Sunday, March 14, 2010

Number 700

The conscience lesson

In 2006 I clipped a "Crankshaft" Sunday comic by Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers. It was a reminder of my own youth. I bought Dick Tracy every month. The character, Jeff, mentions reading his old Dick Tracy comics about the killer Flattop Jr. The cover in the strip is Harvey Comics #129, from 1958, the first of a 4-issue continued story.

Flattop Jr is an inventive guy. He has a tricked-out car with a refrigerator, hot plate, and all the comforts of home. He can live in his car if he needs to, and he needs to after running into Joe Period, a juvenile delinquent on the lam with Dick Tracy on his trail.

For our purposes I'm only showing the last two issues of the story arc, #'s 131 and 132, which are about the girl Skinny, and Flattop Jr, her murderer.

Using artistic license, Chester Gould showed Flattop Jr's conscience in a ghost-like form. Mom told me from an early age about my conscience. I shouldn't do anything bad because my conscience would bother me. While having a conscience might have seemed an abstract concept before reading this, Gould made it something real to me. The images of Skinny passively tormenting Flattop Jr by hanging around his neck were powerful to me. She loved him, he killed her.

Conscience point scored, Mom!

(Some panels from the sequence showing the murder of Skinny. These panels, from August 1 and August 2, 1956, were edited out of the Harvey comic, probably because of the Comics Code. The daily newspaper version seems restrained, also, indicating rather than showing her being thrown off the roof. This might have been a spillover from the comic book controversy just a couple of years earlier. I scanned these black and white strips from the Shel Dorf edited Dick Tracy The "Unprinted" Stories #3, 1988, and published by Blackthorne.)


Bob Lilly said...

Thanks for the post. I know that your blog is about comic books but I happen to think the very best comics were in the newspapers. Dick Tracy was a personal favorite.
I was five when Flattop Junior was in the paper and could barely read. Years later I would tell friends that I saw the Dick Tracy story with Flattop in the paper. This clears up a mystery for me.
Chet Gould put quite a bit of effort into his strip.

Pappy said...

At an early age I didn't see a difference in comic books and comic strips. The Dick Tracy comic books caused me to follow the daily Tracy strip, which I did for years.

Mykal said...

Love Dick Tracy and love Chester Gould. What a brilliant mind and storyteller, and his art just got better and better until, by the time of this, he was just so damn good. I love his blacks. Gould had the blackest blacks of any strip/comic. Somehow, I don't know how, his shadows were the richest black around as though he somehow used ink that had more pitch in it or something. -- Mykal

Jeff Overturf said...

Skinny's kind of hot. I wish I had a stalker that would pursue ME...even from beyond the grave. :)

prof. grewbeard said...

loved the strip, love this too! i had no idea Harvey published a Dick Tracy comic!

Mike Gold said...

Harvey Comics stopped the story a bit short. After two weeks during which Tracy got a crew-cut (!), he returned to the Flattop Jr. story -- mostly Flatty wandering around all burnt up, until he fell into the water and died like his pop.

I loved those Harvey reprints. Still do.