Marcus Hamilton: Persistence & Perseverance

The story of how a man’s faith in God encouraged him to persevere towards his purpose.

He may not be a household name, but anyone who’s read the daily newspaper comics in the last twenty-five plus years knows his work. Marcus Hamilton has been the artist behind the endearing Dennis the Menace daily comic since 1993.

Like many children, Marcus loved to draw, but while other boys his age dreamed of being baseball players like Mickey Mantle or cowboys like Roy Rogers, Marcus’ heroes were Walt Disney and Normal Rockwell. “My first memory of drawing was when I was five or six,” Marcus says. “My mother would bring a notepad to church for me to draw on.”

At home in Lexington, North Carolina, Marcus practiced drawing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck by holding pictures up to windows and tracing their images. With the encouragement of his parents, Marcus took a correspondence drawing course to learn how to be a better artist.

Early Challenge

Due to an accident when he was six-years-old, Marcus lost sight in his right eye. Doctors tried to save his vision, but everything was only a blur. As a result of the injury, he has no depth perception, what could have been a handicap for a future artist. Despite being picked on by classmates for being the only one in the class with glasses, Marcus never let it bother him. “God helped me overcome it and it has never been a problem,” he explained.

The Road to Success

After graduating from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) in Wilson, NC, Marcus got his first job in the art department of WBTV in Charlotte, NC. After a few years, he took another position in a design studio, where he met his best friend and fellow artist, Jim Scancarelli.

With the encouragement of his wife and Jim, Marcus created a portfolio of his work and flew to New York for a weekend, making calls on major magazine art directors without any appointments. The trip to New York led to several opportunities. Marcus received freelance assignments from big-name magazines including Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, and Golf Digest. Taking a leap of faith, he quit his job and became a full-time illustrator in 1972.

The highlight of his freelance career was when his illustration of comedian, Bob Hope, was selected for the cover for The Saturday Evening Post.

“I didn’t realize it was going to be on the cover,” he explained. When he found out, he ran to the newsstand and bought several copies.

A Difficult Time

Then life took an unexpected turn. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the magazines quit calling. With the rise of computer generated art, it looked like hand-drawn illustrations were a thing of the past. With his career down the drain, his wife, Kay, suggested that it might be time to find a “real job” to pay the bills.

“I took a job in the photo lab at Walmart making minimum wage,” he recalls.

It was at that time that his faith was put to the test. After several months of total frustration, Marcus was fifty years old and questioning his life, career, and his faith.

“I know you’re not supposed to put God to the test, but I would like to know what’s going on,” Marcus prayed. Finally the answer came in a most unexpected way.

Life-Changing Opportunity

One day Marcus was working at home on some drawings, while surfing through channels on television. He stopped on an interview with Hank Ketchum, the creator of Dennis the Menace. Hank was promoting the movie that was coming out based on his comic strip and mentioned that he would like to find someone to draw Dennis.

“Here’s an opportunity,” Marcus told himself. On impulse, he called his friend, and fellow-artist, Jim Scancarelli, who happened to have Hank’s phone number.

After getting up the nerve to make the call, Hank asked Marcus to send him samples of his art for him to review. A couple of weeks later, he received an envelope back, but he was too excited to open it at first. When he finally got up the courage, he found another assignment from Hank to draw four scenes of Dennis. Marcus excitedly got to work and sent the drawings back to Hank. Hank made revisions, and more revisions.

After multiple revisions and exchanges of drawings back and forth, Marcus’s persistence paid off. Hank flew Marcus and his wife to his home in Monterey, California, to watch him work before eventually giving him the job of drawing the daily panel for Dennis the Menace.

In difficult times we often may feel alone, but God can speak through anything in nature to let us know that he is watching over us. Before his trip to Monterey, Marcus noticed a Monarch butterfly’s shadow that seemed to lead him to a stop sign. The next day when Marcus and Kay walked down to the beach in Carmel, California, they saw another Monarch.

“It was amazing that 3,000 miles away a Monarch butterfly flew in front of us at the beach in California,” he explained. Marcus knew he was exactly where he was supposed to be.

After meeting with the comic strip publisher about the change of artist, Marcus asked Hank what made him choose him for the job. Hank was a world-renowned artist that had worked for Disney and other major studios. He could have left his card at one of the studios and artists would have been lined up to audition for the job. Hank’s response was jaw-dropping, “You were the only one who applied.”

Advice to Young Artists

Today Marcus continues to draw the daily Dennis the Menace comic and shares his story with churches and other groups. He encourages young artists to practice using different styles and mediums. “Learn all you can. If you don’t enjoy it, try something else,” he explains. “God gives each person a unique ability.”

When he needs encouragement, Marcus goes back to Proverbs 3:5-6, a verse he has taped to his mirror. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all Thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”

Marcus is certain that all of the challenges that he has faced prepared him for the Dennis the Menace job. “Life is filled with ups and downs. Going through low parts builds you up so you can handle it.” Perseverance and persistence are key. “I’m very blessed. I thank God every morning for the opportunity I’ve been given.”

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