chanting, wild eyed revolutionaries. But they spotted me,
and I instantly became king of the pinx and the
target of other creative terms of outrage and venom. The
loudest insults seemed to come from those who I once
considered very good pals. It was a shattering experience for many,
as in any civil war, the house was divided and
close friendships evaporated. Years later, the stigma remained. I'm like, well, yeah,

(39:37):
of course your good pals are pissed. They're striking because
they need to pay their mortgage and they just found
out you don't care about them.

Speaker 2 (39:45):
Man, I'm going to try to hide bet between these
looks of larger men. Yeah, what a fucking worm.

Speaker 1 (39:52):
Such a worm. Oh my god. So, as a result
of his craven nature, Hank is going to miss one
of the defining moments payment labor history. Now, Walt Disney,
one thing you got to say for him, The man
was a formidable foe, right, this is this is not
an incompetent guy to go up against as a union.
But again, the Disney animators, among other things, had youth

(40:13):
on their side. They split the whole crew into two
or three hour shifts, and so they keep a twenty
four hour picket line. They never give up on like protesting.
And this is because, yeah, we'll get into that. So
because a lot of these guys become famous later, you
get some quotes from the ones who broke trying to
explain their behavior. And this brings me back to Ward Kimball.
Right Ward is Hank's boss. He is one of the

(40:34):
guys who scabs, and he says of it quote, I
felt terrible. Friends on the inside waving to me to
come in, friends on the outside pleading with me to
stay out. Jesus I was on the spot. I won't forgive, like,
you know, his decision to scab here, but at least
he provides more of like a description of like why
this would be complicated. Some people you care about a

(40:55):
lot are in management. They don't, you know, you feel
torn as opposed to who's just like well, I saw
a soup kitchen and got pissed, But it is.

Speaker 2 (41:04):
It has to be like a hard thing to decide on.
And like you said earlier, he's been there since almost
the start. Yeah, it was his friend.

Speaker 1 (41:13):
Yeah, And like I get how that's I'm not like
saying it was okay, But I get that more than
I get what Hank is describing as his reasoning.

Speaker 2 (41:21):
Yeah, everything about what what Ketchum was saying is just
kind of weasley. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (41:25):
Yeah. So the union issues a warning that animators who
stayed would be fined five dollars a day plus one
hundred dollars penalty once shit resumed normality inside Disney. One
of the Disney executives Norm Ferguson told Hank and everyone
else who crossed the picket line that any deal that
was signed would protect them and like cover that amount
of money if they stayed loyal. The thing that was important,

(41:46):
the thing that everyone had to do who was scabbing,
was finish Dumbo. So this is the movie they're working
on at the time, and when this the strike interrupts
finishing Dumbo, and this comes at a critical moment for Disney.
One of the reasons people are pissed is Disney had
prior to about this moment basically been like set up

(42:07):
in a series of just like kind of shacks, right,
And after they make all this money from snow White,
Walt decides, rather than paying a lot of that money
to his employees, decides to reinvest it into building an
elaborate new campus. And he's still he can't fund it
with the money they have. He has to get a
loan from Bank of America. And Bank of America is
willing to invest in this weird new upstart company because
they're looking at the money that's coming in. But Bank

(42:30):
of America doesn't have enough faith in Animation that like
if they miss getting Dumbo out on time, right, the
bank could foreclose theoretically, right, that's at least I don't
know how realistic that was as an actual possibility, But
that's what Ferguson is warning everybody. That's what Walt is
obsessed over, right, if they miss this release date. It's
one of those things where like I don't find I

(42:51):
don't have any sympathy for Disney for that because like
his workers on the outside who are striking, are in
the same position with their actual houses, not with it,
like the fucking offices that he decided to build, and
it was like a ten million dollar campus. It was
a lot of money, which is like what snow White made.

Speaker 2 (43:08):
Yeah, well, if I'm not mistaken, I could be wrong
in this. At the same time, I don't think they
really got most of the European money from snow White
because when World War two broke out, Yeah, not to
Jermy's like we're not sending you anything.

Speaker 1 (43:21):
Yeah, they get hurt, I mean and just in general,
like they get hurt because like there's not a European
market for a while, effectively for cartoonist.

