Walter the Softy
Walter Brown, or Walter the Softy and Softy Walter as he is sometimes called, is a fictional character in Dennis the Menace, the main comic strip in British children's comic The Beano. Though Walter is portrayed as the antagonist of the strip, he is often a victim of Dennis' bullying. Walter made his first appearance in the Beano in 1953 and is the primary target of Dennis and his friends. His last name was first mentioned in "A Beano Christmas Carol" strip in 1994. Two issues in 2012 finally confirmed that his surname was indeed Brown.
Walter has traditionally been portrayed as a camp and effeminate boy, always very stereotypically girly in his behaviour: this varied from a strong aversion to typically "masculine" interests and situations, to full-blown transvestitism. While these tendencies have vanished in modern years, Walter is still portrayed as a typical "geek", wearing a blue schoolboy's jumper, schoolboy's shorts, a bow tie, and has glasses and slicked-back hair.
Walter lives next door to Dennis and his family. In earlier years, he often spent time in his Wendy house with his gang "the Softies", playing with dolls or pressing flowers etc. He is regularly featured in the Dennis the Menace strip; when he appears, he is usually either being attacked by Dennis or involved in a plot to attack Dennis himself—traditionally involving either chess or perfume. Though these attacks, in earlier years, arguably represented a legitimate feud between the Menaces and Softies, it was often difficult to interpret them as much deeper than his being bullied by Dennis for his effeminate nature or positive attributes.
Walter is often seen as a devoted and seemingly "perfect" child. He does well in school and is adored by his teachers and parents. Indeed, Walter is a stereotypical mummy's boy and a spoiled brat, luxuriously pampered by his wealthy parents — who, rather uncannily, resemble each other.
In earlier years, Walter had a white cat called Fluffy and a pink poodle named Foo Foo in 2012, a new cat named Claudius was introduced.
Issue 1712 (10 May 1975) featured a girl named Priscilla, described by Dennis as Walter's sister, but she has not appeared since. In one story, he and Dennis are revealed to be distant cousins, but nothing more has been said of this.
Walter long had two apparent friends named Algernon 'Spotty' Perkins and Bertie Blenkinsop. They were equally as camp as Walter, and the three of them often wore their mothers' clothes and makeup. In more recent years, the former bit player Dudley Nightshirt has replaced Spotty as third-in-command.
Walter also got himself a girlfriend named Matilda, who bore an eerie resemblance to him, except that she was a redhead, and obviously wore a schoolgirl's uniform. She also spoke with a lisp. She first appeared in the 1996 TV series (although a character with the same name appeared in at least one comic library from 1993), and has rarely appeared in The Beano. Other Softies have included Sweet William, Jeremy Snodgrass, Softy Matthew and Nervous Rex, a boy who was scared of everything and everyone.
Truth be told, the Softies often seem to be bound together much more by fear of Dennis than by any real mutual liking; though they are scrupulously polite and strangely devoted to each other, they have occasionally decided to pick on someone perceived as a much bigger wimp than they are. Naturally, there are not many of these people.
There have also been occasions in which Walter has willingly helped Dennis: when Gnasher went missing in the 80s, he tried to help Dennis find him, and more recently, he has helped Dennis several times: finding Gnipper's long-lost sisters when the puppy had been poisoned, helping Rasher win a pig race, and trying to save Dennis's favourite tree by chaining himself to it, thus changing his relationship with Dennis from enemies to, if not outright friends, civil rivals. A likely reason for this is increased public awareness of bullying and the increasing unacceptability of a comic featuring a bully/victim relationship that stars the bully as protagonist.
Depictions over time
In early years (1950s-60s), Walter was a prim boy but nevertheless brash, snooty, and often sneaky in his attempts to embarrass or otherwise hinder Dennis and Gnasher. By the late 1970s, however, the increasingly "soft" Walter became terrified of Dennis—as well as other (mostly harmless) aspects of life, such as butterflies, birds, rain, and the like. If he encountered the things that scared him, he often cried childishly and ran to his 'mummy', sure that she would pamper and protect him.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Walter often dressed as a girl: typically wearing a pink ballerina tutu for dance purposes, but occasionally simply wearing a dress, along with his mother's makeup. His parents did not seem to be disturbed by Walter's transvestitism; in fact, on some occasions, they appeared to encourage it. In some strips, he was seen to wear pink boxer-shorts, mostly with either love-hearts or bunny rabbits on them. Walter had a teddy bear named 'Teddikins', which he often carried with him to complete the ensemble.
In the 1996 television series, Walter was not scared of Dennis but instead acted like a snob, living in a huge house and behaving more like a spoiled brat than before. His behaviour generally resembled his pre-1970s comics behaviour, and is reflected again in his less "soft" modern comics roles.
Walter's vindictiveness and determination to get Dennis into trouble have been highlighted in recent years, making Dennis' behaviour appear less like bullying. In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, Beano editor Mike Stirling said that Walter was Dennis' nemesis because "he strangles the fun out of everything. He doesn't want to be a kid, he wants to be a grownup and is always snitching on kids who are having fun". The paper suggested that Walter had become less weedy not just out of changing attitudes but because it was "hardly... dramatically satisfying" if Dennis could beat him up.
Because of Walter's profoundly feminine behaviour, it is argued that Walter is actually gay. Because of this speculation, not only did he have a girlfriend created for him, but Dennis the Menace also had to soften his antics against Walter in fear it would be seen as homophobic bullying.
- Walter is parodied in some editions of the adult comic Viz as "Cedric Soft" in the strip about popular character Biffa Bacon. Their relationship is in a similar vein to Walter's with Dennis, with extreme comic violence added.
- In the Judge Dredd story Judgement Day, the villain's origin was a pastiche of the Beano: Soppi Walter, routinely terrorised and attacked by the bully Big Den (surname shown as "Mennis"). Soppi turned out to be a sociopath and learned necromancy in order to kill, resurrect, and torture his bully.
- The Beano – a happy 75th anniversary
- 2000 AD issue 797: Judgement Day Part 17