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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

The Art of Summer Reading: Al Wiseman

Monday, July 08, 2013

You can tell by the heat and humidity around these parts that summer has definitely arrived. As an adult, I find myself hiding inside, enjoying the comfort of my air conditioned studio. But as a kid, I spent days like this riding my bike, fishing for brook trout in a nearby stream, going swimming at the pool or playing baseball at our local park...

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... and reading under a big shady tree. Reading comic books and chapter books; that was probably my favourite summer activity.

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Among my favourite things to read were these thick, digest-sized collections that reprinted old Dennis the Menace comic books from the 1950s. I still have a pile of them, purchased at our local used book store for a quarter a piece when I was probably eight or nine years old.

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I didn't know it at the time, but those comics weren't drawn by Dennis creator, Hank Ketcham. The early Dennis comic books - the one's reprinted in those digest-size paperbacks - were drawn by a tremendously talented and largely unknown cartoonist named Al Wiseman.

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Wiseman was, in no uncertain terms, a brilliant cartoonist.

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Using a refined, almost 'technical' line, Al Wiseman managed to capture all the character of his subjects and impart a range and subtlety of motion - and emotion - missing from the vast majority of work done by lesser cartoonists.

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Wiseman's impressive drawing skills are evident in every panel of any page he drew...

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... but nowhere more so than in panels that show the human form is motion.

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Combining slapstick body language and the accuracy of superior draftsmanship gave Wiseman's work a believability that had me hooked from the first page of every hilarious story.

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Wiseman's Dennis lived in an alternate reality of suburban mundanity I could totally accept as being 'a real place.' It looked very much like the neighbourhood I was growing up in...

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... which made Dennis' outrageous antics all the more appealing to me as a kid.

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I could relate because Wiseman seemed to be drawing my world with tremendous accuracy - but with more crashing, smashing and yelling!

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One thing I was oblivious to at the time but now have tremendous admiration for is Al Wiseman's expert use of silhouette.

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No doubt Wiseman intended to save some time rendering detail... but drawing a well-defined silhouette is not easy to do well.

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Wiseman's silhouettes were always attractively designed, easy to read, and told the story of the picture in a clear, concise manner.

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When he really wanted to show off though, Wiseman would spare no detail in delineating the complex chaos and joyful mayhem only Dennis Mitchell could create!

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This week: a look at some of the great illustrators of books (and comic books) from my childhood summers.

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* Al Wiseman's grand daughter has created a blog about her grandfather with some biographical information. Click here to take a look.

11 comments

  1. Really enjoyed the post! I wasn't familiar with Wiseman's work before. Fantastically efficient draftsmanship, and great composition, too!

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  2. Loved reading this! Dennis was my favourite growing up!!!

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  3. Like "Nancy" and "Richie Rich" and Sad Sack (one of my favorites), Dennis has charms that are not apparent. The gag strip was always better than the dreadful TV series in the states years ago. Dennis the Menace was not exactly a sympathetic charactar, but his charm came in contrast to the problematic charactars around him -- father, and Mr. Wilson. Nice post.

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  4. I love those silhouettes and think this is a pretty good version of Dennis although I miss the subtle line work and the empty spaces with lines dropping out that Ketcham did. I never knew how Hank determined what lines to keep and which to exclude but it made for a cool graphic approach Wiseman didn't attempt to emulate.

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  5. Al was fantastic! I knew his style even when I was a kid, but I didn't know his name until Love & Rockets, Gilbert Hernandez and I chatted at a con.

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  6. Love reading this. Thanks for the wonderful post. Those books are amazing.

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  7. Anonymous7:23 PM

    Thank you so much for showing these. Just to be clear, the strip versions of Dennis you showed here came from the paperbacks? All the paperbacks I've ever seem have been (sadly) collections of the single-panel comics. Thank you for your help :-)

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  8. I feel the same way about Wiseman. I still look to my old Dennis books for inspiration.

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  9. Great inspiration! Thanks for posting

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  10. hi! i absolutely love your blog- its so beautifully written and well set out.

    it would mean a lot if you could check out my blog- i am searching for a 1000 things to do in a lifetime and then giving them a go for myself.

    ~1000thingstodoinalifetime.blogspot.com

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  11. Thanks everyone, for your great comments. I'm glad I'm not alone in appreciating Al Wiseman's work. To Anonymous; these paperbacks were not the standard Dennis paperback reprints of Hank Ketcham's daily panel gags. These were the slightly wider format of an Archie Comics Digest magazine and in full colour, like an Archie Digest.

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