In 1942, Henry K. Ketcham was sworn into the Naval Reserve. Henry was from Washington State, where he had dropped out of college in his freshman year. He had hitchhiked to Los Angeles, California in 1938 where he lived until he joined The Navy.
The War brought thousands of men like Henry together; Americans who were ready to serve their country in its time of need. Henry was going to fight the Japanese and his weapon would be his pen.
Henry was an animator. He had worked on Woody Woodpecker films until he made it to the big show at Disney, working on films like Bambi, Pinocchio and Fantasia. Studios such as Disney and Warner Brothers threw themselves into supporting the war effort by designing insignias and creating military films.
Many of Hollywood’s best and most talented men served their country in the Armed Forces. Henry’s job was to make war posters. He came up with catchy slogans mixed with funny pictures: A fat sailor eying a curvy beauty is told to “Watch your own waistline” being reminded that “Food is scarce, don’t waste it on your waist!”. Cartoons were a fun and innocuous way to teach and indoctrinate. It gave Henry an outlet for his humor and creativity. He created Half Hitch, a comic strip about everyday navy life.
He also worked on propaganda films for The Navy. He created a character named Mr. Hook, a sailor who fought treacherous, buck-toothed Japanese. Henry wrote four short films with titles like “Tokyo Woes” and “Take heed Mr. Tojo” featuring Mr. Hook winning his battles by using war bonds. Henry reminded the viewers to “Sink the Rising Sun with war bonds as your gun. War Bonds are ammunition!” and “Be a hero down a Zero with war bonds”.
Henry also appreciated women and the roles they played in providing humor for a male audience. Wolves were a common way of depicting overactive and excited males. One of Henry’s works of this period was entitled “COMWOLFPAC STAFF” a play on navy acronyms of “Com” short for “Commander” and “Pac” for “Pacific”. One wonders how much of Henry’s art imitated his own life.
Henry served in The Navy until 1946 when he returned to being a civilian. He married and had a son. He changed his focus from animation to comic strips. He started to sign his work “Hank Ketcham” and in 1951 created a character based on his son entitled “Dennis the Menace”.
Henry’s four years in World War II continued to find it’s way into his work. Dennis the Menace’s father Henry was a navy man and Henry’s wartime character Half Hitch was revived into a comic strip in the 1960’s.
Though The War was just an interlude in his career, Henry Ketcham and many other talented young men and women served their country in its time of need, using their wit as a weapon and ink for ammunition.