Dennis the Menace and Gnasher. It's a comics partnership forever cemented in the public conciousness. Like Batman and Robin, Whizzer and Chips, D.R. and Quinch they always go together.
Yet the dog himself made his debut in August 1968, a full 17 years after Dennis and he stuck around ever since.
(Let's just clear up now, I'm talking about the Beano's Dennis the Menace, not that blond American git. He has a dog too but no-one knows its name. I've just looked it up, it's "Ruff". I hate him.)
Created in a Dennis strip written by Ian Grey and drawn by original Dennis artist Davey Law, the strip was a take on the old cartoonist cliche that pets look like their owners, something that was also the spur behind the Bash Street Pups of Pup Parade, which had first appeared the previous December, drawn by Gordon Bell (who would continue drawing it until 1988). Here they are in 1986, during the storyline at which we will be looking:
Gnasher (a "wire-haired Abyssinian Tripehound" if you wish to know his breed) became popular enough in his own right to be not only a regular companion to Dee to the Em, but also got his own spin-off strip Gnasher's Tale in which the menacing mutt reminisced about his puppy years...
It started in May 1977, also drawn by Sutherland and by its final year (also 1986) it looked like this:
...and was sometimes hard to square canonically...
But... They never knew Gnasher as a puppy! This doesn't make sense! *Flips table*
So here we are in 1986. The Beano had gone through a minor makeover the previous year, for example the D&G logo I had known through my childhood...
...was replaced by this cleaner, brighter model:
Almost thirty years and I still think of that as the "new" Dennis logo. Dennis had also acquired another pet by now, a pig called Rasher (and would soon get a spider called Dasher but that is rarely seen). Rasher also had a spin-off strip and in issue 2265 (Dec 1985) he gives his own continuity-breaking flashback tale.
All of this is prelude to our main story. Presenting Beano No 2279, dated 22 March 1986:
It starts innocently enough with a shady Arab offering Dennis cash.
The "rich oil sheik" being very much a comedy trope of the 70s and 80s (we've already mentioned Mustapha Million from Cheeky). Of course Dennis turns it down.
Flipping over to the back page (when did comics stop doing that, by the way? Back pages seemed to be just for ads from the 90s on.) reveals a tripehound wet-dream:
BUT... gnashing came there none.
Disturbed, Dennis goes to Gnasher's kennel...
And after a day of looking...
...a national search is started. Excuse me; GNATIONAL search.
Inside the issue are many other easily-recognised characters of the day including the relative newcomer Ivy the Terrible, who had been introduced in May 1985, drawn by the great Robert Nixon.
Ivy was a four-year-old tearaway and at first one of those examples of a company telling you a character was "cool", y'know, like Poochie. She would often find herself interacting with other Beano characters to show how tough she was against these older menaces. In this issue, for example, she tussles with the two biggest:
Elsewhere, the missing Gnasher meant a change in the regular strip as Gnasher's Tale was replaced by:
Walter the Softy's poodle, Foo-foo, a frequent victim of Gnasher's child-friendly version of gay-bashing (honestly? Fairy Story?) takes over his regular page. (And if you want to read my thoughts on homophobia in Dennis the Menace you can.)
That's a caricature of then-editor Euan Kerr (Ha! Euan Kerr! Say it out loud!), only the third editor The Beano had ever had in its then-48-year history, having taken over in 1984. Which explains some of these changes and innovations.
Foo-foo offers himself (maybe herself? It's never specified) and the editor offers him an audition, presenting him with a postie to gnash.
Sutherland really is drawing his boss a little too much like Walter, isn't he?
The next week, the front page banner has a new addition:
and the Dennis logo has been amended:
But one person is glad to see the back of him:
...before realising the differences one creature can make...
...and even missing out on a loyalty prize at work through not being woken up by Gnasher attacking the postie...
Dad soon joins the campaign to find him again.
Meanwhile, inside, Foo-foo reminisces...
A softy party interrupted by a disruptive doggy ends with Foo-foo getting the upper hand with doggy dancing.
Next week rolls around with still gno gnews...
...but Dennis knows the perfect person to help...
EUAN KERR! *ahem*
Yes, the Beano editor has commissioned some paper discs to wear on your official Dennis the Menace fan club badges:
And that's not all, a quick visit to BBC Radio 1 gets Dennis to ask the then-breakfast show host to help....
Yep, Mike Read, in his pre-calypso days, about to end his five-year stint as daily Radio 1 DJ. Will you lend your support?
If you're one of those people trouble by some of his... leanings, please remember Mike Read has beautiful breath.
This issue ends with a trap set up in Dennis' garden and then...
Spoiler: It's not him.
Inside, Long-running character Roger the Dodger (at this point drawn by Frank McDiarmid) is having his own problems as this continuing experiment with serialising stories reaches other strips.