Speaker 2 (43:29):
Well, honestly, Walt Disney was not a good businessman, like
Disney's company was always kind of hurting. Yeah, it's not
what it was. It's not. It wasn't then what it
is now. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (43:39):
Yeah, and it it like it was not not even
all that similar. And like, I think these workers have
a good point of like, well, why are we spending
all this money on a new campus instead of taking
care of our people? Like, obviously, I think the workers
have a point. Walt himself is like kind of dumbfounded
when the strike begins. He had been the one to
fire Babbitt, but he never expected his animators would betray him.

(44:00):
The company had up to this point been run more
like an extended family or friend group than a traditional employer, right,
because it's the scrappy startup. And this is what really
starts the process of changing Disney, because as soon as
Walt is challenged by the union, he starts to get
deranged and he increasingly begins blaming the whole thing on communism.
He would later after the employees win their strike, he's

(44:21):
going to inform on a bunch of them to the
House on American Activities community for being Communists. But this
is an act of callo vengeance because again Disney loses
the fight as the Washington post summarizes the picketers marched
on bad publicity for Disney's company mounted, as did pressure
from its creditors. In late July, the government stepped in
and in federal arbitration, the studio agreed to various demands,

(44:43):
including paid increases, back pays, sick leave, and Babbitt's returned.
The cash strapped Disney studio shut down for two weeks
in late August during a battle with the newly recognized
guild about fresh layoffs. Walt Disney escaped the ordeal, embarking
on a government sponsored South American tour. Three months later,
the attack on Pearl har Arbor drew the company into
World War Two.

Speaker 2 (45:02):
He was going to South America. They're preparing to make
the movie Saludas and Eagles and kind of one. It
was basically to kind of get South America into the
war effort.

Speaker 1 (45:10):
Yeah, and he's going to like that's how he's going
to kind of like destress from this. And then thankfully,
we need a bunch of propaganda for the war. And
that's kind of what saves Disney is making wartime propaganda
in this period. Now the strike is going to be
the end of the friendly camaraderie that had been central
to Disney's early image. What's interesting to me is you

(45:31):
get very different pictures of how that looked depending on
who is telling the story. Friedman says, it's the returning
workers who suffered because they were treated like pariah's by
people who were scared that Walt would see them being
friendly with like someone who had gone on strike. Right, Yeah,
and I'm sure that's true. Hank, for his part, is
like basically says, those of us who scabbed got treated differently,

(45:53):
and that was what was unfair. Also, he complains a
lot about the ping pong tables being taken away in
the office, which he blads on strike. Oh, I don't know, No,
I don't know. Man. He's gonna have bigger concerns though,
because the US enters the big Dub Dub dose not
long after the strike comes to an end, and Hank
is right at that sweet sweet draft in age. So
he joins the Navy. He's going to serve for the

(46:15):
duration of the war, and he kind of lucks gets
really lucky here. His status as a Disney animator benefits
him a lot because people find out when his superiors
find out, like Oh, you can draw cartoons. We're not
sending you over to get shot at by a crowd,
Like you're going to stay here and you're going to
try to convince Americans to buy war bonts by drawing stuff.

Speaker 2 (46:36):
Yeah. They use a lot of animators in the World
War two. Yeah, he saved a lot of the room
going overseas.

Speaker 1 (46:41):
Yeah, this is why we need to have another war.
It's the only thing that could save our animation industry
for a I. Oh god, all the poor laid off
Rooster Chief animators. Yeah, ah, that is a bummer.

Speaker 2 (46:54):
Yeah.

Speaker 1 (46:55):
So Walt writes him a letter while he's he's working
for the army, which is nice canidering. Walt probably wished
we'd enter the war on a different side, but that's
a story for another day. It was in nineteen forty two,
after moving to d c to serve in the Navy,
that Hank married Alice mahar His autobiography says nothing about

(47:15):
how they met or her personality at all. He provides
one picture that describes her as his Massachusetts mate. The
two would have a boy together, Dennis Ketchum in nineteen
forty six, And yes, that is the inspiration and namesake
for Dennis the Menace. Now, despite the central role that
Dennis would play in his later success, his own son

(47:35):
scarcely merits more mentioned than Alice in this book. And
we're going to get in all of that. But first,
you know who does merit mention?

