Hank Ketcham in WWII, Ink for Ammunition

By Jonathan Abbott

In 1942, Henry K. Ketcham, better known as Hank Ketcham, was sworn into the Naval Reserve. Hank 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 US Navy.

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                                   Mr. Hook

The War brought thousands of men like Hank Ketcham together; Americans who were ready to serve their country in its time of need. Hank was going to fight the Japanese and his weapon would be his pen. Hank 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.

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Navy poster with artwork by Henry Ketcham

Many of Hollywood’s best and most talented men served their country in the Armed Forces. Hank’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 Hank 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. He wrote four short films with titles like “Tokyo Woes” and “Take heed Mr. Tojo” featuring Mr. Hook  winning his battles by using war bonds.  Hank Ketcham 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”.

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Zero being attacked by War Bonds in “Take heed Mr. Tojo”

Hank Ketcham 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” instead of Henry Ketcham which he had used in the Navy and in 1951 created a character based on his son entitled “Dennis the Menace”.

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Mr. Hook eyes his target after coming home rich from investing in war bonds

Hank Ketcham’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 Hank’s wartime character Half Hitch was revived into a comic strip in the 1960’s.

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Ketcham at work for the US Navy

Though WWII was just an interlude in his career, Hank 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.

For More About Hank Ketcham Check Out

Hank Ketcham’s Complete Dennis the Menace 1950-1954 Box Set (Vol. 1-2)

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