Why did Britain take the ‘baddie’ Dennis the Menace to our hearts?

Scarlet Howes talks to John Patrick Reynolds about his collection of classic comic prints.

“Art is a crap word,” says John Patrick Reynolds. “There’s art in the way we dress, the way we arrange the furniture. I’m not sure art means anything.” The Maida Vale resident got used to “time on and off being blurred” during a 20 year career as a newspaper and BBC journalist, and now sees little distinction between work and life.

After growing tired with a precarious profession, he now shares his days with Dennis the Menace.

It was the photographers who accompanied him on his assignments who planted the seeds for his successful business venture.

“I got sucked into photography. I could spend hours in the dark room. It’s beguiling. In those days colour photography was a nightmare to print yourself. So someone suggested screen-printing. In 2008, I thought ‘sod it. I need to find something where I can control my life more.’”

His childhood love of comics translated into the idea of prints of classic British characters from Beano, Dandy and Victor.

It had never been done before and one e-mail later he acquired the rights to archive material from comic publisher, DC Thomson.

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Experimentation is at the core of Reynold’s creativity. He says: “I’m always looking for ways of getting the best out of my material and the medium.”

With the latest addition of classic French comic strip, Asterix and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (which he agrees is an acquired taste) to his stable, he will be showcasing his collection for the first time at The Gallery in Clerkenwell.

“My favourite character is probably Dennis, partly because he’s a gift to the screen printer, red and black stripes are graphically strong, and partly because he’s a curious character for a country to have taken into his bosom. He’s actually a baddie.

“When you put them together, they could look a bit of a jumble so I added a colour bar to each print – and stripped away most of the panels - then you can hang them together and they look coherent regardless of whether it’s Dennis the Menace or Popeye.

“I’ve got a great series of Dennis being chased by a copper, his dad and a teacher.”

Reynolds adds that although screen-printing in his studio is a very involved process, he says “the great thing about screen-printing is that it’s a handmade process. In an era where so many things are computer generated or mass produced, the slight variations, even flaws, of the process give it personality. It’s come from human hands. Its soul doesn’t reside in the computer or run in zeros.” Scarlet Howes

Comic Art by John Patrick Reynolds runs from October 26 – 1 November at The Gallery, St John’s Square. Visit comicartwebsite.com