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The other Dennis the Menace: The influence of this 70-year-old on everything from darts to raves

The current Somerset House exhibition in London, Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules, revels in the joyful impudence of the 83-year-old comic magazine’s characters. A tribute to the publication’s impact seems long overdue; as curator Andy Holden says: “Beano’s irreverent sensibility is something that appeals to you as a child, but also, for some, never leaves you.”

The Beano plays an important role in children’s lives because, along with other Beano readers, you become part of a community, through the readers’ letters page, fan art and fan club.

Beano’s longevity can be attributed to what educator Carol Tilley calls the “participatory culture” of comics and its diversity of characters.

Of all the Beano’s characters, no one better exemplifies the essence of sheer impertinence and anarchic subversiveness – as represented in the exhibition’s title – than Dennis the Menace himself.

Indeed, the 70-year-old character has helped maintain the Beano as a long-running publication. Dennis debuted in a black-and-white half-pager tucked inside the issue of March 17 1951. From that pivotal moment, growing demand for Dennis’s adventures “led him to the colour back cover in 1954 … and then to the cover replacing Biffo the Bear”.

I first discovered Dennis when he was 20 years old, and I was all of eight. In December 1971, I was growing up in Quebec, Canada, and my UK grandparents…

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