Speaker 2 (47:43):
I would say, the progus and services of these fine advertisers.

Speaker 1 (47:48):
Yeah, I'm going to tell you right now, folks, forget
the name and face of your parents, you know, just
remember these advertisers. If you have children, delete them from
your memory, and just remember the people who sponsor this show.

Speaker 2 (48:00):
Done and done. I don't have a father more. I
only have Chumbu Casino.

Speaker 1 (48:03):
That's right, That's right, chump, but casino is everything. We're back.
People online talk about those Chumba ads. I've actually never
heard one yet.

Speaker 3 (48:17):
I haven't heard it either.

Speaker 2 (48:19):
It is every time I listen to the show, every time,
at least three of them.

Speaker 1 (48:23):
One of my favorite things is, like we get a
lot of if it's not like us reading an ad,
we often don't really know what's because because they're different
for like geographical areas, right, Like they're not going to
want to serve the same ad to somebody in like
Australia as they are to somebody in Michigan.

Speaker 2 (48:37):
Yeah.

Speaker 1 (48:38):
So a lot of times people are like, wow, it's
wild these people are sponsoring you, and I'm like, I
didn't know, man, Like it's it's just a random ad.
We had one recently which I do feel bad about.
You know. We get asked like, what's kind of stuff
are you're okay with? And a while ago I filled
out a thing being like, yeah, you know what I hunt,
I shoot, Like there are certain kinds of like hunting
and shooting products that might theoretically endorse I'd want to

(49:00):
like know what they were. And then they we kind
of started running random ads for like a local gun
shop in like Kansas or something that like, oh, I
don't want to be doing that. I don't know that
gun shop. I don't know who those people are, like
I have. We need to fix that right away.

Speaker 2 (49:18):
It could be a good gun shopper, it could be
real bad, it.

Speaker 1 (49:20):
Could be a very bad gunshop. Certainly don't want to
sponsor that shit at random, So we we should have
fixed that. And a lot of the like really.

Speaker 3 (49:29):
Really bad ones that have already been like removed come
in on like secret categories and oh yeah, and then
it's like you you're coming in as usiness. No.

Speaker 1 (49:42):
So back to Dennis the Menaces. As we get to
this story, it is nineteen forty six Dennis and his
new wife Alice. Hank and his new wife Alice had
their son, Dennis Jesus real mess here I am. And
despite the central role that Dennis playing, his success his
own son scarcely merits more of a mention than like

(50:04):
the mother of his child. And Hank's autobiography, Hank does
provide a loving description of how he came up with
the idea for the comic. And this happens once he's
out of the Navy. He moves back west and he
establishes a home in Carmel Woods near Monterey that cost
him again this like Bay area house he buys costs
twelve thousand dollars. Damn it, that's like a twelve million

(50:27):
dollar home today.

Speaker 2 (50:29):
At least.

Speaker 1 (50:30):
He picks up a handful of gigs drawing cartoons for
newspapers and magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, and he
starts putting together ideas for a comic strip. In most
news articles about the manual, here what comes next described
as like he's working one day and his little kid
is His wife Alice tries to put Dennis down, and
Dennis doesn't want to go to bed, and he like
tears up his room, and when his mom walks in

(50:51):
and sees the mess, Dennis Maid, she cries out to Hank,
your son is a menace, and that inspires Dennis the
Menace as a title and both the premise also of
this cartoon. That's kind of accurate, but it leaves out
the ugliness of Hank's own description of this moment, which
I'm in a quote from now. At four years of age,
Dennis Lloyd Ketchaim was a thirty six pound handful, too

(51:14):
young for school, too big for his playpen, and too
small to hit, not old enough for jail, and one
hundred percent anti establishment. One October afternoon in nineteen fifty,
I was at home in my tiny studio finishing a
drawing for the Saturday Evening Post when I was startled
by a sudden outburst of mother noises coming from the
bedroom area of our new home and car mother noises.

