Friday, October 26, 2012

Integrating “Dennis the Menace”

In today’s panel for Dennis the Menace, we see that he has an African American baby sitter complaining that her book on child psychology was of no use. I think this was the first time I saw an African American in the series. Checking the Wikipedia entry, I discovered that the effort to integrate it had an interesting history:
… in the late 1960s, Ketcham decided to add an African American character to the cast named Jackson. Ketcham designed Jackson in the tradition of a stereotypical cartoon pickaninny, with huge lips, big white eyes, and just a suggestion of an Afro hair style. In one cartoon that featured Jackson, he and Dennis were playing in the backyard, when Dennis said to his father, "I'm havin' some race trouble with Jackson. He runs faster than me." The attempt to integrate the feature did not go over well. Protests erupted in Detroit, Little Rock, Miami, and St. Louis, and debris was thrown at the offices of the Post Dispatch. Taken aback, Ketcham issued a statement explaining that his intentions were innocent, and Jackson went back into the ink bottle. However, another African American character named Jay Weldon appeared in the 1986 animated series to far less controversy as he was not a stereotype.
The panels are now written and drawn by Hank Ketcham’s former assistants, Marcus Hamilton and Ron Ferdinand; and they may have decided that one could keep up with the times without stereotyping. After all, one assumes that a babysitter lives nearby, if not in the same neighborhood; and the implication is that this kid takes her job seriously. It may have taken half a century, but Dennis the Menace may have caught up with contemporary reality!

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