On two different occasions, the newspaper changed the captions for the films “The Far Side” and “Dennis the Menace”, which led to a completely new interpretation of the comics, as a result of which some readers appreciated the dark twist, which surprisingly added a lot to the series.
The Far Side and Dennis the Menace are very different. One of them is a sharp satire on human conditions, and the other is a carefree look at children’s antics. “The Far Side” by Gary Larson was shown from 1979 to 1995 and is known for playing a surreal comedy based on uncomfortable social situations, an anthropomorphic view of the world, logical errors, impending strange disasters and often distorted references to proverbs or the search for meaning in life. On the other hand, Dennis the Menace is a newspaper comic strip created in 1951 by Hank Ketchum. The main character, Dennis Mitchell, is a mischievous but cute child who often plays pranks without meaning to. However, his parents always understand and forgive him for everything he does.
In the 1989 anthology “The Backstory of the Reverse Side: A 10th Anniversary Exhibition,” Larson describes in detail how these two completely different comics collided in the strangest and funniest way. Twice in 1981 and 1983, the Dayton Daily News accidentally swapped the captions for the films “The Far Side” and “Dennis the Menace”, which ran next to each other on the newspaper’s comic book page. The results were… interesting, to say the least. The very first switch was more carefree, there were sandwiches on both panels. The original Far Side caption read: “Oh, brother! … No more hamsters!” while Dennis the Threat was: “Lucky I learned how to make peanut butter sandwiches, otherwise we would have already starved to death.” But because of the switch, it seems that snakes eat peanut butter, and Dennis eats hamsters. The second switch took a much darker turn: Dennis was sitting at the dinner table with the words: “I see your little petrified skull… with an inscription and lying somewhere on a shelf,” and “The Far Side” showed a prehistoric fortune teller predicting another caveman: “If I become as big as Dad, won’t my skin be too tight?” Some even found the title change funny, while others were deeply concerned. In any case, the Dayton Daily News later apologized for the mistakes.
The Far Side is no stranger to dark rooms both inside and outside the panel. At the dawn of the Internet, there were many urban legends and hoaxes that Larson died in a car accident, and his last strip (showing how the hearse crashed into a tree) was actually his suicide note. Hence, it is not unusual to see some dark themes. Dennis the menace doesn’t have the kind of gloom that really solidifies these moments like comedy gold. Gary Larson liked this confusion so much that he included it in his anthology, he liked the moment when a healthy and all-American Dennis was combined with menacing images of a skull.
The comics “Distant Life” and “Dennis the Tormentor” are juggernauts in themselves. Their differences in subject matter and audience make the supposedly accidental replacement of the title with golden comedy material. Larson himself said in his reflective anthology, “The Backstory of the Far Side: A 10th Anniversary Exhibition,” that it was ridiculously embarrassing how these changes improved both comics. It is rare that a typo causes such love among readers, but in this case with “The Far Side” and “Dennis the Tormentor” it led to the birth of the genius of surrealism.