(51:35):
There's in these two paragraphs, there's so many moments that
like I need to stop and be like, wait a second,
what is a mother noise does? How is that different
from a father noise? And why are you so sad
your child is too small to When are they big
enough to hit hank? When are they big enough for jail?
What are your opinions on these things?

Speaker 2 (51:55):
Jesus right?

Speaker 1 (51:56):
The little darling was supposed to be taking a nap. Instead,
he had spent the better part of one hour quietly
dismantling his room, bed, mattress springs, dresser drapes, and curtain rods,
when the accidental load he carried in his underpants was
added to his collection of plastic toys, cookie crumbs, and
left over peanut butter sandwhich it formed an unusual mix
enough to drive an Irish mother to the brink. Now

(52:17):
he was my son. Her rich expletives, most of them
coined in Boston, were spliced with suggestions of abandonment and
threats of bodily harm. After informing me that I could
jolly well clean up his room, her parting shot was,
your son is a menace, Dennis a menace?

Speaker 2 (52:33):
I mused.

Speaker 1 (52:35):
Now, I don't know if I believe that that's exactly
how it happened, But interesting things from those two paragraphs
that he really make what she to know she's Irish,
and when you know she's Irish.

Speaker 2 (52:46):
Because there's some strong opinions on Irish people.

Speaker 1 (52:48):
He does. Their marriage does not work out, and he
blames it on her being an alcoholic. And she's an
alcoholic because she's Irish. Is that is Hank's attitude? Right?

Speaker 2 (52:58):
And he basically used her in the comic, didn't he? Yes?

Speaker 1 (53:02):
Yes, the mother, the dad is based on him, The
mother is based on her, the kid is based on
their son. The whole cartoon is based on the family.
That he will be very shortly now abandoning fuck it
now for reasons that will become very clear. Hankaty vested
interest in making his wife look bad, but even his
description provides some hints that he was not a present
or engaged father, because he states that, rather than actually

(53:24):
cleaning up the room like his wife had asked him to,
or parenting their son cleaning up their kid, right, he
instead ignores his family to draw the first Dennis the
Menace cartoons. This does work out financially, the concept sells
out within weeks to the post syndicate. Dennis the Menace
launched in March nineteen fifty one on sixteen newspapers as

(53:46):
a weird aside, and you mentioned this a little earlier.
His cartoon debuts at like the exact same time as
a British cartoon named Dennis the Menace with a similar plot.
They're both about like kind of misbehaving kids. Both creators agree,
neither plage the other. This does. This is just a
weird coincidence. I think the same day, wasn't that. Yeah,

(54:07):
it's like the same day. But both of them, neither
of them tries to claim this is plagiarism. They're all like, nah, man,
this is just a weird thing that happened.

Speaker 2 (54:14):
It's amazing, honestly. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (54:17):
I guess the universe needed there to be to Dennis
the Menace comics in the same way it needed us
to have World War One, Like it was just it
was going to make sure that happened.

Speaker 2 (54:27):
I'm imagining Dennis the Mena is assassinating.

Speaker 1 (54:33):
That No, no, no, the Archduke of a Yeah no,
I I you know what. That's the cartoon that we
need from these episodes is Dennis the Menace with a
sandwich in his hand, pumping a bunch of bullets into
Franz Ferdinand, mister, mister Wilson, just Dennis stop starting. He's
so angry he's gonna have to go in act the

(54:55):
Schleefen Plan. Now, I do imagine mister Wilson in this
as like the military commander of Germany. So the cartoon
is a wild success. It takes off very quickly, and
it expands in short order into one of the most
successful comics in history. This much people know. What has
been lost in the intervening years is a sense of

(55:16):
how nasty the original cartoon would be. I don't even
mean this as a criticism. It's just surprising because like
today's Dennis the Menace, I would not call controversial, no, right,
it's it's pretty tame humor for like all ages. Right,
nothing against that, but it's not something You would be
surprised if someone said there's a really offensive Dennis the

(55:38):
Menace cartoon this week, right, you would think, like something
must have gone wrong. They must have switched up their
captions with the far side, Like what happened that one time.
That's an actual moment from cartoon history. Folks. Look it up.
There's like a cartoon where Dennis is talking about like
taking people's skin off of their skulls and preserving them
because it got swapped with a far side caption.