This other Roger may be keeping his parents from selling their organs but he's interrupting our Roger's carefully ordered life.
And in Foo-foo's Fairy Tale, we're shown how Gnasher tried to teach him to chase cats.
Next week and the trap was full of Walter.
A bunch of other tripehounds have been found. Surely ONE of them must be Gnasher?
And Rasher, wanting to please Dennis gets all sticky and rolls in hair.
Meanwhile, inside, Roger (with help from Dad) has pranked the blameless lodger out of a warm bed.
That'll teach you! Sleep on the streets!
Oh, I guess that story wrapped up way quicker than the other one.
Also meanwhile; on the letters page:
Finally readers are showing concern.
Foo-foo even admits to wanting Gnasher gone:
It... didn't work.
The next week comes and detective Sherlock Bones offers his services, following a trail of black hairs...
Plug from the Bash Street Kids (full name Percival Proudfoot Plugsley) offer to use his psychic granny, holding a Gnasher-fur rug to locate him.
It... didn't work.
But our Dennis has a plan. Wherever he is in the country, Gnasher will respond to this call...
The next week's issue has Dennis going to the zoo to see if Gnasher is disguised as another animal.
Spoiler: It's not him.
Foo-foo's story inside reveals something that may have been a metaphor for transgenderism.
Foo-foo believed he was born in the wrong body. And, rather marvellously, Gnasher (after his initial "Gnyuck") accepts Foo-foo and tries to help him.
He turns his bow into ears and gives him a sock tail. And all because...
But you still accepted him, Gnasher. And that's what's important.
Another issue and Dennis wonders if Gnasher has gone off to make his fortune in movies.
"Dear Viz, I spotted Jimmy Hill..."
Walter reaches out to Dennis with genuine human compassion.
But Dennis, the only one you're truly hurting is... yourself.
But then comes a knock on the door...
Could it be...
Inside is the only other reference to Gnasher's absence in the letters page:
So let's go straight to next week's thrilling conclusion! (Issue 2286, May 10 1986 for those keeping score)
So that's the truth behid it all. Gnasher skipped town because he got some bitch pregnant.
No, really. I used that word correctly. I would never use it disrespectfully.
And this is, I believe, the only known image of the bitch (again, that is the correct word, sorry).
Mystery solved. Gnasher was on paternity leave. But who was the mother and why did we never see her before or since?
Never mind that now, inside Lord Snooty is dealing with a Tasmanian devil.
And Foo-foo delivers his final "fairy story":
Look! Gnipper's second appearance! And Gnasher tells us the punishment planned for the softy dog which drives him into hiding...
Reminds me of the time in the 90s when Winnie Mandela got arrested and the joke was "Don't throw away those Free Mandela t-shirts yet!"
Next week's cover was a celebration:
Waitasecond... don't those other puppies look a lot like Foo-foo? Even down to the bow?
And now he's taking over parenting duties...
It was never explicitly sad that that other dog was the mother...
Meanwhile Gnipper is still hanging around and...
Oh look it's Ivy again.
Reminding us how good she is again? Really?
Then on the letters page:
Then, the triumphant return of Gnasher's Tale!
But it was all about Gnasher helping Dad.
And that's how the story of Gnasher's loss and recovery ended. But the pups kept coming back. like in issue 2289:
(I mean, we've already mentioned that Foo-foo's gender is unspecified... but she couldn't be the mother could she?)
Or issue 2297:
(I've recently watched the first season of Cheers so can see how close love and hate can be)
In this story Gnasher because a the thing he hated most...
Parenthood changes you, man. You used to be cool!
(And I've just seen the Doctor Who episode Dark Water again, where the Master - now Missy - pretty much forces herself on the Doctor likes it's really what she wanted all along)
In issue 2298, dated 2 August 1986, Dennis puts out a call for anyone who wants a pup.
(Wait, no, it wouldn't make sense. It was Gnasher who went missing. Foo-foo stayed and filled in. Then Gnasher returned with the pups.)
Soon all the puppies have found new homes and all is well.
(Thinking about why would Gnasher, the father, need to go away while the puppies were born anyway?)
Except very soon Gnipper (who had proved popular with readers) returned to the Menace household and Gnasher's Tale is Replaced by Gnasher and Gnipper, also by Sutherland which is still in The Beano today, now drawn by Barry Glennard.
And Gnasher's daughter Gnatasha also had her own strip in The Beezer which ran for............ OH MY GOD YOU GUYS!
I JUST FIGURED IT OUT!
GNASHER IS THE MOTHER!
It's the only thing that makes sense.
Foo-foo got Gnasher pregnant.
Gnasher went away to have the litter.
Foo-foo filled in for her while she was away.
They are dogs.
You don't know what a female tripehound looks like any more than I do.
And British comics finally has another decent female icon.
GOOD NIGHT EVERYBODY!