Speaker 2 (55:59):
Oh god, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah, A couple of times too.

Speaker 1 (56:05):
Yeah yeah, there's a few times that happened with the
far side. I found a few of these early Dennis
the Menace cartoons chronicled in an article by Seattle Times
reporter Mark Raymer or Rainer in two thousand and five,
and oh boy, I did not expect this quote. Walking
out of an elevator with his concerned looking mom malicious side,
Dennis says, did you see that? I pinched that fat

(56:27):
dame to make her give me room and she slugged
a guy in back of her Jesus fat dame. Huh wow,
I will say, like, that's at least a little it's
a lot more colorful than I expected from Dennis the Menace.

Speaker 2 (56:43):
A lot of those early cart comics they got a
lot more, even some early Family Circus or.

Speaker 1 (56:49):
Blue Yeah, yeah, you could. You could definitely work Bluer
back then. Quote. A swan with its neck tighten and
not warns its mate stay away from that kid with
the black pants armed a slingshot on a park bench,
Dennis asks his mom, Hey, do you know how to
cook a pigeon? A teacher tells Dennis's mom, your Dennis
is a happy child. He hits Sammy with a sand

(57:10):
shovel and I thought he'd die laughing. There's another cartoon
where Dennis constructs a crude sap filling a sock with
sand to beat people with. Again, this is kind of based.

Speaker 2 (57:24):
This is actually great. I'm not gonna lie, he's pretty good.

Speaker 1 (57:27):
It does get creepier, especially when you think of the
real world dimensions here, because here's the description of another cartoon.
Holding his embarrassed mom's hand, Dennis stops a friend on
the sidewalk, Billy, this is my mother. Some looker, eh.
He walks in in another cartoon on his mother while
she bathes, and she covers her nude body in horrified modesty.
He tells another friend, this is my mom, Tommy, isn't
she pretty? There are a bunch of comics like this

(57:50):
of Dennis walking in on his mom when she's like
indecent and talking about how hot she is to his
friend's weird joke to make about your wife and kid, hanky,
weird joke to make about your wife and kid.

Speaker 2 (58:02):
That is uncomfortable as like a cartoonist and a parent.

Speaker 1 (58:06):
I just don't think I could do that. Look, any
kid would be glad to be portrayed as making a
crude sap to beat people within the street. No kid
wants to be in a cartoon calling their mom hot.
That's not okay, Hank, you shouldn't do that to the
cartoon founded in the image of your son. A little
odd yeah, like I know she was your wife, but

(58:28):
not his. That's a therapy session, he will say later.
I think Dennis was more based on me than my son.
But still, man, a little little fucked up buddy. So
that's good. As soon as he starts making a fortune
off of this cartoon, you know, this cartoon that is
inspired by his son and his wife, he grows to
resent them. In one interview, he described how he empathized

(58:49):
with the put upon father in his cartoon. He comes
I'm tired, full of other thoughts, and it's hard to
come back and relax enough to enjoy your family, he says.
The young Ketchum saw children, in particular his son Dennis,
as part of the problem. They always seem to be
in the way of what you wanted to do. He remembers, I.

Speaker 2 (59:07):
Just wondered, this is when his ghost artists and ghost
writers start taking over.

Speaker 1 (59:11):
Right, this is right at the start. They haven't done
this yet. Yeah, this is fifty nine, so.

Speaker 2 (59:15):
Wisra's not drawing and I can't know the name of
the art the writer.

Speaker 1 (59:18):
Yeah, no, no, not quite yet. This is like, this
is I think him being like sad in retrospect, because
at the time I think he was just happy to
ignore his family to make a bunch of money, and
as a result, his marriage deteriorates quickly for reasons that
should be obvious. In the winter of nineteen fifty nine,
Alice leaves him, and he simply writes, it was a bummer.

(59:41):
We had been on a collision course and nobody cared.

Speaker 2 (59:45):
Jesus.

Speaker 1 (59:46):
We're going to talk about what happens to his wife,
and more importantly, what he does to his son in
the wake of the very sad thing that's going to
happen to her, And we're getting into, you know, the real,
the very worst bastardury of the Han Catchum story. But first,
that's the episode we're done for right now, So that no, no, no, no,

(01:00:07):
no no, I caused this to be a two parter
because I wrote twenty pages on the Dennis the Menace
guy says that no one, no one will ever be
able to explain. This was not my initial intention. I
did not oh my chanese, well, you know, obviously not
like compared to you, I'm not knowledgeable or nerdy about animation,
but like I really love cartoons.

Speaker 2 (01:00:28):
I'm only wanting to be just a rage to happen.
That's why.

Speaker 1 (01:00:33):
Just there's so much to talk, like the Disney animator
strike and ship, the story of animation, like I just couldn't.
I couldn't help myself.

Speaker 2 (01:00:41):
You could do a whole episode on on Disney the forties,
especially the strike.

Speaker 1 (01:00:45):
I think we will at some point, but first, let's
do an episode on your pluggables.

Speaker 2 (01:00:50):
Oh uh oh, Well, my name is a Randy mill Holland,
and I do an online comic called Something Positive. I've
been doing it since the year two thousand and one.
Let's see what else do I do?

Speaker 1 (01:01:05):
I do a few things now, Randy. Two thousand and one,
the War on Terror started and it hasn't really ended.
Is it possible that your cartoon caused the War on terror?

Speaker 2 (01:01:18):
Technically my comics started after the war on Terror began. Okay, okay,
I have a few months grace period. Thankfully I can
tell you where I was when all that started.

Speaker 1 (01:01:29):
I guess it will remain a mystery why the war
on terror started that at.

Speaker 2 (01:01:32):
Least until you do about the behind the Bastards episode
on me.

Speaker 1 (01:01:37):
Next year holland the fourteenth hijacker. I forget how many
hijackers they were.

Speaker 2 (01:01:44):
Folks, I did live in Boston, you know, well, I
live not far from that from logan that to happen,
So I do something pause that something positive dot net.
I also draw the Sunday pop Ey strips Kingdom dot
com slash Popeye. I also do a Tuesday Thursday comic

(01:02:05):
with a woman sorry being named uh, Emmy Burke. That's
all of them. Popeye Tuesdays are focused on all of uh,
That's what Emmy draws. I do the Thursday strips that
focus on Popeye and his family. And I started a
couple of months ago a comic called mouse Trapped. It
is my sequel to the comic or the cartoon in

(01:02:25):
the sting about Willie. But I bring in other public
domain comic characters from like Universal and Walter Lance.

Speaker 1 (01:02:31):
Hell yeah, So it's.

Speaker 2 (01:02:33):
Basically a lot my excuse to pull out really old,
forgotten cartoon characters. I forget how they would fit together.

Speaker 1 (01:02:38):
Well that sounds fucking dope, thank you. Yeah, I uh
don't have a cartoon, but I do have a podcast
and you're listening to it. So would novels. I have
written a novel. It's called After the Revolution, and you
can find it on the internet at atrbook dot com

(01:02:59):
or any place that lets you buy books.

Speaker 2 (01:03:01):
You know, would you have one of the stacked things
that raters have a subst.

Speaker 1 (01:03:06):
And I don't really do that anymore. Oh okay, sorry,
I mean I want to get some sort of regular
writing thing up again. But substack. There's this whole thing
over Nazis, and like, I'm mixed because where aren't there
Nazis on social media? Why would we get bent out
of shape about one or the other. But also, like,
I don't know, I don't want to go to bat
for substack over whatever all of this. So I'm just

(01:03:27):
not doing anything right now aside from these podcasts.

Speaker 2 (01:03:31):
Fair enough. Yeah, well, don't forget cool Zone media and
the app.

Speaker 1 (01:03:36):
Yeah, yeah, don't forget that, but forget everything else you've
ever heard in your life. Remember only us.

Speaker 3 (01:03:45):
Behind the Bastards is a production of cool Zone Media.
For more from cool Zone Media, visit our website cool
zonemedia dot com, or check us out on the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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